by Brian Truitt)
"This is me bleeding on the page."
Comic-book writer James Tynion IV means it when he describes his new creator-owned series The Woods, debuting Wednesday from Boom! Studios, as a personal affair. While he's primarily best known for hanging out in Gotham City and working on Batman, Batman Eternal and Talon for DC Comics, the book lets him revisit his teenage psyche but with an otherworldly twist.
The Woods stars a bunch of students from Milwaukee, Tynion's own hometown, whose entire high school is mysteriously transported in a flash of light to an alien landscape very much different from Earth. While their teachers and classmates freak out, five brave and very different souls venture out into a strange forest to see what exactly happened.
A little bit The Breakfast Club and a little bit Twilight Zone, it's a deeply emotional story about "how we become different people as we step out of our teenage lives and into the woods of the real world," Tynion explains. "There'll be a few more monsters and different things out there than the large majority of us face, but that's really the story at the heart of this."
The larger metaphor of the series is something Tynion himself went through, going from Wisconsin to New York City. However, just as much as one thinks they're prepared for such a life change, there's no way of being totally ready — and that's what Tynion's characters are faced with in The Woods and a strange black rock that seems to be pointing toward something, be it hope or danger.
Tynion describes the cast as being "different parts of my personality circa ages 16 to 18, on the page arguing with each other. It's very schizophrenic for me."
Karen Jacobs is a girl who has no idea where she's going in life and never commits to anything — she may be on a sports team, but she's running behind everyone else.
"She's the sort of person who one semester does the school play and then when they ask her to audition the next semester, she's like, 'Eh, maybe not,' " Tynion says. "She's not really sure what she wants to be or who she wants to be yet, and she's not sure how to go on that journey."
Adrian Roth is the exact opposite. He's very confident of the fact that he's much better than everyone around him, and that mind-set has made him isolated and a loner. "He would be the one who called himself a genius even though that might not be remotely true," says Tynion.
Those two main characters "are the extremes of parts of where my head was when I was a teenager."
Others are very much him, too. Isaac Andrews is a kid who's dying to be in a school play but can't get past stage crew — Tynion actually had one small role as a chieftain in the play The Royal Hunt of the Sun. "I had two lines," he says. "It was great."
Like Tynion at that age, Sanami Ota wants to escape Wisconsin as fast as possible, Ben Stone is "going through a lot of the issues I did as an overweight kid," the writer says, and Culder Macready is kind of the id, though a naked and streaking version. "He's the crazy manic side of me that wanted to explode and do the craziest things I could do."
While the first issue of The Woods throws everybody into this weird situation, other issues focus on digging into their personalities, according to Tynion. He sees the tale going three years, and by the end of the first, readers — and the cast — will have a better understanding of why they were brought to this strange locale seemingly far from the Dairy State.
Tynion worked with artist Michael Dialynas to design the world and create evolved creatures that the kids will encounter. One of Tynion's favorite things to write is a little space monkey with six arms whom the teens meet in the second issue and call Dr. Robot.
But they also get a view of some wildlife that is more on the dangerous side, not to mention the mysterious force at the heart of the mystery and others who might be lurking around.
The writer thought a lot about what the first settlers in America thought about creatures when they first explored new regions, perhaps stumbling across a deer when they'd never seen one before.
"A buck would have huge antlers and it looks very imposing, and you have no idea if it's going to try to kill you, if it's going to try to eat you or if it's just looking for berries off in the corner," Tynion says. "It's the complete lack of knowledge and alienness that I found really, really interesting.
"We'll see them encountering a lot of different wildlife that seems like it should work one way but everything works in very strange, inverted ways."
The Woods overall might seem a bit odd for those comic fans who just know Tynion from his superhero work. Yet he wanted to do something unexpected that reflected his own outside interests, such as sci-fi, horror and young-adult literature with deep mythologies such as The Hunger Games and His Dark Materials series.
While it always takes him some time to find the voice of Batman or one of his fellow Gotham residents, Tynion knew what every character in The Woods sounded like before he wrote a line of dialogue.
"It's not the DC Universe that people automatically want to read every month. This is my own world and I'm inviting everyone in to see what happens. That's really scary," Tynion says.
"But it is exhilarating because it does come so thoroughly from myself. When it feels right, it feels right. I'm really excited to have it out in the world."