Maybe there are some ten-year-olds out there who feel 100% normal and comfortable in their own skin, but we certainly haven’t met them. Being a kid is tough. That was true when we were young, and it’s true now. And none of us had the added burden of being half-plant.
That’s sadly not the case for Russell Weinwright, the affable, artistic and rather leafy protagonist of Kirk Scroggs’ new book, The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid. As you can probably guess, Swamp Kid is set in the realm of Swamp Thing but is pretty far removed from the mature horror of the classic Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson creation. The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid is part of DC’s line of middle grade graphic novels, but it’s not a typical comic. Rather, it’s a prose/comic mash-up reminiscent of the Wimpy Kid and Origami Yoda books. It’s also constantly hilarious and remarkably genuine, telling a story of self-acceptance and following your dreams, no matter how unusual or out-there they might be. The result is a book that’s likely to be enjoyed by parents just as much as by their kids, featuring a surprisingly relatable hero that we certainly hope we haven’t seen the last of.
We recently sat down with Scroggs—not in the swamp, but in the comfort of the DC offices—to discuss how The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid came together. In the process, he shared just how he convinced his editors to take a chance on the format, how much time he’s spent in the bayou and whether being a half-plant monster might be a lot more appealing than it sounds.
How did you get involved with DC? Were you a comic book fan?
When I was a kid, I was more into spooky stuff. I liked the spookier comics like Tales from the Crypt and the Creepshow comic adaptation with Bernie Wrightson art. That’s kind of how I found out about Swamp Thing—Bernie Wrightson designed him. I also really liked MAD Magazine. That was my main go-to comic.
It’s funny because having now read The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid, I can totally see those influences.
Lots of little hidden cartoons in the borders, Sergio-style.
The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid isn’t a typical comic book. I don’t believe DC has ever published a book quite like it. How did the idea of doing this sort of hybrid book come together? Was it difficult to convince your editor to let you do it?
It was incredibly difficult. I’d submitted three pages and my agent said that within two hours she got an e-mail saying, “We love it!”
I just thought it would be fascinating to have the main character be an aspiring comic book artist who wants to make his own graphic novels. And then I thought, it would be really cool if it looked like he drew it, so that it was coming straight from him in a spiral notebook.
How did Russell Weinwright come together? He’s not just a junior version of Swamp Thing. He really has his own thing going.
Well, the name is a not-so-subtle tribute to Swamp Thing’s creators.
I definitely used my own experience in middle school as an inspiration. I was constantly doodling and getting in trouble for drawing too many monsters when I was supposed to be doing book reports. So, he’s kind of me. I was a sort of skinny, self-deprecating kid who drew all the time.
Swamp Thing isn’t usually seen as the most kid-friendly superhero. Why did you decide to build this book around him and his world?
Well, as I mentioned, I like spooky stuff and Swamp Thing is a great tragic Frankenstein-in-the-bayou type figure. I also liked the idea of these kids living in Louisiana, so instead of Bigfoot, there’s this mystery figure living off in the woods that’s Swamp Thing. He’s their boogieman. And then you realize that, kind of like Frankenstein’s monster, he’s a good guy deep down. So, he becomes a sort of Ben Kenobie-esque figure in Russell’s life.
Usually superheroes are presented in such a way that readers dream of being them. But Swamp Thing and Swamp Kid are different. I’m not sure people would want to be either of them. Is that part of what interested you?
Yeah, he has kind of a Universal monster quality to him that I like. I don’t know, I kind of want to be Swamp Thing! You might be surprised. There are a lot of kids out there who want to be swamp monsters.
We’ve had a few middle grade graphic novels come out this year. I’m not sure how many of them you’ve read, but once the first couple were on shelves did you find yourself wondering how people would receive your book, since it’s so different?
I was always worried about my art style because this is pretty much all I do—this sort of goofy stuff. I could never do what Jim Lee does. I could never do a full, articulated muscular Batman, but I can do this goofy style.
There was a time where that hung over me and my career. I’d ask myself, “Why can’t I do that? I’m just not as good.” But then at some point a few years ago, I decided, “Just do what you do.”
On that note, one of the things I love about the book is how quick and constant the humor is. There are so many great lines and gags that are stuffed in the margins and in the background. Do you have any personal favorites?
I love the one about how sunlight tastes like hot dogs. That’s the one that stands out. I also like when the teacher who’s always screaming at Russell about how he’s always drawing him as different monsters randomly wants one.
Throughout the course of the book, Russell spends a lot of the time in the swamp. What about you? Have you been to any swamps?
My family is now all located in Louisiana. We were originally from Austin, but somehow we all moved to the bayou. So, this was a nice coincidence.
What do you think would be the best and worst thing about being half plant?
What I like I about Swamp Thing is that he can actually go into the vegetation and transport himself anywhere. The worst thing? Russell gets a lot of grief from the jerks for his face tendrils. So yeah, it would be a challenge.
Finally, what’s something you think we could all learn from Russell?
To just be comfortable in your own skin. Get a laugh sometimes at your misfortunes. Have fun with it. And also, to embrace the weird in life because normal is boring. Russell and his band of friends are different, and it’s a good thing.