DF Interview: Patrick Meaney blends fantasy with noir in new miniseries ‘Syphon’
By Byron Brewer
A three-issue miniseries, Syphon introduces a new supernatural empath who is entrusted with the power to sense and siphon pain from others. Sylas, a fast-living EMT, is now able to directly ease the suffering of people around him. But the more he uses this gift, the more it curses him with carrying the miseries of those he’s helped. Tormented by his solitude, Sylas is befriended by a drifter who eventually draws him into an ages-old war that has raged for control of the human condition.
Comic book documentarian Patrick Meaney (Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods, The Image Revolution) teams up with artist Jeff Edwards (G.I. Joe), with a story by Mohsen Ashraf, for the forthcoming Syphon from Top Cow and Image Comics. It was my honor to discuss the coming comic with scribe Patrick Meaney.
Byron Brewer: Patrick, while your new book coming from Top Cow – Syphon – is fantasy noir, it would seem that many of its undertone aspects are ripped from today’s headlines. Tell readers a little about its ultimate message.
Patrick Meaney: The series begins with Sylas, an overworked EMT, being gifted the power to see peoples' pain and syphon it from them, to take their burden onto himself. And as the series goes on, the question becomes, how much of the darkness in the world can you take on your shoulders before you break.
And that certainly is a question I think all of us have been dealing with the past few years, as we all had to deal with social unrest, racial injustice, atrocities at the border, Covid sweeping the nation and that's not even thinking about things like climate change causing natural disasters, and whatever specific problems are going on in your own life.
To engage with these challenges can be overwhelming, but when you see how much people are suffering, how can you look away? Figuring out how to live in a world with so much suffering, and be able to fight to improve it without destroying yourself is the ultimate challenge for Sylas, and in some ways, for all of us.
BB: What can you tell us about this world Mohsen Ashraf, Jeff Edwards and you are building here in Syphon?
Patrick Meaney: As much as the thematics of Syphon are drawn from the real world, the mythology of the series is all of us imagining a kind of shadow history happening for all of human history. As the series goes on, we find out that this power that Sylas receives, to sense and syphon pain, is something that goes back to the dawn of human history. Sylas finds himself dropped into this epic mythological conflict that's been going on in secret, and through his eyes, we get a glimpse at an epic struggle.
So, even though the series is set in a very grounded, real world, there are slivers of insane epic conflict sneaking in on the edges.
BB: Introduce readers to Sylas – who he was and who he becomes.
Patrick Meaney: When we meet him, Sylas is in his late 20s. A few years ago, he was really into partying and having a good time, but after getting into a traumatic car crash, he's been living a very straight edge life, no drinking, not having a lot of relationships. He's thrown himself into his career as an EMT, and hopes to help people to make up for some of his past failings.
When he gets the Syphon power, he's excited, because this is a chance to heal people emotionally, as well as physically. But he soon finds the weight of that burden a lot to deal with, and maybe wants to rebel by doing something for himself for a change.
BB: Give readers a little bit of a pitch for Syphon. What is the main storyline?
Patrick Meaney: Syphon follows Sylas, an EMT who spends his whole life helping people. When he's gifted a supernatural ability to perceive other peoples' pain, and “syphon” it from them, he has the opportunity to do a deeper kind of healing. But as time goes on, he realizes that the pain he syphons stays with him, and under the weight of others' burdens, he has to figure out what his future looks like.
In the process of learning about this power, he realizes that he's not alone in having it, and that its history goes back far longer than he could have imagined.
BB: Talk about your collaboration with writer Mohsen Ashraf. The written storytelling belongs to both of you. Tell readers about your process for this limited series.
Patrick Meaney: The basic story began with Mohsen. Shortly after we met, he told me about this concept he had for a comic book series, and having both written comics myself and being familiar with the world of comics from my work in documentary, I knew that I could be a great partner to help bring it to life.
Our process began with talking about Mohsen's idea and building out a pretty detailed outline of the events of the three-issue series together. Then I went off and wrote a first draft script, which he then went through and did a rewrite on, and ultimately we did a final pass together before sending it off to Jeff.
BB: Why is Jeff Edwards the right artist for this new book?
Patrick Meaney: To be honest, when I saw Jeff's first art coming in for the book, I couldn't believe the guy wasn't already a superstar. His work combines the dynamism of the classic Image style with the formal experimentation of someone like JH Williams III. He puts so much time and effort into his work, and is able to skillfully navigate between the more reality based parts of the story, and some increasing surrealism as it goes on, all the while keeping the focus on character.
And he's super enthusiastic about the book, which keeps everyone excited.
BB: I find you being a comic book documentarian extremely interesting since comics are both my passion and my vocation. Tell readers a little about some of the works you have done along that line, please.
Patrick Meaney: Over the past ten years, I've been fortunate to direct five documentary features about the world of comic books, as well as produce She Makes Comics. It all began when I pitched Grant Morrison on the idea of a documentary profile. We got the greenlight for that and had an amazing experience diving into Grant's wild world, and that established me as someone who could tell stories in this world.
This led to a film on Neil Gaiman, called Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously, in which we traveled all over the U.S. and England following Neil on his book signing tour. I also directed Chris Claremont's X-Men, which had Chris, and his collaborators, telling the story of this legendary X-Men run in their own words.
My philosophy with these docs was always to let the subjects tell the words in their own story, and try not to serve a particular agenda. The story would emerge from the interviews, not the other way around.
Another big inspiration was the fact that there are so few interviews with people like Jack Kirby available. People at the time didn't think about the historical significance of his creations. But I'm hoping that in the year 2070 when they're rebooting the X-Men film franchise again, they'll be able to look back at my doc on Chris and say, okay, this is how these characters actually were created.
It might sound a little crazy to think about this stuff still being popular that far in the future, but telling someone in 1970 that Marvel characters would still be remembered, let alone be the biggest film franchise of all time, would seem much more insane.
In the case of She Makes Comics, I collaborated with Marisa Stotter to tell a story that explored the untold history of women in comics. Even seven years after the film, the idea of women as comic fans and creators feels a lot more common, but it was great to get to talk to so many of the icons who were involved in comics over the years.
Perhaps most relevant to this project is the doc I did on Image Comics called The Image Revolution. Having told the story of Image, and learned so much about the founders and their intentions with the company, it's a real honor to have a book I co-created become a small part of that continuing story.
BB: Patrick, tell us about any new or future projects, inside or outside comics, in which you may be involved.
Patrick Meaney: There are several in the works. One thing I'm excited about is the trade paperback release of my Black Mask comic Last Born, co-created with Eric Zawadzki coming up this summer. It's a series I'm really proud of, and Eric has gone on to do great work at Black Mask, Skybound and DC, so it'll be cool to have it available once again.
I'm also planning to shoot a new film, an indie musical romance, this summer. It's a bit of a change of pace, but I'm working closely with the actors to develop the songs, so that's been a whole new world to explore, and a lot of fun.
And, people can check out most of the comic book docs that I mentioned on Amazon Prime, as well as the very trippy, DC-Vertigo inspired horror film that I directed, House of Demons, also on Amazon Prime.
The film features a lot of familiar faces from the comic book world, including DC All Access hosts Tiffany Smith and Whitney Moore, Critical Role's Taliesin Jaffe, Buffy's Amber Benson and even Top Cow's own Henry Barajas making a guest appearance. If you're into stuff by Grant Morrison or Neil Gaiman, you'll probably enjoy it.
And, if all goes well with this first series, we're hoping to do a second round of Syphon at some point soon!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Patrick Meaney for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Syphon #1 from Top Cow and Image Comics is slated to be on sale July 21st!
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