Jack & Jill went up the Hill…: Scott Ciencin talks 'Silent Hill'

Mon, January 19th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

"Silent Hill" #2 "Silent Hill" #3
Before you say it, yes, this comic is based on the popular video game "Silent Hill." And yes, this would seem to be a trend in comics, with Dreamwave Productions tackling almost every Capcom license possible (Udon handles "Street Fighter"). But you'd be missing one thing by making a premature judgment on "Silent Hill":

It's published by IDW. And IDW doesn't follow trends, it creates them.

From the sleeper hit "30 Days of Night" to the unexpected success of their "CSI" comic books, IDW Publishing has taken familiar genres and turned them on their head, as they plan to do with "Silent Hill." An intricate horror story, writer Scot Ciencin spoke with CBR News about why "Silent Hill" is something unique and provided background for those new to the property.

"'Silent Hill' exploded onto the scene a few years back as a very smart and very intense psychological horror video game from Konami," Ciencin explained to CBR News. "To date, the three games in the series have sold four million units, and Konami is just getting started. A 'Silent Hill' feature has been announced with the director of 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' attached, IDW is now doing SH comics, and even more incarnations seem likely.

"The property takes its name from the haunted town in which its tales are set, a place that once embodied out of the way, Pleasantville-style atmosphere and charm. But terrible things happened here. A cult intent on raising on ancient god to scour the Earth in flames made a stand here against their enemies and the battle devastated and corrupted Silent Hill. Now there is evil in the mist, embodied by malignant spirits and creatures as disturbing and frightening as anything in a Clive Barker opus, monsters that wait to rip apart the bodies and souls of newcomers. The town itself has a controlling intelligence, one that can learn your deepest secrets and fears, and use them to destroy you. In effect, Silent Hill is a dark and amazing crucible upon which characters can be tested. It's also a setting that lends to a ton of double-barreled shotgun blasting monster-killing action!

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"'Silent Hill: Dying Inside,' the five issue mini-series that I wrote-featuring the art of Ben ("30 Days of Night") Templesmith and covers by the equally amazing Ashley Wood-takes full advantage of this premise. In our story, we follow two main characters that each carry the weight of terrible secrets: The first is Troy Abernathy, an arrogant psychiatrist who does not believe in any demons except those of the mind. He comes to Silent Hill because a patient of his was attacked here and he has brought her back to the scene of the crime in order to break down her complex "delusional" structures and get to the truth of what really happened. Very quickly, the tables are turned on him, the demons of his own guilty past take horrifying flesh and form, and he must fight for his life and confront things about himself from which he's been running for years. The second major character is a teen goth named Lauryn who brings a dozen of her goth friends to Silent Hill under the pretext of a twisted game, a kind of get-rich-quick scheme involving the arcane messages scrawled on the walls throughout the town. In truth, she has a whole other agenda, one centering on the demon child Christabella who has targeted Troy and his patient. Troy and Lauryn are drawn together in some surprising ways as it becomes clear that the supernatural forces in Silent Hill are rallying-and the demon-infested darkness in this place may soon spread to shadow the entire world unless they can somehow stop it. How far will they go to hold back this evil? Or will they succumb to it, or worse, attempt to use it to further their own goals? These are the central dramatic questions, and, as Silent Hill lends to character-driven horror and suspense, we're able to invest readers in these people while still keeping them guessing about what the leads will do next. It's a lot of fun."

This isn't a case of someone being offered a job and then working from an outsider perspective- Ciencin has always been a fan of "Silent Hill" and feels it's something perfect for comics. "I had worked with Jeff Mariotte when he was with WildStorm, and he recommended me to Kris Oprisko for this assignment. I wrote a very detailed audition piece breaking out what I saw as the strengths of Silent Hill and the reasons for its appeal, while providing several story ideas. Kris and Konami felt I really 'got' the property and I was offered the job. Yes, I really love the games. Going into the environment Konami created is like walking around in a Hong Kong horror film, loaded for bear. It's fantastic."

As mentioned, the mini-series features two brand new characters to the "Hill" mythos and Ciencin has created personalities that will be heavily affected by what they find on Silent Hill. "For Troy, the arrogant psychiatrist, it was a desire to explore the classic notion of the man of science, the firm disbeliever, who is forced to accept that there are more things in heaven and Earth… For Lauryn, the goth girl, I wanted to explore how someone with nihilistic beliefs would react to actually walking into the embodiment of that darkness. Would it be a fun ride or a wake-up call?

For some readers, they'll dismiss "Silent Hill" because it's origins lie in video games and Ciencin can't agree with that stance. "That's a tough one. There are critics who take the view that if something is popular, it can't be any good, it couldn't possibly have any artistic merit or thematic value. People forget that the original 'Star Trek' was groundbreaking in its day and won Peabody awards, and that Joseph Campbell embraced 'Star Wars' as the ultimate distillation of his theories.

"Personally, I try to look at works based on licensed properties individually. With 'Silent Hill,' it was very easy to create a story that features some of the really cool stuff from the game while providing whole new creatures and scenarios… and making something that requires absolutely no knowledge of the source material whatsoever. Konami created a setting in which all kinds of stories can be told, one with a focus on character and bold story-telling structure, so this one really lends itself to any medium."

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The fact that this series isn't adapting a video game per se, as much as drawing out the most dramatic elements and creating new characters helps to set the series apart from other "video game series." "What's great about 'Silent Hill: Dying Inside' is that we're not adapting anything. We're simply telling a brand new story in a dynamic environment that's already been established. Beyond my original works, I've been hired to do new stories set in James Gurney's 'Dinotopia,' Michael Crichton's world of 'Jurassic Park,' Joss Whedon's 'Buffyverse,' and many more. The key is always to be respectful to the source material while creating something unique that can stand on it own. I looked at 'Silent Hill' as my chance to write a feature length screenplay for an Asian horror film, and I had an absolute blast doing it!"

To make any kind of horror comic successful, mood is the operative word and while Ciencin knows he doesn't have music or fancy cut scenes, he has something he feels is better: artist team Ben Templesmith and Ashley Wood. "Evoking mood without music and actual motion is a challenge inherent in the comic book form, naturally. Thumb through a hundred Batman comics by various creative teams and it is easy to see at a glance the storytellers who can pull off what Will Eisner has been doing throughout his career. With a property like 'Silent Hill,' it simply becomes necessary to make a conscious effort at the beginning of the process to aim for a moody, atmospheric take on things and then hire artists known for pulling that off. Ben and Ashley have attained a reputation for exactly this type of storytelling, so it was a blessing for me to know they were onboard and to go full out with my scripts to play to their strengths as storytellers. Ben is sensational at cinematic tricks that make readers sit up and take notice; he knows how to isolate certain elements and direct or misdirect the reader for any desired effect. Roman Polanski once framed the bulk of the action in a given scene in a blurry section of the frame just around a corner. Audiences, when they came to that scene, all leaned far to one side when that took place, as if they could somehow peer around that corner and get a better look at what was going on. Polanski knew he had the audience where he wanted them when he saw that. Ben can do things like that-and much more.

"I think their ongoing and very positive relationships with IDW-along with the fact that they find the property way cool-can be credited for their involvement."

Don't make the mistake of thinking this is just your average horror comic- the series will be infused with character and ideas to make readers think, promises Ciencin, and he plans to explore some heavier themes as well. "Thematically, 'Silent Hill' is all about the nature of fear, guilt and redemption. What's all-important is that the characters put on stage in these stories are relatable to audiences. They may have done terrible things, for the right or wrong reasons, but so many people have, or have been tempted to do so. Or they may be people who torture themselves over things that are not their fault, but that they destroy themselves over, anyway. The question is whether we can see ourselves in these people, if we can hope, for their sakes and maybe even our own, that they can find absolution, peace, retribution, justice… these are people forced to confront their demons, and the audience must care if they will succeed or not. Making them care is what we aim to do."

Though some creators may find license holders to be overbearing, Ciencin says Konami has been a perfect partner. "Konami has been incredibly supportive. We received a few brief notes in the beginning of the process, and since then, they've simply allowed us to fly free and explore this world. It's been exhilarating, energizing, and very rewarding. I would do it again in a heartbeat."

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With IDW leading the way, there's been a resurgence of horror oriented comics- with mainstream publishers like Marvel Comics tapping the themes heavily for comics like "Venom"- and "Silent Hill" is poised to kick it up a notch. "I hope that people who enjoy the work of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith will pick up 'Silent Hill.' They won't be disappointed. These are original and accessible horror tales, ones that I would have been very excited to see even if I hadn't been attached to the project. As I said earlier, fans of the game will find much to enjoy here, and those who simply like a great action-filled, character-driven horror story will also more than get their money's worth."

Even with video games, the dreaded "C" word comes up- more specifically, the idea of "continuity" and determining where this mini-series fits in "Silent Hill" lore. "Technically speaking, we're set in the 17 year gap between the first and third games. There is mention of the Order and some elements of what drives the haunting of SH are explored in our story, so it is in continuity in that regard, but all of that information is set-up for people new to the SH universe. Nothing will come out of left field or leave you behind if you haven't played the games."

"Silent Hill" possesses an immense fan base and though it's rational to feel pressure from that, Ciencin plays it cool (the same way he plays the game incidentally) and says, "I'm excited more than anything else. I have an unquestionable responsibility toward the fans of the games to deliver stories that will satisfy them, putting on stage 'old familiar' and 'new and different' creations and ideas, and I take that very seriously. My gauge with this has always been the incredible feedback of my editor, Kris Oprisko, and that of the amazing folks at Konami. The fact that they've been pleased right from the start has been encouraging beyond words!"

If you're looking forward to "Silent Hill," Ciencin teases that he may have more projects coming out that you'd be interested in. "I have a series of original short stories running in the IDW titles featuring Bob the Mailman, a fun and very different character whom I intend to put into book form before too long. I've also just been hired by Sony to work on one of their biggest properties, but I'm afraid I can't reveal details on that one just yet. The moment I'm given the word, though, I promise you'll be among the first to know!"

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