Tom Waltz has a great story to tell. He started out as a normal person, just like you and me, but he eventually went on to write Silent Hill comic books and then moved onto writing the newest Silent Hill videogame, Silent Hill 8.
We had a chance to speak with Waltz at Comic-Con in San Diego last week, where he was happy to share with us how he got to where he is today. We also talk about the upcoming game and related comics a bit. There’s some surprising ties between the two that I think everyone will enjoy.
On a personal note, it was great to meet and hear from the guy who has been tasked with shaping the next Silent Hill properties. It was really good to see that he is a fan, and cares deeply about the Silent Hill franchise. Fellow fans, I think we’re in good hands.
Destructoid: How involved is Konami with the Silent Hill comics?
Tom Waltz: One thing that’s important — and I’ve been saying this to Silent Hill fans, especially game fans — these comics are works under Konami, and they’re part of canon. It’s not IDW doing its own thing at all. Everything we do is approved through Konami, from concept to final product.
I’d love to hear the story of how you became a Silent Hill comic book writer and eventually a writer for the latest Silent Hill game.
IDW has had the license now for a number of years — it’s more than five, definitely. I was actually a game fan, too, before I became a Silent Hill comic book writer. I always wanted to write comics, and I was a big fan of the game. Especially Silent Hill 2 — that’s one that really hooked me into the series.
IDW is based in San Diego, and I live here, so I always followed it. A long time ago, I said to my Editor-in-Chief — even before I came to the company — that I wanted to write a Silent Hill comic for you guys. Another guy was writing them named Scott Ciencin at the time. I loved those games and the franchise, and said that I’d really like a Silent Hill comic, but they said that they weren’t sure they were going to do any more. And then, lo and behold, all the stars aligned, I joined the company, and we’re in a meeting one day. The president of the company said that they still had room on their license to do more comics. He asked, “Do you know anybody that wants to do a Silent Hill comic?” [laughs]
You said something like, “Me! Me!”
Yeah, I raised my hand and he said we could do it. The first comic I wrote was called Silent Hill: Sinner’s Reward. The funny thing was, at the time, the interest in the comic seemed to be waning amongst the Silent Hill game fan base and just in general.
How many comics in the series were available up to your first release?
I think there were five or six miniseries that were all collected. When Sinner’s Reward came out, initially it was to be a five-issue series. The numbers weren’t great for the first issue. IDW said that we can’t do all five issues or we will lose too much money. Generally speaking, if orders are low on the first issue, they’re only going to get lower as the series continues. The nice thing was that people seemed to like it. The orders actually went up as the series went along. Sinner’s Reward was, humbly speaking, very popular. It was collected into a trade and was voted one of the top ten horror comics of 2008 by FEARnet.
I got a lot of nice comments from fans on the forums. I’m on Silent Hill Heaven all the time.
That’s a great place, Silent Hill Heaven.
Yeah, I’ve always been active with the fans because I’m a fan first. It has always been important to me to keep my finger on the pulse of fandom because I’m part of it too. I love watching the debates. They really argue like crazy!
Yes they do. [grins]
I always say that that’s the thing I like about it the most. It’s indicative of Silent Hill, if you think about it. Each fan of Silent Hill is going to be different, just like each character of Silent Hill is different. James is different than Harry or Heather. To me, that’s one of the beauties of the property.
Even beyond that, wouldn’t you say that each fan’s interpretation of each character is going to be different?
Oh, absolutely. And I love that. As long as the flame war stays civil…
I don’t always like that, but that’s just part of the Internet these days. There’s safety in anonymity, I guess.
Somewhere along the line, the 2008 Comic-Con, Konami invited me to a meeting with IDW. I was talking to some of the folks at Konami at the time and they asked me if I was interested in writing videogames.
No, why would you want to do that?
They said that they were thinking about doing a new Silent Hill videogame and we’d like to keep you in the mix if it happens.
Did you just shit your pants when they asked you that?
Well, yeah. You know, it’s one of those things where working in comics, especially these days, there’s always Hollywood interest. When you first get Hollywood interest, you think you’ve got the next Avatar. You think it’s going to get made into a movie and so on. You learn really quick that interest doesn’t always mean something. The odds of anything going beyond the interest to an actual movie being made is slim to none.
What happened was, I was excited, and I thought it was great — but I took it with a grain of salt, like anything else in the business. In early 2009, I got a call from the Silent Hill producer. They said that they were going to do a new game and we really want you to write for the game.
Were you in a sort of limbo from that meeting about two years back until this point?
Basically, yeah. You walk out of the meeting on a high, and then you don’t hear anything for months and months, and after awhile you’re like, well, it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe they’re not doing the game. Everything’s so secretive in the business. It turned out that they were, and they were trying to put all their ducks in a row to figure out how they wanted to do it. They called me, we talked, and we all got along great.
What would you like to tell die-hard Silent Hill fans about this project?
I’m a fan, so I want fans to know this. I always see the debates. They say, oh, it’s not Team Silent. It’s just a franchise. They’re milking the cash cow. Nobody cares.
Everybody that’s working on this game, from myself to the producers, the marketing people, to Vatra, who is doing the development work — they love this game. They’re all fans. Everybody cares. We care just as much as any fan out there, if not more. We spend more days arguing over the details because we care. We want it to matter.
I would think it would be hard to say that just about anyone that has worked on any of the game franchise properties didn’t care about Silent Hill. I think they’ve all loved the property in their own way. I think it goes back to the interpretation aspect we were talking about earlier.
You’re right. There’s nothing wrong in the entertainment world to not like what you see, to not agree. To me, it’s wrong to assume that because you don’t like it, the person who created it didn’t care. It’s rarely true.
To me, to do so would be to disrespect their art and work. It doesn’t always line up, and maybe some wanted to see it done differently. I haven’t seen any example of any work in the franchise where you could say it wasn’t respectful of the Silent Hill story and world.
Right. When I play, there’s ones that I like more than others. Silent Hill 2 is my favorite. Silent Hill 4: The Room was one that probably wasn’t my favorite, maybe my least favorite, but I still liked it. It’s just that I have a certain taste in stories, and that was a little different. I think a big part of Silent Hill 2 is the human element and human drama that’s going on there. Even if they weren’t in a haunted town, even if those things just happened, it’s traumatic and horrible. I think that’s the strength. In horror movies, I think they fail now because the gore is such a focus. The reality is that the gore should be part of the setting, but what really matters is the part that people can relate to. If you take James, and you take away Pyramid Head, is he still an interesting character? And he is.
Do you subscribe to the theory that each of the monsters in Silent Hill represent a thought or feeling of the main character? If so, do you continue that in your work on the franchise properties?
Yes. Every creature you’re going to see in the new game is thought through and is tied into the psyche of the main character.
That’s one of those neat things I found out way after playing the games.
It can’t be by accident. There’s a reason. When I had Pyramid Head in the first comic, I was just thinking of creatures. But I didn’t realize creatures had a purpose. In hindsight, I know better. In this new comic, creatures relate exactly the sins of this man’s past.
That’s been our approach with the team I’m working with now. Here’s the thing: I’m not a big fan of the occult aspect. Just because the occult doesn’t do a lot for me. But I understand that it does to some people. I understand its place in the franchise. But I’ve never heard someone say that they don’t like the human element of Silent Hill. That’s the part everybody can relate to. Some people don’t like Pyramid Head. Some of them do. Some people think the nurses are corny. Those things on the edges of the core story relate to people in different ways. But the core story is always the human story.
When we all went into this, we agreed: before we start worrying about the scares or the monsters or any of that stuff, what is the core story here? What is the human story?
How does your new comic relate to all of this?
The new story is called Silent Hill: Past Life. Past Life takes place in 1867, so we’re actually telling the first full-length historical Silent Hill story. Again, I credit my involvement on the forums. Somebody did a timeline out there that is just amazing. I don’t even know where they got some of that information. It goes from the very beginning up to Shattered Memories and Homecoming. I was reading through the timeline, and in the late 1800s, it was still kind of a booming town and it was just starting to show its dark side.
I had an idea. The main character in the comic book is named Jedidiah Foster, and he’s an outlaw from the Wild West. His nickname is Hell Rider, which I actually stole from a song called “The Dark Side of Aquarius” by Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer from Iron Maiden. I always liked the name Hell Rider, and it always makes me think of a cowboy.
Our story is about a bad guy in the Wild West who finally meets a woman who kind of puts him on the straight and narrow. She has a family home that is abandoned in Silent Hill that she wants to move to, to get away from the outlaw territory and try to find a new life. But, of course, it’s Silent Hill, and he’s not going to be able to escape his dark past. He’s going to have to face it, and his wife is going to be dragged into this. It’s an early look at Silent Hill as it’s making the transition to being that purgatory.
What’s unique about this series is that we have a character that is going to be included in the comic book that’s in the new game. We’re hoping fans check it out because our new game is in modern times.
So a character from modern times is going to be in your 1800s story?
You can play the game without reading the comics and still enjoy it and enjoy that character, but if you read the comics, we’re giving you a kind of behind-the-scenes early look at his back story. It hints at why he’s in the game.
Would you say that he’s a featured character in the game? How prominent is he?
He’s a non-playable character, but he is a very vital character to the game and its progression. It’s a character that we obviously have plans for beyond just this game. He’s going to appear in the comic book, but that doesn’t mean he’s only going to be limited to the comic book and this game. It’s somebody that we think of as a strong character. I can’t say the name yet. All I can say is that it’s not Jedidiah. He’s a secondary character in the comic, too. You’re going to get some back story. Not only is this comic book tied into the game because I’m a writer on both, but we’re also bringing characters across.
We want fans to know that the complete Silent Hill experience involves these other things besides the games. Like, some people liked the movie, some didn’t, but it is part of Silent Hill now. Those actors and directors? That was their Silent Hill — that’s the way I see it. You know, that movie doesn’t spoil all the other Silent Hill movies for me. It’s just a different Silent Hill story.
I’ve always thought that it always ties back to the town itself. I’ve always thought of each instance of Silent Hill as its own kind of sub-story in a grand tale.
Absolutely. If you think about Silent Hill 2, you’ve got James, who is seeing all of these monsters. Angela is seeing something totally different. Laura is not seeing anything. She’s so innocent that she’s just running around. Eddie? What’s he seeing? Even within each individual story there’s sub-stories and sub-plots — it’s different for everyone.
In Sinner’s Reward I did that, because I like that. Sinner’s Reward is about a hitman on the run with his mob boss’ wife. They’re running away to escape as he’s in love with her and doesn’t want to be a hitman anymore. He did one last job to make enough money to get away. Well, his one last job is what finds him in Silent Hill. He killed an innocent girl. When they finally get to Silent Hill and the hauntings begin, he sees monsters, but she sees his victims. To me, that’s the running theme in Silent Hill. What you’re seeing and what I’m seeing are totally different things. It should make you think, it should make you look inward. We really hope the comic book does the same thing.
Aside from the obvious tie-ins and your involvement, how important would you say that the previous comic works are to Silent Hill game fans that haven’t seen the comics yet? Does it really flesh out the lore that much?
I don’t even know if I’d describe it that way. I suppose it could, but to me it’s important because you are getting a complete look at the Silent Hill universe as it exists. You’re not going to like everything. To me, if you’re really a completist, you’d want to see all of these things. But do you need to be a completist to enjoy it? No, not at all. You could just play Silent Hill 2 by itself and be happy with Silent Hill. If you go into it thinking that the creators don’t care, then maybe you’re selling your own self short. You may be genuinely surprised. I’d like to think that’s what happened with Sinner’s Reward. Maybe some people didn’t like the comics before, but maybe with Sinner’s Reward they did like what they saw.
If anything, with this last comic book, because I’ve had this unique experience now — we’ve been working on this game for almost two years — to be on the deep inside of what’s going on at Konami, now I understand the universe even more than I did before. I’m hoping that we’re that much closer to what they like in the games.
There’s certain rules, rules even I didn’t know, that Team Silent set way back when. Now I understand those better. For example, if I could change one thing in Silent Hill: Sinner’s Reward, it would be the cameo by Pyramid Head. To me, it was total fan service. I thought that we’re all Silent Hill fans and Pyramid Head is so popular…but now I understand. Really, Pyramid Head is part of James’ Silent Hill, and that was James’ monster. Now I understand that. I’ve made mistakes along the way. At the same time, I don’t think that ruined the comic. Some people really liked it. To some people, Pyramid Head should be in all the stories because they do like him.
You hear that a lot from fans. The continual appearance of Pyramid Head is putting people off for that very reason.
I kind of fought myself for having him in the comic because it didn’t need to be there, and I could have told the same story without having him in there. I had the nurses in there, but it was in Brookhaven Hospital, and the nurses kind of cross over. With the movie it never bothered me, as the movie is trying to reach out to fans that have no idea about Silent Hill. They needed to show all the cool things in the game that people like, so now go check out the game. To me, that made sense. To me, to be honest, for what it was, I actually enjoyed the movie.
I’m, like, the movie’s biggest defender. For what it is and what it was supposed to do, it was great. While it was fan service-y, it was still entertaining, and towards the end it gave you that good Silent Hill feeling.
Right. A perfect example of how I thought it was effective was I took my oldest daughter. We were there, and she had no prior interest in the games. When she came out she said, “Wow, that was cool.” She said it wasn’t what she thought it would be, and asked if the games are like that. I’m hoping the games have the same effect on the comics and the comics have the same effect on the game. Ultimately, our goal is to reach out to the hardcore game fans because they really are the ones that are going to drive the success.
I’m sure the tie-in you’ve created with the comic and the upcoming game will go a long way toward pulling fans across.
In the Silent Hill realm, I’m probably the luckiest guy there is. I was a fan that has found his way into the universe, first through comics all the way through co-writing the game. Four years ago, if you had said that I would be doing this, I would have never thought it would be possible. I was just like anybody else: my brother-in-law and I would play every night, two grown men scared out of our wits, sitting on the couch. I would have never thought I’d go from that to being where I am now.
I get builds as the game is being developed. I was playing one day and a scene I wrote still scared me. The developers are doing such a good job that they’re even surprising me. I don’t want any fan to worry about Vatra. They’re huge fans too, and they really care. It’s going to be beautiful.
I think fan service is a bad term, but I think fan-sensitive is what we are, because we’re fans, too. We’re going to make something that we care about as fans because we know if we care about it, fans will, too.