SILK Goes to Therapy: An Interview with Robbie Thompson
Psychology has played a major part in superhero comics from the beginning; after all, Wonder Woman was famously created by psychologist William Moulton Marston. But, while psychological studies of superheroes have become fairly standard since at least the mid-1980s, relatively few superhero comics have explored therapy as a means of dealing with trauma. For the past year, though, Marvel’s Silk has been a glorious exception, as Cindy Moon has worked with Dr. Sinclair, a therapist specializing in capes and tights. I spoke with Silk‘s writer, Robbie Thompson about Cindy’s therapy process, first at C2E2, and then over email.
Charles Paul Hoffman: First off, I wanted to say thanks for taking the time to speak with me about Silk. I came out of Spider-Verse a little ambivalent about Cindy Moon, but her first solo issue blew me away, and I’ve been reading ever since. So, thanks to you, Stacey Lee, Tana Ford, Ian Herring, and the rest of the Silk team for putting out a consistently great book!
Onto the questions… Lots of superheroes have psychological trauma at their root—just think of all those murdered family members!—but one of the things I love about Silk is that Cindy is seeing a therapist to deal with her anxiety, anger, and other issues. What made you decide to include therapy as a major plot point in the series?
Robbie Thompson: The decision to have Cindy go to therapy came from the first conversation I had with Editor Nick Lowe. We met at Comic-Con a few years ago, and he told me about the character, and what their plans were for her. Cindy was born in a huge, crossover event (Original Sin), and then has a big “coming out party” in another crossover event (Spider-Verse). So, when it came to launching a solo book, we knew we couldn’t match the external scale of those stories. But that made us wonder if we could match it internally—really drill down on the reality of Cindy’s story. We didn’t want to do a “gritty” take, but rather just play the reality of what it would be like to re-enter the world after ten years of isolation. With that in mind, I researched living in isolation and being locked away—stories and anecdotes that related to issues with power, control, anxiety. It became pretty clear Cindy was going to have trouble adjusting to day-to-day life once Spider-Verse was over and the reality of how much time and life she’d lost settled into her psyche.
On a personal level, I was also inspired by my parents—my father was a therapist, and my mother is a rehab nurse, so I grew up in an environment where I heard about the healing power of therapy and rehab every day—daunting and intense work, but they changed people’s lives for the better. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about since I was a little kid.
CPH: During her initial appearances in Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Woman, Cindy came off as fairly impulsive. But, one of the interesting things you and Stacey Lee did with Silk was to take Cindy back into the bunker—she hated the fact that she was a prisoner there, but it was also her safe space. Was Cindy’s impulsiveness early on itself a reaction to her trauma?
RT: Cindy’s definitely impulsive due to her history, and she’s still wrestling with that, as we’ll see in Spider-Women: Alpha, (which was beautifully drawn by Vanesa Del Rey and brilliantly colored by Jordie Bellaire. Those two are such fantastic storytellers—I can’t wait for people to see their work in that issue!) Cindy’s impulsiveness comes from an honest character driven place in that comic, but it also gets her and her partners into trouble pretty quick
Cindy going back to the bunker came from her being overwhelmed by the outside world, and trying to find, or recreate, her safe place. It’s like a blanket to protect her, but it’s also a place to hide. I remember pitching it and feeling awful—I was like, can’t Cindy catch a break? Why am I so mean to her? But that moment felt emotionally right, so back she went—this time at least with a door she could open anytime she wanted. I was so happy when we re-launched and she had her own apartment—and Stacey Lee did an amazing job of creating her new safe place.
CPH: Did you do any research on the effects of prolonged solitary confinement for the series? Cindy has been talking a lot more lately about her ten years away as being in prison.
RT: Talking about her time away as being in prison came from the research. Locking herself away was such a complicated and difficult decision. Freedom is a big thread throughout the first arc—and Cindy’s struggle with her newfound freedom led to my favorite page in the first arc. Silk and Spider-Man talking post Silk’s fight with Black Cat in [volume 1] issue #6. Stacey did such an amazing job illustrating the emotions in every panel of that page. She evokes so much heart and empathy in each moment. And Ian Herring’s colors set the perfect tone. You could strip out all the dialogue in that page and still get the same feeling. Their hug in the rain just kills me every time I see it.
CPH: There’s an interesting current running through the series of Cindy being a Millennial, but not sharing many of the experiences of those in her age group. She’s not really a digital native and her cultural references are all fairly dated. Does this contribute to Cindy’s sense of isolation, and is that part of what makes her want to go back into the bunker?
RT: Getting to play with the Steve Rogers-like “Person out of time” moments are a lot of fun, but yeah, those moments are also meant to illustrate how isolated Cindy is, and how hard it is for her to connect. When we looked at the timeline of things that happened while she was gone, technology and the way it affects our day to day lives struck me the hardest. There’s a panel in issue #1 that Stacey drew that I love, where Cindy’s walking along and everyone is staring at their phones. As a late adapter (and now total addict) to cell phones, I could really relate to that moment. Everyone is so connected and so alone at the same time.
And a huge credit to Nick Lowe and former Assistant Editor Ellie Pyle who really pushed for JJJ to have a large role in the book. I was worried about writing such an iconic character, but I love the dynamic he and Cindy have and the scenes they’ve shared. Nick is always like, “More JJJ!” and every time it leads to a great moment.
CPH: When Reed Richards first suggests she talks to Dr. Sinclair, Cindy is pretty reluctant. But then she gets a number of subtle suggestions that maybe it’s okay to reach out for help, and eventually Cindy calls to set up an appointment. Why was it important to show that initial reluctance and denial?
RT: Showing Cindy’s reluctance and then showing her actually going to therapy felt integral to making sure that decision felt authentic. It’s a moment that I think a lot of people initially have when it comes to therapy. I mean, when I needed help, I was in denial about it, thinking—therapy, shmerapy. And I’m the son of a therapist! I’m so grateful I went, but it took a while to get me there. So, we wanted to show the reality of that decision, and, while we’re not trying to be preachy, it was important to show therapy as a normal process, that shouldn’t have any shame or stigma associated with it. It’s normal to go to therapy, and it’s normal to resist going. But in the end: if you’re willing to do the work and you have a great therapist, it can help. I’ve benefited enormously from therapy over the years—it’s changed my life.
CPH: On the subject of Reed Richards, he had an amazing line that just hits right to the core of his mental state: “My body can stretch all around this building. It’s natural state is a giant puddle of, well, me. It takes everything I have to hold myself together. So, yes. I’ve had anxiety.” Then, at the end of issue #1 of the new volume, there’s the fantastic moment with Mockingbird, where Silk asks here how she got over being held captive by the Skrulls, and Bobbi just looks down before saying “I didn’t.” What made you decide to explore their psychology, and did you get any pushback from editorial for playing outside of your own box?
RT: In both cases, I was looking to find ways for those two characters to relate to Cindy/Silk on an emotional level. And Nick and Assistant Editor Devin Lewis never pushed back at all on those scenes. In fact, they’ve pushed for more scenes where Cindy checks in with Dr. Sinclair, and deals with her issues. They’ve been incredibly supportive throughout this collaboration.
Selfishly, I wanted to have the Fantastic Four in the book, because they’re my favorite characters—but it also felt like a great fit for a Spider-Book like Silk, given their history with Spider-Man. I love that the Fantastic Four are, at their core, just a big ol’ dysfunctional family. And while Reed Richards is a scientist and one of the great minds of the Marvel Universe, he’s first and foremost a father. Reed can see Cindy’s in pain, despite her fun-loving, Galactus-punching, exterior, and it felt organic for Reed’s paternal instincts to kick in with that observation, and that instinct helped him find a way to connect with Cindy.
With Bobbi, her reaction came from reading a bunch of Bobbi stories and histories that Nick and Devin sent my way. As soon as I re-read what she went through with the Skrulls, it was a pretty clear parallel and felt like something that would help her connect with Cindy. I love Bobbi and I’m really excited to see her finding a bigger role in the Marvel Universe.
CPH: At her first session with Dr. Sinclair, which took place literally in the shadow of the final incursion before Secret Wars, Cindy sat unspeaking for the entire hour. Was this another manifestation of Cindy’s anxiety—she basically became a deer in headlights once the focus was on her—or was this drawn from an actual experience?
RT: That actually came from stories my father shared with me: clients sitting in silence through a first session. But they always came back the next week, and eventually, did the work. That always stuck with me. And it felt like someone with Cindy’s history would experience that in her first session. She had zero control over her life in the bunker. She was trapped. So she has issues with regards to control and anxiety. Tana Ford and Ian Herring did an incredible job putting that scene together. The warmth of Ian’s colors in the office is so inviting, it makes you root for Cindy to share and do the work. And Cindy’s face and posture in Tana’s panels are so perfect. She’s so clearly holding her feelings in—it’s just great work from Tana and Ian all around.
CPH: When we had a chance to speak briefly at C2E2, you mentioned that you viewed comic cons as a sort of therapy for social anxiety, since you’re forced to interact with other people. Does putting on a costume and helping people serve something of the same role for Cindy?
RT: Putting on a costume definitely helps Cindy interact with people. The mask allows her to drop her guard and be herself. She’s more confident when she’s Silk versus Cindy Moon. But I’m hoping that over time she’ll be confident no matter what she’s wearing. She’s trying, though, which is one of the many things I love about her.
CPH: We’re now heading into the Spider-Women crossover, where Cindy is going to meet her Earth-65 counterpart. How is that experience going to affect her? More stuff to work through with Dr. Sinclair?
RT: As we talked about before, Cindy’s impulsive nature is going to take the stage front and center during that event. She just doesn’t quite know how to play well with others. And, yeah, if she manages to survive Spider-Women there will be many a session with Dr. Sinclair to sort through what she’s been through.
This crossover has been so much fun to work on with Nick, Devin and Assistant Editor Kathleen Wisneski. We’re working with a killer line-up of artists and colorists. Jason Latour and Dennis Hopeless are both terrific writers and getting a chance to work with them has been educational and exciting. I love Spider-Woman and Spider-Gwen and I’m so happy Nick decided to get all three books together for what we hope is a fun, but also character driven event.
CPH: Any hints of what we’ve got in store post-Spider-Women?
RT: I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say that post-Spider-Women things get even more complicated for Silk and her undercover gig working for Black Cat. Silk and Cat have started to get close and Silk is going to have to decide whose side she’s really on. We’re also going to be getting some new information about Cindy’s missing parents as well as tying in to the upcoming Dead No More event, which is going to be so much fun. There’s a whole lot of hijinks headed Silk’s way!
CPH: Is there any chance we might see Cindy team up with Anya Corazon, a/k/a Spider-Girl?
RT: Well, again, no spoilers—but I do love Anya and I dig the Spider Society quite a bit. As for Ezekiel, he’s a presence that will always loom large in Cindy’s life…
CPH: On a similar note, any prospect of Cindy showing up in either Venom: Space Knight or Spidey (presumably a young, pre-bunker Cindy for that one)?
RT: We are going to be doing an Earth-centric story with Venom coming up soon, but he and Silk won’t be crossing paths just yet. I would love to see the two of them go on an adventure, and not just because I want to see Silk in space!
As for Spidey, we did joke at one point about cutting away from the plot of an issue of Spidey and just showing Cindy, locked in her bunker, watching E.T. for the millionth time. Alone. It’s possible I’m a horrible person!
CPH: Finally, the solicit for Silk #9 shows the return of original series artist Stacey Lee. You’ve lucked into some fantastic artists while she’s been away—Tana Ford and Veronica Fish have both done amazing work—but does it feel nice to have the original team together again?
RT: Stacey Lee, Annapaola Martello, Tana Ford, Veronica Fish—I have been so lucky on this book to work with every single one of those amazing artists—and also to have done every single issue with Team Silk’s MVP, colorist Ian Herring. His work has really kept the tone consistent and he brings so much life and vitality to every single page.
It’s definitely fun to have the original team together—Ian, Stacey and I were actually all at C2E2, something that never happens. We went out for deep dish pizza and hatched all kinds of plans for Cindy Moon!
CPH: Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me today. I—and many of the other Panelteers, for that matter—look forward to reading Cindy’s adventures, both on the therapy couch and in sewers, well into the future.[Note: Parts 1 and 2 of Spider-Women (Spider-Women: Alpha and Spider-Gwen #7) are out now.]