SILK Goes to Therapy: An Interview with Robbie Thompson

This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics

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?

Silk goes it alone during Spider-Verse. Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, and Frank D'Armata, from Spider-Woman vol 5 #1.

Silk goes it alone during Spider-Verse. Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, and Frank D’Armata, from Spider-Woman vol 5 #1.

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's post-bunker apartment. Art by Stacey Lee and Ian Herring, from Silk v2 #1.

Cindy’s post-bunker apartment. Art by Stacey Lee and Ian Herring, from Silk vol 2 #1.

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. 

Art by Veronica Fish and Ian Herring, from Silk v2 #4.

Art by Stacey Lee and Ian Herring, from Silk vol 1 #6.

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.

Art by Stacey Lee and Ian Herring, from Silk vol 1 #1.

Art by Stacey Lee and Ian Herring, from Silk vol 1 #1.

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.

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