Alrighty! So what we have here is the hoard of questions that I emailed to SYNDROME co-author R.J.

Ryan about all kinds of things that I personally wanted to know about the graphic novel. I wasn’t expecting such a complete response, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to also receive the input of the second author Daniel Quantz, or the incredible artwork by David Marquez that wasn’t included in the published version. But because this was originally to satisfy my own curiosity I asked some very specific questions about details of the art and story. I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: The following Q&A about SYNDROME may contain what some would consider “spoilers.” There- you have been warned. If for some strange reason you haven’t read it yet and you come across something in here that you feel gives too much away or ruins some part of it for you, too freaking bad. You can scroll to the very end for the artwork so that you don’t have to miss that, but otherwise just do yourself a favor and read the thing already! Thank you! Enjoy.

Q&A with SYNDROME authors R.J. Ryan and Daniel Quantz And an artistic display by illustrator David Marquez
Scarlet_Bitch: I wanted to say thank you again for giving me the chance to talk to you about your graphic novel. RJR: You are welcome! Scarlet_Bitch: I hope that I didn’t make any proprietary missteps in approaching you directly and not through Archaia or Mr. Leibel, as well as in not contacting Mr. Quantz. I’m not as familiar with the collaborative writing process so I’ve been a bit concerned whether contacting one author and not the other is considered offensive. If that is the case I hope you’ll please convey my apologies to Mr. Quantz and explain that it was a mistake made from inexperience and not a reflection of him or my view of his contributions to your work. RJ RYAN: We're happy to talk about the book with anyone who took the time to read it, but we're particularly grateful that you have given it such a close and serious look. The book was designed and written to be scrutinized and re-read by anyone interested in the themes, the world, or the characters. I have invited Daniel to answer these questions as well, so I hope our answers can become the basis for something that's interesting for you to write. DANIEL QUANTZ: Hi. Thanks for your interest! RJR: Speaking to Blake's contribution, apart from the business and financial support that his company Fantasy Prone gave us, and the creative freedom their involvement enabled, we should make it clear that we did not collaborate with him on the writing of SYNDROME. But what he did do was essential, worthy of credit, and without it the book would absolutely not exist. Blake had a notion for a property he wanted to call "Syndrome" (which we agreed was a fun title) about a doctor attempting to treat an extremely psychopathic killer. The setting he had in mind was an insane asylum. He literally asked us, what would happen if you put a "House"-type character (as in the Fox TV show) together with a killer on the order of

The Joker or Hannibal Lecter in a padded cell? That was the admittedly derivative question posed to us in our first meeting on the project, and the story and graphic novel that resulted was written by the team of Daniel and myself as a sort of response to that question. Blake was very respectful to allow us to do our thing. We chose to radically change the idea and infuse the story with our own flavor, characterizations, tone and thematic concerns and as a result of the work we did we became financial partners in the intellectual property as part of our compensation package. We've said this before, but we know from experience with Marvel and other publishers that most comic books simply aren't made in this way. S_B: First may I offer you and your colleagues’ congratulations on Syndrome’s success- I have yet to come across a truly negative review and have read several that say wonderful things about it. RJR: Look harder. There have been a couple of people who hate it...which is the case with every comic book/movie/band etc. But we love that so many critics found something to enjoy in the book, and we're thrilled that our artist David Marquez is earning praise. He's going places. DQ: Wow. I guess they’ve been mostly positive, but I really value the negative ones as well. Obviously they’re not too great for promotion, but as a writer it’s always instructive to hear well-considered criticism. (Emphasis on “well-considered.”) S_B: However I must confess that I still haven’t found one that I found satisfying. I don’t think enough credit is given to the writing and layers of meaning in each part of the story. I even read one review that complained about the ending being too “abrupt” which just tells me that the critic really missed the point entirely. So far I think that Mr. Eick has come the closest to doing it justice and I was very pleased that he fittingly compared your work to that of Huxley. RJR: He was so generous to give us that jacket quote. Over the last couple of months David Eick has become a real friend to the project and Daniel and I have been able to spend some quality time with him as a result of that. It's hard to understate how much we admire "Battlestar Galactica" but I do put it in the same league as shows like "Mad Men," "The Wire" and "The Sopranos." It quite rightly won the Peabody Award, which is about a hundred times more prestigious than an Emmy. We watch "BSG" and are still pretty humbled to know that we have David's seal of approval because he is hugely responsible for how well executed that series is. DQ: One thing all the shows that Josh mentioned have in common is the kind of sophisticated storytelling that allows the viewer to read it at whatever level they choose. They all work within their genres if you just want gangsters, melodrama or sci-fi, but they’re also much much more than that if you want to read into it and start a dialog with the work. S_B: I’d like to start off by asking you where the “mirror neuron” idea/concept came from and why it was selected as the cause for the research subject’s sociopathic tendencies and the key to his chosen method of treatment. RJR: This is something Daniel pitched to me very early in the process and I loved it and we wholly embraced as part of the writing of the book.

DQ: I have no idea where I first heard about mirror neurons, but I feel that I’d been hearing about them for a while before SYNDROME. I’m fascinated by anything that has to do with psychology and human behavior and was probably reading about this as a way of procrastinating from other projects. We were presented with the idea of doing a story about a doctor who treats psychopaths, and the only way that was interesting to either of us was if we got to play around with stuff that was right out on the edge of current research and then to go a step further. S_B: Is there a specific reason you chose mirror neurons? DQ: Attacking the idea of “evil” as a problem of empathy was interesting to us. If mirror neurons are in fact responsible for our ability to empathize (or, at least, a very large contributing factor), and we were able to stimulate those cells in people who acted selfishly, just imagine how that could change society. I’m sure this isn’t going to be what we find out (it almost never is) but the possibility of this is staggering and very exciting to someone who writes fiction. S_B: But why choose something that the majority of readers probably haven’t heard anything about yet? RJR: It's been great to hear back from readers who have gone out and looked into this issue and looked into the science behind SYNDROME on their own time and we certainly want the book to be thought-provoking and raise questions like yours. DQ: Not to be glib, but we chose it because it interested us and worked with the story we wanted to tell. The fact that most people are unaware of this research was secondary and HAD to be. We live in a world now where you can’t expect to surprise anyone. It seems that everyone knows everything at the same time these days, and so you have to make sure that, whatever you’re doing, it holds up even if the novelty is removed. S_B: Do not misunderstand; I was very surprised and extremely excited considering how current and controversial the studies on mirror neuronal implications are. RJR: Thank you for recognizing that! DQ: We’re aware of the controversy. The science is clearly not settled yet, but that’s why we have sciencefiction! S_B: Why not gene mapping/therapy for the genetic markers found common in murderers and psychopaths? DQ: We wanted to focus on one theory and mirror neurons worked for many reasons. We’re not saying that this is the answer. What we’re saying is that this character believes it is and then we kind of leave it up to you to decide if he was right. RJR: Gene mapping is just as scientifically intriguing but it's kind of been done to death in comics, starting with the world of the X-Men and moving out from there. We wanted Wolfe's journey to start in the realm of psychiatry and move to neuropathology, and there didn't seem to be room for a discussion about therapeutic genetic manipulation on that journey and the story certainly didn't demand it.

S_B: How about electrically stimulating the “emotional” areas of the brain that are known to be less active in those types- something like that? RJR: Wow -- Daniel and I were just discussing THAT process and technology the other day, relative to how -- if at all -- we continue the story of SYNDROME (which would be a couple of years off, regardless). It's a very fertile area, for sure, just in terms of the narrative possibilities it opens up. S_B: I admired how you included both the EEG images and the PET/CT scanner into the background artwork and I’d like to know more about the research that you did in the different fields- psychology, psychiatry, and neuropathology- in order to write Syndrome. RJR: Once Daniel and I decided that within the story Wolfe's character would come to see sociopathy as a strictly physiological disorder -- along the lines of Alzheimer's disease, say -- we went and did our homework as to how that would/could actually work. Again, Daniel was the one who brought the notion of mirror neurons to the table and everyone involved in the book loved that idea as a way into the illness of the sociopathic mind. It just works very nicely and elegantly. But the real-world research is still a couple of years behind what you see in the book. DQ: Our artist, David Marquez, was a great collaborator. We all went off and did research and then posted pictures into Google Wave (R.I.P.). It was important to us that we get it right...or at least close enough so that someone who actually knows a thing or two about the brain and this research would go, Yeah, that’s about right. There’s actually a tiny narrative going on in David’s depiction of the brain scans if you know the regions of the brain and what they do. S_B: Clearly the focus of the story was on Neuropathology, and the disparaging remarks that Dr. Brunswick made about psychiatry’s total lack of effectiveness demonstrated how entirely his point of view had changed, but was that all it was meant to do? RJR: Alois Alzheimer's journey from psychiatrist to neuropathologist (because psychiatry alone was not effective for him in terms of diagnosing and attempting to treat dementia in an elderly patient) was the big inspiration for that portion of the story. We have to warn people not to confuse Wolfe's perspective with any kind of editorializing on our part. We took great pains to dramatize the story in such a way that nothing comes across to us as "preachy." DQ: This is a story about a character and his personal journey, so yes, that is all it was meant to do. We don’t necessarily agree with his feelings about psychiatry. S_B: So then was the doctor only referring to patients with such extreme mental problems as the “Kirkwood Teen” or all mental health issues? RJR: That's a terrific and perceptive question but the answer has been deliberately left up to the reader, as with a lot of the big questions in the book. The evidence to draw your own conclusion is right there in the book. Based on what Wolfe does after he "quits psychiatry." So: considering what problems he chooses to spend his time on, what do you think? S_B: Do you personally believe psychiatry is at all an effective treatment for mental disorders?

RJR: How exactly we personally feel on this particular subject might tip our hands a little bit and be revealing too much about our own thematic priorities with the material, which are frankly unimportant compared to the reader's. My father was a clinical psychologist for 30 years so I can say with confidence that psychotherapy did pay for me to go to college. DQ: I believe psychotherapy can be incredibly useful and valuable to most people. We’re dealing with an extreme in this book, and psychotherapy is ill-equipped to deal with monsters like the ones we portray. Psychiatry is a different matter, and all I’ll say (and this has no relevance whatsoever to Syndrome) is that people in the profession should be deeply ashamed of themselves for allowing prescription drugs to become so prevalent and primary. S_B: How would you feel about your readers coming away from this story with the message that therapy and possibly all current available treatment options for mental health issues are useless and that improvement is simply a lost cause? RJR: That's neither something we believe nor the "message" of the book per se. Remember, we're directly addressing (in a speculative, fictionalized fashion) only one particular mental illness in this book -sociopathy. The central question we asked ourselves before starting the book was how you would actually treat someone like this, someone who by the nature of his very condition would refuse to participate in therapy and be incredibly difficult to perform a clinical drug trial upon? The book merely dramatizes what a drug trial for sociopath/psychopath would actually look like. It's not an indictment of "the talking cure" even though we show its failure in a particular case. DQ: I sincerely hope that this is not what people are thinking when they come away from this book. Although I do think we’re in the stone ages in many respects when it comes to curing mental illness, I am extremely optimistic that we are at a point in history when this will start to change dramatically. RJR: If you look at "The Sopranos," Tony continued to murder, cheat and steal even as he appeared to make progress and even breakthroughs in therapy. And his psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi, kept at it with him for years. But in the final couple of episodes, she does conclude that Tony, who she ultimately classifies as a sociopath, is untreatable. However, that doesn't mean that she was going to close up her practice. She was presumably making strides with other patients, even as she gave up on Tony. SYNDROME pushes that fundamental problem one step further -- essentially demanding that something outside of psychotherapy be employed to treat a sociopath. S_B: In the conversation where the doctor is describing all of the possible benefits of his work, a world where the syndrome of “evil” doesn’t exist, he lists five things as examples: murder, rape, arson, racism, and suicide. The first two are easy selections- things people think of right away as evil deeds we do to each other. The third I think is an interesting choice, though I still understand it. The fourth I think is genius, but the fifth I must say don’t understand. Why is suicide included on a list of atrocities that can be eliminated through an increase in the perpetrator’s ability to experience empathy? DQ: Perhaps this says something about the character that makes the statement. RJR: Clearly Wolfe, the doctor, has classified suicide as a subset of the "extreme selfishness"/empathy deficiency he's discussing as the central medical problem of the story. It's not necessarily our view but we're very intrigued by that interpretation of suicidal behavior/acts.

S_B: But people do not commit suicide out of selfishness or because they are unable to relate to the pain they cause others. Why not list something more clearly “evil” like war or genocide, domestic violence, child abuse, gangs, etc? RJR: Quite the contrary, I've heard many clinicians describe the act of suicide as the pinnacle of selfish behavior -- especially when we're talking about a person with family and loved ones who will be clearly terribly hurt by the act. S_B: What confused me further is that suicide is brought up again later in the story in the conversation between the doctor and Alexei regarding Anton Furst. You give an example and then an explanation: jumping suicides being impulse actions and the emotion of rejection being neurologically akin to physical pain. This all fits with the theories behind the motivation of suicide, which Brunswick makes sure to distance himself and his studies from. But how does this exchange in the context of the earlier list of potentially alleviated social problems do anything other than demonstrate exactly how out of place suicide is on that list? RJR: Remember, in that scene, Alexei and Wolfe are making small talk on a car ride. Wolfe is not "diagnosing" long-dead Anton Furst so much as hearing what Alexei has to say about Furst and drawing his own likely private conclusions (about Furst OR Alexei) that are deliberately kept from the reader. So, a core question it's pretty obvious we wanted to ask the reader is: is suicide "extreme selfishness acted upon" or is it an impulsive response to unbearable mental anguish? Or is it even so simple as a black and white choice between the two? You as a reader should have some understanding by that point of where Wolfe stands on the issue. The question becomes, where do YOU stand? S_B: I could understand if there was a connection made between the impulsivity of a jumper’s final act and the clapping exercise/conclusion about the conscious mind not really making decisions, but as it is I feel like I’m missing something here. RJR: Well, let's take a look at another moment in the book: Sam's death in the 1982 sequence. It could be argued that by "violently resisting arrest" Sam, who we know firmly to be a textbook sociopath, committed "suicide by cop." We want you as a reader to draw connections between all of the references to suicide in the book, compare them to each other and ponder their relevance particularly to Wolfe's research and experimentation. It's just further food for thought and again, we consider the reader's interpretation to be more important and valid than our own intentions and goals with the book. These questions should be entertaining to ask yourself. But clearly there is a line being drawn in SYNDROME between cruelty, selfishness, murder, suicide, and, in the largest sense, narcissism. S_B: Speaking of completely missing things there is something that has been driving me absolutely crazy! (No pun intended) It kills me to ask because I feel like it’s a riddle that I should be able to solve on my own and instead I’m admitting defeat, but for the sake of my peace of mind I’m sacrificing my pride and just going to ask: Can you please tell me what is up with all the tea?!? I mean it’s all through the entire book! Then there’s the brand label on the little tag thingy on the bag. It looks like it was deliberately displayed rather than just part of a picture of a cup of tea. DQ: It’s connective tissue, a motif. Think of it like white matter, connecting ideas.

RJR: Thank you for noticing the running reference to tea. While it is there purposefully, it certainly isn't meant to symbolize just one thing throughout the book. We're actively asking the reader to draw his own conclusions about why it's there when it is, the same way we as fans and viewers were forced to ask ourselves what all the coffee and cherry pie references meant in "Twin Peaks," what the recurring oranges meant in the Godfather Trilogy or why characters on "The Sopranos" seem to interact pointedly with both eggs and meat. Hopefully a thread like that further invests you in the book and pays off more fully in a second or third reading? It's one of those things that are really left up to you, the reader. RJR: By the way, the brand label for the tea was designed by our artist David Marquez. We loved that design and wanted to see it clearly both with the "fresh-brewed" cup of tea and the shattered teacup later in the same chapter. S_B: Honestly I could keep asking questions for at least another page or two, but I imagine that your time and patience are not limitless so I think I will wrap this message up in hopes that you will have enough of both remaining to send a reply. Thank you again for your time- It’s truly been a pleasure to have the opportunity to ask you about some of the parts of Syndrome that I’ve been so terribly curious about. DQ: Thank you! It’s so flattering to have someone put so much thought and care into our book. I hope we were able to answer your questions. END