An interview with Scott Snyder
Scott Snyder. He is arguably the biggest name in comics right now. His books are flying off the shelves, delighting critics and igniting fire under the asses of fans. I was lucky enough to have an interview and learn about his books, his process, and what’s coming next.
Jo Schmidt: What drew you to Batman? What’s your big inspiration; what made you make “Batman” as amazing as it is?
Scott Snyder: I’ve been a fan of the character since I was born, pretty much, and he’s one of the few characters that grows up with you. I remember being a little kid and watching “Scooby Doo” and waiting for those episodes where he guest-starred. And falling in love with the television show from the 60’s. The Adam West show but not understanding it was campy cuz I was a kid. And from there it was loving the “Super Friends.”
At his core he’s one of these characters that is relatable at any age. He’s someone that, I think, that he’s so malleable but so strong as a character as a central concept. He’s one of the few with no super powers. In the Justice League he’s essentially the only guy with no amazing ability beyond what he sort of built up in himself. He’s a man like any of us. His own will and determination, his fortitude, he’s become the super hero that’s essentially the greatest of all of them. Someone who can stand shoulder to shoulder with these gods. So I think in that way there’s something deeply appealing to a kid and to an adult about that. There are all these wonderful different layers that get added on as you get older about the more sort of twisted and pathological and heroic elements of his personality. So the comics grew up with him as well. I think a really big part of it, I was 11 or 12 when “the Dark Knight Returns,” “Year One,” “Arkham Asylum” and “the Killing Joke” came out and they were these comics that were just sort of taking the art form but also the character of Batman to this whole other level; and those comics and falling in love with them in the seminal and formative time, for me as a kid and someone that wanted to be in the art was something that really grafted that character to my imagination entirely. He’s by far my favorite of all time. I’m really honored to get to write him.
Jo: We’re certainly glad you got to because it’s one of, if not the, most critically acclaimed and best selling books DC puts out. You wrote Dick [Nightwing] as Batman in “Detective Comics” before this. Two totally different animals but which has been more fun and interesting to write?
Scott: Well its hard to pick. It’s like “Sophie’s Choice.” I loved writing Dick because they’re so incredibly different, like you said. Dick is entirely emotionally vulnerable and relatable. He tells you how he’s feeling and wears his heart on his sleeve all the time. He’s wonderful to write because anything that’s going through his mind or his heart he tells you a narration or he tells you by telling his friends or Alfred or anyone. It’s his greatest strength, his empathy, and his compassion and his sense of altruism without the same kind of dark baggage that Bruce has. Bruce on the other hand is like a totally unreliable narrator to write because he won’t tell you how he feels at all. He’ll tell you the facts of the case and then deny that he’s worried or afraid or anything like that unless its absolutely dire. In that way there are different challenges to both. But deep down if I had to pick one I really do love writing Bruce the most. There’s something wonderfully twisted and fun about writing somebody that is at once so strong and so heroic and also has this kind of incredibly dark streak to him.
Jo: That’s really cool. Reading “Batman” right now there’s a lot of sense of 70’s and 80’s style. Did you go in there planning to write kind of classic Batman? How did you decide to take this batman?
Scott: Well, I think everyone has their own in their mind. For me, the only way to write a character as iconic as Batman is to think you made him up. So I think the only way to do it is to approach it as a way of getting at the stuff you’re excited and terrified about. For the court of owls story the thing that I was really fascinated by was Bruce’s relationship with the city, partly because for me growing up in the city I’ve always loved and been frightened by all the people that have come before you. It’s the notion that the crushing weight of the history of a place that’s both knowable and totally unknowable in the lives lived. In that way Bruce and his need to know Gotham better than anybody and his confidence knowing the city better than anyone is something that really hits a nerve with me. That’s how I approach it. I know I love the character deeply and I try to find things within that love of that character that are specific to interests of my own that are both exciting and frightening in my own life.
For example, this Joker story that we’re doing now is largely about the Joker coming and saying to Batman “You’ve built this family around you, this group of allies that have essentially made you soft and weak and you can’t stand up to me. Maybe you can take out a few little owls but you’ll never be able to fight me any more and that’s why I took some time to come back and challenge you in the biggest way possible to prove to you that you don’t need them and they only hurt you. They’re a false royal court and I’m your royal court jester. You’re my Bat-king and that’s all we need in the world.” The reason that speaks to me personally is that, as a dad of young children, you have those feelings in your life both good and bad about, “if only I love my kids and love my wife, and you love your kids more than anything,” there’s also that being frustrated by the fact that the world becomes very scary once you have children. You become very worried about them for things that you were never worried about before they were born. All these things you never thought about suddenly become very menacing is something that I think is true for Batman in the way that he has these allies that he cares deeply about. And those are Achilles heels. You try to find things like that.
Jo: I get what you meant. What batman villain would you like to resurrect/bring back? Who’s your big fantasy to use?
Scott: We’re going to be doing a Riddler story next. We’re really going to explore who he was before he was Riddler and who the Riddler is now and really try to do it in a way that honors the history of that character but also gives you something fresh about him too. So we’re really excited about it. He’s kind of next on the list.
Jo: Moving on to “American Vampire.” I just caught up with it and it is incredible. The layers you have. How much do you have planned and how much is on the fly? Where is this going?
Scott: We’ve had an outline from the very beginning that Rafael [Albuquerque] and Mark [Doyle], the editor, and I all know where its going to end. So I’d say right about now we’re half way through with the series, somewhere around there. Where the first half is really about opening up this world of vampires to you and showing you all these different species of vampires that have existed throughout time. Then the second half is really about bringing those forces together. Bringing it all into one big story. So all the characters you love, Pearl, Skinner. Felecia, Bixby and Calvin that we’ve made over a couple years will sort of be coming into play in new stories. They’ll come crashing together in the second half. For the twentieth century leading up to the finale that we’ve been planning since the very beginning. So I’d say the best answer is that we do have a road map, that we know the major highways and byways that we could take but we kind of constantly wind up exploring these little roads that we didn’t know we’d take. I kind of approach every story like that where I know the beginning and the end I know how to get there. Like I know the major beats of something like the story we’re doing in “Batman” with Joker or with what we’re doing with “Man of Steel” but the idea is essentially that I try to leave myself a little bit of room in the middle area to explore and wander and find things that are surprising.
Jo: Speaking of, what about “Man of Steel?” What would you like to tell us?
(Editor’s Note: Man of Steel’s title has been changed to SUPERMAN UNCHAINED)
Scott: I’m really, really honored to write the character and the way it came about is essentially, about nine months ago I had lunch with Dan Didio. We were talking about other possible DC Universe projects if we took a break from “American Vampire” for a little bit because Rafael wants to recharge. We’re taking about six months off from “American Vampire.” I told him I didn’t really have that many stories in mind because I was so taken by “Batman” but I did have this one big Superman story in my head that I’d love to do at some point. Dan was excited and said, “Well, why don’t we do it soon.” So I started talking to him about it and what it was and the outline and basically the bones of it and he loved it which was exciting to me. He basically said that he thought it was something that Jim [Lee] might respond to, and that I should meet with Jim.
In San Diego I met with Jim and told him the idea and he started telling me how he would draw it. We just sort of fell in love with the idea of working together on this character. The story itself is basically, without giving anything away, sort of just the biggest, most exploratory, most epic story I could do with Superman that really explores everything about what he means to me personally, what I think he’s about. It’s the story I would write if I only got once chance to write Superman. Its not like a run on the character, it’s not like three little arcs, it’s a big novel of Superman. For me, “It’s how I approach Batman too. Which is each story I try and design them that if I never get to write this character again it’s everything I have to say or want to explore about this aspect of the characters’ personality and psychology. It’s going to have massive consequences, it’s in continuity so it will play along with the other books but it’s going to be doing its own thing independently. It’s going to have features and backups and I’m writing them both. I couldn’t be more excited about it. It’s going to have a lot of what I write about in my other books, it’s different but you’re going to see Superman a little brighter than Batman but at the same time its got a lot of American history in it and Superman will come face to face with something he’s sort of frightened about himself and so I’m really proud of it. I’m very, very eager to see what all of you think about it.
Jo: I cannot wait and I’m sure everyone else cannot wait. I want to get to “Swamp Thing.” I totally admit I’ve only read one volume of Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing.” Your run is very much brand new but seems to be harkening Moore’s run, were you inspired by that, was there something else that pushed you to do this?
Scott: Sure, I loved Alan Moore’s run. Honestly, the Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson run was easily just as influential to me. I mean the beginning of the series where it was really gothic horror, monster, Frankenstein, the Patchwork Man, the kind of really, really ghoulish fun creepfest that it was before Alan Moore took it over. I love that he’s always been a reluctant hero. He’s a guy who longs for the Alec Holland he used to be, even as he tries to give that up. So in that way there’s something incredibly human about him no matter how monstrous he is. Basically, in the Wein and Wrightson stuff he was a guy that got turned into this horrible monster and was doing the right thing and saving the world even though everyone thought of him as this, like, ugly shambling thing and really he just sort of wanted to go back to being Alec Holland and disappear in the swamp. Yet he still always did the right thing. And then with the Alan Moore stuff, as cerebral and cosmic as it is, it’s still really about a guy that even though he never was human is unable to let go of that part of himself through his love for Abby but also through his deep humanity. So no matter how bad he becomes he’s still kind of reluctant to embrace the monstrous, almost god-like quality of the Swamp Thing. To me that’s what I wanted to do except completely flip it on its head and say “Well, what if he was human again?” At the time I was beginning it, Geoff Johns was working on “Brightest Day” and I was beginning the ideas of what I would do with Swamp Thing if I ever got the chance and he happened to call me up cuz he heard through Vertigo that I was interested in doing a “Swamp Thing” series. This is when I still just barely knew Geoff and I was just so nervous talking to him on the phone but he called and told me he was going to reintroduce Swamp Thing and he heard that I had an idea for it and what was the idea. I told him; I remember I was cooking dinner at the time, asking my wife if she could take over so I could tell Geoff Johns my Swamp Thing idea. Totally harrowing. But he really liked it and was wonderfully generous about setting me up with that status with being human but remembering everything that came before. So in that way it really gave me a chance to do something very different with Alec hoping to escape the green and never be near it again but at the same time learning that his destiny is tied to it. He not only became Swamp Thing again but was always destined from childhood to be this warrior-king Swamp Thing that the Green has been waiting for and in that way I feel like was my own and not too derivative of what came before. But at the same time hopefully pay tribute and honor to what came before by not erasing it and playing ball with it. And sort of trying to build on the mythology as well. I’m really proud of the series and one of the things about it has been working with my friend Jeff Lemire. He is one of my best friends in the world and getting to work with him every day because “Animal Man” is so closely tied to “Swamp Thing” and getting ideas from him and being inspired by his book. And this crossover, “Rotworld” that we’re in the middle of has been a total joy coming up with the crazy, creepiest stuff we could in this post-apocalyptic, totally deformed DC Universe.
Jo: Any plans for any independent or non-comic work?
Scott: Yeah, I have one other thing called “the Wake” I’m doing a creator owned book with Sean Murphy who did the “American Vampire” mini-series “Survival of the Fittest” and who’s also a really, really close friend of mine. It’s a series we’ve been planning for over a year at this point and have been talking about for quite a while. We were just waiting for our schedules to free up a little bit to do. And I cant wait for it, it’s a 12 issue maxi-series coming out from Vertigo in 2013. It’s basically an underwater horror sci-fi, epic. So I’m really, really excited about it . Its got all kinds of action and gore and also a lot of mythology to it. I’m really, really excited and Sean’s art is mind-blowingly good on it.
Jo: My last question is, if there was one literary character you could change into comic book form what would it be?
Scott: One literary character, wow that’s a good question, I don’t know. My favorite books of all time are pretty seminal boring choices. Between the classics, I’m a really big John Steinbeck fan even though he’s fallen off the can a bit. I still love “East of Eden” and “Grapes of Wrath.” Those are books that made me want to write. “The Great Gatsby” and “The Sun also Rises” and all of those books. I would probably say, I’d love to see and illustrated “Odyssey.” I’d love to see a comic of Odysseus. I think that would be awesome. Maybe even something in the future. Some different interpretation entirely. That story always kind of haunts me. I had a class at the end of high school where we studied that book and I’m not pretending to be someone that goes back and says I’m gonna go read “The Odyssey” but it’s one of those things where I had a great teacher and it captured my imagination, the notion of travel. And I would love to see that book.
Jo: I’d totally read your “Odyssey” or “Great Gatsby.” That’s all I have for you. I really do appreciate it. Everyone is loving what you’re doing.