Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Scott Snyder (Part One)
Writer Scott Snyder had quite a year in 2011: American Vampire, his original take on the vampire mythos, won both the Eisner and Harvey Awards for Best New Series; he then penned Batman: Gates of Gotham and the critically acclaimed Batman: The Black Mirror (one of our selections for Best Graphic Novels of 2011). When DC decided to do a little thing like relaunch their entire universe, they picked Scott to helm two of their most important titles, Batman and Swamp Thing, and both have been highlights of the new frontier. Somewhere in between all this, Scott found time to answer quite a few questions about what scares even the Batman, working with artist Greg Capullo, and much more. With all eyes on the bestselling first volume of Batman that released last week, now seemed like the best time to explore the first part of our interview that focused on the Caped Crusader.
Omnivoracious.com: Before the big DC reboot, you wrote a fine send-off to the old Batman status quo in The Black Mirror. In this story, Dick Grayson, the former Robin, takes over for an absent Bruce Wayne as Batman. How did your approach differ based on who was under the mask?
Scott Snyder: It was a lot of fun because Dick Grayson is so different from Bruce Wayne. He’s emotionally accessible and open and sharing and giving with his feelings. He’s really fun to write, almost as if you or your friend were given the chance to be Batman—you know, enthusiasm and a lack of baggage; a sense of wonder about the world. He’s tough, he’s determined. He’s not some wide-eyed innocent, yet he wears his heart on his sleeve. Meanwhile, writing Bruce is so different. He’ll tell you about the case; he’ll tell you about the facts, but if you want to hear about his feelings, you have to listen to people speculating about them outside of his character.
The way I see Gotham is as a black mirror—a kind of villain generator. The city almost seems to put its heroes through this trial by fire where it knows their greatest fears about themselves and their demons. It creates villains that speak to those demons and those fears directly. That’s why Bruce has such a great rogues gallery, because his villains are direct extensions of his greatest fears about himself. The challenge was to try to do that with Dick Grayson by using character like James Jr.—he was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to write him again at some point. He’s in Batman; he has more cameos, I think, than he probably should [laughs], but I just enjoy writing him tremendously.
Omni: I’m glad you mentioned James Jr., because in The Black Mirror you turn what was once a pretty minor character into a terrifying villain. What led to this twist and was there any trepidation on DC’s part in this development?
Scott Snyder: As a concept, the way that it came about was that I really wanted to create a challenge for both Dick Grayson and Jim Gordon—an antagonist that would speak to their weaknesses and strengths. Dick’s greatest strength is his sense of compassion and empathy—his human, generous qualities—that’s what makes him a different Batman, a different hero than Bruce. At the same time, what Gotham will do is take those strengths and convince you that they are weaknesses.
The same [goes] for Jim Gordon—he’s this incredible detective and kind of a mess, personally. But he prides himself at being this guy who adds up empirical evidence and comes to an answer, and no one’s better than him at it. The idea of creating a villain who would be totally without conscience and empathy, as a reflection of Dick Grayson and a total enigma to Jim Gordon. I kept thinking, “How can I create a character like that?” Well, he’d have to be connected to Gordon, and it just hit me: Year One is one of my favorite stories of all time—not just Batman stories—and so he’s been in the back-burner of my mind for a while and it just hit me that [James Jr.] would be the perfect character.
On DC’s part, there was a little bit of hesitation at first. They wanted to know exactly what I wanted to do. I think they wanted to make sure I didn’t turn him into a cackling supervillain in tights on a rooftop, being like, “Gotham is mine with my new electrical mind-control machine!” Once I explained what I wanted to do, that it was going to be this psychological challenge to Dick and Jim, they were extremely generous about giving me room and space to develop him. I couldn’t be more grateful to them for it.
Omni: I don’t think anyone has made water running under a door as unsettling as James Jr.
Scott Snyder: [Laughs] That was such a fun scene. [Artist] Francesco Francavilla was such a monster in the best way. He would send these long Hitchcockian layouts, where it was like, “What if the water creeps just more one inch in one more panel like this?” He spent so much time on it. I was so proud that he was able to make things so creepy.
Omni: The Black Mirror era had to end as DC’s big reboot launched. Now in the New 52 Universe, Dick is no longer Batman and Bruce Wayne is back under the cowl. You are still writing the Bat-family, though, and on the flagship title, Batman. In this new status quo, was there anything you wanted to do differently with the Dark Knight?
Scott Snyder: Well, we were given a lot of free reign. There was an opportunity to change things about Bruce Wayne’s origin, change his villains, and the honest truth is that a lot of us in the Bat-group—you know, writers like Gail Simone, Pete Tomasi, Kyle Higgins, Tony Daniel, and Grant Morrison—we went back and forth and chatted about the possibility. What we discovered was that at this time for Bruce and the stories we had to tell and were really excited about didn’t really need him to change in any big way. It was really a matter of the best stories we could all tell, rather than to do something sensational because [the opportunity] was there. Bruce is still Bruce. Continuity really stands for him. He’s a character whose history is so rich that I think a lot of us loved playing with it.
I adore writing for him and in approaching The Court of Owls story, I was trying to do the same thing that I did to Dick in The Black Mirror. I always loved stories that take a hero or protagonist and make them face these terrible fears about themselves, where you have a villain who represents all the things that you fear are true. I think the things that scare Bruce are 180 degrees from what scares Dick Grayson. James Jr. wouldn’t be scary to Bruce, but the Court of Owls might not be as scary to Dick. Here, the Court of Owls is scary to Bruce because they represent a rejection of all these things that he depends on to be Batman: a familiarity with the city, his sense of self as its greatest legend, its greatest ally. So, when all of that gets turned on its head, it becomes very frightening to him.
With Bruce, yeah, he’s faced supervillains before, but this is more of a faceless villain—in the cracks of the city itself, built into the architecture and under his own nose. The anonymity of it is what angers him, too. [The Court of Owls] are everywhere and nowhere. They are the city, and when the city turns its big stone eye towards him, it’s the eye of an enemy.
Omni: While you're turning Gotham City in on itself, you also turn the narrative. There’s a chapter in The Court of Owls that literally flips for the reader. Can you talk about how this process worked with artist Greg Capullo? [Readers can see Capullo's answer to this question in our interview with him here.--ed]
Scott Snyder: It’s a very collaborative relationship with Greg. It’s no secret that when we first met over email, we didn’t quite get along—only because I was way overprotective of my script. He was more used to working from outlines and plotted scripts and getting more freedom. He was like, “Well, I don’t want my art to get messed up by too much story,” and I was like, “I don’t want my story to get messed up by too much art” [laughs]. We went back and forth until Mike Marts, our editor, said, “Just get on the phone and talk about the story.”
And we did. He fell in love with the story and did some designs for it, and I just fell in love with his art. Since then, he’s become one of my absolute best friends in comics. I really look up to him; he’s a great mentor. Anything he wants to do I try to let him do, as long as it’s in service of the story. I totally trust his judgment now, and when it came to that part [the topsy-turvy chapter], I wrote that I wanted him to try to distort some of the panels, maybe make Bruce’s disorientation clear. He called up and said, “Listen. Why don’t we try something different and flip it on its head?” DC was receptive to it, but they said, “You have to understand that some people will think it’s a misprint.”
We were like, “No, no. No one will think it’s a misprint” [laughs]. Greg wrote this impassioned email about how you have to stay foolish and young. You have to take your chances. So, they let us do it and then they sent us the PDF of it. The PDF read great, but it read vertically, so you don’t have to turn it. We both loved it and were so proud of it. Then I got my copies first in the mail, and I was like, “Oh my God, it’s a misprint! They misprinted it!”--because you have to read it backwards. So, I went on Twitter and was like, “Oh, you know, everything in Batman #5 is deliberate” when I realized it wasn’t a misprint.
Then Greg called me up and said, “Don’t tell them. Let them figure it out.” So I deleted the tweet, and then Greg got his copies a half hour later. He thought the same thing and went on Twitter: “There’s a misprint!” [Laughs.] It was a funny experience but all credit for that goes to Greg. He’s such a great imaginative force on the series. It’s a pleasure to work with him.
Scott has much more to share about America Vampire and Swamp Thing in Part Two of our interview!