Comic Relief with Scott Snyder
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Paste: How’s your day going, Scott?
Scott Snyder: It’s good. You might hear a baby in the background. I’m home working and the baby is in the other room with my wife. But it’s good, I’m still recovering from New York Comic Con still.
Paste: How was the convention this year?
Snyder: It was great! We had all of these big announcements, so between the Superman book with Jim Lee and the Joker stuff, and The Wake, this Vertigo book I’m doing, it was really exciting, but a crazy busy convention. I basically came back yesterday and slept. So today’s my first day back to work.
Paste: You played Buzz Lightyear in Disney World after you graduated from undergrad. Does the experience of actually playing a superhero inform how you write them?
Snyder: I would say it definitely does. The fun thing about being Buzz Lightyear is that he’s the most superheroic out of all the characters you can be at Disney World, so the suit itself is almost like putting on this foam armor. And the excitement the kids have coming up to you and the poses you do are all sort of superhero poses. I think that part of it is the sense that, even for the kids who are older, there’s something magical when they see a superhero from their childhood. They’re so respectful and they love playing along, even when you know they know it’s you, a person in there who’s probably sweating and exhausted. They prop you up and make you feel excited to be inside of there.
I had the option of being a number of characters. I was Pluto for a while, and I was Eeyore, but Buzz Lightyear was the one that I just absolutely took to and signed up for every day once I got the costume over at MGM, which is Hollywood Studios now. That sense of going out on stage, and you can almost feel the superheroic music as you strike your pose and all the kids come running over. Instead of cuddling you, it makes them puff themselves up and they do superhero poses. To see them inspired by that is something that definitely informs the way you approach a character like Superman or Batman. You yourself feel that same way, where you know these characters don’t exist in the world, but the moment you start writing them they become so believable to you, and you know how badly other people want to believe in their world and the stories that they’re a part of. That sense of reverence, inspiration and excitement really carries over from seeing kids light up at Buzz Lightyear.
Paste: Do you ever empathize yourself into the bodies of Batman and Superman like you did with Buzz Lightyear?
Snyder: Well you have to when you write them! I definitely wish I looked a little more like Bruce or Clark. With the two kids, I do my best. I don’t know how good I’d look in the costume. But at the end of the day, you have to fully inhabit them and almost imagine that you are them and that you made them up. Otherwise, again, it’s paralyzingly intimidating to write these characters because they mean so much to everybody, not just you or your family. I look outside and there are kids wearing Batman stuff and adults wearing Batman stuff. And in that way, the only way you can do it is to imagine you’re writing something where you’ve created this version of the character at least. When he takes a hit, you feel it. When he’s going through an emotion, you feel it. In that way you have to write them not like you’re writing Batman, this hero you see from a distance. You have to be writing Bruce with all of his ups and downs emotionally and physically.
Superman promotional art by Jim Lee
Paste: When I read that you were going to be taking on Superman, I couldn’t help but think of your story from Voodoo Heart, “The Star Attraction of 1919” and Clark Kent’s rural upbringing. You seem to have a lot of love for nostalgic Americana and I’ve always seen Superman as an analogy of opportunity from that era. Is any of that going to make its way into your new Superman title?
Snyder: I think in a huge way actually; I’m really glad you brought that up. For me, that whole element of American history and Americana has just been something I’ve been fascinated with since I was a kid. It’s the weirdest thing. I don’t really know where it comes from. My grandparents watched me a ton when I was a kid, and my grandmother used to bring me to these antique fairs that she liked to go to, and we’d make up stories about where the things had been. It was this game we played, and I still have a lot of the stuff from that, and I think maybe that’s what sparked it.
But at the end of the day, what we’re doing with Superman is very much connected to the kinds of stuff I like doing in prose, but also in American Vampire. The story is about Superman’s relevance being challenged, and things that have happened throughout history calling Superman’s relevance into question today. There’ll be a very big sense of what it means to be a hero today, versus what it meant before. The story touches on that hidden history that I love exploring.
Paste: Your Batman series frames Bruce through the city of Gotham. Is Superman going to have a similar relationship with Metropolis?
Snyder: I would honestly say not so much. To me, Gotham is not only Batman’s home, but it’s also everything he loves and fears in one place. It’s almost a projection of his own psyche even if it’s a real city. It’s always throwing things back at him that are kind of his worst nightmares. It’s this incredible love/hate relationship that I loved exploring, especially growing up in New York. That sense of the city is something that can be inspiring, mysterious, and also scary at times.
Metropolis is going to be playing a big role, but I think what we’ll be doing with Superman focuses more on his relationship to the nation and the world. The scope of the stage that he operates on is so cosmic and huge, that even though Metropolis plays a huge part for him as Clark emotionally, the stakes are going to be really, really high. We want it to be something really epic that will shake him to his core when he fights this new villain that we created, that challenges him emotionally and psychologically, but also has a power set that is at least as strong as his. It’s something that we want to be earth-shatteringly big. Metropolis is at the heart of the story in a lot of ways, but Superman’s world is less circumscribed by the city he operates out of.
Paste: Gotham’s History seems to be the glue behind your Batman run, building off the Gates of Gotham miniseries and your first issue. With Joker as the focus of your current Batman arc “A Death in the Family,” how does the villain fit into the identity of Gotham?
Snyder: For us, Joker’s one of those characters where if you’re going to take him on, you have to make him your own version. So our version has this really deep connection to Gotham in his own mind, where he believes in a lot of ways that he’s our court jester to Batman, who he sees as this bat king of Gotham. And (Joker) believes he could have picked anybody. He could have picked Superman and gone to Metropolis or the Flash, any superhero and any kingdom in the DC Universe. But he chose this one because he saw the strongest and most admirable king in Batman. And so he sees himself as serving the kingdom of Gotham under this king in this very twisted way. The historical role of the court jester was to tell the king the worst news of the kingdom because he could make him laugh at it. So in the upcoming issue, Joker articulates this by telling Batman ‘but instead I bring you the worst news of your own heart.’ He picks at the things he knows Batman is most afraid of and brings them to life and makes him face them. If Batman can face them and come out the other side, he’s a stronger king for it. So in that twisted way, Joker sees himself as serving Batman and serving the king of Gotham.
Right now, The Joker sees Gotham as rotting from the inside out. He sees it as a backwards kingdom where rivers run in reverse and abominations are born, all because Batman has built this fake family around himself. And in this way Batman’s forsaken his true royal court. So Joker has this twisted love of Gotham and sees himself as protecting it by protecting Batman from becoming weak.
Paste: From you description, Joker’s a hero in that context.
Snyder: In his own mind (laughs). He views himself as making Gotham a better place, because he sees himself as making Batman a stronger king by divesting him of this notion that he’s really human, empathetic, and compassionate. Instead, he’s supposed to go back to being the fierce warrior king he was when Joker first met him, before he accumulated this family he cares about.
Paste: You also have The Wake coming out in 2013 with artist Sean Murphy. What can you tell us about that series?
Snyder Well, I can tell you I’m crazy, crazy excited about it. Sean and I have become really good friends over the past few years, and the last time I worked with him was on Survival of the Fittest, the miniseries we did for American Vampire, and I’m such a huge fan of what he’s doing on Punk Rock Jesus. This is a really different story than either of us have done, where it’s a horror/sci-fi epic about twelve issues long, and it’s going to have two parts. It’s going to have this interesting structure where it breaks and twists toward the middle.
It’s about this frightening discovery that has to do with a creature found in the depths of the ocean and its connection to all of these aspects of ocean and sea-faring mythology over the years, from sirens to mermaids to sea serpents. It’s almost a pandora’s box, not in a mythical way, but in all the possibilities that it opens in terms of our own history and the kinds of terrifying things that might lie ahead for us. It’s claustrophobic, bottom of the ocean terror, and then it has this huge post-apocalyptic element to it that I knew would be expansive and robust. In that way, Sean is just the perfect guy for it. He’s so good at the claustrophobic, intense drama that you see in Joe the Barbarian and American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest. But he’s also one of the best guys at world building. He’s really unparalleled in that regard. I’m crazy excited about it.
Paste: We just encountered the third hottest summer on record with two thirds of the US in a severe drought. In a lot of ways, it seems like we’re slinking toward a literal Rotworld. Swamp Thing has always had an ecological bent, but did the state of the environment inspire any part of Swamp Thing’s current direction?
Snyder: I think it does. Even though we haven’t dealt with things like global warming or environmental abuse, we wanted there to be a real sense of awe in the book with different natural forces and a sense of respect. For example, The Green and The Red are both these violent and unbridled forces of nature in our books. Both of those things can be really frightening at times, but they can also be incredibly awe-inspiring and noble. They just require the right alliance or liaison to humanity between Swamp Thing or Animal Man. We wanted the books to really give you a full sense of the power and the scope of nature, even if we’re doing it in a mystical way. So you walk down your lawn and you’re stepping on grass and not just thinking that it’s a living thing, but a living thing connected to this huge biosphere. Everything we do has some impact on that. So I hope that comes across, even if it’s not quite as topical.
Swamp Thing #14
Paste: Swamp Thing seems to have struggled to find its niche in the many years since Alan Moore’s watershed run. With so many talented writers trying their hand at it, do you think there’s an inherent hurdle in making the title successful?
Snyder: I think there are a lot. I think the biggest is just the giant footsteps there, both by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson and Alan Moore and Stephen Bissette, and a lot of guys that came after them too, like Rick Veitch. There’s the intimidation factor, and that’s huge for me too. There’s also the fact that, in the iteration he was left in during Moore’s run, Swamp Thing’s so all-powerful. He has this potential to be this god figure of The Green, but at least for me, sometimes those characters can be tricky to find vulnerability in. They don’t have an Achilles’ heel, and when they’re at their full strength, they’re just so incredibly powerful.
For me, part of the key was remembering what I loved most about the stories that Moore and Len Wein did and not getting caught up in the notion of Swamp Thing’s power set, but instead thinking that both of those runs, at their core, are about a man struggling with monsters that are both internal and external. With Len Wein, it’s really about a guy who wants to be human again. In Alan Moore’s run, it’s about a guy who wants to able to let go of his humanity and embrace becoming the god of The Green that he’s supposed to be, but almost can’t because of this deep connection to humanity. Once I knew about that struggle, about a man plagued by his destiny of becoming this monster, it became a really fun and accessible series for me. And luckily, DC was really generous about letting me make Alec human again, and begin that way and keep his history.
Paste: Animal Man and Swamp Thing have both heavily revolved around family and generational relationships, with Buddy Baker raising Maxine as the next avatar of The Red and Abby contending with her brother and uncle. Does Swamp Thing’s daughter Tefe have an organic place in the New 52?
Snyder: Yes, very much. Tefe’s someone who’s been part of the plan since the beginning, but her status in the old continuity was so complicated to explain to a new reader, that who she is and who she’s going to be is something that we’ve kept to ourselves. But she’s absolutely a character who has a part to play in this story coming up. I’m really excited to be able to introduce her in the stories I’ve planned for the next year.
Paste: So we’re going to see Tefe pretty soon?
Snyder: Well, you’re definitely going to see hints of it. I don’t want to give too much away. There are a couple of ways we could do it, and I think you’ll start to see the shadow of her and who she might be coming up.
Paste: Grant Morrison credited Rob Liefeld with shifting the comics industry from intellectual post-modernism to the punchier, raw phase of the nineties. Liefeld took a few pot shots at you, among many others, when he had a bit of a breakdown on Twitter last August. Drama aside, I thought it was a definitive generational divide, especially when he called you “pretentious.” You have an MFA from Columbia where you’ve also taught as well as entries that have appeared in The Best American Short Stories. Though there have been novelists who have written comics, writers with your background are relatively new to the field. How do you want to be remembered and how do you think your style fits into the generation of comics we’re in right now?
Snyder: Wow. It’s hard to say how I’d like to be remembered. I feel like I’m at the beginning of the trajectory right now, where it’s really about trying to experiment, to flex my muscles and become better at this as I go. What I think is inspiring about the current generation, as difficult as it is to generalize, is that there’s a tremendous respect for the story itself. And I don’t mean that the balance has swung back toward writers since the nineties. Clearly, writers are better off than they were at that particular moment when Liefeld was most prominent. But collaboratively for me at least, when I’m working with artists like Greg Capullo, Yanick, Rafael, and Jim of course, there’s this tremendous respect for the power of storytelling between us. The things that these artists contribute to the story are essential, not just visually, but we talk the whole story through. We collaborate, so the story is both of ours completely; there’s really a sense of story first. There’s an excitement about the power of a good story that’s told between big collaborative teams, where each role brings 50% to the table.
Maybe some of that has to do with how well the movies of the early 2000’s did. They were so respectful of the stories and the characters. Movies like Spider-Man 2, the X-Men franchise, Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise, and the Iron Man stuff as well. When there’s a really good story, these things could be more than just big blockbuster popcorn flicks. They could actually be beloved, beloved films. And so there’s an even greater respect for comics then there was when I was a kid. We all loved and respected comics, but I think right now the world has become aware of how awesome they are.
Generationally, as for what I think is different about my generation of writers from guys back in the days when Liefled was popular, is hard to say. But I’d say that one characteristic I find interesting personally, is how comfortable we all are moving back and forth between creator-owned and mainstream projects. Guys like Jeff Lemire, Jason Aaron, Rick Remender, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman — we all move easily and enthusiastically between the mainstream and indie areas of comics. We’re all guys who love doing creator-owned work, where we can flex and explore and try anything we want, and who also love telling stories of these iconic characters. For my generation of writers, there isn’t such a divide between indie and mainstream. One feeds the other. And the creation of Image, this highly visible indie company by big creators, that certainly helped pave the way for the fluidity of today. So whatever happened between me and Rob, I will say that his generation, founding Image, creating this huge viable indie avenue, that was a seminal moment in terms of what writers like me are able to do today. And there is a big drive in all of us now to get to do stories in both worlds — to think of yourself as a writer who follows his or her own ideas and stories wherever they go. If I have a good idea for a new story and think it’s best suited to a watercolor graphic novel, I can do that. If I have an idea for Superman, I can do that. There isn’t this chasm between indie and mainstream (or between comics and books, or comics and film or TV) that there used to be. There’s actually an encouragement to do both from fans and friends. Again, I could be wrong, but it’s something that interests me, how writers today build identities for themselves, and bodies of work that involve both indie and mainstream all at once.
Paste: You had discussed a novel a couple years back when you were doing press for Voodoo Heart.
Snyder: It’s probably the slowest written novel in history at this point. But I’m excited about it. It actually has elements of comics in it. The main character is involved in comics, and I’ve already enlisted a couple of guys to do pieces of art for it to make it feel more realistic. It’s a personal book though. I don’t think Jerry Bruckheimer will come knocking on my door any time soon, but it’s something that I like working on in the late night hours.
Paste: What genre does it fall under?
Snyder: It’s traditional fiction. The main character is somebody who writes for comics and has been successful with a science fiction series about a post-apocalyptic future where nobody is left but kids. So one component of it takes place in his life as he’s going through something really tough, and the other component is his comic as he’s writing it in this incredible scope and sense of possibility that’s available to him in this world that he created.
Paste: Does it have a title yet?
Snyder: Right now, the tentative title is The Goodbye Suit.