Without A Net

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Comic-Con: 'Batman' writer Scott Snyder on why comics still matter and why NPR listeners should care

Does Batman still have relevance in the comics, and not just movies like 'The Dark Knight Rises'?
Does Batman still have relevance in the comics, and not just movies like 'The Dark Knight Rises'? Legendary Pictures

San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest pop culture convention there is, has arrived once again. It runs Wednesday, July 11 through Sunday, July 15. There's movies, TV, video games and more taking over the headlines, but comic books still hold a place in the hearts of fans — and in the name of the convention. I had a chance to talk with "Batman" writer Scott Snyder recently at another convention about his work and why comics still matter.

Snyder started out in prose before getting recruited to do comic books. Why should non-comics readers give them a chance? "I know there's a perception of comics that they're bombastic and fun, and there are those comics, but for a lot of us, comics are also a place where I bring everything I ever brought to anything literary to these comics," Snyder told me. "The only reason I'm happy doing comics and I don't miss literary fiction is because every kind of dark and fascinating, exciting thing that I was able to explore in that medium, I'm exploring here. And the guys that I love, like Jeff Lemire, and Pete Tomasi, Brian Azzarello, they are the same way. They put their heart and soul on the page, and the quality of those books would rival, I believe, any great literary story as well."

Snyder's only been in comics for a few years, but he's a lifelong fan. Meeting him, his quiet energy is infectious.

He's known for a dark style. It's expected in books he writes like "Swamp Thing" and his own creation, "American Vampire," but he's also taken the inherent darkness of Batman and turned it up to 11.

"I feel like people are waiting for me to tell a really happy story, and I feel like I'm starting to sort of scare people. They think that, oh, that guy, he seems so nice, but..." Snyder said. "I don't mean to write them so dark. It's mostly that the stories that I love are stories that challenge the characters in a way that really brings their biggest demons to life. I've always written that way in my prose too. If you're going to face a villain or face a challenge, it has to be something that really speaks to your biggest fears, and that makes for horror, no matter what you do. It's always sort of dark and scary, so it's more a function of just the way I like to put my characters against the kinds of challenges that are going to have a big impact on them than it is me looking to write something scary or horrible."

Snyder first made an impact with a short story collection called "Voodoo Heart," which included a couple of stories with superheroes in them. He also wrote a story for an anthology of literary writers writing about superheroes. Editors from the major comic companies read his book and sought him out to see if he was a comic book fan.

"They came to the reading for the book, and I had comics in my bag at the time. So I told them I was a huge fan and it was a dream to try and get into comics."

He pitched some smaller stories and, after giving it a number of tries, he managed to get his foot in the door and ultimately rose to become one of the industry's most notable, critically acclaimed, bestselling writers. He's won the industry's highest award, the Eisner.

What about those who want to get into comics themselves? "Just get your stuff out there in the world," Snyder said. He said the best way is to do an indie comic, but "if you do prose, if you do fiction, if you have a play, if you have a screenplay — what these guys want to see is that you love comics, obviously, but also that you can write. And once they see that, you're on there radar. And if they found me from writing short stories, you know that if you write a comic that you put out there yourself that you're proud of, hopefully they'll find you too."

Snyder says that his isn't the only way in. "I hope it's inspiring to see my backdoor crazy way in, as opposed to thinking, 'how do you get in? If he did it that way, how am I supposed to follow that?' You're not."

In his Batman stories, he's written the traditional Bruce Wayne under the mask, as well as a long run of stories with Wayne's former sidekick Dick Grayson. "Those characters are so fascinating in completely different ways. Whereas Dick, his strength really comes from his empathy and his altruism and his lack of baggage in a lot of ways, and his team-building abilities, and the way that he's open and vulnerable and emotionally accessible. And Bruce's strengths and weaknesses come from the other end of the spectrum, where he's guarded and he's so badass and tough and wonderful in that way."

He's also gotten out of the box with the art in "Batman" thanks to his partner, artist Greg Capullo. They recently did an issue that recreated the feeling of the labyrinth Batman was trapped in with art that forced you to turn the comic throughout.

"Everyone at DC had been like, 'Oh, you know, it might look like a misprint to people,' and we're 'No, no no, it won't,' and then we both got it and we called each other basically at the same time: 'It's misprinted!'"

Snyder also helmed Batman through a widely publicized relaunch as part of DC's "New 52" campaign, one of the most ambitious resets in comics history, but he's done his best to honor the characters' histories while making sure to keep them accessible for new readers.

Snyder shared what keeps him in love with comics. "What engages me is these are characters that made me want to write. Batman and Swamp thing, original characters by creators that I love, the way we're trying to do that with American Vampire and make characters that inspire people. So getting to see people come up and ask questions about a story you wrote, or even about characters that you love, even if you're not on that book, it makes you feel part of the community of people that love the same stuff. We all love these characters, we love comics, and to have people come up and ask a question, know that they read it and thought about your book, it means the world. I will promise to work like 110 percent to deliver books that are absolutely the best I can do, always."

What's on Scott Snyder's horizon? "I want to write Wonder Woman, but I'm scared to touch her after the great job that Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are doing. I'd really like to write Superman sometime, as much as people think that might be an odd fit. But I'm in Gotham for a long time. I have a lot of stories planned that'll take us really through 2013 to 2014. So I've rented my room in Gotham for a very long time at this point."

Snyder is also continuing his work on Batman, Swamp Thing and both the main American Vampire series and a new mini-series. Along with his work, Snyder had a few more recommendations.

"'Animal Man' by Jeff Lemire is just absolutely, I love it to death, and I'm excited about the crossover we're going to do in 'Swamp Thing' and 'Animal Man.' It starts in earnest in issue 13, but you'll start to see it begin, almost in the seeds of it, in issue 11. I love what Pete Tomasi is doing on 'Batman and Robin.' 'All-Star Western' is incredible. I love Justin Jordan's 'The Strange Talent of Luther Strode.' 'Green Wake' I really love, Cullen Bunn's 'The Sixth Gun' I think is incredible. I try and read a real variety of stuff. There's so many good comics out there right now, that I really feel this is kind of a platinum age."

One more reason to give Scott Snyder's work a chance: He's an NPR listener. "I love NPR and listen to Terry Gross, and listen to Diane Rehm. I am a diehard NPR fan, and the Saturday shows," Snyder said with a wry smile. "I am perfectly inspired and stimulated reading comics, and I am one of you. I am the audience for NPR. So give us a try, comics are awesome, they're a lot of fun, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how sophisticated they've become."

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