Scott Snyder on All-Star, growing up with Batman, and a look at the inner workings of the Bat-team

Before jumping into the interview, I’d like to fill you in on the genesis of how it came to be.  Back at the beginning of August, Scott Snyder contacted the Batman-News team to talk about All-Star Batman.  I had just come back from the San Diego Comic Con where my interviews with him had been cancelled.  So, I brought it up.  He felt genuinely bad about it and offered to make it up to me.  At the time I thought, if it happens that would be great, but if not, I was ready to try again next year.  Time passed and I didn’t give it any further thought.  But then, last week, I opened my email to find a message from Scott.  He was serious about the offer.  And let me tell you: this interview was much more enjoyable than the ones from Comic Con.  And not in the sense that I didn’t enjoy talking with Tom King and James Tynion.  On the contrary, they were delightful.  The part that I am referring to as more enjoyable was the fact that I got to chat with Scott from the comfort of my own home.  I didn’t have to wait in line.  And I wasn’t limited to 10 minutes.  I actually ended up talking with Scott for 50 minutes!! So sit back and relax, because you’re in-store for a bunch of info.  And let me say that Scott Snyder is a truly generous individual.  I mean, he’s Scott Snyder and he took time out of his day to talk to me.  I mean… who am I? I know, I know.  We are all just people.  But he is SCOTT SNYDER.  And I don’t see anybody waiting in line to talk with me.  So yeah.  It was an awesome experience.  So, without further ado, I give you…Scott Snyder!

Brandon: I’d imagine it’s difficult to write for a character that everyone has a preconceived notion about.  Do you prefer working on your own owner-created-projects as opposed to things like Batman where you have to deal with a lot of outside influences?

Scott Snyder: I really find it a balance for me.  There was a period where all I had was DC work.  When I was doing Superman Unchained and Zero Year.  And I thought that since the stories were so personal it would be fine.  I didn’t have American Vampire at that moment and I hadn’t really gotten into The Wake too much.  And what happened was I got really depressed and had a bad bout with anxiety and all of that.  And I realized after awhile it was because creator-owned really allows me to have a place that I know better than anybody because I made it up.  So the rules and the whole immersive world is mine.

It’s almost like an inverse relationship between writing creator-owned and writing licensed work.  When writing licensed work, everybody already loves the character.  Loves the mythology.  And it’s up to you to show them something new they haven’t seen before that’s personal to you.  With creator-owned, it’s assumed it’s going to be personal and singular and what you have to do is show them why they should love it.  So, it’s almost like inverted challenges.  And they really complement each other.  For me at least.  I need them both going on at the same time.

Right now is probably the weirdest time in that regard.  On one hand I am working on After Death which is the strangest and most autobiographical and personal literary comic I’ve tried.  On the other hand I’m working on All-Star and this other project with Greg Capullo which is bombastic and muscular and as nutty as possible.  And on the other side doing something that’s the most literary personal intimate thing possible.  Certainly the big bombastic stuff I’m doing with Greg and with All-Star is very personal.  I think it’s obvious from the first arc of All-Star.  It’s largely about the way you feel when you’re in a really black place.  Personally.  And you’re facing your personal demons.  Or in a large way like nationally or globally when you’re looking out and you’re feeling fearful about things and you want to retreat.  But the framework is so different from the other where one is cosmic crazy road trip grind house and the other is almost journalistic or memoirish writing.  The challenge of that really gets me excited and keeps me feeling grounded and balanced as a writer.  So I always try to keep both going at the same time.  Witches and Batman.  Or American Vampire and Swamp Thing.

B: Since you mentioned how different your books can be from one another, I actually noticed that happening from within All-Star itself.  The primary story and the back-up feel very different from each other.  In regards to tone, pace, and flow that is.

SS:  They are.  My favorite writers, from Jason Aaron to Mark Waid to what Grant (Morrison) is able to do.  You see them stretch themselves and work in different formats constantly.  But still stay true to the themes and ideas that are in their work.  For me, that’s the goal.  Even with the back-up and the feature. I want them to be wildly different from one another and show elasticity.  To give you two very different looks at Gotham and the characters you love and the mythos.  And try to bring new things to it in different ways.  But I hope that you can see too that they are both exploring the same territory: the black section of the wheel, that everything Duke is being subjected to is largely about seeing past evil to motivation.  The feature is largely about the same thing in a different way.  I’m trying to explore one topic from two really different standpoints.  And do it in a way that offers readers two very different looks at the Batman mythos.

B:In a conversation we had before the interview, you told me that James Tynion grew up with the characters in a way you didn’t.  I was wondering, how did YOU grow up with Batman.  What are your childhood experiences with the character?

SS:I was the generation just before him.  I grew up in the 80s.  So my Batman really evolved from the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Batman to Frank Miller.  That moment in 1886/87 when The Dark Knight Returns came out.  Then Year One.  That really changed my life and made me want to write even more than I already wanted to.  Living in New York on the lower East side…  Frank really made Batman real to me.  I had never experienced something where a super hero as present and immediate and urgent as Batman did in those stories.  And what it also showed me, whether I understood it or not at the time, was that you can sort of show the threats and challenges that they were facing.  A place of a character in a very real way.  In a contemporary way like he does in Year One.  Or you can translate them into extended comic book language like he does in The Dark Knight Returns.  So that you get zany cartoonish versions of things that are very real concerns in New York at the time.  People were worried about crime, so you get the mutants.  Just a comic book extension of those things.  And people were worried about the Cold War.  And you get crazy cartoony Regan still in office and Superman is the government stooge.  So you get these nutty versions of them in the book but it still felt very relevant and contemporary.  And it felt like it spoke to issues that were real and pressing at the moment.  That was a really transformative reading experience, that period in the 80s.

And then I read everything after that.  A Death in the Family.  The Cult.  I was fixed on dark Batman all through the 80s and 90s.  Even though I was reading thoroughly/religiously through Contagion, Cataclysm, No Man’s Land, and Knightfall and all that stuff…by that point I was already in High School and College.  And it was Grade School when Dark Knight and Year One really hit me.  But I wasn’t at the same formative age then that James was.  I think for me I was at a formative age, who knows what a formative age is, but for me it was really that 10/11/12/13 stage.  Which was 86/87/88/89.  And then the 90s are when I was in High School and College.  I loved the stuff, but it was less of the characters that I grew up with.  I grew up with Bruce and Dick and the X-Men.  That’s what I mean.

I love these characters.  James and I argued to include Cassandra.  I mean, I wrote Cassandra Cain in Gates of Gotham and all that stuff.  Then we argued for Stephanie.  I have a huge affinity for them.  But he could write them for years and years.  I’m much more of a, I have an idea for a story and I want to use them.  But he’s like, I could write these characters forever.  And I think that long, almost Chris Claremont X-Men format for Detective is perfect for James.  He found his home with that one.

B: What were you doing before you got with DC?  What was your job?

SS: I was working in fiction.  I wrote a book of short stories.  I was working on a novel.  I always wanted to be in comics.  I wanted to be a writer/artist growing up.  And I just wasn’t a good enough artist when I got to College. But I went to school in Providence so I could take classes at the School of Design and continue with illustrative art with comics.  But I just wasn’t good enough.  And there wasn’t as much opportunity as I thought there would be.  So I wound up falling into writing.  I went to Grad School for writing.  I wrote a book of short stories that had some supernatural elements here and there.  And then I was part of a book that was about literary writers working up new comic book super heroes.

That’s where a couple of editors from DC and Marvel found my work.  And they came to the launch for that anthology and asked if any of us were comic book fans.  And I had a whole stack of comic books with me in my bag.  And I was like, I’m a big fan.  And they asked me if I wanted to pitch.  And that was literally the beginning of my career in comics.  And it’s weird because everyone I know from childhood is like, well of course you got into comics.  That’s what you were always going to do.  But for me.  I was going to do it when I was young and then I didn’t understand that there was a path.  I didn’t know how to do it as a writer and not being a writer/artist.  It didn’t compute how you became a writer in comics.  This was pre-Internet.  The people I knew who had broken into comics, or the way I understood you broke in, was by writing and drawing.

B:The title All-Star Batman.  Did you intend that as an homage to Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin or are you referencing the All-Star Comic label from the 40s?

SS: Both honestly.  I thought a lot about it.  For me, I wanted something that just said; The people who  are going to be working on this book, not necessarily me, but the people I was working with were either up and coming stars or were already big legends in their own right.  It was my chance to get to work with the people who had really inspired me, or were inspiring me at the moment.  And trying to do something that was a recombinant book.  Where the purpose wasn’t to outsell Batman or to be competitive with the line.  But instead to do something that was a place I could go to do Batman stories that were in continuity but also detached from the pressure and grind of the main book.

The way I could sell it or commercialize it for DC to make it palatable beyond it just being a Batman book was to say it would be a showcase book.  It would be a place where I would try to bring big high concept stories.  The same kind of priorities that I loved to bring to Batman itself, but that this would be a place where I’d get to work with artists like Paul Pope.  And surprise people in the way we were able to do in the interim issues on Batman itself.  So, they really went for that. And so my idea was to call it something that spoke to the legacy of that title.  The way All-Star had been a title from history, but at the same time, when I was growing up All-Star was a label that said the best creators in the business are doing something.  Whether it was Grant (Morrison) and Frank Quitely or Frank (Miller) and Jim (Lee).  So, it was an honor when they said I could use it.  And they actually suggested it.  Dan Didio and Bob Harras.

Actually, the biggest proponent was Tom King.  At first they said, why don’t you call it The Batman or Shadow of the Batman.  And I was fine with any of that stuff.  But Tom was like, it’s bigger than that.  You can’t call it that.  He was like, keep fishing.  And I did.  And All-Star came up.  So, it was Tom King.  And it feels really right and I’m really honored to be able to use that title.

B: In a lot of your interviews I’ve seen you talk about these shorter Batman stories that you’ve always wanted to write.  But because you were on Batman, you felt you needed to do the biggest best Batman stories you could possibly think of.  Are any of these shorter stories coming up in All-Star the ones you were always referring to?

SS: They are actually.  But they’ve changed.  So some of them are still relatively big.  Like the one with Sean Murphy.  It’s like Batman/Mad Max.  And the one with John Romita  obviously.  But Mister Freeze is one issue.  Ivy is one issue.  Mad Hatter is one issue.  And then Catwoman is likely two issues.  And then it goes to Sean, which is a big one.  They’re small.  I love that format.  But they are also big in the sense that I’m trying to do sort of definitive stories about them.  Not that the stories would be the best or great or anything like that in terms of quality.  I mean, you always hope that.  That they are good at least.  Decent at least.  But what I mean is definitive in the way that they are your take if you got one chance to write that character.  What you have to say about them.  And that’s what I say in my class to students all the time.  Imagine you only get one chance to write this character.  In the format they tell you you have.  Whether it’s one issue, three, whatever.  Tell the story that says everything about the character to the degree you can in that space.  So, it’s that sort of definitive.

So, Mister Freeze takes place in Alaska at a base where they have the oldest ice core in the world.  And he has a gang of cryogenically frozen people.  And Nora is in it.  It’s really over the top.  And Ivy takes place in the desert in Death Valley in Nevada where they sent a team to kill her.  And there is a spot growing around the world that’s killing everything.  So they are very kind of end of time, almost apocalyptic.  They are big stories, but they are all one issue.  Until we get to Sean, which is the big finale. It takes place in a kind of Old Man Logan/Batman.  But it’s in continuity.

B: You just said the finale.  Does that mean you have an endpoint in mind for the series?

SS: No, not at all.  Just for the year.  Basically, I see that first 15 issues as a single run.  When it’s like the way I saw the Court of Owls or whatever.  But it’s much more spaced out.  It’s sort of like the three volumes of it.  So the first three volumes are one exploration of the villains.  So all of it is “A” list villains in the first 15 issues.  Two Face, Freeze, Hatter, Catwoman, Penguin.  And the other villains in the back-up with Duke.  And then a whole group of surprise villains in the story with Sean.  It gives me a kind of meditation for the year on why these villains are so scary.  And who is the greatest villain.  And what does all of it say about Batman.  So I feel like you can collect those 3 volumes on one exploration.

But then the story I’m going to do after that is this Joker story with Lee Bermejo.  I’m not supposed to say it, but I just said it, so…whatever.  Now it’s out there.  I want to do this big Joker story with Lee Bermejo that I’ve been thinking about for awhile.  That will probably be issue 15-20 or 16-21.  Around then.  So I’d love to keep the series going as long as they will let me.  What I’ll probably do is, once Duke’s story ends around 13 or 14, I’ll see if they will allow me to reduce the page count and reduce the price and just do it as a regular book monthly with the same type of cover stock.  But that’s a whole other argument.  Another set of mechanics to work out.

B: You’re a teacher.

SS: Yes.

B: Where do you teach?

SS: Well, I taught for years.  For about 10 years before I started in comics.  American Vampire started in 2010 and I started teaching when I was in Grad School.  About 2000/2001.  I taught fiction and I started teaching graphic literature.  So I taught fiction writing and comic writing at Colombia, NYU, Sir Lawrence, and a school out here in Stony Brook South Hampton.  For a bunch of years.  For a bunch of semesters.  I really loved it.

Just this year, DC offered me a chance to teach to incoming writers.  Perspective writers for DC.  A talent development writing workshop.  So it’s the same exact class I taught, except it’s much more focused on super hero writing than it is on generalized comic writing.  In the class I used to teach, it was sort of indie writing.  Here, it’s really about the priorities of super hero comics.  I love doing it.  It’s the highlight of my week.  Wednesdays.  And it’s done through public application now.  So it’s open to everybody.  And I’m really excited that DC let me do it.

B: Everybody huh?  So, do you get people in the class that are like…totally…you know…fanboys?

SS: Hahaha.  Well, they are all very sweet.  But it’s mostly people that have begun their careers that are ready for DC.  So these are all people that have something published that they can show.  Even if it’s only something that they self-published.  But you can’t just hand in a script.  Cause the thing nowadays is, it’s so much easier to make something comic-wise than it used to be.  So you can make a digital comic or you can self-publish a comic.  But they want to see that you have the commitment and fortitude to put something together.  That you can say, this is a comic I made.  Most people are pretty serious about it.  Not just in it for fanboy stuff.  Although, I never mind it.  It’s never a problem.  But I love the fact that DC takes the students very seriously and tries to find them work afterwords as well.

B: I knew that the Mister Freeze story was coming up because of solicits, and with the All-Star book it seems that the tagline is re-imagining villains in a way that you’ve never seen them before.  And I know that you’ve already done that with Mister Freeze in Batman Annual #1 from 2012.  You did some tweaks to him.  So, is what we are going to see from Freeze the version you already created for the New52 or is it going to be something entirely different?

SS: Actually, it’s not going to address that.  I mean, Nora is in it but…..I’ll tell you the truth Brandon.  That’s the one thing I did during the entire New52, like, the last 7 years I’ve worked for DC, that’s the one issue that I sometimes look back at and am unsure if I did the right thing with.  There are things that I love about that idea that I think make him scarier and then there are other things that I think in some ways take away the emotional underpinnings of the character, that I might have abridged it too far.  And I’m just unsure of it.  There was a momentum with the New52 where they really wanted us to do wild things with the origins.  And I didn’t get swept up in that in a way I’d say it’s an excuse at all.  It’s totally on me and James in terms of developing a new origin for that character.  And they wanted us to develop new origins.  I could have held the line the way “Heart of Ice” had done it.  I think I got caught up in the idea of how to make the character more frightening to Batman and more like something I would write.

There may be a degree of selfishness in it that I think I’ve outgrown in terms of looking at Batman and realizing that there are stories that are entirely selfish and entirely personal. Like Gordon into Batman or Bruce Wayne on the road.  All kinds of stuff.  EndGame.  Zero Year.  But I have a balance for it now.  Where it’s less like, “listen, this is the way it’s going to be from now on and it’s our take.”  I have a more measured sense for how to do things that are even nuttier than that and more mine, but also give the fans a way to buy into it or not.  I really love that story and I’m proud of it.  But I also understand that out of the 50 plus issues I wrote for Batman plus Detective plus whatever, that is the single issue I would point to and say, I have the most trepidation about whether I did something better than what it was before…in terms of the comic origin.  Or if I should walk it back and go back to the other way.  So, this story about Mister Freeze doesn’t really drill deeper into that.  It’s a broader more general look at him.  So you can believe either origin you want for it.

B: In All-Star Batman #1, Batman talks about his training program and how it turns you into the hero you’ll become…or the villain.  And Duke’s like, you mean Jason.  And Batman says no, someone else.  To me, that was the single most intriguing thing you’ve introduced into All-Star.  Who’s he talking about?  Who’s this guy?  Is this forthcoming?  Are we going to find out who this villain is that Batman trained?  

SS: Yes.  Basically it’s a story called “The Ally” that I’m working on with Tynion and the other Bat writers that I’m very excited about.  So, there is someone that Batman worked with.  Not before Dick Grayson in a way that would put a primary Robin before him or anything that would upset continuity in anyway. But it’s someone that Batman knew, that he worked with, that you’ll be surprised when they tie into a dark present.  So, we are working on it.  We are trying to figure out if it’s best to tell now or to tell during the story I am doing with Capullo.  But it’s there and it’s part of a big plan for all the Bat writers.  Yes, it’s definitely something we are seeding forward.

The other thing I would say is that we are really working in tandem a lot.  The Bat writers right now, we had two summits.  We just had one in New York.  And so, a lot of stuff that’s happening in the book is coordinated in ways that will be apparent as we get closer to summer.  When Greg and I do this big story.  So things that have been happening in Detective, Batman, JLA, Teen Titans….look, Batman is clearly setting up teams all around the DCU and and orchestrating things in certain ways that speak to a threat that is coming.  And different things are building for him.  There is a level of coordination in the Bat group that is really terrific.

We are all good friends. It sounds hokey and it sounds like I’m bullshitting you but I’m not.  During this interview, Tom and I were texting for a bit.  He was like, “Look at the election results.  Do you want to get on the phone and drink?”  And I was like, “Umm, I’m in an interview.”  He was like, “I’ll get in on the interview and drink with you.”  And I was like, “No, not when you’re drunk.”  So, Tom helped me come up with All-Star.  I’ve helped him with some of the stuff in Batman.  James is a former student.  He’s like my little brother.  He’s family.  Mark Doyle is the one that came to that reading with the book that I was in.  He found me, him and his girlfriend, now his wife.  He brought me into comics.  Tim Seeley from Eternal and Steve Orlando.  We’ve been to each other’s houses and know each other’s families and all that stuff.  We are friends.  Sincerely.  The coordination that goes on in the Bat group is really inspiring.  We build stories together, so that idea about “The Ally” and the stuff we are going to do, we are doing it as a team.

Stuff in Batman is going to play out in this event, and the events going to circle around to what came up in Batman later.  Like how Gotham and Gotham Girl got their powers.  All kinds of stuff.

B: All-Star #4, the one that comes out tomorrow, it opens with a pretty ominous scene of a farm house with someone screaming from the basement.  Since it’s the very first page, without explanation, I was wondering what was going on.  But later in the issue Two Face mentions that he has his father hidden away in a basement.  Is Two Face’s comment meant as a direct reference to the opening scene? 

SS: He is referencing the opening scene.  It was meant to be that.  They are accusing Two Face of being soft.  They are saying, You keep the coin from our father.  You never killed him.  You keep this place where you used to go gambling.  You keep Harvey around.  So it’s all because some part of you believes that you need them.  And that they are stronger and you’re just testing them.  But he’s like, I keep them around to show them how weak they are.  It’s the reverse.  I keep them around to show them how weak they are in the face of me.  I enjoy making them see how pathetic they are.  And that’s why I keep all of it.  To remind me how weak it all is.  So in that way, it’s an inversion of all the things they are accusing him of.  Showing how strong he is.

B: Well, that’s all the questions I have for you tonight, but is there anything you’d like to share with the audience? 

SS: Thanks to you guys for being so supportive over the years at the site and the fan community.  Looking back, cause I got really invested in looking back when you mentioned to me how many issues you’d reviewed and all of that stuff.  I had pretty big blinders on when writing Batman and with all the pressure and anxieties that come with writing the main Bat book when it starts to do as well as Batman did sales wise, I was not prepared for that.  I was brand new and was nervous.  So I needed to really block a lot of that out.  And now that I’m a little more comfortable, especially now that I’m on All-Star, which I can’t believe is selling as well as it’s selling.  So it’s a book that doesn’t have the same demands and pressures of Batman.  Even tough I think DC would like to put those on it at this point.  It allows me to be a bit more open with the discourse going on around the book.  And be more playful with it.  And talk to people more openly about it.

I would just say thank you so much to the people at the site.  Both that work there and the fan community that have been so supportive.  And sometimes heated and passionate about the stuff that we’ve done.  The fact that you guys all love the character and love the mythos so much that you’re willing to engage in that kind of discussion, whether it’s positive or negative about our work, is really inspiring to see.  So huge thank you and kudos.

And also the fact that people have been so supportive of All-Star in general.  Really means a lot.  So thank you again for that.  It was meant to be my little tree-house book.  And the fact that people have responded to it in the way they have, it just speaks to the generosity of the readership of the Bat books and comics in general.  Where you always hope that readers will follow you when you are doing something that means something to you personally.  But is also a little weird and risky compared to the main avenue you drive in usually.  And the fact that people have supported the book and turned out for it in the way they have, it’s invigorating as a creator to realize they want you to take risks and they want to do stuff that you think  would be good but are nervous about.

So again, it’s a validation of how great the comics community is and I want to say thank you.

I know that in this interview I asked quite a few questions that weren’t really centric to All-Star.  But at the time, I wasn’t certain if this was going to be my only opportunity to interview Scott, so I went for a more general approach to his career asking all the questions I was most interested in.  As it turns out, he expressed some genuine interest in coming back for additional interviews.  Even going so far as to suggest we do them on a monthly basis to coincide with the release of each new issue of All-Star.  If that pans out, you can expect to see a lot more of Mr Snyder around Batman-News along with some much more focused discussions on the contents of the issue of the month.