When DC Comics released its solicitations for September, the list was peppered with writers and artists that aren't currently working on titles for the publishers.
One of the newest names in the list was Marguerite Bennett, who's now working on a couple of high-profile DC gigs: Batman Annual #2 and Justice League #23.2: Lobo.
A former student of Scott Snyder, she got her big break when the professor-slash-comics writer asked for her help on July's Batman Annual. Her work on the issue got the attention of DC editors, and she ended up working on the Villains Month issue of Lobo.
Newsarama talked to Bennett to find out more about her background, how she became a fan of comic books (and Batman), and what it's like to take a class from Snyder.
Newsarama: Marguerite, I just saw a photo of you with a diploma. You graduated?
Marguerite Bennett: I just graduated from Sarah Lawrence’s MFA Writing Program and now have a degree in Not Sleeping and Making Ramen Noodles Last Two Meals.
(That’s actually a disgraceful lie — Ramen noodles taste terrible when reheated.)
Nrama: Ah, an MFA. What's your background before that? I take it you live in New York City. Are you from there?
Bennett: I live just outside of New York City, but I’m born and bred in Virginia. My undergrad was the University of Mary Washington in 2010 and my high school was the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in 2006. I’ve got a couple of finished novels and a collection of short stories that I’m shopping around to agents, as well as two independent comic book series that are seeking good homes. Other than that, I’m an indigent ne’er-do-well who’s worked in everything from marketing and advertising for an online company to driving the snack cart at a golf course. But I always knew I wanted to be a writer.
Nrama: What got you interested in writing comic books?
Bennett When I was a kid, my mother would staple computer paper together for me to write and illustrate my own stories. The concept of prose and art embroidering each other, supporting each other, never left me — not even when I had to leave art behind and dive headlong into novels and pure text.
The stories that I liked to tell always had an exceptional visual element. My prose took great lengths with the descriptions of characters, monsters, clothing, forests, strange images — for a long time, I fought what was simply natural. Comic books allow for such a fantastic, honestly limitless scope of possibilities, of risk-taking, of powerful, fierce stories that through the harmony of prose and image can create such lasting impressions on readers. I can devour a novel in a weekend, but then I’m left with this hollow pit — there’s no more. Comics, ongoing, felt like friendship — bonds you could build over months, over years. It was inevitable, really.
Nrama: Then have you been a Batman fan for a long time?
I’ve been a fan of Batman since I was a stumbling little six-year-old and got my first glimpse of Batman: The Animated Series while languishing in an afterschool daycare. Admittedly, I wildly misinterpreted the first few episodes I watched, because I assumed Batman (dressed in black, devil horns, glowing white eyes) was the bad guy. It perhaps says something to my character that I still adored him despite the misconception. After a few episodes, I decided that he had simply once been the bad guy, but was now mending his ways by capturing his former allies in the underworld. (I may have been an uncomfortably precocious six-year-old.) As the episodes did not air in sequence, it actually took me close to a month to get the proper story out of a neighborhood friend, and by then, I was already in love. *flutters eyelashes*
Nrama: What are some of your favorite Batman stories from comic books?
Bennett: The Dark Knight Returns, Hush, The Long Halloween, Nine Lives, Arkham Asylum, and Year One. I also have a giggling, fangirly love for The Black Mirror squirreled away in my heart [shhh].
Nrama: So let's talk about the story you're co-writing with Scott for the Batman Annual. How would you describe the story you guys are telling?
Bennett: Scott and I designed the story around the principle of a cage. The image of the cage and the concept of what cages will do to a human mind come back again and again — the escape from a cage, the effect of a cage, the places where the cage is what destroys you, the places where the cage is what keeps you safe. The story is about what happens when a sanctuary becomes a prison.
Or, if I had to give you a tidy answer, I’d say it’s about a new orderly’s first night at Arkham Asylum. (But where’s the fun in that?)
Nrama: No fun at all. Well, then again, Arkham Asylum is full of all kinds of fun characters. Are there some other characters you can mention that we'll see in the story?
Bennett: While there are glimpses of iconic characters, we actually have three new characters that are introduced in Arkham. This is a very different Batman story, I’ll admit — intensely psychological in addition to bringing the action. I knew that if I got to write one Batman story, I wouldn’t want a fistfight — I’d want a goddamn indictment. Scott is a master at the emotional climax of his characters, and with his blessing, I delivered what I think is a very different sort of villain. That all said, I really hope y’all enjoy.
Nrama: How has it been working with Scott?
Bennett: Scott is magnificent and I can’t say enough nice things about him — not just as a writer, but as a person. He is so genuine, humble, supportive, and talented. I’ve never had a harsh word from him, and I’ve screwed up enough times to have deserved some by now. He’s permitted me so much freedom with the Annual to tell the kind of story I want to tell. He’s kind, creative, encouraging, generous, and I could not be working with a person I trust more.
The timing for the Annual was really brutal, in a lot of ways — I was working full-time between two jobs, finishing graduate school with a complete course load of classes, writing and editing my thesis (which, for my MFA program, was a complete novel), jumping through all the hoops required for graduation, and — ha! — trying have a social life on top of that. My hand to God, though, I wouldn’t have traded it for all the peaceful nights in the world. These have been some of the best months of my life, and Scott did everything he could to help this be a fun, rewarding process that delivered a story we could truly be proud of.
There was a day, the week I graduated, where he called just to tell me how well I was doing, how pleased our editors were, how proud he was of me. That meant more to me than I can tell you. He’s been so wonderfully supportive of all the insanity I’ve been throwing into the Annual, has gone to bat [laughs] for our story, and I’m so grateful to have him for a teacher and friend.
Nrama: Let's talk about your artist, Wes Craig. Have you seen his art for the Annual yet? Or are you aware of his work?
Bennett: Our wonderful and indefatigable editors, Mike Marts and Katie Kubert, have been keeping us up-to-date with Wes’s artwork, and he and I chat over e-mail. On the morning of my graduation, actually, I was in my cap and gown and lining up with my friends when Mike and Katie sent us Wes’s pencils of the first few pages. I had trouble paying attention to my own damn ceremony, I was so happy. To see something we had written given life by someone so talented — ugh, I was in heaven.
Nrama: How would you describe what he's bringing to the Annual?
Bennett: Wes has terrific instincts, and his style is distinct, which was something that was very important to Scott and to me. We didn’t want crisp, clean, heroic art — we wanted something unusual, something with character, and (from my perspective) something eerie. This isn’t an invective against the aesthetic of modern superhero art — we just wanted a form that would follow the function of our story, and Wes provides this striking, unique style that lends itself to the claustrophobia in our plot.
Nrama: Wow, that sounds intriguing.
Bennett: Check out his piece, The Gravediggers Union, from Blackhand Comics to see what I’m talking about [Editor's note: Check out the work Bennett is recommending by clicking here). He’s great.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier that Scott was your teacher at Sarah Lawrence. Before we talk about your work on Lobo, can I ask about that? I think a lot of his fans want to know — what's he like as a teacher?
Bennett: I’m delighted to tell you that Scott’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had — high school, college, grad school, all of it. I feel that a lot of times — even at the MFA level — you will encounter professors who can politely hijack your story; they’re focused on their own standard of aesthetic, what they believe would improve your story, what would make it appealing to the academic elite or to publishers or to a mass market or what have you.
Scott was always first and foremost interested in what you wanted the story to be. That was always one of the first questions in workshop — not where the story was, but where did you, the author, want it to be?
Some students, too, would have very selective ideas — they didn’t read sci-fi, or didn’t like historical fiction, or what have you — and the policy in class was, “Well, today you do.” Regardless of your personal aesthetic, you can find something to praise and something to critique to help this writer further her or his vision for the story. Empathize. Scott was always supportive and never insincere. When he told you you’d done good, you knew you’d done good. And when he cautioned or critiqued you, you knew if was to the benefit of your vision — not for the benefit of what he as the authority thought your story should or could be.
Honestly, if you get the chance to take one of his classes, I cannot recommend it enough.
Check back on Newsarama to learn what Marguerite Bennett is bring to her depiction of the New 52 version of Lobo in September's Villains Month issue, Justice League #23.2: Lobo.