Scott Snyder welcomed a room full of fans to his panel by starting with an introduction to himself and Mark Doyle, then mentioning how he "got into comics - which is the best job in the world."
Snyder started out as a prose writer. "I got one of these book deals where they buy your idea for a book, then they pay you when you've delivered the book. I did a book of short stories and it was great, and then the economy just crashed. The amount that was promised for the book - we bought a house, had our first son, and handed in the book, and they said "we can't make this work the way you were going to do it." So I tried to redo it a few times, but realized that it was never going to be what they wanted it to be."
Mark Doyle, the current Batman editor, jumped in there, saying "this is where I come into the story." As a Vertigo editor, he and his now-wife (an editor at Marvel) went and saw a reading at a book show, and Scott did a reading of one of his short stories. They said to each other that they'd be fighting for Scott.
"I remember the story, too, it was a really dark and series World War II superhero story. So funny story is, I didn't even know Mark and Jeanine are dating, and I went and did some work for her - I was doing this story with the original Human Torch and my pages had like 20 panels and it was crazy. Then I started doing work with Mark for American Vampire. It was so funny though, I'd be talking to Mark and say "man, my editor at Marvel will never call me back," and then she'd call me like five minutes later. But I'm not Batman, I'd never put it together!"
Doyle saves "every email," and recently showed Scott some of their first ever correspondence. "It was the funniest thing I've ever read. I read like two boys pretending to be adults." Snyder laughed and agreed.
"The thing that was wonderful was that he was starting out when I was starting out. We met at a pizza parlor, and I pitched him American Vampire. I was planning to write it as a book or a series of stories, and it wasn't quite working." Snyder went into an aside about his wife and her work as a doctor at a Cancer center, where he'll call her and ask about Batman getting hit by radiation.
When he pitched American Vampire, there was a bit of hesitation at first at Vertigo.
"I was really fascinated by the retelling of American history through Vampires," Doyle said. "Will Dennis, my boss at the time, said it was a good idea, but we just couldn't do a Western. 'They always tank for us.'" So Doyle asked Snyder if he could lead with a different character and/or time period. "That was a Friday. On Monday, Scott called me with Pearl, and that changed everything."
Snyder said he absolutely loves Pearl, "she's my favorite character ever." He had been sitting in a parking lot when he got the call that it had been rejected - so he worked on Pearl over the weekend, and was so excited when it was accepted.
The writer was in the midst of a struggle with depression and anxiety. Comics were the one thing that made him happy and relaxed, and he just couldn't get himself to work on the book he was supposed to do for the money they needed. "I told my wife that the comics were the only thing making me happy, and she said, fine, let's take out another loan and get you focused on the comics work. It was really scary at the time. She told me to go tell them that I wasn't going to write the book, and dissolve that. I love her to death."
"So what you're saying is comics saved your life," Doyle said. "It did, it really did," Snyder responded.
"I was really beginning to hate writing. So that's been my compass in comics - to make sure I'm never ever trying to do something for someone else ever again. Might it make sense to go after some other books right now? Maybe, strategically, but I need to write for me. That compass is, I hope, what has made it possible for me to be here now. And I owe it to my wife and to you guys (the fans) for keeping me honest.
"I was so sure, I can write 250 pages of this scifi future thing that I don't like, I'll bite the bullet, but I just couldn't. If you do that, then they want another one, and there's no way out of that trap. I feel really greatful to you guys for letting me do that. I'll never do a job just because it's the thing to make money or high profile or anything like that."
So that's "Scott Snyder's secret origin story," Doyle said, before opening up the floor to the fans.
Q: As someone with an art background, do you get the visual in your head first or do the writing and then figure out how you'd like it to look?
Snyder: "That's a good question. It's definitley a visual thing for me first. I actually saw this statue of a zombie American Confederate soldier, and it made me think of this. I always loved Near Dark and Salem's Lot, so it made me think about how to do Vampires differently. When something catches me, I have to figure out why it matters to me. I liked that it was a monster that was truly scary because it's involved in american iconography. What masters of horror do is take something you think of as a representation of safety, and turn it against you. So if I could take American iconography and make that scary, that's what I wanted to do.
"I do that with villains, too. I think 'I want to do a Clayface story,' and then I sit and figure out why that appeals to me, why I want to do that."
Next was a process question, particularly when he starts to do research and such.
"What I'll do, I'll say to myself, this thing caught my eye, I was out in the woods, and I saw someone behind a tree, and it was a person that was like 9 feet tall - well it was another tree. But it scared me, and I ran away! But I was thinking to myself there's this primal fear of the woods. So I knew I wanted to use Witches, and make them scary - make them beastial and primal. So if they come from childhood, they eat children, that's childhood fears - so what are they scary about for adults? So then it's about the adults giving kids to the Witches for things, for favors.
"So that's what Wytches is about, a guy and his daughter, it's very contemporary, and she's seeing things in the woods, and they move, but then she sees things again. Anyway, for me, I always know the beginning and the ending. The middle is what I like to explore, that's where I go on all my road trips."
Q: What do you do when you hit a rough patch or have writer's block?
"Writer's block for me is fear of writing something shitty. So for me, I just sit there and write anyway, and sometimes it might be really bad, but I just can't stop writing, that's the worst thing you can do. You bolt yourself to the seat and just keep writing, even if you hate what you're writing.
"Meeting Stephen King - he had reviewed my short story collection and we kept in touch. So when I started American Vampire I asked him for a blurb, when I had already sold it. He's really funny - we'll go out to his house in Florida, and he lives out on these bluffs. He'll tell you to go out to the pier and its this creeky old pier and he'll take you out with a lantern - it's crazy! But he tells me talent is as common as table salt, and what makes you go through is perseverance."
After being asked about one of his short stories, Snyder went on an aside about when he was reading manuscripts as a side job. There was a book where he read a story about "these people who cloned Jesus, and he looks nothing like they expected, and they're keeping him secret - and then there's a scene where they're getting chased on like a swamp boat, and they say "Jesus take a gun!" and he throws off his cloak and starts shooting at people. It was hilarious, it was my favorite story."
A big fan of American Vampire and The Wake asked if Snyder ever filters anything out that's "too crazy."
"There were definitely some things I did in Severed for Image; it's about a kid that sets out on the road in 1916 and he represents optimism, and he runs into this demon of the road. The children eating and that kind of thing - I showed it to my wife and she was like, "why would you write this?" What's really funny is I can't watch like 48 hours with a kid being taken. I can write the shit out of it, but I can't watch it or read it myself. So no, I think it's about writing the darkest, scariest places you can go."
Q: How much reading do you do compared to writing?
"I used to do a lot of writing, I was really well-rounded, and now I'm this cube. I only read comics. I let my subscriptions to magazines all go away. What I've been trying to do lately is read non-fiction. I was reading a book called The World Without Us, and now I'm reading The Book of Immortality. It's really good. I try to stick to non-fiction so I can escape my world of fiction. My brain won't shut off when I'm watching fiction - I was watching Hannibal on the plane, and it's really good, but as a writer you sit there and pick it apart and try to get to the bottom of it, so non-fiction lets me turn that part of my breain off."
Upcoming work? Batman: Endgame, a big new story in American Vampire, the launch of Wytches, and "a couple other things I'm not ready to talk about yet."
However, Snyder clarified, "I have no intention of leaving Batman after Endgame. I thought you guys would be sick of me at this point! But I have more stories. The way I write it - it's Batman, you have to do the biggest stories ever. So I have a couple more of those in my head, and if you guys will keep me I'll do them. Greg is signed up through 50 already, and I'm not leaving my Gotham brother behind."
Characters he'd love to write? "Wonder Woman, I have a story for her I'd like to write. I have a Captain America story I'd love to write too."
Harper Row has a big role to play in "issue 2 of Endgame. Everything coming forward is getting back to business and giving these characters like Bluebird and Julia a time to shine."
Q: Why the Riddler for Zero Year?
"It's a detective case within that villain's language pattern, so it was the perfect one for him to fight. It was very personal about why Batman matters to me, now, personally. And I wanted to make something contemporary and modern. Riddler comes in and says that there are all these riddles to solve of violence and crime and climate change, and rolls them all into one. So that let me tell a very contemporary story for Batman."
Q: Other artists you'd like to work with who are different from what you regularly do?
"There are too many! I always want to work with people with a bold style. There are so many people I'd work with, there's 100, too many to list."
The next big arc of American Vampire is the 1960s Space Race. "We had to do the astronaut. So I can do that, but at the same time reveal secrets back through history. I'm also doing a story with the miners in the 49er gold rush - that one's actually half prose, with a journal you're reading."
Q: How did you prepare to write Batman?
"I was terrified. The night I got the job to write Detective Comics I told my wife I didn't think I could do it and I had to quit. You write page 1, panel 1: The Batcave and just freak out.
"I have to look at it like I'm doing a creator owned book. If you think about what Batman means to you and your friends and their kids, it's crippling. So you have to just pretend 'oh, I made Batman up!'"
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