All-Star Batman writer Scott Snyder and frequent Batman artist Tim Sale held court at the recent Fan2Sea Comic Con Cruise for its “Legends of the Dark Knight” panel. While Sale was a last-minute addition to replace Greg Capullo, he and Snyder got along well in their panel with moderator (and X-Men ’92 co-writer) Chris Sims. The three men opened up about Snyder’s handle of the pop culture icon, as well as reflected back on Sale’s work with collaborator Jeph Loeb and his earlier work.
The first thing brought up was “Blade,” a short story Sale ddi with James Robinson in DC’s Legends of the Dark Knight anthology.
“I was really just working my way through it and I wasn’t a very commercial artist just yet,” Sale said. “It was my first real big work. After that, I had already done Challengers of the Unknown with Jeph Loeb and he didn’t get to write Batman because initially the Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight book didn’t do repeat artist team-ups. So he begged and screamed and Archie Goodwin let him have the Scarecrow story which was a Halloween special.”
Sale continued about how he was constructing Batman’s distinctive cape, which he was drawing as tattered and torn.
“The cape is still very important to me, but I don’t pay attention to things like logic because it’s silly anyways. It’s still an incredible thing to exploit. I tend to work exaggeristically and going for things for effect, not cartoony per se, but Batman and the Hulk are guys you can exaggerate the hell out of.”
Sims chimes in that the two things that come to mind with Sales’ Batman are the cape and the teeth.
“I love the panel of Joker getting punched and his million teeth go everywhere,” said Sims.
“The Joker’s thing was really based on the Grinch,” replied Sale. “There’s a moment when he grins and it’s like loose piano keys and there’s where I got that.”
Changing gears, Sims talked about an interview Loeb did with Wizard Magazine in 1998 for Superman For All Seasons. In it, Loeb mentioned that Sale hated the idea of Clark Kent playing football.
“I don’t remember, but I certainly don’t like that idea,” Sale replied. He also mentioned how he wasn’t a huge fan of anything John Byrne did with the character, which garnered a “woo” from Mark Waid who was in attendance.
“Jeph was concerned that DC might be concerned that we weren’t following Byrne’s lead on the retelling of the origins,” Sale added. “I never met Byrne, but nobody booed the way I drew Batman as they did when I drew Superman, but then I won an Eisner so, yeah. It also made a lot of money for the company so that forgave a lot of sins.”
Sims then asked Snyder about his general approach to Batman and what are his fundamentals he prefers when telling a story.
“As a creator I feel like if I’m not upsetting fans with something, I must be boring,” he explained. “My approach when I started was just abject terror because I was so scared of writing him. I was catapulted into that job before I was really ready for it. I was doing the back-ups for Detective Comics and didn’t think I was going to get there so fast.”
Speaking of Detective Comics, it was Paul Dini’s departure from that title in 2011 that led DC to bring in Scott Snyder to the Bat-titles.
“I wanted to do it in a way that would allow to show how Batman has made me brave with things about that frighten me,” said Snyder. “’The Black Mirror’ was about how the city changes and why Dick Grayson would be terrified and to be a better hero.”
Snyder added that he felt if he tried to emulate the style of Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, or Denny O’Neil, that it would have been even scarier for him.
“’The Court of Owls’ was similar because my wife and I had just moved to Long Island and the first year had been really really hard. We only had one car and she would take it to medical school and you really can’t walk at all out there,” he said. “I remember feeling really down and then-DC editor Mike Marts offered me Batman and I was really scared because I had no idea how to write Bruce. Dick Grayson was easy to me because he wore his heart on his sleeve and we got along perfectly, but with Bruce it was sort of ‘stop whining, let’s go’.”
Snyder talked about returning to New York City and noticing how it had change since he moved, and how that partly inspired his take on Bryce Wayne.
“The city you know made of the people you love and places you go you exist together and you make the story of that place together,” said Snyder. “As time goes on, it vanishes and only you and those people carry the memory. Batman would never know all of Gotham, just this one moment and if I could weaponize that, I would have something special, for me at least.”
He also mentioned that each of his arcs’ themes have special meaning to him; “Death of the Family” was based on his terrors of being a father, while “Zero Year” was about how he wanted Batman to help make his kids become brave about gun violence.
“He was a character that was made out of complete random violence,” Snyder said of Batman’s origin. “Joe Chill is the embodiment of meaningless violence, so Batman says he’s made from meaninglessness and go out and make your life mean something.”
Sims then asked about when it creatively clicked for both Sale and Snyder and when they felt they had gotten their version of Batman that they wanted down.
“Well it certainly wasn’t in ‘Blades’,” said Sale. “It took a long time.”
He talked about his time working with editor Mark Chiarello and how several three- to four-hour phone calls several times a week pushed him to find the right visual direction that wasn’t compromising.
On the subject of Robin, Sims brought up how visually different that character is from Batman – especially when standing next to each other.
“Well ,Jeph had wanted to do a Robin story for a while,” Sale explained. “You know we don’t work in continuity and tell early stories. So I really had fun to play with that, but it took me a while to get used to the idea of Robin because I saw Batman as a solitary figure.”
He then opened up about how his perspective changed once living with a woman who already had a young son.
“I’m not a father,” Sale continued. “I don’t think I have the genes, and he did a lot of things that irritated me so Jeph wrote these things into Dark Victory. So that turned out to be visually fun and makes sense that I could play around with that.”
Beyond just working on Batman, Sale and Snyder share a connection in that both of their work on the Dark Knight helped re-frame, and in some cases, rebuild, various Batman villains – such as Two-Face in Long Halloween, Dark Victory, and the current All-Star Batman.
“The thing for me with the villains is try to figure out what makes them scary to me personally,” Snyder said. “So the Riddler was never scary, but there’s something about Batman being this great sleuth, but my detective skills are so low it’s difficult to write that part of Batman for me. What’s scary about him though is that he’s the voice of ‘you’re not smart enough’. No one has answers to these questions that keep you up in night and there’s something terrifying about a villain who embodies that.”
Snyder then segued to his upcoming Mad Hatter arc in All-Star Batman with artist Giuseppe Camuncoli, explaining what makes the Hatter so frightening and how his own struggles with depression and how it changed his reality.
“You’re not seeing the world realistically. You know you’re not, but you can’t separate that from what you’re feeling inside your own body. I made it so Hatter is making these hats, not just his own, but baseball hats, top hats, anything and when you put it on you see the world as you want it, even if it’s not true,” said Snyder. “So what’s what you do. You take the villains and make them personal.”
The moderator then opened the floor to some Q&A, with the first question being about each creator’s favorite villain to work on.
“I like the guys I create myself,” said Snyder. “But Joker is my favorite classic. He’s just so pure villain. A villain to me is somebody who says I know what you’re afraid of and I’m going to prove it to you know and you’ll never beat me. He does all of that while laughing at you which makes it doubly horrifying.”
Sale was then asked about his Catwoman design, from its inspiration to how he conceptualized it.
“I was probably halfway through Dark Victory when I was dating a woman who was strong and beautiful. Of course we split up during When In Rome, but even before that I knew I wanted her to be a strong figure and curvy and muscular at the same time,” said Sale. “I discovered a French artist by the name of Rene Gruau who was a fashion illustrator and had these simple but dramatic pieces. There was a picture he did for just stockings and thought that at least was what the covers will be influenced by.”
Last question was about if Snyder would ever go back to write Nightwing, as he stated previously he felt a connection to the character.
“Sure, but it was weird to get requests for butt shots from fans, so when I went to write Bruce I requested them for him and nobody cared,” Snyder said with a laugh. “It was finally when we gave him a beard that I got texts including one from Becky Cloonan that said ‘LumberBruce heart heart heart’. While I continue to say I won’t go back to the regular Batman series, there’s plenty of Batman in my future.”