Marguerite Bennett broke into comic books in 2013 and hasn't looked back - but we here at Newsarama are.
Bennett, who made her debut in 2013 co-writing a Batman Annual with her college writing teacher Scott Snyder (yes, that Scott Snyder), has gone on to write for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, BOOM! Studios, Archie Comics, and more. She currently balances work-for-hire projects such as Josie and the Pussycats and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with creator-owned work such as Animosity and InseXts.
Newsarama had a chance to talk to Bennett about her comic book career, ranging from the movie adaptation of Animosity to her favorite Power Ranger. Bennett not only talks about her own career, but also takes time to give advice to inspiring comic book creators.
Newsarama: Marguerite, what got you into comic books? Do you remember the first comic you read?
Marguerite Bennett: My gateway drug was Batman: The Animated Series, which came out when I was five years old. The show was so striking and different - this haunted noir of zeppelins and searchlights and claustrophobic, German expressionist streets, so different than the hyperbright and hypersanitized media we give to five-year-olds (and especially to five-year-old girls) – that I mistook it as a television show for adults. I thought I was getting away with something real sneaky by watching it.
In that way, I fell in love with the characters before I fell in love with the medium. I magpied my way through books after that, picking up discarded issues from older friends and cousins. A friend named Travis Covey gave me issues of Spawn and X-Men when we were in elementary school – Travis passed in 2010, when he was only 25, and I wish to hell I could have shown him what he helped bring into the world, all because of him, all because he was my friend.
Nrama: You were a student of Scott Snyder at Sarah Lawrence College. Can you tell us a bit about that experience and what made you take the class?
Bennett: I knew ever since I was a little kid that I wanted to be a writer – my dad used to take computer paper (this was so long ago you needed to tear the perforated edges off) and staple it into booklets for me to write and illustrate my stories. I kept at it, for years I kept at it - had to write a 100 a day, 200, 500, 1000, 1500, 2000 - from age four to age 24. At 24, I applied for an MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, using a novel as my portfolio, and was accepted.
In this MFA program, as an elective class on Graphic Novel Writing, taught by a professor named Scott Snyder.
Scott was (and is) a magnificent teacher. There was no work so great that he could not find place for improvement, and no work so humble that he could not find something to praise. If you were sincere in your passion and dedication to your story, he would match that passion and dedication with you, beat for beat. I lucky to have been his student, but I am especially blessed to call him a friend.
About a year after the class, Scott reached out to me, very kindly, and told me how he had kept thinking about the scripts and original projects I’d brought to class. He told me that if this is what I wanted, because this is a hard career (and no one breaks into comics because it’s the only place hiring), he felt I was ready to do this professionally. He made an introduction for me at DC Comics, I jumped through hoops of fire in the audition, and I’ve been up to no good ever since.
Nrama: Is there a character you haven’t written in your career that you really want to tackle?
Bennett: I’d honestly love a run at Hannibal Lecter or any character from a Guillermo del Toro flick, but if we’re talking Big Two, I am all about Rogue and Mystique.
Nrama: What is your favorite part about writing in the comic book medium?
Bennett: The collaboration. My background is prose, and prose is a mighty lonely endeavor. In comics, you are sincerely a team - your editors, your artist, your colorist, your letterer - y’all against the world. You have other writers working in that universe to talk to and bounce ideas off of, communities at conventions to be inspired by, amazing fan artists who make you feel so humble and so grateful to be part of this world.
Nrama: You’ve written both mainstream and independent works. What makes tackling creator-owned stories and work-for-hire different? What do you enjoy more?
Bennett: There’s no “more,” really. I love telling stories. I (vainly) imagine myself put on this earth to tell stories. In work-for-hire projects, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. You walk on a foundation created by others, some of them masters of the medium who labored for decades to create the universe you now play in. You owe a debt to contribute positively, thoughtfully, daringly, and originally to the world that others built, others tend, others love - and which, ultimately, others own. You’re sharing this space between you - in some cases, this becomes greater than the sum of its parts, combines the best of what you can hope for. In other cases, it becomes a struggle for resources - told you can’t tell this story of that, because those characters are currently spoken for. It can be viewed as a challenge to create something even more exciting and unexpected, but I don’t want to diminish the idea that yes, it can be a struggle.
Conversely, with creator-owned stories, you do have limitless freedom, but the burden of that world falls entirely to you. It can be lonely. You do not have the community, the foundation of the masters, which can be liberating or terrifying, depending on where you are in your life, in your own head, when you sit down to write. I enjoy the balance between the two. I love telling stories, and I will tell stories wherever I wash up, wherever I’m planted. That is, after all, what I hope I am here for.
Nrama: Your next big project is Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. What are you most excited for fans to see with this series?
Bennett: How absolutely friggin’ weird we’re gonna get. Simone is an undiscovered master of his craft and his sense of action, friction, tension, speed, drama, and sheer terrifying expanse make 100% certain that there is no one better to tackle this story. We’re going somewhere utterly new, and utterly wrong – a world without the most basic tenant of existence, a world severed from the Morphin Grid, and grown twisted and obsence in its absence.
Nrama:What attracted you to write the series?
Bennett: I’d been a die hard Power Rangers fan as a little girl, and being able to contribute to the mythos, for Baby Marguerite to grow up to touch, however briefly, a world that had meant so much to her, was absolutely the motive of self-interest and self-fulfillment. But the opportunity would have been in vain if not for the phenomenal team I have at my back - my queen of an editor, Dafna Pleban, and Melissa Flores, imperatrix of the Power Rangers empire, have made this process a joy.
Nrama:Who is your favorite Power Ranger of all time?
Bennett: Trini Kwan, represent.
Sabretooth Tiger Dinozord Powerrrrrrrr.
Nrama: DC Comics Bombshells was a digital-first series for DC Comics. Was the process for writing these comics different because of how the chapters were broken up or did you tackle it like any other comic?
Bennett: You have to adapt! Lord, I grieve for anyone who chugs away at all books like they’re the same book, at all mediums like they’re the same medium. Pacing was the big thing here - every chapter, you’ve got ten pages, once a week, and once a month, a 30-page floppy issue is collected. At the get-go, you’re creating an imbalance in the speed in which medium dictates who gets caught up when. Cliffhangers were chosen with especial care - for some folk, an issue-ending cliffhanger would be seven days’ affair, but for others, it would be a month of torment. Exposition and catch-ups in dialogue and narration had to be refreshed based on audience, but not so clunky as to be noticed, because one must also look ahead to the future reader who isn’t reading digitally, nor by floppy single issues, but reading trade paperbacks all at once. The story had to be constructed to work in all three formats at once. It was an extremely tricky process.
Nrama: It was announced that Animosity is being adapted into a movie.. Can you tell us a bit about this process? How involved are you in this project?
Bennett: I got this big fancy title of “Executive Producer,” which so far means I barf out my feelings about a talking dog and his human daughter while people much more intelligent, talented, and accomplished than myself ponder the power dynamics and emotional momentum of an animal apocalypse.
I can’t say much more right now, but I am astonished, delighted, and humbled in turns by the folks considering and orchestrating this project, and could not be more grateful to work with them.
Nrama:Would you like to see a movie or television adaptation for InseXts as well? Do you feel like the story could be tackled differently through these mediums?
Bennett: I would love to see InseXts brought to another medium and audience. I still have so much love for that series, and I brag about Ariela Kristantina every chance I get. I am still so proud of the unrepentant female anger in that series. InseXts is a raw, ravenous, rich story, at odds elegant and brutal, erotic and repulsive. Of all my stories, InseXts is the closest to what’s in my heart.
Nrama: For upcoming writers, what is your best advice for getting into the comic book industry?
Bennett:In a nutshell? Make something small.
“But!” you say. You want to tell me about your magnum opus, you say. You love long-running series, you say, they were your inspiration, you say, look at things like The Wicked & The Divine and Y: The Last Man and Scalped and The Walking Dead, you want to write that! Do I know what such-and-such a run meant to you? You want your that, your Watchmen, your Killing Joke, your Dark Knight Returns - your Nimona, your SMile, your Uzumaki.
I know you’re gonna say that ‘cause I said all that, the year I broke in. I wanted to make my mark. I had the stories I was burning, craving, perishing to tell. I tried, again and again, to pitch and sell and tell them great big stories.
And I wasted years in the struggle.
Nobody knew me from Adam. Here I was, asking for these publishers to take a great big risk on me, to commit to a series when even the boldest and most inspired of direct market books often meet the axe in a slow season. I want from door to door to door with big ideas and long pitches and let me tell you, one sinner to another: Don’t do that.
So my advice (and let me say: y’all asked) is – don’t want that. Don’t want that yet.
Let me tell you three things.
Number One - No two folks in this industry with the same story. I spent twenty years working on becoming a professional novelist with a terminal degree from a prestigious MFA program that would allow me to teach at any university in the nation, and I wound up writing superhero comics. Nobody called that. I didn’t call that and I went through the damn process. Five years in, I still don’t 100% believe it.
Scott was a teacher. Gail Simone owned her own business. Raina Telgemeier illustrated The Babysitter’s Club. Tom King was in the CIA. Junji Ito was a dental technician. Ed Brisson worked at a nonprofit. Noelle Stevenson was an art student. Neil Gaiman was a journalist. Matt Fraction worked retail. Charles Soule was a lawyer. Kieron Gillen was a games critic. Kelly Thompson worked in an architecture firm. Tini Howard was a barista. Chip Zdarksy was a Soviet spy with 17 confirmed kills, haunted by the only mystery he can’t solve: himself.
All these folk broke in in different ways. Some writers were Marvel interns, some won writing contests, some ran websites of articles, some stalked the con circuit until they got their work into the hands of the right people – but all of them got their writing in front of someone who took notice.
So there’s the first step: Write something that can be gotten in front of someone and read quickly and competently – articles, zines, one-shots, web comics, shorts. Very nearly nobody, with their own life and own families and own work, has the time to read your 40-to-70-issue magnum opus. They do have time to read something small.
Number Two - So what is that small thing?
Well, depends on your story. I would not recommend trying to make your magnum opus into ten pages, so I would personally recommend the kind of short story that shows the reader (and, ideally, editor) that you are creative, hit emotional beats, and can execute an original story within the constraints of those very tight parameters. I will say, however, that you should write the kind of story you want to read. If you want to write grisly crime fiction, I wouldn’t suggest making a five-page all-ages story, but who knows – my background was horror prose, and I write mainstream superheroines. Brian Michael Bendis was a crime noir guy before Marvel.
Now, to the creation of the short:
“But what about an artist? I’m just a writer!”
If you can, hire an artist (and pay them for their work). If you can’t, then it’s on you to reach that audience. No artist owes you free art.
If your idea is good, you should be able to doodle it and express it. XKCD is the busiest web comic on the planet and it’s done in stick figures. A Softer World broke my heart as often as not and it was words over photos. Scribble. Doodle. Experiment. Collage. We emotionally connect to memes every day. You are better than a meme. I believe in you.
So, as we all know, the internet is probably 85% bad, but it’s done wonders to get that small thing in front of people. Audrey Mok, the magnificent artist on our Josie and the Pussycats run, drew some Max Max: Fury Road fan art of the Brides that I adored so much, I urged Archie to hire her for our book.
Our community grows every year because we now have the technology to reach one another, regardless of being able to afford a hotel/flight/table/convention badge. Share. Promote. Develop sincere (not networking) friendships with those you’re coming up with. Have faith that yes, you ARE coming up. Help each other. A rising tide raises all ships, and when you break in, you can help the people who come after you. And create, create, create.
If a publisher is only interested in sci-fi, maybe don’t send them your high fantasy pitch. (Conversely, hey, a well-written story is a well-written story – while it sometimes does work, it is just not my personal advice). Make a lot of shorts. Get them out there. Hand them out at shows it you can. Disperse them online if you can’t. Interact with your community. Don’t aim your first sights on DC and Marvel – work on proving to the world that you are a good writer, first and foremost, and hone your craft until you’re able to make their editors, artists, and writers take notice of you.
This is a community. We try to support each other, promote each other, inspire, critique, assist, and celebrate each other. If you’re only in it for yourself, scrambling over your peers to try to get to that editor first, your peers are gonna notice, and you’re gonna fall like that one drunk asshole crowd surfing at a matinee concert. You’re only going to break in to this industry if you remember: the biggest thing about comics is it is collaborative.
Number Three (And Most Important) - Writers write.
That’s it. That’s all.
Get it out of your head and onto the page. You’ll never have more time in your life than you do at this moment. Every day is a ticking clock. No else is going to do this for you. No one else can do this for you. You are your own best advocate. You are the only person in control of your decisions.
For your own sanity and satisfaction, ask yourself – when you die, what work do you want to have left behind for those who come after?
Then do it now.