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Baltimore Comic Con 2014: Interview with Marguerite Bennett

At Baltimore Comic Con, I got the opportunity to chat with up and coming comics writer Marguerite Bennett about her projects past, present, and future for companies including Marvel, DC, and BOOM! We also discussed her mentor Scott Snyder (Batman, The Wake), Batman: The Animated Series, and her time at the University of Mary Washington, which happens to be the college I am currently attending.

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SoS: What was the first comic you ever read? How old were you? What was the context?

Marguerite Bennett: This isn’t exactly a comic, but Batman: The Animated Series was my big hook into the Bat-universe. after that, my friend Travis Covey would show me single issues from things like X-Men and Spawn. They were always completely out of the arc they were a part of so I’d be six years old going through these pages with no concept of what was going on. I’d say Uncanny X-Men as far as the first arc that I paid attention or managed to get the complete story. Yeah, Chris Claremont.

SoS: He’s great. I wish he were here. Piggybacking off that, what was your favorite episode of Batman: The Animated Series?

Bennett: It was the episode about the fear toxin where Barbara Gordon is killed, and Gordon has turned on the Batman family. That was so emotional and so traumatic. It was the moment that amid all the other television that’s created for kids that made it profound to see the depth of emotion and pain in these characters. It was something I knew when I was a kid watching this that, “I’m going to be thinking about this for a long time.” and here I am at 26 still  thinking about it. This was one  of the moments that introduced how powerful these stories would be when in the right hands. That’s my favorite, not because I enjoyed it the most, but because it had the most important effect on me.

Batman_Annual_Vol_2_2SoS: How did you get the Batman Annual gig last year?

Bennett: Scott Snyder was my professor at my MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, and I was majoring in fiction/creative writing. I wound up taking a class of his on comic books and graphic novels. I had a project I’d been working on and off for several years, and I’d tried in different mediums and tried it as a comic book. I was so ignorant of the industry that I ended up putting it in a drawer for a long time, but then I brought it back out and worked on it, brought it to him, and he responded positively to it. He was extremely encouraging and helpful and kind. Then about a year after the class, he reached out to me and said, “I think you’re ready to do this professionally if this is something you want to do.” This blew me away. He actually (I’m going to throw him under the bus here.) said, “I’m looking for some help with the Batman Annual. Would this be something you’re interested in?” You cannot say the word “help” when you’re asking someone to participate in Batman. It was one of the happiest nights. It was one of the best moments. He’s such a kind, humble, sincere person. He’s a wonderful teacher, and I could not be more grateful to Scott. He’s just a tremendous human being.

SoS: What was your relationship like with Scott Snyder, both writing and as a student, like some of the things he taught you in class?

Bennett: What makes Scott such a magnificent teacher is that the passion you bring to your project, he will reflect back to you. The thing you’re passionate about, he’ll be passionate helping you. But if you’re in the class and phoning it in, he’s not going to engage as thoroughly. He will find something great in every story. He’ll be so sincere. That’s the big thing. It’s not like “Your language was great, or your character were good.”, but this specific thing is what  distinguishes your story. The specific thing is what connects you to your readers, and how can we open it up so that other characters connect in this similar way so that the world has this same authenticity as this one scene in which your world was really masterful. Even if you turn something in that’s a great piece of work, he’ll be able to make it even better. He’s challenging you and pushing you. He’s really a wonderful teacher. I’ve taken classes before with fantastic writers, writers of whom I’m a great fan, but they don’t necessarily have this skill for teachingwhere they communicate these skills to their students and how to put together a good story. Something falls short. I couldn’t recommend Scott’s classes higher.

SoS: I love his Batman run. It’s probably my favorite Batman run.

Bennett: Absolutely. He always says this, “You put too much on me. That’s why you got in.” Because he introduced me to Mike Marts, the DC Batman editor at the time, and I wound up formally auditioning because of Scott’s introduction. I turned in inventory issues and wrote spec scripts, like a five issue arc of a separate character I’d been working on. They gave me edits on how fast I could turn things around, how well did I work with a team, how did I take notes, how fast I could I think on my feet, and so it was a full process. They liked it and picked me up. I wrote two issues for them before the Batman Annual that turned into inventory books later on, but the Batman Annual was the first one published.

SoS: Were those the Talon and Batgirl ones you did?

Bennett: Exactly. It was so crazy because I never thought those would see the light of day. I thought it was part of the audition process, they would go into a drawer, and no one would see them. I’m actually quite proud of the Talon issue especially because it’s so weird. It was because it was an inventory book, and they thought they weren’t going to need it so I got a weird degree of freedom. I said, “I’m just going to be bizarre because I don’t think anyone’s looking.”

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SoS:  In your early work for DC, there was a little controversy with Lobo, and fans were saying, “He’s not muscular enough. He looks like Edward Cullen.” How do you deal with negative backlash towards your work? From the Internet or otherwise?

Bennett: I guess there are various degrees of negativity. There’s the people who have the criticism that this isn’t right for the character or for the fans. Those are two completely different arguments. and then you have people who devolve into attacks on creators or threats on creators. For Lobo, I stand by that issue. Ben Oliver’s art is completely fantastic as are Dan Brown’s colors. and as Lobo started out as a parody of the hyperviolence of the action heroes of the 80s, he became an updated parody of the action heroes of today. When you had the 80s, you had the giant hulking Schwarzeneggers and Stallones, the chomping cigars, the huge, oiled muscles. The idea of power in those movies was the guy shows up at a bar at a motorcycle, smashes the guy on the chin, and it’s a bar brawl. The physical show of strength is the peak of masculine power. Now, in the action movies of today, it’s these men in suits, like the Transporter-style movies and Jason Statham. It’s much subtler. It’s the idea of the digital influence on action movies, and the shift between who the villains are and who we’ve culturally assigned villainy to. But the modern Lobo was meant to be more of that subtle, modern character where the seat of power is no longer a bar, and the king isn’t going to be decided by who wins a bar brawl. The seat of power is gonna be the penthouse floor of a building you’re never going to get into. You can’t show up drunk and reeling and smashing into people and expect to kill the king. You can only kill the king if you’re subtle, if you’re smiling, if you’ve can move like a chameleon among these people and be taken for one of them. There’s a knife in your ribs before you ever realized there was an enemy. So, he’s still intended to be a parody character, but it was meant to be a parody of the modern action hero, no longer the 80s action hero, which was part of the update of the New 52.

SoS: Lobo is so sleek in that issue. So you’re going to be writing, Earth 2, World’s End, and an Injustice annual. When you write the Injustice or Earth 2 versions of DC characters versus New 52 characters, what’s different in your process?

Bennett: There’s a lot of freedom. The problem with writing DC characters is how iconic they are. They mean so many different things to different people that you feel like you’re trespassing if you change something integral to their canon for seventy years in some cases. With Earth 2 or Injustice, you have the chance to play faster and looser and ask, “What if?” to do Elseworlds kind of stories, which I love, especially the crazy pirate or vampire Batman. Because everyone is so familiar with these characters, you get to see not just the trappings of the world around them, but who they are as a person through the conflict they are in these bizarre situations. Conflict indicates character. By putting them in places they never expected to be, you get stories about who these people really are. They’re not the era they were born into, but their inherent personality. You can see that reflected in any age or adventure. In Injustice, it’s the dark question of where Superman crosses that line. It’s what people have been asking all those years, “If you have all these powers, why can’t you solve it?” But when he solves it, it’s horrific.

SoS: Those comics are so sad.

Bennett: YesTom Taylor is fantastic. I think he is one of the best writers today. A lot of the freedom of Earth 2 is exploring those characters in a way that focuses on personality while showing a really bizarre spectacle of what this world could end up like.

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SoS: Moving onto your other projects, there’s the upcoming Sleepy Hollow series for BOOM. I’m a big fan of the show and actually reviewed it for Sound on Sight. What specific episodes inspired you for this miniseries?

Bennett: The pilot is what really hooked me because it was so campy, but so charming and earnest and fun while dealing with such dark subject matter a lot of the time. It was very impressive that they were able to pull that off. But Abbie stole my heart. She and Ichabod are so fantastic. I love that episode. I love the episode about the Golem and “Sanctuary” where we discover what happened to Katrina and Ichabod and Katrina’s child. It was powerful as was the episode about Ro’kenhronteys, and how they addressed the erasure of indigenous peoples. There’s no way you can introduce a show that’s about american history without addressing our shames as a nation even in this highly fictionalized environment. It was exceptionally deft that in a show with a time traveling Ichabod Crane and George Washington’s secret Biblical conspiracies that you’re still able to impart sincere expressions on real issues.

SoS: When writing about a TV show while it’s still going on with a very controlled canon, how do you find a way to get into the cracks between episodes to do stories?

Bennett: It’s very fun. Before I pitched, I binge watched the whole series again and was scribbling down notes about everything down to small lines people dropped between each other and parts of set dressing and stores I saw in the background. What could we do with this? Where could we go with this? Or things that were suggestive and might be foreshadowing. They might mean something or might mean nothing. and at the end of it, I went through the entire list of things I had responded to and thought what story we could tell that assembles these and appeals to readers while working in the questions they have about the canonical episodes. I want to create something really fun and true to the tenor of the TV show.

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SoS: Another project you’re doing is Angela: Asgard’s Assassin. I was wondering what was your first exposure was to Angela as a character?

Bennett: Probably when I was a child I saw Greg Capullo art of Angela without knowing what it was. And I feel like a lot of people had a similar experience where they might have seen Angela through the wonderful Greg Capullo art and not known much about her as a character. Then, most people became familiar with her through the legal troubles surrounding her, or might know her as a Neil Gaiman character. She wasn’t clearly defined. There was notoriety, but there wasn’t necessarily personality as far as a general audience and what they knew of her. One of  the things that has been great fun, especially working with Kieron [Gillen], has been exploring her personality, especially since she’s a character who is so self-contained and cautious about ever placing herself in another’s debt by revealing emotion. We’re giving her relationships to play off and people she loves or is unable to admit that she loves. We’re discovering her personality through others.

SoS: What do you differently in your writing when you’re writing god-like characters, like Angela, versus street level characters, like Barbara Gordon?

Bennett: It’s actually kind of silly. Especially when writing Barbara Gordon, it’s me sitting on my couch with my eyes shut imagining that I live in Gotham City, the worst city in the entire world. My dad is a detective. He’s been through all these horrible things. My brother has become this terrible person. I’m sitting there internalizing the character’s complete backstory and thinking about how they feel, like a big emotional impact moment. The day before I get down to writing the script when I’m doing chores or going shopping, it’s honestly like I’m Barbara Gordon doing this. If I’m in the grocery store in Gotham, am I always going to be looking over my shoulder? How does this up somebody’s anxiety or up their paranoia? Does it count as paranoia if you live in Gotham? With the converse of Angela, you expect to be feared. There’s very little emotion. What little emotion you have, you quell. You’re very in control of yourself and aware of the cost of everything. You’re leery of forming attachments and don’t ask people for assistance because you’re in debt to that person. I guess the short answer is roleplay.

SoS: I like that. So what comics are you reading right now that you could recommend to our audience?

Bennett: The Wicked + the Divine, if you want to hear me gloat about Kieron some more. Batman, of course. Batman Eternal, The Woods, Lumberjanes, Saga, Batgirl. I’m excited about the changes that are coming up with Gotham academy and Gotham By Night. It’s all going to be exciting.

SoS: So basically all the new Batman books?

Bennett: Yes, I love Batman. I can’t help it.

SoS: What’s it like working with Mark Doyle as opposed to Mike Marts? What’s he brought to the Batman Family?

Bennett: The modern era of Batman owes such an enormous debt to Mike Marts. He took chances on so many people and gave us some of the strongest stories that came out of the Batman canon. Mark Doyle brings a more experimental aesthetic. It’s giving a lot of changes in vibe and age and doing things that are very unusual and striking that you never really thought would work in the Batman universe. It’s an experimental to see if this is something readers would respond to. Mark Doyle is taking a lot of risks as Batman editor, but it seems like people are responding to them. It’s wonderful you can have these eras side by side and have their choice of them.

SoS: One last question, I go to the same college that you went to: the University of Mary Washington, and I was wondering how your time there helped in your current career as a comics writer?

Bennett: Colin Rafferty, Eric Lorentzen, and Gary Richards. You cannot go wrong with them. Colin Rafferty is still one of my great friends and took me to breakfast after the Batman Annual came out. I took lots of classes on Victorian novels with Eric Lorentzen, and the ideas of crime and punishment along with the things that Batman is supposed to be and represent came from these books. If you go back to the Batman Annual, there’s a panopticon inside of arkham, and Eric Lorentzen taught us all about these Victorian terms of punishment and the creation of the search for the utopia and the way people try to engineer these societies and human nature. It was hugely influential on my ideas of justice. Colin Rafferty was my creative writing teacher, and he was so encouraging with my prose and encouraged me to be weird. To try different things and structures. The issue I did of Talon is told backwards. Those are the weird risks you could never pull off in a story like this. The classes with him encouraged me to try something really bizarre With Gary Richards, I took classes on Southern literature and American humor. a lot of my stuff is horror, and it was interesting to see how humor contributed to exploring what made things horrible. Comedy and horror exist in the same spectrum where they both act to unsettle you and shake you out of your comfort zone. That’s the ultimate goal of both of them, but they fulfill them in entirely different ways. Once you dissect what makes things funny, you start to find out what our culture is about. Why does our culture find this horrible, but this is hiarious? You start to pick apart human nature and Western Literature and what it’s idealized and found profane. I think that exploration has made me a more effective writer. Mary Washington was very helpful, but those three in particular.

Marguerite Bennett is writing Earth 2, Injustice Gods Among Us Annual, and Earth 2: World’s End for DC Comics, Angela: Asgard’s Assassin and Lady Deathstrike for Marvel Comics, and Sleepy Hollow and Butterfly for BOOM/Archaia.




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