Marguerite Bennett is the newest writer picked up by DC Comics, working on titles like Batman Annual #2 (co-written with Scott Snyder), Lobo, and Batgirl. But this you already know. We decided to ask her some things that you might not know and what we got back was a lyrical, fun, book-length interview.
Christina Harrington: Can you talk about your journey into comics and your history with writing, in general?
Marguerite Bennett: The wording of this question is so nifty that I want to say something to effect of “My journey began one bitter January morning, as I saddled my white palfrey for an arduous quest through mountain and vale, to come to mighty, hallowed halls of learning where Scott of the House Snyder dwelt to instruct young and aspiring mages in the most perverse and arcane of all arts—comics.”
But that isn’t true, though it would be totally rad and I watch the hell out of that HBO miniseries.
I guess I’ll say that I knew I wanted to be a writer before I knew almost anything else about myself. I loved writing so much that I spent hundreds of hours as a child and thousands as a teen, writing in notebooks and journals and diaries, scribbling out huge, elaborate worlds. I loved writing so much that I crammed my schedule with writing classes in high school and college, loved it so much that I left all my friends and family in Virginia to chase a dream to New York City.
I lived off macaroni and cheese and cheap wine, took odd jobs and wrote 2,000 words a day, was my own harshest editor, and tried never, ever to make excuses for not writing. It’s not exactly learning Fus Ro Dah from the Greybeards on High Hrothgar, but you get to work in your pajamas and go to diners at midnight more often.
CH: Who are your major writing influences, in and out of comics?
MB: If I had to cut down the original answer (“my whole library”), I’d say Vladimir Nabokov, Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, and Tina Fey. And before you go, “You cheater, you’re just saying random people—,” let me Kanye you and counter that these four people informed my writer’s value system in terms of the beauty of the prose, the scope of the vision, the fantasy and originality of the story, and the humor, determination, and self-awareness to pull a project off.
My major influence in comics, however, would be Alan Moore, Bill Watterson, Grant Morrison, Kate Beaton, Gail Simone, Marjane Satrapi, and Scott Snyder. These people helped me treat fictional characters with depth and gravity, and treat my own story and opinions with cheerfulness and levity. They haven’t just made me a better writer—their work has made me a better person. And I’m immeasurably grateful.
CH: On to the question everyone is asking: what was it like to work with Scott Snyder?
MB: Working with Scott has been a dream. He is so humble and limitlessly supportive—always patient, always tactful, and always willing to help you make the kind of the story you want. He has been one of the best teachers I’ve ever had (through all twenty-some years of my schooling and education), he has encouraged my independent projects with such enthusiasm, and he has seen every episode of Adventure Time, so there’s that, too.
I frankly don’t know how he does it. He’s a husband and father with two growing boys, juggling the insane combinations of Batman, Superman, The Wake, and American Vampire, while keeping up with editors, artists, publishers, interviewers, students—not to mention family and friends—as well as conventions, signings, and teaching graduate school half the year. The fact that he can be so kind and down to earth on top of that just blows my mind.
To be entirely frank with you, Scott is the kind of person that in ten years I’d want to be.
CH: Aside from Batman, what character did you have the most fun writing in Batman Annual #2?
I’ll be honest — Scott was the hero in this story, and I was absolutely the villain. Scott knows Bruce inside and out, and contributed all that was Batman. Our villain — villainess, I should say — was my doing. I can’t rightly tell you her name, but I knew that if I got the chance to write Batman, I didn’t want to write a fun story — I wanted to write a true story, a cruel story. I love villains; they are the point from which I can write with the most passion and fervency. Our perspectives played very well off each other in this misadventure, hero and villain, and I really hope you enjoy it.
CH: So you’re the newest woman writing for DC and you’re jumping right in with both feet, working on one of the most high profile titles of the year. I have to ask: what has that been like?
MB: I’ll be honest — there are times when it’s been overwhelming. There was a point when the stress of grad school, graduation, three jobs, and a thesis came to a head on top of the Annual, when I was getting four hours of sleep a night and producing nothing of value on the script, and despairing that I would disappoint the fans, Scott, my parents, my editors, and everyone down to my eleventh-grade English teacher.
There are also times where you get to lie in bed on a Sunday morning and cheerfully research different prototypes of lasers used by the US military, then have a bagel.
There are times when fans find out your e-mail and warn you about what they’ll do if you screw up. There are also times when fourteen-year-old girls send you long letters about how their dream is to do what you’re doing, how you’ve inspired them despite the cruelty of their classmates.
There are days when you write until the sun comes up, and there are days when you’re out until 1am, singing karaoke with the Vertigo editors.
But this is living the dream.
CH: Do you have any advice for women that would like to write for comics some day?
MB: A large part of me fears that offering advice to others would be condescending—to men and women alike. I sacrificed and practiced and wrote and took risks—gave up parties and beach weeks to finish chapters, left my home to chase ambition — but I don’t feel ethical offering it up as a “How To” for others. There isn’t much of a “How To” to life or to any career in the arts (but then, if there were, I think the arts would be diminished — just another paint-by-number).
I would say, Write the kind of the story you want to read. I would say, Never believe your own press, whether they say you’re the savior of writing or the shallow end of the gene pool. I’d say, Write every day. Tell the stories that feel real and true. Don’t let the critics into your head while you’re composing. Don’t write by committee. Don’t open hate mail. Don’t wait for inspiration — begin anyway. And remember that beginning is easy — persevering is an art.
I’d say, Send thank-you cards. Understand that rejection is not personal — editors and agents pass on projects, not people. Remember that no one goes into comics to get rich. Remember that everyone in this industry is human, with wants, needs, flaws, and virtues. Do not make excuses for not writing. No one will write this for you. Don’t let the bastards get you down. Do not give up.
CH: Lobo is one of the most comically masculine characters in the DCU. As a woman, did you find any particular insights or challenges to writing such a testosterone-fueled character?
With Batman, I had gravity and intensity.
With Lobo, I’m having fun.
Believe it or not, Lobo is the kind of character I love to write — not because he’s hypermasculine or comic, but because he’s a villain. I indulged myself entirely in the defiant, irreverent, and frankly cruel irresponsibility that everyone fantasizes about on their own bleak, tense days of rejection, anxiety, and disappointment. Lobo lives above and beyond those doldrums — laughing, vicious, careless, driven only by pride and pleasure.
It’s been a sort of vacation, waking up in the morning, putting on my silk robe, cooking my breakfast, and asking myself what I would do if I were utterly indifferent to the emotions of others.
I hope you’ll be horrified by my answers, and fun will be had by all.
CH: Is there any particular character out there, at any comic book publisher, that you would like to write someday?
MB: That’s sort of a complex question, as the characters I fall in love with evoke that love because of how well they are written—to write them then runs the risk of denying them the very thing that attracted me to them in the first place, through the skills of their original writer.
That said, in an alternate universe, I would love to write Vixen, Batwoman, Thor, Batgirl, Wolverine — Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, Harley Quinn, Lois Lane, Magneto — Mera, Bane, Killer Croc, Catwoman — Lord, I could run on.
CH: What are your recommended readings for new comics fans?
MB: Not to be a shill, but Scott Snyder’s Batman arc, “The Court of Owls,” has been my go-to for folk getting into superheroes or back into superheroes. I showed my father the first trade and he frowned through it before observing, “The stories are written like literature, now, and the art has greatly improved since the ‘60s.” Pause. “No thought bubbles, either.”
For stark realism, I love recommending Jason Aaron’s Scalped, and I tend to ply new friends immediately with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It sort of depends on the friend—I find that people totally unused to comics do better with a miniseries or self-contained book in order to acclimate to the medium before expanding into ongoing series—Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus was my recent recommended gateway comic, and Craig Thompson’s Habibi helped convince relatives that yes, Marguerite has chosen a real career.
CH: Are there any characters you would like to see return to the New 52?
MB: I long for Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. I could wax poetic for another four pages on this subject, so I’ll stop now.
CH: What advice do you wish you could have heard before you started writing? Is there any advice that you want young writers to know?
MB: In addition to my word-vomit above, what I have to say can be boiled down to this:
You are what you do. If you consider yourself a writer, or want to be a writer, then you write.
You’re tired, you’ve got homework, you’ve got regular work, the game’s on tonight, the finale’s on tonight, you’re just not feeling it, you had a rough day, you just don’t feel inspired, Tumblr’s calling, Reddit’s calling, you’ve got a lot on your mind, you just want to veg tonight, you have to get up early tomorrow, the gym wore you out, your parents wore you out, your professors wore you out, your boss wore you out, the dog’s being a brat, the baby won’t sleep, your head hurts, your stomach aches, your knee has been making that weird clicking noise, it’s hot, it’s cold, you have to catch up on Netflix, on DVR, on Twitter, it’s been a long day, it’s been a long week, it’s been a long month, it’s been a long year—
A year from now, you’ll have wished you started today.
That’s the best I can tell you.
CH: What comic book can you absolutely not do without right now?
MB: My favorite comic book is absolutely Blacksad. It comes with me on road trips and sleepovers, and I must’ve bought six or seven copies and given them to friends over the years.
When I’m having a hard day, though, I’ll curl up with Sweet Tooth or Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing (it occurs to me now that I have weird comfort reading). As far as an ongoing book, I’ll have to say Saga. It cheers me up when I’m feeling down, severed teenage girls and titanic scrotums be damned.
CH: Who is on your dream X-Men team? Why?
MB: I am married to the whims of my eleven-year-old heart—Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Storm, Jean Grey, and Beast. I genuinely do not have a better reason than “That was the fanfiction I wrote when I was in fifth grade.” It was a tidy dynamic—Storm, Jean Grey, and Beast kept Wolverine, Rogue, and Gambit in line; there were plenty of potential romantic combinations (only useful for betraying and causing conflict, frankly), there was the right dynamic of men torn between higher and lower instincts, the best balance of women with powers that were blessings as much as curses, I retconned everyone’s backstory so that everyone was either secretly someone’s mom or dad or stepped up to play the role or was secretly involved with someone else’s lover, and Scott Summers was nowhere to be found.
CH: If The Doctor showed up in his TARDIS one day and offered you one trip to absolutely anywhere and anytime, where would you ask to go? Why?
MB: I would ask to go four places—
1) back to the day the Doctor was born, so I could find his real name
2) back to the day Sherlock jumped, to figure out how the hell he survived
3) back to whatever happened between Clint and Natasha in Budapest
4) and into the future to see Season Two of Hannibal because HOW DARE YOU END THE SHOW THERE?
Then I would come back and tell everyone on Tumblr, because I am but a river to my people.
CH: Are there any questions you wish we asked?
MB: My twitter handle is @EvilMarguerite, and my hair is so shiny because I bathe it daily in the blood of my enemies, and thank you so much for sending me this interview, because I very much enjoyed answering it.
Batman Annual #2 is available at your local comic book shop and on ComiXology today. And keep an eye out for Lobo during Villains Month in September.