Welcome to Comic-Con Returns, our column celebrating San Diego’s mightiest comic convention and its revival after three long desolate years. In this entry, we chat with former Batman writer Scott Snyder about Comic-Con and how it has never been easier to navigate as a creator.
When hunting for a list featuring the best Batman comics, inevitably, you’ll find that most contain specific so-called classics. Books like The Dark Knight Returns, Year: One, The Killing Joke, Arkham Asylum, and The Long Halloween. If the lists are a little more esoteric, you’ll find Gotham by Gaslight, JLA: Tower of Babel, and Batman: Ego. If Robert Pattinson makes a list, you’ll find deliciously weirdo choices like Batman: Shaman. If I’m putting the list together, as an even bigger weirdo, you’ll find the utterly obscure Batman: Blink.
Undoubtedly, those lists also contain The Court of Owls, the seven-issue storyline written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Greg Capullo. The story centers on a previously unknown entity, a secret society who have pulled Gotham’s strings, Batman included, for a few hundred years.
Unlike the other comics on these lists, The Court of Owls is the only one published this century. Snyder and Capullo launched DC Comics’ New 52, the publisher’s infamous line-wide retcon that dared to reboot the universe’s characters, returning them to their starting positions as fresh-faced heroes. Initially, the rebranding caused tremendous concern and division amongst the fans, but even the most venomous detractors couldn’t deny The Court of Owls‘ appeal.
Since its first publication, Snyder and Capullo’s initial Batman narrative has only risen in the ranks of fan favorites. Mere minutes after The Batman‘s release, folks were plotting sequels, and The Court of Owls frequently popped into such conversations. When Vanity Fair asked The Batman cast to sort through some fan theories, Pual Dano chastized Jeffrey Wright for missing out on Snyder and Capullo’s masterpiece, “Bro, you gotta read The Court of Owls…the first issue is insanely good and [any use of that plot] would be messed up.”
Scott Snyder followed The Court of Owls with an all-time epic run on the solo Batman title, taking his success there and expanding it with spin-offs, Dark Nights: Metal, Dark Nights: Death Metal, and even a magnificent turn on Justice League. While at the height of his game, Snyder left DC Comics. Not permanently, mind you, but the creator saw an opportunity to go wild with his own projects.
Last October, Snyder teamed his Best Jackett Press with the digital-first publisher ComiXology (now owned by Amazon). Together they published three new titles; We Have Demons, Clear, and Night of the Ghoul. Each book was co-created with classic Scott Snyder collaborators: Greg Capullo, Francis Manapul, and Francesco Francavilla. Each book slapped its reader across the face, announcing a bold new direction for the rock star writer.
“Scottober” is happening again, this time in July. Snyder entered San Diego Comic–Con International this year with three more titles: Canary, Barnstormers, and Dudley Datson and the Forever Machine. The first book is a darkly demented Western following a crack-shot Marshall during the Gold Rush’s final days, wondrously illustrated by Dan Panosian. Barnstormers is set in the years immediately following the Great War, where daredevil pilots earn their living offering reckless joyrides for those that can afford it. Plus, some steampunk terror thrown in the mix, all captured with glamourous flair by artist Tula Lotay. And Dudley Datson and the Forever Machine is unlike anything Snyder has done before, an all-ages sci-fi adventure, illustrated by Jamal Igle and Juan Castro, about a young inventor uncovering a vast conspiracy involving the perpetual motion machine.
These creator-owned sagas are exactly what you want someone like Scott Snyder tackling. They’re wildly disparate tales smashing genres and tones with confident abandon. Snyder operates with a stacked audience behind him. He’s not sure all of them will join him with each title, but I’m willing to bet that most will, and in the process, he’ll score several new readers as well.
You might think hanging your career on multiple untested properties would propel the writer into Comic-Con with an anxious energy. Snyder, however, relays that he’s never felt as relaxed walking into a convention as he does this year. He’s feeling good, really damn good.
“I used to have a ton of anxiety,” he explains, “because when I was there for DC, there were all kinds of high-stakes obligations, where you have to go on a panel and sell everybody. You’re going to announce Metal and you’re going to sell everybody on it. Then, you’re going to meet the international retailers. And, as a pro, one of the secrets of a con like San Diego is you end up doing a lot of behind-the-scenes business dealings. You’re there to convince booksellers and retailers and fans, everybody, about the stuff that you’re doing at that company. There’s a lot of running around from place to place. There’s a log of meetings and all that. Going on my own, like this, where it’s just me meeting my co-creators – and I have panels and signings, but it’s not the same high-stakes stuff.”
Working on Batman or Justice League is as much a nightmare as it is a dream. When Snyder was on those titles, all eyes were on him. Not just the readers, who always had their knives out ready to carve up his stories, but the publisher. Every Batman plot was a battle waged, each victory a preamble for another war.
“I think the reason I don’t feel too stressed,” Snyder continues, “is that when I was at DC, for a long time, and every year I was there, I would fight for these carve-outs to be able to do indie stuff on the side. I would never use them. I would fight for weeks to get a carve-out and then the amount of energy it takes to convince people internally on a political level, all the editors, and the editor-in-chief and everybody, that what you want to do on a book is worth trying, talking to all the other creators, talking to fans, trying to get them on your side in some way or other about it, while still not changing anything. I mean, all that was just so consuming, and then going to a con like San Diego? It felt so high stakes because they would present it with the art, and the company was watching, and the quarter depended on it sometimes.”
Removed from the DC Comics booth (a booth absent from the show floor this year, a first in a very long time), Scott Snyder could actually hang with the fans. He pulled back from panels and press requirements, scheduling more signings than before.
“Coming out of that matrix,” says Snyder, “I’m doing more work than I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m so less stressed and less tired because the energy all goes to approaching co-creators that I’m friends with and that I’ve wanted to work with, or I have worked with before, and just figuring out what we want to do together. None of these stories are pitches I gave to anybody else. They were seeds that I brought to these creators.”
Snyder is most excited about the new folks coming over to his books. While ComiXology’s merging with Amazon has caused several app glitches for consumers, creating a lot of online noise, the creator is mostly pleased with where everything is going. ComiXology has opened a portal for fresh eyes to find his work; their response is thrilling.
“The thing to understand,” says Snyder, “is that yes, for the dyed-in-the-wool comic reader using ComiXology, I understand the integration with Kindle, and that stuff is maybe not as appealing as it was before. But as somebody creating there, what you see is that the way that it’s now melded with Amazon is bringing a lot more comics into the algorithmic search of people looking for things that don’t necessarily go to comics first. So, it’s drawing in a lot of people from the Amazon readership into comics.”
The ComiXology titles are not trapped in digital, either. Snyder’s other partner in this endeavor is Dark Horse Comics, Hellboy‘s publisher and the company that’s reclaimed the Star Wars license. A few months after We Have Demons‘ initial run, they printed physical copies of all three issues and will eventually collect them in a trade paperback.
“We were worried,” Snyder continues, “what if we come out digitally and then we don’t sell them in shop? Meaning, what if we’re hurting stores? But We Had Demons sold 90,000 for the first issue. It proved that if you differentiate print and digital, there is a really good way of doing it. We might not have cracked it. I’m sure somebody will do it better than I can soon, but at least seeing it as a prototype and realizing there’s a path there makes me excited for one possible lane to drive in the future in comics that I believe in and my co-creators do too. You can browse digitally and then physically buy what you want on your shelf. One doesn’t necessarily have to hurt the other.”
Scott Snyder is living his best Comic-Con life, betting on himself and seeing it rewarded with fan and critical praise. He’s not necessarily done with Batman, and he’s certainly not done with DC Comics and can even see himself working in the Marvel Comics universe someday. But can the big two comic companies offer him the rewards he’s receiving with his ComiXology originals? Probably not.
When creators reach an audience as large as the one Snyder has constructed, we want them pushing the envelope, never settling on the proven product. He’s using the gift he’s been given, striving to deliver stories he’s never told before, attracting audiences who don’t party with the Wednesday warrior/direct market crowd. He’s fighting for comics and we need more soldiers like him.
Canary, Barnstormers, and Dudley Datson and the Forever Machine are now available through ComiXology.