Mentor and Protégé, Talents Forward: The Exclusive with Snyder and Tynion

Michael D. Stewart
DC writers James Tynion and Scott Snyder at ComicCon 2012

Says Snyder, “I think writing comics, you have to have that North Star for each thing you are working on”…

The heart of the comics industry is reinvention. Adapting to the present with sensitivity to evolving audience tastes. The rub is that many comic fans are resistant to change. That juxtaposition presents many challenges, further taxing the critical desire to see something new. Oversimplified, this is what made DC’s New 52 so interesting and controversial.

Arguably reinvention does not need a marketing event, as evidenced by the creative shift of the late 1950’s that brought about the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern and changed the face of DC for decades to come. Reinvention does, however, present a clear line from which to move forward. Part of moving forward is expanding on the existing and create something new. That’s where the upcoming Talon series comes in. It is the first new series that doesn’t directly pull from a preexisting legacy. Yes, it does spin out of the Court of Owl’s after appearing in Batman, but like the Court of Owls, Talon is a new creation; one that recognizes its roots in the history of comics, but is also trying to form its own legacy…and the legacy of its young writer.

The New 52 offered the opportunity to bring in new voices and perspectives. DC made quick use of that opportunity by resting the flagship Batman title on the shoulders of relative newcomer Scott Snyder. His work with artist Greg Capullo on DC’s bestselling character quickly pushed the envelope of what the New 52 could mean. He didn’t rehash the past, instead injecting into a 70 year old creation his own enthusiasm for the medium and the character.

Part of that enthusiasm also presented the chance for Snyder to bring his protégé James Tynion IV into the mix as the writer of back-up features appearing in Batman. It was an apprenticeship of sorts for Tynion, on the job learning for the next chapter of the New 52: creating a spinoff series based on the Court of Owls, the secret society created by Snyder to undermine Batman.

“I fully admit that I was against the idea of doing a spinoff when DC first approached me about it,” Snyder said as we began our conversation about the new series. “Because I didn’t want to dilute what we had created in Batman.”

Hesitant about creating a spinoff, but not fully convinced it wasn’t possible, Snyder bounced ideas off Tynion. “Scott had given me an inkling that DC was open to a new Talon series, and Scott wasn’t sure if it was something he wanted to pursue,” Tynion said. “I wanted to see if there was a way to do it that wasn’t too familiar and speaks to the things I love in comics.”

“When James presented this idea to me I thought it was so different and compelling that it would actually get at some the material he and I had discussed doing with The Court that we weren’t able to do,” Snyder adds, verbally underlining a contagious enthusiasm that has endeared him to many comic readers. It’s something that has infected Tynion too.

Talon is Tynion’s book. While the credits will list Snyder, he is merely along for the ride because he created the idea of the Talons, the enforcers and assassins of the Court of Owls. You will see Snyder’s influence and his guidance, but Tynion is the one who will make this book a success. That he’s learned under Snyder gives him a pedigree that is very new, very fresh--part of the promise of the New 52. And Tynion is very much like Snyder.

While their relationship could be easily categorized as master and padawan (if only to avoid the Batman and Robin label), it is much more complicated than that simple understanding. “He, as a writer, is someone I admire and am inspired by,” Snyder said of Tynion. “I have the excitement of any fan waiting for the material to come out because I know what James is capable of.”

The first thing you notice when speaking with Tynion is his utmost respect for his former mentor. “He’s always trying to get my work to the next level,” Tynion said of Snyder. “I trust his instincts entirely.”

That trust comes from the writers shared sensibilities. “We prioritize the same things story wise,” Synder said of Tynion. “The kind of compass with which he approaches the story is something similar to other writers I relate to. They know what their story is about; they have a very strong compass about what it means to them.”

“He’s writing the Batman that when I get up to his level that I’d be writing,” Tynion said of Snyder. “It’s the type of stories I enjoy reading and enjoy talking through. Very character driven, bombastic, powerful stories.”

Character-driven is exactly the first impression of Talon, a story about one former enforcer of the Court of Owls who has escaped the grasp of his former masters.

The protagonist is Calvin Rose, an escape artist recruited by the Court from Haley’s Circus. “I love escape artists,” said Tynion when asked about that specific aspect of the character. “It’s definitely something I was drawn to. I wanted to find a character with a skill set that wasn’t acrobat, which had some more history, which had an edge to it.”

“He’s a likable guy, he enjoys using his skill set,” Tynion elaborated. “But the reasons he uses them are reasons he’s not exactly happy about. He has a gruffer version of the world in his head and he’s trying to deal with that anyway he can.”

“This book has tremendous darkness to it, but one of the things that I think exemplifies James’ voice is also a sense of reluctant optimism,” Snyder said of Talon and Calvin Rose. “There’s a character that’s trying to take back his life and in that there’s a sort of dynamism and brightness to it.”

The metaphoric relationship between Calvin’s skill set and his predicament, notwithstanding, it is the idea of the protégé escaping his masters’ shadow…not unlike Tynion and Snyder.

Near metafiction aside, Talon presents many challenges to the pair. The working relationship is not in question, but the conundrum the title faces resides in where it comes from and how it’s presented.

Prior to the first storyarc, as part of DC’s Zero Month, Talon #0 will debut the titular character. “Part of that [Zero Month] initiative is to show how gripping and exciting the characters’ stories are even before they become who they are,” Snyder said. “Here it is, Calvin Rose, before his story begins in the present.”

Most of the Zero issues involve preexisting characters, characters readers already have a feel for from their initial storyarcs. With Talon, the Zero issue eliminates the possibility of getting a feel for the character prior to his backstory, potentially spoiling an audiences’ engagement with the character.

“That was a concern we had, but we both felt that was the exciting challenge of it,” Snyder said fully admitting their fear. “The key was to tell a very engaging story that would show you the character without giving his history as some academic lesson.”

“In the Zero month, it fits in very well with the other issues taking place a few years ago,” said Tynion. “It doesn’t go beyond the beginning of superheroes in the DCU, but it is separated from them. He’s not been in contact with superheroes. He’s been on the run trying to stay off the grid.”

“The way James approached it is that you are really plunged into this guy’s experience on the run from The Court,” added Snyder. “James rose to the challenge of making his [Calvin Rose’s] origin story not feel distant, it feels active and exciting.”

As our conversation progressed, Tynion certainly gave the impression that he understood every aspect of the character he created, only withholding certain specifics to avoid spoiling the zero and first issues. For any narrative medium, it’s essential to have a firm grasp on your concept and characters, but especially with comicbooks. “I think writing comics, you have to have that North Star for each thing you are working on because it is a really fluid business in the way that changes have to be made quickly,” Snyder said. “There has to be flexibility so you have to have a really strong sense of what you can change and what you can’t. James brought that to the table from the very beginning.”

What is true of Snyder is also true of Tynion. He is affable and verbose, but he is also exuberant. “There is nothing like seeing these books come to life,” he said when asked about his experience from concept to page. But one thing on Tynion’s side, besides Snyder, is that he interned at Vertigo under executive editor Karen Berger.

“I have an understanding of how things work at DC in terms of how many people are working on every individual issue, what’s the grunt work like,” Tynion said talking about his previous experience with the comics industry. “It helps me respect the process and it helps me adapt to it faster. I can picture what they’re doing at their desks when my scripts come in.”

That foresight will be useful, and will especially help him work with his other creative partner: artist Guillem March. “After seeing his art for the first issue, I thought, now how do I bring to the forefront all these things he does extremely well,” Tynion said when discussing the visual approach to the book.

“Guillem has this incredible ability to get these kinetic and dynamic action sequences, and it’s a real expressive style too,” Snyder added. “He’s really not just the artist, but a co-creator.” Two heads are better than one…and three heads are even better than two.

When speaking to the pair of Tynion and Snyder you have the sense that their story conversations are both nurturing and contemplative. They challenge each other in an environment that is hopeful and encouraging. The irony is that the two have written some of the most terrifying Batman stories in years.

But now it’s time for Tynion to step out on his own, and Talon presents that opportunity. It is a title that represents much of the promise of the New 52--a new creation from the mind of a new creator. Reinvention is essential to the comics industry, just as new voices are essential to reinvention. That we have the potential for establishing a new legacy only adds to the mythos of this effort.

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