In a creative writing class that Scott Snyder teaches at NYU, "The Monster Under Your Story," students discuss the intersections of literary fiction, genre fiction, and comics, finding that the dividing lines are a lot fuzzier than they might have thought.
"We talk about Cormac McCarthy's The Road and writers like Neil Gaiman and Elmore Leonard, people who use a lot of genre stuff in their fiction," Snyder says.
Popular culture and literature have never been far apart for Snyder. He was always a committed comics fan and he studied creative writing at Brown. After graduating in 1998, he went straight to Disney World, where for a year he dressed up as the characters Buzz Lightyear, Pluto, and Eeyore for visitors. "Eeyore's really easy to do when you're in a bad mood," Snyder confides. Next came Columbia University, where he earned an M.F.A. in fiction writing in 2003. And in 2006 he published the story collection Voodoo Heart (Dial), praised for its boldness and imagination.
Snyder pitched the idea for American Vampire to Vertigo and was thrilled when the graphic novel imprint at DC Comics bought it. But he was nervous about publishing his first comic. "I'd spent so much time studying literary fiction—I was worried that comics would make me rely too much on plot mechanisms and genre elements." Instead, he's found that writing the series isn't all that different. "In terms of richness and psychological and emotional depth, it's just as fulfilling," he says. "And the same themes about nostalgia and time passing and American iconography that come up in my literary fiction come up in the comic."
Those themes, along with Snyder's concept of the American vampire, descended from the traditional European variety but with its own evolutionary peculiarities, caught the attention of one of the comic's early readers, Stephen King. When Snyder asked King to write a blurb for the comic, the horror master was so interested that he offered to contribute a story line for the first five issues. King provides the origin story of Skinner Sweet, a savage product of the American West, named for both his bloodlust and his love of candy. This story appears alongside Snyder's tale of Pearl, a Hollywood silent film starlet who attracts Sweet's attention. Both story lines appear in the first five issues, now collected in a hardcover volume titled American Vampire.
The second cycle in the American Vampire series, issues six through nine, came out in September and is set in Las Vegas of the 1930s. "There's a series of murders where prominent citizens show up drained of blood." Snyder adds that he sees clear parallels between vampire mythology and the reality of the city. "Las Vegas is changing from a cow town to a city of the undead, where no one sleeps. There's a predatory aspect of people coming in and trying to turn it into something new."
Of his debut as a comics writer, Snyder can't enthuse enough.
"It's been a tremendous year," he says, referring not only to the success of American Vampire but also to his upcoming turn as the writer of Detective Comics. At his first comics convention in Chicago, premier comics writer Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio of DC Comics asked if he'd be interested in working more exclusively with DC and, if so, which characters he'd like to write. "I said Batman, and there happened to be an opening on Detective Comics. What's been great about DC and Vertigo is that they've given me so much creative flexibility in both American Vampire and Batman."
Now that he's made some progress on the first Batman series, which goes on sale in November, Snyder is ready to finish his first novel, The Goodbye Suit, slated for publication by Dial Press in 2011. "It's about a comics writer whose son is injured. He's struggling with the possibility that medicine might not be able to help as much as he'd hoped, and he's having trouble coming to terms with the practical limitations of science when he deals in the fantastic."
His son Jack, 3½, has influenced the story. "The novel is painful to write because it feels like you're just living to protect this vulnerable little thing, and the story is about the mixed feelings that come from that."
Jack, by the way, loves comics, Snyder says. "It was a relief. I was worried I'd try to get him into comics and he'd just want to play football and be a hedge fund guy, but he's taken a liking to Batman. He sleeps with a big stuffed Batman that I got him at Comic-Con."