Marguerite Bennett is still relatively new to comic books, but in her short time she’s written for DC, landed two anticipated series from BOOM! and also high profile projects at Marvel, not bad for someone who’s been doing this “professionally” since 2013.
Bennett has two upcoming series from BOOM! Studios, one is the espionage comic Butterfly, the other based on the hit FOX television series Sleepy Hollow.
We got a chance to talk to her about her career so far, and her two new anticipated comics from BOOM!
Graphic Policy: You’re still relatively new in the comics industry. How did you get involved in the industry and start writing comics?
Marguerite Bennett: I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was eleven years old, and have been writing tiny and horrifically misspelled books on stapled computer paper since I was about four. All through middle and high school, I had a rule that I had to fill one page of paper, front and back, each day. In college, I had to write 1,500 words a day. After I graduated, it was 2,000. In grad school, it was 2,500. If the words weren’t worth keeping, they became the compost from which I grew things of value.
On the strength of two novels I wrote after undergrad, I applied to graduate school, where I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Scott Snyder, who was my professor. We kept in touch after I took his class, and in 2013, after about a year, he told me he felt I was ready to do this professionally. (He actually told me he was looking for help on Batman, and when my jaw dropped, he grinned and had the audacity to say, “Really? This is something you’d be interested in??” and for that I am eternally grateful but will also never forgive him.)
Scott introduced me to the wonderful Mike Marts, who was head editor of the Batman Group at DC Comics before his transfer to Marvel as the head of the X-Men Group earlier this year. I formally auditioned at DC, turned in an arc’s worth of spec scripts, wrote inventories, took criticism, made edits, thought on my feet, and worked with an art team, and in the end, they rather enjoyed the stories I told, and I was kept on and hired properly.
GP: You have two series for BOOM! Studios, Sleepy Hollow and Butterfly. How did you come to be involved with those projects?
MB: I was approached for Butterfly on account of Batman Annual #2 and Lobo #1, and Stephen Christy of Archaia reached out to me on behalf of Arash Amel, the screenwriter behind War Games and Grace of Monaco. They sent me a fantastic look-book for this tense story about spycraft, trust, and trauma, and I sort of marched right in and announced that if it was a story about a father and daughter, then we would split the book right down the middle—the first half would be from her perspective, and move forward in the post-9/11 War on Terror present, and the second half would be from his perspective, and move backward, and be set in the Cold War past. I just blundered on in and announced that this was my idea for the comic, spoke as though it was a sure thing—only later did I learn I was a bakeoff and I’m profoundly relieved that they didn’t show me the door for my sheer audacity, ha!
As far as Sleepy Hollow, my brilliant editor Dafna Pleban knew I was a huge fan of the show (and have done my damnedest to infect everyone I know with equal fervor) and asked me to pitch it to the writers of the show. My knees were knocking under my pretty floral sundress but I submitted nine pitches, with three overall arcs. I was over the moon to have been chosen, and working with Noelle Stevenson and Jorge Coehlo is a dream come true. Oh, my fangirl heart!
GP: Sleepy Hollow is based on the hit FOX television series. Were you a fan of the series before coming on board the comic?
MB: I was a huge fan, and the whole thing is Grant Morrison’s fault. Last summer, I was at San Diego Comic Con for the very first time, floundering out of my depth, without a published comic to my name, and puppying about after James Tynion, Scott Snyder, and Tom Taylor like their uncool kid sister. There was a Grant Morrison panel I was crazy to see, with a panel about some TV show I’d never heard of in the same room beforehand. I sat in on the pilot for this wild new show called Sleepy Hollow, and my fangirl heart just on and fell in love—with Abbie, with Ichabod, with the whole mad world. It was still ringing in my head by the time Grant Morrison’s panel started, and those few hours were among my favorites at the entire con.
GP: How connected will the comic series be to the television series? Do you deal with the folks on the show at all?
MB: I do, and they are the loveliest people. It’s such a privilege to be worth with them, and when I met them at this year’s San Diego, I was blushing fit to match my dress, they had such generous things to say. I’m an enormous fan of their stories, and I couldn’t be happier to work with them.
GP: One of the things that’s attributed to the success of the television series is its diversity in cast, something that’s thought of as a struggle in the comic industry. Has that come up at all when planning the series?
MB: One of the pleasures of writing Ichabod is his discovery of the freedoms of the modern world. We have a queer couple who are integral to the first issue, and it was a kind moment, if a moment only, to realize how far we have come, between our time and his—an era in which human beings were hopelessly oppressed and treated as chattel even as they spoke of freedom and equality, to a world that increasingly embraces the values we hoped to reflect. The division between the two worlds also underscores how very far we have yet still to go, but it gives me hope that if there are people with the strength and compassion of Abbie and Ichabod, we may get there yet.
GP: With Butterfly, you’re working with screenwriter Arash Amel. What is each of your roles in creating the series?
MB: Arash created the series, and I was its custodian—if he is its parent, then I am its teacher, showing the story how to be a comic and excel within the comic world.
GP: Butterfly is part of the spy genre, but also is going to focus on the characters. That’s a genre that’s generally known more for its tropes and action, than well rounded characters. Why the focus on the people themselves?
MB: Precisely because so much of the genre is devoted to the action. The people are swallowed by their capacity for violence, disappear in their roles. We sought to draw attention to that aspect—Butterfly is an actress, not a secret agent. Her roles have devoured who she is as a person, have left her struggling to find her true self, her true origin, her true loyalties. We are looking at the cost and trauma of playing this long con, and the brutal consequences of trying to rebuild yourself in a world that denies that you even exist.
GP: The artist on the series Antonio Fuso has had some experience drawing comics in the espionage genre with G.I. Joe: Cobra. How did he come on board to provide the art?
MB: Antonio’s art has a sense of brutality and starkness to it that ideally matched the aesthetic of Butterfly. Frames are stilted and measured, each beat like a checklist when Butterfly is in the guise of whatever part she is to play, but once the violence creeps into her life, the panels explode out, open up, bleed into one another.
GP: What advice do you have for folks who want to break into the industry?
MB: I’m terribly new in the industry, and my entry was fairly unorthodox (though I know Scott would want me to add how independent I’d been from the very first, and every job I’ve received after the Batman Annual has been under my own steam). So, I suppose, forgive me that I’m a bit cautious of giving advice—I don’t want to be appear condescending, since I did not take a conventional route.
I trust that you’ve heard a lot of it before—write every day, don’t make excuses, no one will do this for you. I have those three things written on cards posted over my desk, decorated with little stickers. I’ll add, Take criticism with grace. Writers write. Illustrators illustrate. There’s no getting around that. If you’re not prepared for the sacrifice—staying in to work on your art while your friends are down at the pub or bar or game—then this may not be the best venture for you, I’m genuinely sorry to say.
I would say that it’s important to realize that talent and hard work alone are no guarantee of success, but that without both of them, failure is quite certain. The element that I see most often neglected, though, is the human element—realize that comics is a community, made of people. Editors, writers, artists, administrators—we’re all just people, as complicated and passionate and contradictory as you who are reading this now.
Everyone has their virtues and everyone has their failings. Be patient. Be gracious. Be kind. Half of us have enormous egos and half of us are wildly insecure and there’s a great deal of Venn diagramming going on. Treat others as you hope to be treated. Write thank you notes, even if your project is passed over, and remember that editors pass on projects, not people. Be understanding that the person you are talking to—the congoer, the writer, the retailer, the fan, the artist, the coordinator, the editor–has as much a rich inner life as you do. When you are tempted to become frustrated—this person never e-mailed you back! This person did not glow over your story!—please take a moment and remember this: Comics is people. Each person you meet is tired from travel, excited for the con, stressed about work, hopeful about a forthcoming project, eager to see their friends or favorite creators, pulled in half a hundred directions by family and responsibility and their own needs and happiness—just the same as you. Give them the understanding that you would hope they would have, were your positions changed. Keep making connections. If you can, have fun. I was surprised to learn that one of the biggest secrets of still getting work was to simply be a great person to be around. And if this is what you really and truly want to do—don’t give up.
GP: Those two series are just what you have at BOOM!. What else are you currently working on?
MB: Oh gosh.
I am part of the team on the Earth 2: World’s End weekly, beginning this October at DC Comics, as well as co-writing the monthly Earth 2 with the phenomenal Tom Taylor, also beginning in October. I wrote the forthcoming Injustice Annual, also in October, and am part of Vertigo’s CMYK: Yellow anthology with the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz. At Marvel later this fall, I am part of the Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy with a story about Lady Deathstrike, and am co-writing Angela: Asgard’s Assassin with Kieron Gillen, who I adore. I won’t jinx the other things yet.
I’ll sleep when I’m dead. *blows a kiss*
GP: Thanks Marguerite! Folks can check out the beautiful Phil Noto cover to Butterfly #1 as well as the first three pages below.