James Tynion IV has had the kind of comic career we all dream about. A student of Batman writer Scott Snyder, Tynion started with back up stories in Batman before creating a new anti-hero with Talon, and picking up Red Hood & The Outlaws post-Scott Lobdell. I managed to corner young Mister Tynion at NYCC and chat with him about his rise through DC, his books and his breaking up of the most psychotic couple ever.
CRAVE ONLINE: Over the last couple of years you’ve really burst onto the scene. How did you break into comics?
JAMES TYNION IV: I was Scott Snyder’s student about six years ago. That was before he had written his first comic book – he was just a short story writer whose work I really enjoyed, and so I decided to take his writing class. He was rekindling his love of comic books, so I was lending him some of mine, and we became really close friends.
CRAVE ONLINE: Did you work together before you came to DC?
JT: We were actually working together on a young adult novel that never happened, which is where we cemented the back and forth relationship where we talked story all the time. Once I graduated from school and started working in advertising, I kept up with him and we would still shoot story ideas back and forth while he was rising up through the world of comics.
CRAVE ONLINE: Were comics something you had been interested in before?
JT: Comics has always been the goal for me, I’ve been sending in submissions to companies, and trying to get better at writing them since I was seventeen or eighteen. DC asked Scott if he could so backup stories on Batman and he didn’t have room in his schedule, so he asked me if I would be interested, and almost fainted.
CRAVE ONLINE: Is it still fun working with Scott?
JT: Scott and I are really, really close friends and we work well together. We have a real synergy in storytelling and ideation. I love working with him. We created the book Talon, and it’s all spun out from there.
CRAVE ONLINE: Jumping into Talon – you’re taking a character with baggage, but baggage nobody knows about, and trying to hook readers. Was that as hard as it sounds?
JT: The key thing with Talon was trying to figure out how to approach the Court of Owls from a very different way than they had been approached in Batman. To Batman, they represented everything he didn’t know about Gotham. Court of Owls was a story very much about his ego and how Gotham is Batman’s city. Suddenly, there are these people who have been lurking behind the shadows and he had no idea they existed. They were saying 'no, it’s our city.' You can’t take that same approach twice, so when I was thinking about how to do a new story spinning out of the Court of Owls concept, I wanted to create a character that had a very different relationship to the Court.
We have a former Talon of theirs, who had escaped and has been running his entire life. These are the people who really destroyed him, emotionally and physically. They’ve killed people he loves and they’ve been hunting him for years. He’s always been so afraid, and this story is getting over that fear. It’s also him realizing that his ability to escape is his greatest asset. It’s the thing that makes him special; it’s the thing that keeps the Court of Owls from getting him. It is his strength.
CRAVE ONLINE: You also took over Red Hood and The Outlaws, which focuses on Jason Todd, another character with baggage you had to overcome. Why him?
JT: To take a more macro-view, I love the whole expanded universe of Gotham. I love all the weird nooks and crannies of the city and the way they all tie together. I like world-building and exploring the characters that don’t get to be explored very often. Jason spent decades dead. He is a very unexplored property, so to make my mark with him, and tell stories that we haven’t seen before is why I enjoy Jason so much. It’s also the key with Talon. I wanted to tell stories we hadn’t seen before.
CRAVE ONLINE: How important is it for you to find those new stories?
JT: Very. In Gotham, there are so many stories we’ve heard so many times, I wanted to do something that wasn’t stilted. I always want to push to give the reader something new, something deeply hidden and never seen before. That’s what I’ve been doing with Jason; building off of what Scott Lobdell did in the beginning of the New 52. With Talon, it was incredible to build something from scratch.
CRAVE ONLINE: Why do you think Gotham resonates so much with fans? Why not Metropolis or Central City?
JT: Gotham is very much about darkness, and Metropolis is very much about light. In terms of very basic storytelling, it’s always fun to find out what’s hiding in the shadows. The secret things, the dark history, tortured personas and things like that. There are so many angles in Gotham you can show that from. It’s also how Gotham was built to reflect Batman, who is one of the most versatile characters that has ever existed in any medium. The city is equally versatile and the biggest supporting character in the Bat books. What other place would have Arkham Asylum, or a police department led by somebody like Jim Gordon? It’s so primal. Gotham has really come to life and become it’s own vibrant entities.
CRAVE ONLINE: You’ve written a lot of anti-heroes. Would you want to write a straight villain?
JT: Oh yeah. It was great to do back up stories during the Death of the Family run, because I got to play with some of the biggest villains. Joker interacting with Harley Quinn, plus Riddler and Two-Face.
CRAVE ONLINE: Your back up story involving the end of Joker and Harley was great. Was it hard to end such an iconic relationship in such a small amount of space?
JT: The practical answer is you only have so many pages to work with. At that point, Joker and Harley had a brief interaction over in Suicide Squad, but we hadn’t explored the core of their relationship in the New 52. I wanted to break it down to the most simplistic elements, and then shine a flashlight on it in a way that made you afraid of the Joker in a new way.
CRAVE ONLINE: How do you make the Joker scarier? Especially to Harley?
JT: This is the person who, no matter how terrifying he is, loves the Joker, and now Harley is afraid. Afraid of him in a way she’d never been before. Joker had changed his motives, changed what he was after. He was becoming something new and deeply terrifying. To go into that and then look at how they see each other in this brief encounter was wonderful. Harley doesn’t really see the Joker; he remains in the shadows, lurking just behind them. He’s totally unseen and totally strange. I also just love horror. I love reaching into the most terrifying part of my brain.
CRAVE ONLINE: Did that happen with this story?
JT: Well, when I was writing that story, there was a big storm, and the windows of my apartment blew open. I stepped out for a second and when I returned, the windows were open. I was actually on the phone with Scott, and I made him stay on the line while I checked my apartment. The story really got under my skin.
CRAVE ONLINE: Would you ever want to work with the more cosmic characters in the DCU?
JT: I do love the cosmic characters and I’d love to do my own take on them. A real exploration of good and evil. Having Darkseid out there really gives you an instrument to look at that in such a core way. I’d love that.
CRAVE ONLINE: How will Forever Evil affect Red Hood and Talon?
JT: For right now, I’m staying very focused on the stories we’ve been building. Those stories are coming to a head in the next several months in a big way. There are going to be some dramatic shifts in the status quo by the time Forever Evil ends, and we’ll be definitely catching up to that.
Talon and Red Hood & The Outlaws are both on sale now. You can follow James Tynion IV on twitter at @jamesthefourth