How is Hamlet Like Batman? Author Gregg Hurwitz Connects Comics and Shakespeare
There's a question that author Gregg Hurwitz gets asked often. Why would someone who has written scholarly papers about Shakespeare also pen thrillers? Undoubtedly, a love of the Bard of Avon and a need to write one suspenseful book after the next aren't mutually exclusive.
Hurwitz has written 12 novels, including the recently released book The Survivor, and is currently in the midst of run on DC's Batman: The Dark Knight. He hasn't just cracked the New York Times bestseller list, though -- he's also authored articles with titles like "A Tempest, a Birth and Death: Freud, Jung and Shakespeare's Pericles." Though Hurwitz refers to himself a "more of a dilettante than a scholar," his interest in Shakespearean tragedy is strong.
"The tragedies are actually brilliant, miniature thrillers," says Hurwitz. "[They are] highly convention-bound, very well-structured stories about lust, intrigue and murder."
Hurwitz earned his master's in Shakespearean tragedy at Trinity College, Oxford. Inside a Ventura Blvd. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, he jokes, "I have no definable job skills whatsoever." But writing has been the only thing Hurwitz wanted to do since he was a child composing mystery stories that he illustrated in crayon. Studying Shakespeare, he says, was his "training ground." It was also a good way for him to get the time he needed to finish his first novel, The Tower, which he had started as a 19-year-old undergrad. Since The Tower was published in 1999, he has released 11 more novels. On top of that, there are comic books -- he wrote the miniseries Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, as well as issues of The Punisher and Wolverine -- and TV and film work.
Hurwitz says that he writes in "bursts," maybe spending the morning on a novel and afternoon on a comic book. Even on the days when the muse hasn't quite struck, he still writes from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Shakespeare has taught Hurwitz well.
There are conventions of great dramatic writing that far predate Macbeth (which Hurwitz calls "a perfect mob thriller) and Hurwitz's personal favorite, Coriolanus. The trick is turning those conventions into a page-turner. That's where Hurwitz excels. He talks about the kind of characters he creates, the need for a "tragic flaw" and how you'll tend to meet them "on the worst day of their life." Hurwitz's latest book, The Survivor, opens with a suicide attempt. The protagonist, ridden with guilt and suffering from the beginning stages of ALS, fails, but that's just the start of tale.
"One of the things that's really important is that some misstep of the main character opens the door to unforeseeable circumstances," says Hurwitz.
Right now, Hurwitz is writing for a character whose heroic feats are only matched by the tragedy that befalls him, Batman. Hurwitz took over The Dark Knight earlier this summer with the series' tenth issue. During our chat, I had to ask, is there a bit of Hamlet in Batman?
"Yeah, I guess there is," Hurwitz answers, noting how Bruce Wayne/Batman is "trying to fill the shoes" of his father." Without giving away too much, Hurwitz acknowledges that he will be delving into the DC icon's grief-ravaged origin story in Batman: The Dark Knight #0, which is set for release in late September.
Hurwitz says that he believes in Jungian archetypes as they apply to the art of storytelling. "There are types of stories that we tell that actually serve an evolutionary purpose," he explains. "They teach us to deal with the internal and external unknowns and they're absolutely essential." Whether he's writing crime fiction novels or comic books, Hurwitz knack for tapping into these universal stories is clear.