ORIGINAL POST DATE: FEBRUARY 19th, 2008
Several years ago while filing away Daredevil comics, issue #27 to be specific, I stopped to read it after a long hiatus away from the series. The writing was different from anything else I’d ever seen and I was totally sucked in! Meanwhile there was a series on the shelf called Ultimate Spider-man and I was totally against it. Fought and thrashed about, especially over the Green Goblin. Until the Goblin returned for the second time and the scope of his dementia was revealed during a confrontation with Spider-man. From that point forward, I never failed to read an issue.
Somewhere in that time I checked out an issue of an Image Comics series called Powers, issue #7 where a graphic novel writer named Warren Ellis makes the mistake of doing a ride-along with two detectives and ends up in the center of a super-powers related hostage situation. Again, the writing was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. There was a common thread uniting these titles that had all of a sudden become must-read series for me. A name common to these series, Brian Michael Bendis.
Over the years, I would go on get to sit on stage with other members of Brian’s message board at a Wizard World Chicago convention panel, pester him with batteries of questions for his Wordballoon Bendis Tapes podcasts, and even be written into an issue of Ultimate Spider-man as a character. Now for the first time, I am proud to present to you the latest Acme Comics Interview with the top writer of the modern era of comics, Brian Michael Bendis.
On working at a comic shop
Jermaine: I recently read the amazing story of how you came to work at a comic book store in Cleveland, Ohio. Is that real? I just can’t imagine that happening that way. Actually, I can. But still. How long were you there, what all did you do, and do you think it did anything to enhance your view as a comics professional today?
BENDIS: Everything I’ve said about that time is true. I was art tutoring on the side while in art school. And one of my students mentioned that this guy who owned the comic store downtown was looking for this Todd McFarlane issue of Detective Comics that I had. He was willing to pay fifty bucks for it. And I was ba-roke.
I went down there and he started haggling with me. I haggled back. He then asked me if I was Jewish. And being Jewish I was really offended that he assumed I was Jewish because I was haggling. But he was Jewish too and when I said I was, he handed me the keys to the store and said he was a lawyer and was late for court and to watch the place and he’d pay me.
He didn’t even know my name. He just trusted my face.
So I ended up working there for a year or two. I drew my first books at the counter in lieu of cleaning or organizing. I met all the local creators. I tell people who want to break in to comics do a tour of duty at a store. I learned essential information about the retail end of things that has helped me in my endeavors as a publisher and creator.
Jermaine: I think many comic creators and marketing ad wizards out there are disconnected from the market and audience that they deal with. But I firmly believe that one of the things that has made you and some of your peers successful is that you not only understand the tools of the medium (story and art), but also the other end of the spectrum. Other pieces of the pie such as the retailers and customers and what happens to a book after you write/draw it.
What were some of the popular storylines and series of the day during your comic shop tour of duty?
BENDIS: Well, this was the early nineties. The Image boom. The big books were huge. It was all about collector’s mentality and chrome covers and Deathmate and Death of Superman. It was bleak times for a connoisseur of the art form.
And a very annoying situation to be behind the counter watching people buy crap they weren’t even reading. Just collecting. You could see the comic bust coming down the street.
Jermaine: I’m lucky in that today when people ask me for something good, I can show them Avengers Disassembled, Daredevil Underboss, Y the Last Man, etc. But, I’m still choking on bits of Deathmate Blue and Turok #1 from an era before my time. I really lean on customers who I think might be speculators and make sure that they do intend to read the comic. I tell people to get what they find interesting and if it has value later that’s great, but if not then it’s still something they like.
Just like any business that is open to the public, Acme Comics has our share of…um…”unusual experiences” with the general public at large. Do you recall any odd practices, unusual mannerisms, or memorable interactions that could only have happened at a comic shop?
BENDIS: Oh, tons. We had “Darkhawk Dave.” He came into the store EVERYDAY looking for the new issue of Darkhawk. EVERY DAY.
I sat him down with a calendar and tried to describe a monthly comic schedule to him. He said he understood and then came in the next day like the conversation never happened. Sometimes he would call and put on fake voices to see if we were lying and just not telling him Darkhawk was in. He thought we were lying.
He really had me convinced Darkhawk must be an amazing comic book to drive him so insane. So I sat down and read it. And of course it sucked ass.
Jermaine: Somehow I managed to completely avoid Darkhawk in the 90s. I know nothing about it. But I do know this, at every major Marvel Comics convention panel I have ever been to, someone asks about the status of Darkhawk. Seriously.
So do you make a weekly comic shop visit to see what all is on the current shelf? Has anything about today’s comic book store fundamentally changed for you?
BENDIS: I am there. Every Wednesday. I love comics. And my love for them has not altered. I even buy stuff I’m pretty sure I’m going to get for free in the mail. The only difference for me is I’m somewhat a known guy in a store now. It’s the only place in the world I might/ maybe get recognized. But even that is rare. And I bring my daughter sometimes. She enjoys it.
Jermaine: Is there any part of you that would hop behind the counter at a comic shop for an hour or so today? Be honest.
BENDIS: I had that feeling, so a couple of free comic book days ago I offered to do it for my local store. I instantly was reminded why I quit doing it in the first place 🙂
On being an indie creator
Jermaine: I first read Jinx in trade paperback form after my roommate at the time bought it from you personally at a comic convention in Charlotte. I’m weird about having unread comics in my house and he left it out so I started reading it. I was late for work because I read it all in one sitting. I’d never really seen anything like it before, both in language and the way the art presented the story to me. For those that don’t know, what is Jinx and what does it mean to you?
BENDIS: Jinx is a very large graphic novel I fully created about a female bounty hunter. It’s a loose interpretation of Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It’s filled with xerography and noir styled art. And lots of balloons.
It took me over two years to finish.
It means the world to me for a lot of personal reasons. It was very hard financially to finish. But I stuck to my guns and not only did it end up finding an audience. It was one of the books that got me Daredevil, which got me Ultimate Spider-man.
Jermaine: Most indie creators start out having one or maybe even two day jobs that, while necessary, compete with the time and energy needed to get the comic work done. How did you manage to not get sidetracked by the daily grind?
BENDIS: After and during my comic store gig, I had decided to commit fully to the life of a freelance artist. No matter what. I drew for all the local papers and magazines. I did TONS of caricature gigs, which paid very well and really afforded me the hours and hours my comics needed. I worked for card companies, anywhere I could that was writing and drawing.
Honestly anything this side of pornography that was writing and drawing.
Jermaine: You’ve been very consistent in the advice you give to aspiring creators. â€œIf you write, sit down and write. Write all the time. If you draw, sit down and draw. All the time.â€ When you were the struggling creator, whose advice was it that you took to heart and does it hold true today?
BENDIS: Well, whoever told me that is whose advice I held. I would discover an author or artist, inside comics or out, and I would study not only their work, but their interviews on craft and I would do this pretty religiously. I still do.
I have a book of David Mamet interviews that I go to for inspiration like others go to the Bible.
Jermaine: Before I move out of the past and onto the next topic, do you have any material that for whatever reason was never completed to your satisfaction? Is there anything that might see the light of day at some point or have we seen everything from the Jinx era that you mean for us to see?
BENDIS: There are a few properties that were abandoned for whatever reason. Maybe I didn’t think they were unique in concept or not completely worth two years of my time. A couple of them I even announced but never released.
I may return to them one day.
Jermaine: Right now I think that your creator owned series, Powers, has the premiere letters page in comics, but do you remember that guy who used to write letters to Image Comics’ Savage Dragon each month when that series was new? “Olav Beemer” or something is the name that comes to mind. To your knowledge are there any fans still active with you today that come from the Jinx letters pages of the mid-1990s? Who is your “Olav Beemer?”
BENDIS: I actually got a few Olav Beemer letters in my indie days. I was thrilled out of my mind. I knew his work more than he probably knew mine. I have quite a few guys who have stayed with me all the way from the Caliber Comics days. A few of them are on the board. Denny Haynes has been with me for a good long time. I owe him a hug.
Jermaine: Through the Powers letters pages and your jinxworld.com message board you grant fans (as well as those who are not fans) an unprecedented of amount of access. Nobody else really does it quite like you do. Did you always intend to be that kind of creator if you ever became widely known or is it just in your personality to be so accessible?
BENDIS: Well, as a fan it was the kind of access to others I appreciated so I definitely wanted to bring that out in me. I also think it demands complete honesty from me as a creator. It removes any idea of hackery out of my system, because I know I can’t escape the wrath of those who will let me know if I’m sucking.
I have some peers who run and hide from their readers and I know deep down it’s because they are ashamed of something.
But I never thought I would have this level of any type of success, so it’s not like I planned this. It just built organically out of my first A.K.A. Goldfish letter columns. But I am very proud of our community and of the feedback. I really am.
On being a comics fan
Jermaine: You’ve collaborated with some great artists who have done some out-of-this-world and memorable work illustrating your scripts. The death of Hawkeye sequence from Avengers #502, Daredevil’s battle with the Kingpin from Daredevil #50, and the beautiful splash pages from Avengers Finale come to mind. Do you own much original art from your series? Do commission art pieces from your collaborators or other artists now that they are your peers?
BENDIS: Not to be braggy but over the years I have been given as gifts some amazing artwork from almost every artist I have worked with. I have truly special pieces from almost everyone. I have a hallway down to my basement studio which has turned into a gallery that even non-comic readers stop and stare at for a while.
The big double page spread of everyone going nuts in Secret War? I own it! Paintings by David Mack from Daredevil and Kabuki, Alex Maleev art that would make you weep. Finch, Quesada, Mcniven, Bagley, Gaydos, Oeming…
Jermaine: Wow. I can’t even wrap my head around that. I do have all the Bagley pages of Ultimate Spider-man featuring Ultimate Jermaine Exum though! I’m this close to diving into collecting original art and getting serious about commission pieces at conventions.
When aspiring artists come to me for advice at Acme, I always put Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics in front of them as things they cannot “pass go” without reading. They don’t always get why I do that or might not be ready for what those books discuss, but I think those two volumes are essential if you mean to make comics. As a professional multi-media writer, are there any comics, novels, or films that you feel to be essential for an aspiring writer to have exposure to and understanding of?
BENDIS: For me, I have found profound inspiration in a movie called Visions of Light. Which is a very excellent documentary on cinematography. I love the Modern Masters trade paperback series from Twomorrows, On Directing Film by David Mamet, On Writing by Steven King, Story by Robert Mckee.
Jermaine: Do you have an “office” or comics room where you keep all your materials and inspirations? I have a “comics room” where absolutely no business is conducted and strangely enough I don’t actually read any comics in there. But, I don’t try to fool myself into pretending it is an office. The closest thing I have to an actual office probably looks more like a “Transformers room” to the casual observer.
BENDIS: I have a basement office which is all mine except for my daughter’s desk which is now right next to mine. She can paint and color for hours. She inherited my concentration. But the entire room is filled with comics, games DVDs and everything else a man of my stature can afford 🙂
My wife laughs that my basement was something I envisioned when I was twelve and I never altered that vision.
Jermaine: For your favorite runs, or your own material for that matter, what format do you prefer? Do you have to have the original issues or is a trade paperback good enough? Do you trade other formats in for an upgrade like Marvel’s Oversized hardcovers or DC’s Absolute Editions? I know I have been known to triple-dip (issue, trade, hardcover/ oversized hardcover) on my favorite series. I have New Avengers in issues, trades, a couple Premiere hardcovers, and now since I’m completely out of control, oversized hardcover. That goes beyond the triple-dip and we affectionately call it the “overdose.”
BENDIS: Well, I get the comics I make for free. In any format. I do like the oversized hardcovers and omnibii, I really do. Only because they make me feel like I’ve actually done something.
Sometimes when the single issue ships, it was so hard to produce that it feels like you’ve made an entire collection.
I see a difference in my wife’s reaction to the book when it’s in hardcover. It looks more important.
Jermaine: Honestly though, finding an out of print trade paperback (like The Greatest Battle of the Avengers tpb which is like 60% Grim Reaper stories if you can believe that) means more to me than finding an actual issue. Iâ€™m still on the look out for an Alias hardcover even though I have the omnibus. When it comes to comics, I’m not a completist, but I am fool for old trades and hardcovers.
I recently got copies of Transformers #1 and the humor issue of What If from the 80s, the oldest comics I specifically remember having new as a kid. Do you have any of your childhood collection still with you or have you had to re-buy some of your old favorites that had been lost over the years?
BENDIS: God bless the Marvel Essential trade line. I got my childhood back at a reasonable price.
Jermaine: While you’re speaking so freely, I’m going to do the same on something. I’m guilty of never having read the complete Sandman by Neil Gaiman. After all these years of selling it, now it comes out that I’ve never read past the first trade. And right now, I have yet to read more than one issue of Fables. My email inbox is flooding as we speak. What “classic” or currently acclaimed series have you not gotten around to reading yet?
BENDIS: This is one of those kind of questions that always gets me on trouble on line. There are a few series that are considered must-reads that I just don’t care for as much as most people or the comic press do. I too agree with you on Sandman, a great series and some amazing bits here and there, but I, for my own taste, would rather read Ellis’ Global Frequency and Nextwave.
I think Kabuki is better than most anything Vertigo has ever put out.
But that’s why we keep making comics. Something for anyone’s taste.
Jermaine: Though it would be years before I would try it out, you’d talked about The West Wing often on your Jinxworld.com Q & A sessions. I thought I could never have interest in what I felt that show must have been about, but it was excellent. At least up to the end of season four when Sorkin exited. Acme Comics are big supporters of West Wing, The Wire, The Shield, etc. At the time of this writing, I’m dipping my feet into original Kolchak the Night Stalker which I have never seen before. I adore 30 Rock and unfortunately I just found out that Its “Never Funny” in Philadelphia. Have you made any new or old entertainment discoveries recently that you want to make people aware of? I think Best Buy can directly link sales spikes on DVDs to you having mentioned them during a Bendis Tapes or interview.
BENDIS: Well, to many people’s disgust I have come to respect and love The Gilmore Girls as much as The West Wing, The Larry Sanders Show, and Sports Night. I was reluctant for years to try it even though so many people told me I would love it, but I really was amazed by the writing. Same goes from the stunning Deadwood. Only a special type of little Jew man can love both The Gilmore Girls and Deadwood.
Jermaine: I’m with you on Sports Night, but I’ve been getting conflicting reports on The Gilmore Girls for a very long time so I’m going to have to keep on resisting for now. I might give Deadwood a try though because I recently found out that Geri Jewell, Blair’s cousin with cerebral palsy from The Facts of Life, is on there and I haven’t see her in years. But for now, The Wire’s final season is blowing my mind like nothing else I’ve seen before.
On Marvel Comics
Jermaine: One of my favorite series, one of Acme Comics’ favorite series, is Alias. Jessica Jones is arguably the best new character since James Robinson’s Jack Knight Starman. Lots of new readers have been exposed to Jessica for the first time through New Avengers, but I’ve been with her since Alias and later The Pulse. Now that Jessica is a part of the Marvel universe at large, are there any stories with her that occur to you now that would best fit into Alias as opposed to New Avengers?
BENDIS: Not really. She’s still in the book. The character of Jessica has evolved for me like I and my other friends have hopefully evolved and matured through parenthood and just growing the hell up and getting over one’s self.
Jermaine: If we clap hard enough, is there any chance of re-teaming with Michael Gaydos on Jessica Jones one more time?
BENDIS: If at some point we want to do Jessica or Alias solo stories, the door is open for both Michael Gaydos and I to do more. People missing Alias will want to check out New Avengers #38. It’s my big reunion with Gaydos and a big chapter in Jessica Jones’ life.
Jermaine: Here at Acme, New Avengers is our best selling, highest subscribed, ongoing monthly. From issue #1 to the newest issue, #38 (on sale 2/13/08). Nothing comes close to the New Avengers in our local market. For the benefit of lapsed readers looking at this interview, what would you say is the theme and mission of the New Avengers title?
BENDIS: The theme is simple “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes united against a common threat! On that day, The Avengers were born
– to fight foes that no single hero could withstand!”
That part was given to us.
Why they should buy it is because it’s probably the greatest comic book ever made. 🙂
Of course, I’m being silly, but it is an important book for what’s going on in the Marvel universe right now. It’s the connecting tissue of a lot of the bigger stories and so-called events.
Jermaine: It’s been a few years now since the original Avengers were disassembled and the new Avengers came into being. With New Avengers being such a pivotal series for the whole Marvel line, how fluid has your vision for the book had to be? With New Avengers being the flagship book of the Marvel universe, how do you stay on target when your book is affected by so many outside sources. House of M expanded beyond originally being an arc within New Avengers itself to a line-wide crossover, Civil War divided your Avengers cast, and Captain America has been totally removed from your toy box. Did some of these unexpected developments work to your advantage and allow for different characters or relationships to come the forefront?
BENDIS: Many, many unexpected developments worked to the books advantage. That’s the magic of writing a monthly in-continuity book. Every new element is a challenge to be creative. It’s an excuse to write beyond your safety net but, still write something unique to yourself and the characters.
But, at the same time I’ve had unbelievable fortune in creating situations and having the time to follow through on ideas. Like the recently announced Secret Invasion.
That’s one of the amazing parts of having my Marvel contract. I can stay on a book and develop long form ideas.
Jermaine: Ah, yes. Some people will be hearing about this for the first time right here so, what is Secret Invasion?
BENDIS: We have revealed in the Avengers titles that the Skrull Empire has, for a reason to be revealed, been working on the Earth. Using all the shapeshifting power at their disposal to infiltrate the super powered community. The Avengers know this but don’t know how, why or who. “Who can you trust?” is the motto of the year.
And it’s all building towards Secret Invasion #1. The pay off on these Avengers titles is going to be huge this year.
Jermaine: For those interested I recently spoke with New Avengers Illuminati co-writer Secret Invasion.
Aside from being a sales juggernaut, New Avengers is also a series where Marvel characters can get put through the “soap and water treatment” that is your script plus the best available artists in comics today. More people talk about Hawkeye now than any other time I can think of, Spider-woman is a household name, and for just a split second I thought Carnage was cool for the first time in my life. So the question I’m asking is, when are you going to have Gambit pass through New Avengers so he can once more become the best thing since individually wrapped cheese slices?
BENDIS: I’m not a miracle worker. 🙂
Jermaine: Well, a customer wanted me to ask that so I had to. Sorry, CiJi. I do think that New Avengers has elevated the status of a lot of characters, though. And apparently a small, but vocal, minority wants to see Dane Whitman, the Black Knight. Just saying.
You’ve also brought back a lot of concepts that were once staples in super hero comics such as the mystery character (Ronin), the hero changing up his look/ identity (Clint Barton becoming Ronin like he became once became Goliath), and the extended story arc that encompasses the smaller seemingly stand-alone arcs. Do you see these older-model storytelling tools coming back across the board?
BENDIS: Well, truthfully I’ve seen such an insane leap forward in all areas of comic storytelling this past decade that I think the entire language of comics will have completely changed within the next decade. Whether it be that digital formats comics are eventually going to take or the fact that audiences and creators alike just know and expect more from their sequential storytelling.
I think what you’ll see is more and more people like Jonathan Hickman (Nightly News, Pax Romana) coming out with an entirely original look at how to make a comic book and the entire landscape will change even more. I think it’s going to happen as fast as how fast the iPod changed our music habits.
Jermaine: I was just recently checking out Avengers #239, the issue where Wonder Man and the Avengers appear on the David Letterman Show and Dave helps them subdue an overzealous fan. Now that it’s safe to tell the world that you read comics, many more celebrities are open about their knowledge of super-heroes. Though I imagine it’s more difficult to do now than back then, are there any celebrities that you would love to have appear as themselves in a full issue Ultimate Spider-man or Avengers maybe?
BENDIS: Sure . I loved that stuff. The Saturday Night Live issue of Marvel Team-up was fun too. Can’t think of someone off the top of my head, but if the right thing came along that would be fun. We did our Sam Raimi bit in USM.
Jermaine: Speaking of Ultimate Spider-man, is there a character that you have sentimental value for but just can’t find the right angle to bring them into the USM world? You made Venom into something I could support as someone who really grew to dislike the character during the 90s saturation and you even came up with something for Carnage so there’s an answer out there somewhere. Personally, I’m still waiting for “Ultimate Lightmaster.”
BENDIS: Keep waiting.
I have a handful of characters like Mysterio that I have a take for, but have not had the chance to dig into yet. Plus some all new characters as well.
Jermaine: Care to plug a Marvel title that not enough people know about currently or one that your instincts tell you will be a title to watch in the future?
Bendis: There are a few that haven’t been announced yet. So I can’t pimp them yet. But The Immortal Iron Fist is the one out now. It’s criminally under ordered.
Jermaine: Yes, The Immortal Iron Fist was one of the best surprises I can think of recently. I expected nothing and it quickly became one of my favorites and a huge seller here in both premiere hardcover and softcover. I have a man-crush on issue #3 page #14!
Ok guy, we’re done! That’s all I have for you. Thank you so much for doing this. Once again, you spoil me for other comic creators. Secret Invasion is going to be a big hit in 2008 and Acme Comics is going to be the Secret Invasion headquarters!
BENDIS: You’re aces man. Sorry it took so long.
Jermaine: Not a problem man, thanks for making the good stuff!
Bibliography (from Wikipedia)
Created and owned by Bendis
- Fire (published originally by Caliber and later by Image)
- Fortune and Glory
- A.K.A. Goldfish (published originally by Caliber and later by Image)
- Jinx (published originally by Caliber and later by Image)
- Powers (published originally by Image and later by Marvel)
- Torso (published by Image)
- Sam and Twitch
- Alias #1-28
- Avengers vol. 3 #500-503, Finale
- Daredevil vol. 2 #16-19, 26-50, 56-81
- Elektra vol. 2 #1-6
- Halo: Uprising #1-4
- House of M #1-8
- Mighty Avengers #1-present
- New Avengers #1-present
- New Avengers: Illuminati #1-5 (with Brian Reed)
- The Pulse #1-14
- Secret Invasion #1-8
- Secret War #1-5
- Spider-Woman: Origin #1-6 (with Brian Reed)
- Ultimate Fantastic Four #1-6 (with Mark Millar)
- Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #1-16
- Ultimate Power #1-3
- Ultimate Six #1-7
- Ultimate Spider-Man #1-present
- Ultimate X-Men #34-45
- Batman Chronicles #21 (Elseworlds “Citizen Wayne” story)