Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Interview: Brian Michael Bendis Talks Comics, Advice for Creatives, Daredevil’s Radar Sense vs. Spidey Sense, & More! [EXCLUSIVE]

CELEBRITIESInterview: Brian Michael Bendis Talks Comics, Advice for Creatives, Daredevil's Radar Sense...

Brian Michael Bendis is a well-recognized and respected name in the comic book industry. Starting his career with early works in crime and noir genres, Bendis eventually moved on to write superhero titles for Marvel Comics and DC. Bendis has contributed by creating beloved characters Miles Morales, Jessica Jones, and Riri Williams.

Bendis penned the first book of the Ultimate Marvel prints — Ultimate Spider-Man (2000) — as well as re-launching the Avengers franchise with New Avengers (2004), and has many other recognizable titles inked such as Secret War (2004-2005), House of M (2005), Secret Invasion (2008), Age of Ultron (2013), and many more.

Currently, Bendis is expanding his Jinxworld line at Dark Horse Comics with titles like Pearl and The Ones. One of our editors had a chance to chat with him about his impressive career, both in the past and what’s to come in the future.

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Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Nerds & Beyond: Jumping in with the serious stuff … what has influenced your decision to return to your roots with creator-owned content after spending years working with Marvel Comics and DC titles?

Brian Michael Bendis: Well, it’s such a blessing. There are two great blessings — one to be able to share in the shared great universes of Marvel and DC; and one to be a co-author with your friends and collaborators. It’s an amazing experience. Creating new things from scratch and putting them out in the world is on its own level. Often when I’m making choices, I’m very happy when I make the choice to create something new over another choice.

I have a lot of work out there that’s connecting with people as brand-new work. There are a lot of people reading my Spider-Man and Daredevil stuff for the first time — it’s out there brand new for people. So since that’s already out there, I can let that stuff be while I’m creating new stuff. I get the best of both worlds for a while when I can take full advantage of that. But it took me a long time to see that — all that work is out there enjoying its own space and you can just enjoy it with along with it. Does that make sense?

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Nerds & Beyond: It does, it totally does. I can understand from an artistic perspective getting your passion projects, the things that you’ve created, but at the same time, you’re getting validation from other passion projects that aren’t necessarily yours in entirety like the content that you’ve created. I definitely understand.

Bendis: Exactly. Miles Morales alone is one of the greatest things that ever happened in my life and it’s out there happening right now — to have that continue, to have his stories keep going, while me and my friends are trying new stuff is quite a nice place to have yourself. I plan to take full advantage of it as long as I can.

Nerds & Beyond: One of your latest series The Ones just released its second issue with Dark Horse last month, and another issue is coming this week. Can you tell me a bit about the creation of that story and the characters that are involved there?

Bendis: I think from like the beginning of me taking in media as a young man up until today, I have found a concept of the chosen one in mythology to be hilarious, and often I don’t know why. I just bide by every time there’s a chosen one from The Matrix to The Golden Child with Eddie Murphy. There’s always been this trope going throughout my life and I always found it delightful.

So literally one day, I’m just sitting on the porch, thinking about The Matrix sequels and thinking about … what if all the people that were “the ones” that were told they were the one had to team up with the other ones and defeat the real one. And I just wrote that down.

With comics, it’s usually genre ideas. Sometimes it’s a very fine line between a good idea and a stupid idea. And so I let it sit for a while to see, to see if I still think it’s funny in a little while — and I did. I told some friends about it, and they all went, “Oh, that’s a good idea.” And that’s when I had to go “No one’s done this, right?” Because there’s been other things about ones and chosen ones, but no one’s done this. When you find a little nugget of an idea that no one else has come to, it’s super exciting, because there’s a lot of content out there. So having a real big swing that no one’s done before, it got me very excited. So my challenge was to create a bunch of real new characters, where really each one of them could lead a book on their own.

Using all the lessons I learned from The Avengers, and the X-Men, and all the other team-ups and team books that I’ve done, to really lean into all of the fun that could be had from this idea. I’m from the generation where I’m a Ghostbusters baby, so I love doing high-end genre and just having fun with it.

Nerds & Beyond: I’m not from the generation, but it’s hard to go wrong with Ghostbusters. That one still holds up.

Bendis: People don’t remember the original Ghostbusters was not only the funniest movie of the year but the best special effects movie of the year — they didn’t joke [about] that part. They said, “No, let’s make a great movie.” I always use that idea, that mindset of “Let’s make it the best superhero book I can think of or the best team-up book I can think of,” while at the same time goofing on all of it, just having a blast.

What’s great is while I was cooking The Ones, and this is really unique to the creation of The Ones, a fan on Twitter, someone I didn’t know, just said, “Hey, Brian you know whose work I think you would really like is this guy named Jacob Edgar.” It was right in the early days of the pandemic, and I was just home alone just, you know … dealing. And the stranger just goes, “Hey, Brian, look at this. I really think you’d like it.”

It was worded in such a nice way, so I did check it out, and yeah — I loved it. Then I had reached out to Jacob to go, “Are you this other person trying to get my attention?” because that happens too, where people pretend. But no, it was just a fan, who put us together and wanted us to make a book together. And I followed it. Jacob and I started talking and I just said “Do you want to do a book together?” We did a short story for Métal Hurlant line, which [is] this French rebrand of heavy metal. That went really well as a kind of test to see if we work well together, and then from there I went, “I have this idea for The Ones …” and he nailed all the character designs right away.

So from day one, it was a great collaboration, but it was so unique in my life. Most of my collaborations come from meeting people on my own, or I grew up with them. For a reader to reach out and put us together and it worked, and then the book is good, you know … it doesn’t suck, is exciting.

Nerds & Beyond: That fan must feel incredibly lucky though, with The Ones publishing now.

Bendis: Yeah, it’s very cool. We’ve 100% publicly celebrated that this person put us together and that’s amazing. There’s so much crap on social media, so anytime something good happens you like just want to stop the presses.

Nerds & Beyond: Especially on Twitter, where it can be so negative, particularly for figures like you in the public eye.

In addition to the new work like The Ones, you’ve also been republishing some of your older works. When you look back on those titles, is there one that holds the most meaning to you?

Bendis: Well, they’re all my babies … or I’m co-parenting them. They all mean a great deal and particularly for republishing them out through Dark Horse. That’s a hard question to answer.

I will say that I’m very proud of the length of some of my collaborations — like Mike Oeming and I are celebrating our 26th year of making comics together, and I can’t believe that. That’s amazing to me — this very healthy, creative marriage with no end in sight, and I have a couple of them in my life. When you look back and realize how delicate that is, and how many people have broken up. And yet you have these relationships that keep going and evolving, and really define us individually and together creatively. I’m very proud to stand next to Oeming and look at how we’ve evolved, and how our partnership has grown. I look at work, and I see the relationship attached.

Nerds & Beyond: As a creator having someone that you mesh with is really special anyway — but to have that relationship for such a long time that’s something that a lot of people don’t get the pleasure of experiencing.

Bendis: Yeah, you’ve got to hold onto those relationships. It’s one of those things when you start your career, you don’t know what to do there.

I feel the same way about my marriage. We’ve been married for 27 years. And oh, you don’t know how great it is in the 20s. It’s so good. You don’t just know it was there until you get there. And and it’s very similar creatively — when you start, you just want to make good books and be a good person and could be a good friend, and then time goes by and like, “Oh, and this is the payoff. You get to feel like this. Oh, I didn’t know that.” It makes you want to work twice as hard, and that’s an amazing experience. I tried to, while we’re teaching at Portland State and on Substack, relate to people. These choices you’re making to be a good collaborator pay off huge in the long run.

Nerds & Beyond: I’m really glad that you just brought up Substack, because my next question was about the bi-monthly classes that you host [information can be found here]. I really just wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about those sessions a bit more.

Bendis: It’s such a unique space that I’m so thrilled to be in now that we’re in it.

Last year, Nick Spencer came to a bunch of us and said, “Hey, Substack has this newsletter service, and they want to create a space where we can create original content, using this ever-evolving technology, and send it directly to readers via a newsletter. It can be comics, it could be classes, it could be podcasts, it could be films … literally, anything you can think of you can put into this email and send it to people.” That was really exciting right away.

I immediately looked for the projects that I’m dying to do that I’m so happy to have the space to do. Number one was a sequel to Fortune and Glory, which is an autobiographical comic I made years ago about my early days in Hollywood, just blowing off steam about all the crazy stuff that we were going through. I wanted to do a new one wrapped around my very short time as the writer of the Spider-Man Broadway musical — for two weeks I was the writer of that version of that musical. And I thought what a great place [Substack] to tell an autobiographical, what I love and how I got into comics story. So that was number one.

Number two was, and I’ve been working on it for years, a sequel to my textbook Words for Pictures, which is a book I put out to Random House a few years ago about making comics. I wanted to do a book about how to create stuff from scratch, which is a very messy process that a lot of people have a hard time with, or understanding, or even talking about. So I came up with a way to do that.

And and then the third part, which is myself and David Walker, we co-teach together at Portland State University as part of the comic studies program there and we have a minute or 15 of that as well. It kind of stuns me, as well … the whole time we’ve been doing this at Portland State people around the community would ask us to do a class online or to do some kind of masterclass, and I couldn’t wrap my head around how to how to do it with all that was going on.

But the Substack situation was perfect for it. It was like, “Oh, here’s a scenario [in] which we can teach a class.” And lo and behold, our classes have been very robustly attended. And I’m so happy because it’s exactly the kind of energy I want to share with everybody — here’s what we know so far, listen to it, if it applies to you: great. If not, I hope it gets you thinking about why it doesn’t, and get people going. We have a very passionate group of people in our class, and then also on our Discord, helping each other every day.

Nerds & Beyond: What’s your favorite piece of advice to offer an aspiring creator?

Bendis: Comes right up top of the list … finish what you start.

You literally do not know why you’re doing what you’re doing, even if you think you really do, until you get to the end. You don’t know what you’ve done right or wrong ’till you get to the end. And you don’t honestly know what kind of creator you are until you finish what you start. And so many people do their first few pages of something over and over and over and over again. Every time I’ve guest lectured anywhere or have been asked to give my advice, and I say “Finish when you start,” other educators run up to me and go “Thank you.” That’s always been a problem for creative people. That’s the easiest way to get in your own way.

There’s something about the way our world has been since the advent of reality TV where everything has to be winner or loser. Reality TV has created a creative winner or loser mentality and we’re all humans, we only have it in our heads to start with. But now you’re raised with that American Idol mentality of you’re either great or you suck. And that’s not true. It’s just not. It really stops people from starting and it stops people from finishing what they started and I like to counter that with some intuitive “No, get to the end, I promise you.”

Even if you get to the end and start over again — get to the end, and then you’ll know why you’re starting over again. Everyone does projects over and over and over again, but it’s those last few pages will really tell you something.

Nerds & Beyond: I think that’s fantastic. That’s very insightful.

Bendis: Sorry for the long answer!

Nerds & Beyond: No, I love it. As a creative person as well that really resonates, and I think certainly many other creators — we can be our own worst enemy. It can be so tempted to scrap something halfway through because you lose focus or want to do it better, but you won’t know the full picture until you complete it.

Bendis: For those of us raised by Stan Lee and the Bullpen Bulletins, the comics that evolved into social media of which I grew up with when we had message boards. Then we have Twitter now, which always felt like an extension of the world Stan and the Bullpen had created which is very inviting … like we’re all in this together.

Yes, we make the comics and you read the comics, but there really isn’t any difference. It’s all comics, right? So social media for a while was a really good extension of that idea. And then as it evolved, you’re looking for a way to really just keep that connection and Substack has been a very good space in which you can connect directly to people. It really just feels like an extension of the Bullpen.

Nerds & Beyond: What character of yours that you’ve created that hasn’t been adapted for an onscreen performance would you like to see the most?

Bendis: Well, all of them, but we’ll have an announcement in a week or two, but Jinxworld is set up in the Hollywood space, so some of the projects that I’ve always wanted to get going are on the launching pad. So we’ll see. But for right now, a couple of things that are very dear to my heart, including an oldie Jinx and a brand new project, Pearl are both in development, and that makes me very happy.

But The Ones, Phenomena, all the new stuff, nothing would make me happier. As an educator, and as a creator, I do like to always put out what sounds like hypocrisy coming out of my face. But I personally keep the comics — I don’t worry about adaptation when making the comics, I just try to make the best comic I can. Celebrate the form, that’s the only way to really make something special is to not worry about adaptations into another form. If you do something very special with the form of comics, it makes the adaptation much more interesting to people who might want to do that, but if you go chasing, with the mentality of “I’m making this so someone will make a movie,” it so doesn’t work. It just doesn’t.

Even though I’ve had some enormous successes in having stuff adapted, I like to really let people know to keep the comics — just make good comics. It’s not better, it’s good comics and good movies. One isn’t better than the other. They’re all equally great.

Nerds & Beyond: I completely agree with you. They’re separate art forms, they’re separate forms of media. They each have pros and cons, they don’t need to be thought of as going hand-in-hand necessarily.

Bendis: It’s a TRAP. And once you get a little, and once you get a little it’s easy to want more people to adapt your work. But that can’t be a trap that confuses your choices. You want to remember to keep it pure, and to just make a really good comic.

Nerds & Beyond: You touched on my next question a little bit. I wanted to ask you if you had anything in the works that you wanted to talk about or hint on. Obviously, you touched on some adaptations that you have coming up.

Bendis: In the Dark Horse partnership we continue with The Ones — which we’re really proud of the issue coming up this week, actually. And then after that we’re we’ll be putting out a new volume of Murder Incorporated, which is a book on alternative crime history. I also I’m developing a brand new book that I believe will be coming out through Dark Horse later this year.

We continue to put out Phenomena, which just came out from Abrams just before the holiday — it’s a new fantastical graphic novel series I’m doing with André Lima Araújo. It’s from Abrams and the first of three volumes has been released. We’re working on the second volume right now.

If you want to see a master cartoonist making one of his masterpieces go check out André’s Instagram [@andrelimaaraujo]. It’s stunning to watch a world you’re building with your friend being built right in front of you on the screen. It’s quite something. Fortune and Glory: The Musical, the autobiographical comic book about my time in comics and writing Spider-Man: The Musical and what happened there is also coming. If you don’t know about Spider-Man: The Musical — Google it. It’s quite a story.

Nerds & Beyond: Seriously, if you’re not familiar with that story … run to Google.

That’s it for my big questions. I like to wrap things up with a lightning round where I literally just ask a this or that question or a really quick question and I just want the first quick thing that comes to your mind.

Bendis: Yeah, cool!

Nerds & Beyond: Favorite Spider-Man villain?

Bendis: Kingpin. You can cut out my long answer but, I look at what Kingpin meant to Ultimate Peter Parker. Kingpin is the adult that taught Peter the world sucks. There are some people who are just bad, right? And that’s like when you’re a young person learning that for the first time … it’s a big lesson. Like, what are you gonna do with that? You can’t fix bad people.

Nerds & Beyond: That’s always been one of my favorite things about that character too, is that obviously Peter faces Green Goblin, he faces a lot of characters who have some kind of enhancement, or they’re mentally ill and have some justification for their actions — even if it’s not a real one. But Kingpin at his root is really just a bad guy.

Bendis: He was always doing something right in front of someone’s eye, he wasn’t hiding it. When I’m developing other antagonists in other projects, I think of that. I think of how impersonal and very personal it can be at exact same time. I try to aspire to find that in other scenarios.

Nerds & Beyond: If you could have dinner with any character you’ve written who would it be?

Bendis: Elliot Ness.

Nerds & Beyond: That’s a great choice. Would you rather have Spidey Sense or Daredevil’s Radar Sense?

Bendis: Oh, Daredevil’s Radar Sense.

Nerds & Beyond: Me too. I feel like that’s not the popular answer.

Bendis: I’ve spent a lot of time with both of those powers — thinking of them on and even talking to some people with sight impairment, of which I have a little bit as well. And the Spidey Sense goes off and you still have to go “Where? What?” You still have to ask questions of yourself. Whereas Daredevil, it’s more of a radar, so questions are answered immediately. So that’s the answer.

Nerds & Beyond: That’s a good way to describe that.

Bendis: Like for Spidey Sense, there’s a fist coming, but which way? I’ll be waiting for Dan Slott to denounce my answer.

Nerds & Beyond: We will see if he has anything to say about that. And then my last one is, who is in your favorite Avengers lineup?

Bendis: Hmm. Well, it’s such a shitty answer, because like they let me pick my favorite. They let me pick my Avengers, which included Luke Cage and Spider-Woman and I had to prove myself.

But before that, it was the “Kree-Skrull War” Avengers that were the most classic Neal Adams Avengers, which was a mix of the originals and what the Avengers had evolved to, which is what Marvel had evolved to.

And, it’s really when you realize that that preschool where not only is it the greatest Avengers Story, but it’s because all the pieces of the mouth of the universe head, like coalesce, they’ve been come together in the late 60s, like all the pieces, were living and breathing together. And that was really exciting. And it never happened before. So that was, you know, that’s the best. I do.

You got to ask that of someone who hasn’t written The Avengers. If you’re on The Avengers for nine years, you got to take a run. So I feel like such an ego question. I apologize for that. I like when I take away my ego that like issue 150 The Avengers, like any recruitment issue, where they were like recruiting, like, who’s going to be the team was always really exciting to me. Because like, yeah, there’s some thoughts going into this. I like that, you know …

Nerds & Beyond: Because you’re picking the team while they’re picking the team too. It’s immersive.

Bendis: Exactly.

Nerds & Beyond: Thank you so much for your time today, Brian! We’re looking forward to everything you have in the works.

Bendis: Thank you, thank you.

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