CBR TV @ SDCC: Bendis on the Business of Creation, “Powers” on TV & Those X-Men Rumors
Brian Michael Bendis, the prolific writer of “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “All-New X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men” and more, visited the CBR Yacht at Comic-Con International 2014 to discuss everything from his current workload to his trials and tribulations in Hollywood — as well as do a bit of rumor squashing when it comes to the future of Marvel Comics’ mutants. Bendis tells CBR all about his new instructional book “Words for Pictures,” which not only teaches the craft of making comics but the business as well, and explains how important contracts can be no matter who you’re collaborating with. Next he tells Weiland the many twists and turns on the road to making “Powers” come to life as a TV show on Playstation Network, how the show will have a hard time competing with the story of getting it made, and if the struggle to do exactly that affected his passion for the project or anything else in his life. The second half of the conversation dealt with Bendis’ work on the X-Men, including Bendis once again definitively dismissing the rumors of the franchise’s demise and how silly fan reaction can be to both stories in the comics and speculation surrounding them. Finally, he addresses the positive reaction to his X-Men run overall, compares it with his initial Avengers stories and explains why the Children of the Atom have a close tie to his life and family, and how he feels that comes through in the writing itself.
On how his writing book “Words for Pictures” differs from other instructional books about comments for its focus on business and the importance of comics: We’re one of the only books that has chapters on business, how to run your business as a creative person, which is — as you have written about almost every day since your site began — all these cautionary tales in our business of just not knowing how to run your business and getting screwed out of something you created. And it just goes on and on and on for the last hundred years. So we talk about “this is how you protect your properties, this is how you make a contract with your collaborators,” even if they’re your best friend, even if they’re you’re girlfriend, do not do work without having it in writing so everything’s covered. We talk about that, and a lot of people don’t. A lot of creative people don’t like to talk about it because we’re not necessarily businessmen. We have to be like a multimedia businessman to run a comic book company, which is what you’re doing if you’re writing or drawing comics.
It’s a bit of an arrested development thing. What made us really good or really passionate about comics is a bit of an arrested development, and that’s absolutely fine, and I’m all about that. That’s how I was raised. And again, I know this because I married well and my wife didn’t have that and she guided me down a road that I see is, “Oh, that’s what adults do.” You handle things like an adult and you dot your Is and cross your Ts. You hire a lawyer and you protect yourself and then maybe it’s annoying to you that day because, “I just want to write ‘Avengers,’ I don’t want to do this,” but ten years down the line it pays off because you protected yourself. You’re like, “Phew.”
Right now, “Powers” is about to go into production as a TV show, finally and me and Mike [Avon Oeming], thank God, we’re still as close friends as we were when we started. But, you know, a lot of years have gone by and it could have been that weren’t as good friends. But we are good friends, and someone writes a check and we don’t have to worry about who gets what because we all have it in writing. It’s not like 14 years ago who can remember what we all agreed to. You do a handshake deal with your friend, and you remember it differently, and he remembers it differently, it doesn’t matter — both of you could be right in some way, but there’s way the headache comes. There’s where your headline stories come from. And wouldn’t you like to not be a cautionary tale?
On the rumors of Marvel getting rid of the X-Men: I wish they knew, I have so much respect, and I feel the same passion for the characters as the loudest, angriest voice. What I don’t feel is anger at creators. That’s a weird thing. I don’t feel manipulated by the system. These elements I don’t share. And part of this is because I’m behind the scenes and I know that, Marvel or DC, marketing comes in waves. It’s Avengers’ turn right now, in two months it’ll be X-Men’s turn. They can’t market everything all of the time. It comes in waves. And “AXIS” is like an X-event, even though to some they go, “Well the A’s first though!” But the X-Men are in it, so — and we’re talking about for people that don’t know, there’s a feeling by some people that the X-Men are being sold or going away or turning into Inhumans — there’s the sense of that, and all these things, none of which are true, not that there’s even a clue of any of this stuff. It’s completely, literally I believe someone came on [the CBR Community] a couple months ago and said, “I’m on the inside. I live in Dan Buckley’s basement and I’m telling you for a fact the X-Men are being shut down.” And I, literally, when I heard about it, I just got off the phone with [X-Men group editor] Mike Marts where we laid out 14 solid months of boom-boom-boom-boom-boom. They don’t have the time or inclination to waste on me setting stuff up for the next whatever if they’re planning on shutting it [down]. And also they’re not gonna pay me what they pay me to write something they planning on shutting down. They’re just not gonna do it. So I went online and said, “Guys, it’s not happening.” I hate to squash a rumor, because when you squash a rumor — I don’t like to do it because when you squash a rumor and you don’t squash the next rumor people go, “Ahhhh I know it’s true because you didn’t squash it!” But this one was so ridiculous, so over the top. It was really hurtful to my collaborators — everybody’s working their ass off — and so — why would me make them feel like people are out to get us. No one’s out to get us. We’re makin comics. It’s fun.
On why the critical reaction to his X-Men run has been far more positive from the outset than when he took over “Avengers”: When I killed Hawkeye [in "Avengers Disassembled"] I had this wave of good press and good fortune prior to killing Hawkeye. It went on for years and it was crazy and — ill deserved, to be frank — and I’m too much of a pop culture professor, as are you, to not know that something’s coming. I talked about this recently on a podcast, but I remember distinctly reading an article where they just decided to just bash the shit out of Tom Hanks, they just went to town on him. And I go, “Look at that. They’re pummeling Tom Hanks with a hammer” My turn is so coming — everyone gets a turn. Everyone gets the crap beat out of them. I’m not comparing myself to Tom Hanks, I’m just saying that, “Nice guy…” [mock beat down] And then really, when I killed Hawkeye I go, “Here it is. Here’s my turn,” and it was so loud. I haven’t done anything on X-Men that would get me that kind of that literally carried with me the whole time I was on “Avengers” even though everyone was always generous to us and supportive of us to the Avengers the whole time we were there.
The worst thing we did was kill Charles Xavier — I did it out of the book. Also, and the worst thing I did to the X-Men was “House of M,” and that was like — so part of it was I coming with a notoriety, like a notoriousness — “Aww, he killed — ‘No more mutants’ — and he killed Charles Xavier. What’s he gonna do?” And then I brought in a bunch of new mutants and there’s kissing every three issues. So it’s not — I haven’t come in like Hitler and killed them all.
On how the positive reaction to his X-Men run is likely rooted in the story and characters’ personal connection to Bendis’ family life: It’s a different theme of a book, and it’s about — it’s funny, because some of it is about being persecuted for who you are as an individual. I’m Jewish. Everybody who’s Jewish has lived with this their whole life. And they have the extra added burden if you don’t look Jewish or having a Jewish-sounding name, like I don’t, that people don’t necessarily know right away that you’re Jewish. If you talk to me for 10 minutes you know, but you might not meet me. I’d go on — and this was before I was married — I went on a date with a girl who literally just started bashing Jews. I thought it was like a practical joke that ‘someone set me up, this is so over the top,’ it was such a Woody Allen, over-the-top thing — and it was not, she thought it was safe to talk about the Jews behind their backs. And I was like, “Oh my god.”
I’ve been called a kike to my face — at a convention — years ago, this wasn’t recently. It had nothing to do with “Hawkeye,” it was before Marvel. And I am the father of a multi-racial household, so we have all of, everything you can think of, to persecute or — we’re dealing with all race and religion issues, altogether, in a very unique way. And I do think that that feeds into the subtext of what the X-Men are about. My family building that was as I got the X-Men was a happy accident, but I’m clearly — sometimes I read it back to myself when I get the lettered version a couple months later — clearly writing about that. Clearly getting stuff off my chest. So I think that has something to do with it, and it couldn’t be coming from a more personal or honest place.
On what the next major X-Men event might entail: There’s clearly — and again, not something I thought of, I thought I was a crime writer — but clearly I’m a soap opera writer. Clearly there’s a big part of me that, and it was always face front in “Ultimate Spider-Man,” but Axel [Alonso] when he offered me X-Men, said, “I really think this is gonna feed a part of you that is the thing that people really do respond to the most,” and it is. I love relationships and heightened relationships, and the X-Men are all heightened — they’re always in danger, they’re always heightened. Half of them are psychic so the relationships are always off kilter so it’s great to write into. It’s fantastic. And I do think we’re about a year away from an X-Men event that’s all just about kissing.