The Siege You Saw Coming: Bendis Talks! Part 2

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In the second part of our Q&A with Brian Michael Bendis, we discuss Bendis' relationship with Marvel editorial - Tom Brevoort in particular - and how Bendis' talky comics led to a nasty panel at NYCC.

Previous installments:
The Siege You Saw Coming: Bendis Talks! Part 1

BF: As far as the Big Three reuniting, in Siege #1 we saw Tony Stark in bed unconscious, Thor fighting Osborn, and Captain America watching it all on TV. How did you find a logical way to pull in these characters given that you’ve got Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker doing their thing with Iron Man and Captain America. Was it tough to coordinate all that, to start bringing them all in?

BB: Well, no, because we had a good year and a half leeway to start getting all the pieces in order; and obviously Matt and Ed are very good friends of mine, so I literally said to them “Let me know when you’re ready. When will all your ducks be in a row?”

Now, of course, Reborn was supposed to have shipped by now, so that f****ed us a little bit, but it will ship very, very shortly. But we worked together to make all the pieces fit and make sure that everybody was getting out of it what they wanted. You know, I share those characters, not only with Matt and Ed, but with at least a dozen other writers, so we just want to make sure everybody’s on the same page. And everybody was.

You know, back when we were kids, you’d hear stories about how these crossovers weren’t what everybody wanted, and then they would fall apart. Even with Crisis on Infinite Earths, you’d find out that half the writers didn’t want to do this, and then they defied it, and all the aftermath stuff kind of fell apart. So you can’t help but learn from those examples; you gamble, and make sure everybody wants what’s happening and everybody’s supporting it.

BF: Where do the editors come in in dealing with all that?

What Tom Brevoort does particularly (and other editors as well, but Tom is the mastermind guy)… a lot of it is, we all come at him with all these requests and these things that we’d love to try, and artists we want to work with, and characters we want for whatever, and he facilitates it, and usually does it with a smile on his face (he’s got a big beard, so it’s hard to tell, but I think it’s a smile).

And sometimes these requests are counter-productive, or counter to someone else’s request, and he’s able to make everybody happy. And that’s what he does all day long; I couldn’t even imagine how he gets it all done. Even this past week, he pulled off two huge coups for me; I’m in love with this guy. He’s a really great editor. And as much as the writers get credit for that, we don’t do it; we just say “Wouldn’t it be great if…?” and then someone makes that happen for us.

BF: It seems like you guys have really gelled; I remember reading an interview with you some years back where you talked about when you guys first got together on Avengers: Disassembled, and you said it was kind of awkward at first. But it seems that’s changed.

Yeah, it was awkward at first. Because number one, that retreat that led to me becoming the Avengers writer came out of me and Mark Millar just sitting back and being kind of dickheads about what we thought was wrong with what was basically Tom’s book. And of course it’s not a book he was writing, but it was a book he was editing, and I can’t say I would have reacted any better about it. I’m sure I wouldn’t have!

BF: And there were a lot of changes going on at Marvel at the time, right?

There were a lot of changes going on. And also, me and Mark, we weren’t looking for that book. I didn’t want the gig; I had a full plate. We were brought there to tell everybody what we thought of everything. And so we got to Avengers, and both of us, to our surprise (it wasn’t planned ahead of time), we were riffing; we were just riffing about “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and so we came at Tom like a couple of dogs, and his reaction was, “F*** you!” Which isn’t wrong, and we were doing this in front of the boss! We didn’t think we were hurting anyone’s feelings, but of course we were, and it was idiotic.

Also, he didn’t know me as a creator; we never worked together before. So he wasn’t sure if I was coming in just to break all his toys. But I showed myself to really love these characters, and really care about this book, and really dedicate a great portion of my life to it, as he has. I think I quickly proved myself.

BF: And it doesn’t hurt that the book is a tremendous success.

Yeah, but that’s not enough. That only gets you so far. Everyone has to be working on a creative level, and everyone has to bend over backwards to help each other, and for that to happen, you do have to believe… like, if I was working with an artist, and he was a wonderful artist, but his heart wasn’t in it, I could tell. And it would bum me out. But I’ve been very lucky that I don’t have that in my life, and it’s the same thing with editors. They want their writers to be passionate. They want them to be writing it for the right reasons. And writing it to be a hit is not the right reason.

So, yeah, it’s very nice, believe me, but it’s not the reason it should be created.

When New Avengers started, I think Tom blogged about the fact that it’s not the Avengers, it’s the New Avengers, and that it’s a different book. And that freed him up to enjoy it some more, and he was enjoying me more as well. And now that we’ve worked together for years, my dedication is bulletproof; I stuck to it, not going anywhere. And he likes that. Also, I hand in my work on time, and I’m early, and editors LOVE that. No matter how much of a hit the book is, I have to get my work in on time.

BF: Well, you’ve got to be fast. You’ve been writing multiple books per month for a long time now…

I write one a week, and I’ve been able to even with the events happening. Those require a lot more work, because you have to make sure all the artists are working and no one’s looking for pages, which is the thing that sometimes can derail an entire process for a book.

The Avengers has shipped monthly, and a lot of hit books don’t ship monthly. Not to point fingers, but they go through months and you’re like “Hey, what happened to that book?” But our books always ship, and they’re of high quality. So I think that had a lot to do with Tom’s newfound love for me.

BF: How do you see these characters differently than when you first “met” them during Avengers: Disassembled?

It’s not that I see them differently, but I’ve lived in their skin, so I understand them more, and I understand the language of a super group more. I understand what could happen in a book like this more, what hasn’t happened in a book like this, but should be tried.

This is one of the elements, and I get dumped on for saying stuff like this, but so many aspects of the comic book genre, or the subgenres, have elevated themselves; you look at characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil and Batman, and they’ve been allowed to express themselves using language and tools and storytelling techniques that propelled this medium light years ahead of where it was, but books like Avengers were never allowed to—they were just “Avengers” books.

When I came on, I said “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an attempt here to create this book that was the best drawn book in the market, and went to places we haven’t seen before, saw characters interacting with each other in ways we had never seen in a book like this…” And we made that happen.

BF: Wasn’t there a long-standing “rule” that any significant character developments had to happen in the characters’ own books?

Well that, and just the nature of it; there’s so much going on, because not only do you have the five to eight major leads, you have all their supporting baggage that comes with them, plus the villains come, and sometimes the villains will equal the amount of heroes… there’s a lot of people talking. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of people hitting each other. And to get that information across in a fluid, reader-friendly manner… it can lead to some gargantuan piles of exposition that can sometimes be disastrous. Or at least hold back the growth of the language of that book.

What’s most important is that the reader understands who’s talking and what’s going on. And if your whole book is dedicated to just that information, it’s hard to get past the basics of getting the book together. So I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out “Ok, how can I fluidly and easily get across who everybody is and what everyone’s relationship is, but try to have them interact with each other in a way that I feel is more honest and humane?”

BF: Instead of everyone announcing who they are.

Exactly. Or giant thought balloons… Listen, again, it sounds like I’m dumping on some creators, but I’m not. But I wanted to do an Avengers book that didn’t have to do that full page flashback recap of Ultron or whoever it is in the book. Those have been done before.

BF: That’s interesting, because a couple of years ago at the New York Comic Con, you were on a writers’ panel, and several others writers were on as well including Tom DeFalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Chris Claremont, Denny O’Neil. And Tom started saying how he didn’t like today’s “talky” comics, and as he went on, it became pretty clear that he was mainly talking about you. And a bunch of the other guys chimed in with criticisms that were all mainly aimed at your generation of comic writers.

When they got to the audience Q&A, I asked them if when they were coming up as comic writers, if the older generation had criticisms of their style. And J.M. DeMatteis said something like “Well, I did a lot of talky comics with Justice League” and Tom said “Yeah, but there’s always a lot of stuff going on in your comics” to which J.M. joked, “Yeah, we had Kevin Maguire change the facial expressions every few panels.” It was kind of a funny panel, I thought.

It was a great panel. I did not think it would go that way for most of the panel, before you stood up and asked your question; it was me vs. them, there weren’t two sides. It was “schmuck” and all these other creators.

BF: But DeMatteis did stand up for you.

Well, you know, it was Denny O’Neil who stood up for me, more than anything. And I didn’t know Denny O’Neil at all, but he certainly felt, as you did, like “Hey, guys… there’s no right or wrong here!”

BF: That’s right, he did relate some anecdote in response to my question…

Yeah, he’s the one who brought up “You know, when I was doing Green Arrow, everyone told me to go f**** myself. And thank God the Internet wasn’t around back then.” And he also brought up “Why would all these people be buying this book if it was so horrible?” He stood up for it in a way that was really nice.

But yeah, Tom DeFalco was the one who was like “You suck!” And that wasn’t the point of that panel, but it was, I thought, a great conversation. And you know, when Tom was editor-in-chief, he would have never hired me, in a million years. And that’s ok. I don’t know if I would have worked well under him.

New Avengers #1 and one of its talky moments

BF: DeFalco has his vision of the way comics should be done, which every editor-in-chief has. When Joe Q first came in, there were certain comics Marvel was publishing that he was vocal in saying “This isn’t the kind of comic I think we should be doing.” Every editor-in-chief has their own vision.

Absolutely, absolutely. Well, I thought that panel was great. I like when panels are about something, not just people plugging stuff. So that was actually a great thing for me. But it’s always funny when it comes out of left field, like… “Is he talking about me?” But I was just happy to be invited to the panel; when I saw the list, I was like, “Wow, that’s great.”

BF: Would you ever do that kind of panel again?

Oh, absolutely. Really, it’s the only kind of panel I do; I don’t do “spotlight” panels anymore, ‘cause I kind of find them to be… I don’t know. You feel like a douche sometimes, like, “Hey, who wants to talk to me? Anybody wanna talk to me?” But when you’ve got a group, it’s more interesting. I like different points of view. Like even in the class I’m teaching, I have a lot of guest lecturers.

Check back here tomorrow for Part 3!

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jan 27, 2010 at 8:44am

    great interview where you're not afraid to tackle difficult subjects, it feels like you both had a great time! And I did too, reading it :)

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