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THE COTTON CLUB
By Mike Cotton

Writer Brian Michael Bendis talks about writing five monthly books, his Hollywood projects and living in the comic book industry's hottest talent pool-Portland, Oregon.

MIKE COTTON: With five books a month now, how much time do you spend writing each day?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It's a hard question because, you're writing all day. Just because I'm not typing doesn't mean I'm not writing. Even when you're at the record store, new things occur to me, you know what I mean? It's all writing. And my favorite line is from David Mamet, he said Stephen King says he gets up at nine o'clock and writes till five at night, and David Mamet says Stephen King is a f***ing liar. You can type for an hour and write the best ten pages, but it took you a long time to get there. You know what I mean? The actual typing isn't the thinking. So I'm kind of writing all the time. But I do sit down to write every night.

COTTON: So what's a normal day like for you?
BENDIS: Normal day? Honestly, I get up at about 1:30 in the afternoon. I'll ride my bike, play with my baby, play with my wife, eat, and then sit down to work at about eight or nine, until I pass out, and it's usually about seven or eight in the morning. In that twelve hours is a lot of screwing around, it's not like it's straight. But there is definitely, definitely the sense of I have to get something done every day, and that doesn't have to do with anything but that's just how I am. I need to feel like something is accomplished or I'll kill myself. Every day has to be productive.

COTTON: But the hard work comes at a price. There are those who love to rib you. Have you seen the "F**k Bendis" stickers at conventions now? BENDIS: Yeah, about the "F**k Bendis" stickers. All my friends like David Mack, were calling me from the show going, "Someone's got f**k Bendis stickers." I was like, "Oh, no, I'm Rob Liefeld, what happened? How did that happen?" I was hoping it was a joke, you know? That kind of shenanigans. I do get a lot of letters like that. "Dear Bald Dirty Jew, you suck, you killed Christ, and PS I love Ultimate Spider-Man." I get that letter like every hour. It's funny. It's only funny because it happens every hour and everyone thinks they're the first person who wrote "Dirty Jew." It was a hard weekend before I found out exactly what the score was. But David Mack, being an excellent best friend, grabbed as many as was possible to take them out of circulation. He just went by the guy's table and took them all. So, for that he is a best friend if I've ever had one.

COTTON: You've got a new daughter now, how has that affected your writing?
BENDIS
: Don't know yet. The only thing that's weird, and this is where having Greg Rucka in my life has been a big influence. Because Greg is an amazing father, and writes dark, disturbing stuff, right? And I was all like, it's always like, then I can do it too, that kind of thing. I was wondering if my tone will change, but it's really weird. I'll play with the baby, and then think of the most sickest thing I've ever thought of for Powers or Alias, not because I'm thinking disturbing thoughts with my baby. I don't know. One begets the other, you know what I mean? Like all my niceness is gone, the baby goes to sleep and then all of a sudden I'm like "I'll burn the Pope," you know what I mean? I don't know. I don't know how it works, considering how disturbing the next two issues of Alias are, I don't think anyone has to worry about me softening up.

COTTON: Portland, Oregon is filled with comic book pros. How many of these guys do you see on a regular basis?
BENDIS: A lot. Like Greg, the Ruckas and Bendises are involved in each other's lives, and some of the other guys, we're all hanging out a lot. They've been very gracious to us since we moved, we've been very, very good friends. So, and then I bump into a lot of people. Like at stores. I saw Terry Dodson and Matthew Clark, I think they're up to something, they had that look, like, "Oh, hey, what are you doing? Heh-heh." That thing. I think they were like scoping to pick out a baby, but anyway, so, yeah, you bump into a lot of people here, you just bump into them.

COTTON: You and Rucka were originally going to write Ultimate X-Men together, right?
BENDIS: It started as an Ultimate project that we wanted to do together. We thought it would be interesting if I wrote my voice for some characters and he wrote his voice for some characters. And we were kind of plotting it and we were bandying it about, and Marvel really liked it. We thought it was interesting, we were very involved with each other as writers, as far as the writer I talk to most about writing problems or technical stuff. I don't think there's anyone else who I talk to that much about writing as I talk to Greg. There was almost a natural progression when we work on something or try. Also, Greg works with other writers on stuff and I've never done that. So I said, that would be nice to do with Greg. When it came down time to write it, you know, Greg's life got more crazy. What happens is, I'll get an idea and I do this to Marvel, too-I'll get an idea and instead of telling people what the idea is I'll just write it and show it to them. I always find when you tell someone the idea, they go, "Oh, that's interesting." But when you type it and show them what the actual idea is, you always get a better reaction, you get a more emotional reaction. So even when I have a surprise for Joe [Quesada] on Daredevil, I'll plug the scene and just hand it in and see what he says. I'd much rather get that response than get a response of, "Oh, well, maybe I could see that." You know what I mean? But Alias, that's how I got Alias, I wrote an issue and showed it to them and said, "This is what I'm thinking about." So that's what happened on Ultimate. I just wrote what ended up being the first half of the issue and I showed it to said Greg, and he said, "I don't have time to do this." He goes, "I want it to be a team." He wanted to give it everything, right, he didn't want to just, you know, phone it in knowing that I would help him as a friend or whatever, and I was like, I certainly appreciated that. I still feel like, I felt a little like I fooled him a little, and I didn't mean to. I know he didn't feel that way. It's not what I meant to do. We'll work together again. And you will feel Greg on it, Greg is on it, it's got a Rucka riff to it, yes. But I'm keeping the paychecks.

COTTON: How much of Ultimate Spider-Man is you during your teenage years?
BENDIS: I think what I said was, of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, I most identify with him for sentimental reasons. That's one thing. I'm telling my own stories with him. But of all the characters, mindset and belief system and mental state, Peter Parker is me. And also, by that Ultimate, I never in my writing in any other projects have never written for myself or anything, even mined my high school horrors for drama. You know? That's pretty vital things for a writer to have. And I opened up that box for Peter Parker, and I was surprised how fresh the wounds were, you know what I mean? All that stuff comes right back at you. And also with the research you do on it, even you go to a goddamn mall, and kids talking, it's exactly the way it was when I was in high school. Other than dress and style, there's very little difference between the way kids are. So it's very easy to tap into that, you know? The next arc on Spider-Man is all focused on one of those high school parties that you don't have a ride home from. You're spending all night waiting at the bus stop, not dressed warm and hanging out with people you don't really know that well. Then one of them ends up being a friend of yours at the end of it. That's high school, that's so high school. If your mom knew you were out at a bus stop at 2 in the morning waiting for a bus you'd be in trouble, that kind of thing. It's very easy to get in side of that.

COTTON: You do one of the only regular letter columns in comics. Do you get a lot of weird mail?
BENDIS: There is one guy who, it was before Powers. I think it was during Fire, that's how early this was. But I was getting a letter from a guy named New Jetson, and New Jetson would send me newspaper and magazine clippings, there would be 100 of them in the letter. Like 100 clippings, he would cram as many as you can cram in there and still close it. He would draw little symbols on them, and I would, you know, and they were spooky. My girlfriend at the time would lay them all out on the dining room table to try to put the puzzle together to find out what they meant. It was like all different walks of life, all different magazines.

COTTON: What about your film projects like Torso. is development really hell?
BENDIS: You know why it isn't hell for me? Because I absolutely give it no thought. Unless you ask me, and my manager calls to tell me something, I put it right out of my mind and I work. That's key, I don't give in. Even a little, you can drive yourself insane trying to wrap logic around any of it. It just doesn't make sense-it's easy to dramatize. So at this point the novelty of it has certainly worn off. I don't go down to meet anymore. I have a manager, and he says they're really interesting, then they're really interesting, and if they're not, they're not, and there's nothing I can say or do that will make them less or more interesting. You know what I mean? And if they're really interesting than I talk. Those meetings, I've wasted so much of my time. And there are days, a day full of meetings. I have things to do, they don't. Their day is to meet with guys like me. So Powers is doing very well, Powers has gone further than anything I've ever been involved in, other than the Spider-Man character. Frank Oz is legitimately the smartest person I've met involved with Hollywood stuff, and I'm very excited even to have conversation with him. There's a lot to learn.

COTTON: Is Powers the closest to becoming an actual movie?
BENDIS: Yeah. But again, there's no guarantees. And I'm the guy, of all the comic book people, I'm going to scream at the top of my lungs: All these comic book movies they're announcing, unless they're filming, there's no film. And if you watch a Terry Gilliam movie, even if they're filming there might not be a movie.

Mike Cotton is a staff writer for Wizard Magazine. For all the comic book news fit to print, check out Wizard on sale every month at comic book specialty shops and newsstands everywhere.

The Cotton Club Archive

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