Most people would be thrilled with the chance to write one of the biggest Comic Icons in the world from the ground up. Still more would be content to re-introduce a character created by one of the most successful writers in the history of the comics industry, and nearly everyone alive would jump at the chance to write their own top 10 book each month. Brian Bendis, however, wants to do all of those things, and then he wants to do just a little bit more.
Ok, maybe a lot more. “My plate is full, but I’m not freaked out and I’m not hacking. I’m not going “Oh my God, the deadline’s Wednesday, what will I do!?” I’m able to spend quality time developing my scripts and so I can handle it. Plus, writing is so much faster than doing the art. I get to say ‘Eighty-thousand spaceships land and everything explodes’ and drop it off on the artists’ desk and then some poor guy has to draw it,” he laughs.
Still, most writers eventually hit what is commonly referred to as “The Wall” where the ideas just won’t come and it all gets too hard to handle. “Well, I think that is all in the writer’s head. One of my philosophies of life is from the movie ‘The Edge’ – ‘What one man can do another can do.’ If the writer of ‘The West Wing’ can write 80 page dense, multi character scripts about complex international politics every week, then I certainly should be able to write a damn good 22 page comic book every week,” Brian says.
Apparently, Brian’s one of those creative people who feeds on the pressure. “The more I have to do, the easier things flow and I can’t seem to get my ideas out fast enough. I do have to flip the switch to turn off my Spidey ideas so I can sit down and get to the Powers stuff. It’s like ‘No, no, I can’t think about Spider Man now, I’ve got to finish this Powers issue,’ but I’m glad I still get to make decisions about what I write based on ‘Would I like to buy this book?’ rather than needing to put out anything just to pay the rent.”
So, what is Brian working on right now? Well, other than the regular titles like Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Marvel Team-Up and Powers, he’s got a few little side projects brewing on the side. He’s very excited about one title in particular – “Elektra! The artist on Elektra is Chuck Austen. The best thing is no one’s seen anything on it yet, his art is totally different and I can’t wait for people to see it. I love Chuck’s stuff! It’s all done with 3d modeling on computer, the backgrounds are like from Akira or something.” Of course, writing a character as sacred as Elektra was a little intimidating. “I was a little nervous at first, but I’ve got a pretty good story to tell. I mean, I’m in comics because of DKR and Frank Miller! I remember reading Frank’s Dark Knight stories and just saying ‘Man, that’s what I want to do!’ So, it was a scary thing for me, but then I thought, what would have happened if no one would write FF or Spidey after Stan Lee because it was “Stan’s book?” So, I just said ‘I’ll do it!'”
There has been more than a little speculation concerning a rumored “secret title” that Bendis is working on with good friend David Mack. “The ‘secret’ Mack/Bendis project is still hush-hush and we don’t want to announce it too early. Because, what happens when you announce something like this too early is, the fans write it and draw it in their head and by the time they see it, it’s not nearly as good as they expected it to be. So we want to make it as hot and fresh as possible to them and put it out when their expectations are still high, and they’re still excited about the project,” Brian explains. “I promise as soon as we can talk about it I won’t shut up about it!”
This writer teases it could show up as one of Marvel’s new Mature Comics imprint, but Bendis only says “All will be revealed in September on the Marvel Mature Line,” so we’ll all just have to wait patiently.
While we wait, Brian recommends we check out his upcoming work with Mack on the monthly Daredevil title. “Working on DD together has been great! Issue 18, oh man, just wait, it’s the top of David’s game art-wise. I called him up when I saw the finished art for it and said, ‘Damn, this is the best work of your career!’ People are just going to be blown away when they see it.”
The Bendis and Mack connection goes way back to Brian’s indie comics days. “I met David Mack like 9 years ago at a Con, we were both working at Caliber and he was like 19 and his stuff was amazing! We’ve always just been there for each other ever since. We moved from Caliber to Image to Marvel together.”
Bendis not only gets to work with his long-time artist friends like Mack, but he’s basically able to realize his life-long dream of seeing his words illustrated by the industries very best. Future issues of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up will pair Bendis with the cream of the crop in artistic talent. Brian elaborates, “The artist line-up for the upcoming Ultimate Team Up books goes like this. Matt Wagner is issue one, Phil Hester and Andy Park do the next two issues featuring The Hulk, then Mark Allred does the next two about Iron Man. Now, the next three issues will be really cool. It’s a three issue story line with the Punisher, Daredevil and Spidey. The Punisher issues are handled by Sienkiewicz and the Daredevil issue by Sam Kieth. Those three issues make up one whole story. After that there are some really (hopefully) hilarious Fantastic Four issue drawn by Jim Mahfood the artist who did the first Clerks comics. Then, John Totleben will do Man-Thing, and then in further issues we’ll see art by Dave Gibbons, Romita’s Jr. and Sr., Steve Rude, Andy Kubert, and Kevin Maguire. Mike Oeming is doing Captain America, and P.Craig Russell is doing a team up issue featuring Dr. Strange. Then Ricky Mays and David Mack are doing Master of Kung Fu! And, no, that’s not the ‘Secret Project’ either,” he laughs. “In the future I want to use some European artists like Manara and Bilal to do some art. Michael Golden is on my dream list to,” he says. “Each issue of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up will be very different in tone depending on the artist. From bombastic to really dark to the outright silly, we’ll really mix it up. In Ultimate Marvel Team Up, we get to show fans how cool comics are, what they haven’t seen, and can’t see, in movies, or video games.”
There’s a reason why Brian is so excited about writing the Ultimate Marvel Team-Up series, besides the fact that he gets to work with some great artists. “This is the first book I’ve pitched and developed (at Marvel) on my own. The current titles are one’s they’ve pitched me. As far as Marvel goes I’m in heaven! I get the pick of the litter on which heroes and artists I get to work on. Super cool!”
This creative freedom allotted to Bendis is due, in part, to the incredible buzz generated with his run on the Ultimate Spider Man title. This success has also brought with it more than it’s share of fans, and detractors alike. “When they first announced (Marvel) that they were doing the Ultimate series it went from zero expectation to it now having the highest expectation. Which of course is flattering but at the same time nerve-racking, because it’s like: All right- now what do you have for us monkey boy?!! Now it’s like people are just going nuts over it trying to figure out what we’ll do next. They want to know what issue they’ll see Gwen Stacy die and when the Scorpion’s gonna show up or whatever,” he says. “I must have seen like 500 posts about him having organic web-shooters before an issue of Ultimate Spiderman even came out.”
So, exactly what issue will Gwen Stacy show up? “I’m working with Marvel so hard to make sure that they don’t reveal anything beforehand. Remember mystery? Remember when you didn’t know what was going to happen next?” Brian says. And to all those fans out there so worried about whether or not they’ll see an Ultimate Venom or The Jackal, “I’ve just want them to know, we got it all worked out! Don’t worry. Let it unfold. I mean Stan took like 100 issues to develop Goblin and I hope people know we got it all worked out as well,” he reassures us.
Brian is very aware of how much these fans want to know the inside stuff. “We’re the first generation of comic creators that are accessible to the audience almost instantly (via the web), I guess it makes it more difficult to keep secrets. But, the good news about accessibility is that I know that as soon as the book ships I’m gonna hear about it on the web the same day! I see this as a very good thing. The web gives me a chance to see the positive and negative effects. I mean, I come from the Indie comics scene where you’re alone in your room wondering if anyone’s reading your stuff, so you hope you can sell enough to make the next one. Nowaday’s I’m really blessed by all the fans who read my stuff. I always have felt like the people who read my books are my buddies and I want to pack it full of as much entertainment for them as I can. I want to put out a book that I personally would pay three bucks for and say, “That was a great comic!'”
So, did Brian ever expect to get this far in comics? “I’m definitely in that weird area where every couple months where I say “Wow, I never thought I’d get to do that!” To be honest, I’m actually less comfortable selling more books. I mean, I was coming to terms with my life that things were just going to be a certain way (before the recent success) and I couldn’t believe the most recent Diamond list! How did this happen? I got to do Spider Man from scratch, work with my friends and heroes. Do creator-owned stuff. No, I never thought I’d have this. But the good news is I realize that the time to kick ass is NOW and I intend to do as much of that as I can!”