To kick off his spotlight panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, “The Tick” creator and “Supernatural” executive producer/writer, Ben Edlund, was granted a 2012 Ink Pot Award — Comic-Con’s achievement award given for excellence overall since 1974.
Nerdist Writer’s Panel host and “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” co-creator Ben Blacker served as moderator for Edlund’s spotlight panel, also joined by actor Shadoe Stevens — who often interjected oddball questions with his deep, booming voice. Surprising the crowd halfway through the discussion with his witty bass was musician and voice actor Doc Hammer, and “The Venture Bros.” creator, Jackson Publick. The group had the appearance of easy going surfers with their long, wavy hair, cool sunglasses and hip hats.
The dialogue began as a chaotic back and forth riddled with humorous interaction between the panelists. “I was told I could talk about me for 40 minutes, so let’s do that,” Edlund said.
Blacker added, “If anyone wants to leave — now is the time.”
Edlund seemed very gracious to have this panel in front of a filled room to briefly graze over his body of work from the last 20 years in comics and television. Bringing things into focus, Blacker asked Edlund about his early influences. “What dented your mind or wrinkled your brain as a youth?”
“One of my earliest cinematic memories is my parents taking me to see ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,'” Edlund said. “The four way amputation of the Black Knight — you’re not sure if it’s funny or not. It’s in that taboo area known as black comedy. That started it for me.”
Known as a “genre guy,” Edlund spoke on the works that influenced him. “There’s a lot. First I saw ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker.’ ‘Star Wars’ blew my doors off. I started to compose my own Oscar-winning speeches as a kid: ‘Thank you, George Lucas, for showing me the world!'”
When asked if he’s read many comics, Edlund said, “Sort of. I got Marvel’s ‘Epic Illustrated’ at a yard sale. It’s like ‘Heavy Metal.’ But most of the comics I read were ‘Richie Rich,’ ‘Swamp Thing,’ that kind of thing.
“By the time I created ‘The Tick’ there was a question in my mind about what a superhero was and what it would mean to be one,” Edlund said of his inspiration for his offbeat superhero. “The Tick is based on the idea that insane optimism will actually provide an end result. It’s kind of heroic just to get through whatever this day and age is now. It’s an incredibly complicated period.”
On the construction of the male superhero, and The Tick specifically, Edlund said, “The Tick is masculine. I’m more like a walking bike. The Tick is a little boy choking on a thesaurus.” He pointed out it’s a question of balance in constructing his most iconic character. “The Tick was supposed to be a much more dangerous lunatic than what he became. As he flies closer to the center of pop culture, he becomes a different thing. There’s always this quality in him that’s, I guess, Don Quixote — He’s got this spark which is beautiful. He’s full of love.”
At this point Edlund attempted to play a live-action clip from “The Tick” TV show starring Patrick Warburton as The Tick and David Burke as his sidekick, Arthur. Edlund had some trouble getting the video cued correctly and when it finally started playing, the clip was muted. “I told you I would mess it up! This is perfect — it’s how any complicated plan I have goes,” he joked. Once things were rolling, the scene met vivacious applause from the crowd.
At the clip’s conclusion, the room suddenly went black as the strumming of a bass beat through murmured confusion. This lasted a few moments and when the lights came back on, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer were in the house.
“We have a long history together — the three of us worked together on various things,” Edlund said of Hammer and Publick. The most recognizable of these “things” would be “The Venture Bros.” animated series on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
Hammer continued to strum and pluck his bass for the remainder of the panel, improv-ing his groove to what the panelists were talking about, playing off their enthusiasm. “Wow, I find your bass distracting,” Edlund said with a laugh, not being able to field a question from Shadoe Stevens.
“I’m coming up with themes for everybody. That was the theme of propelling your words to the bass,” Hammer replied.
Edlund switched gears to his writing/producing job on The CW’s “Supernatural.” Actor Misha Collins, who plays “Castiel” on the show, made a surprise appearance, jogging up to the panel and giving Edlund a brief hug to the delight of the audience. “Misha gets us into places with his charm,” Edlund said.
“Only recently I delivered a script of ‘Supernatural’ on time,” he continued. “It’s the first [script I ever] delivered on time. Punctuality should be observed if you want to do anything in the professional spirit.
“I spent two years pitching a wishing fish in ‘Supernatural,’ where they catch a fish and get wishes. Or they could use ghost bees. They’re ghost bees!” Edlund smiled. “[Production] doesn’t have to pay for anything!”
Prior to showing a clip from an episode of “Supernatural,” Edlund touched on writing characters unlike himself. “‘Supernatural’ felt like a place where I actually had to learn to be manly. I felt like I had to change the way I speak a little bit to be more manly, which was, you know, kind of weird.”
The clip, which contained two very manly men kissing to seal a business deal of some kind, was received positively by the audience. One of these men was the character Crowley, played by actor Mark Sheppard, who in the show leads Hell after Lucifer’s imprisonment.
“The through line with ‘The Tick,’ ‘Supernatural’ and ‘The Venture Bros.’ is they’re the study of hero fiction, and I think it really comes down to some weird thing with men and women — that there’s some kind of tension between the genders,” Edlund said of the scene. “A dis-equilibrium that needs to be tackled. I’m happy to help. That’s why I’m here. This kind of subversion of things — I think it’s a powerful thing, still, to have two gaudy men kiss and not two hot men. All these sort of hero pieces show frameworks of maleness.”
The last clip shown was from “Venture Bros.” starring the character Brock drinking an elixir which purges his ego. He goes on to ride a pink dolphin, naked in a sea of blood amongst a variety of other weird things.
One of the panelists commented to Edlund, “That clip specifically is like a look inside the recesses of your brain.”
“I actually wanted to call this panel ‘What is wrong with Ben Edlund?'” Edlund replied.
A fan asked when they could expect the release of “The Tick’s” next issue, to which Edlund said, “I don’t know. I have a gathering well of material, but I believe it will be a number of years in the future. The Tick will probably come to the conclusion he’s buried himself alive, kind of thing.” He added, “Thank you for that question. It was very awkward.”
Things continued to get wacky to close the panel, as Stevens began blasting off a list of random questions and statements, one of which Edlund confirmed to be true — when he was nine years old, he had the habit of lying in front of the bathroom sink pretending to be dead. When someone tried to move him, he screamed at the top of his lungs “Why me! Why me!”
Edlund said in response, “Have you been talking to my dad?”
Stevens then posed one final question: “What is your problem?”
“I’m just happy I found a space like this people enjoy. If i didn’t have this in my life I’d be like the kind of beach comber who goes to an ATM to the dismay of other people,” Edlund said.
To cap off the good natured ribbing which propagated the panel, Edlund admitted he wrote every question Stevens asked him.