As a special part of New York Comic Con 2014 Super Week, “Thrilling Adventure Hour” co-creator Ben Acker brought none other than Brian Michael Bendis onstage for a special live version of the Nerdist Writers Panel.
After some brief opening remarks and outlining criteria for questions, Acker introduced Bendis, who took the stage at the intimate Rockbar NYC venue. “This is the most I’ve sat quietly all day,” said Bendis. “I’ve literally been running like I’ve been chased.”
Of the many topics addressed by Bendis, one was the “Powers” television series, which has actually been in development since 2000.
“Its existence in the physical world is very exciting to me,” said Bendis. “I loved every minute of it because at the end of it, we got a show. … Charlie Huston is running the show.” The show’s producer David Engel also showed up to the panel as Bendis stopped mid-sentence to introduce him. “We had this amazing experience of putting the show together.”
“Powers” will be the first original series to debut on Sony PlayStation Network, which Bendis described as “a cool place to be.”
“Even when it was years ago and being developed as a movie, our director was Frank Oz,” said Bendis. “Every once in a while when he gets excited, his voice Yodas up a little. I said, ‘I hope this movie gets green lit so that I can get him to do an answering machine message.” Bendis continued, saying that there were always interesting storytellers involved, and there was never a bad experience. “At the end of it, you’d like to have something to show for it. I work in comics… so this thing, working on it for years — and a lot of you online thought I was full of shit!”
“Friends of mine at this convention said, ‘They’re really making ‘Powers’?’ … Tomorrow, it’s exciting that we’ll show footage and everyone will believe me finally.”
The “Powers” co-creator emphasized how positive the experience had been for him so far — and that he really only freaked out once. “I was kind of cool about it, and then we had our first table read,” he said. “I freaked out. I was at dinner that night and I passed on the dinner to go — wha?!” DragonCon was right down the street at the time, and Bendis said that DragonCon was “where he went to calm down. And nobody goes to DragonCon to calm down.”
Bendis also spoke a bit about “Ultimate Spider-Man,” saying he gets the most personal satisfaction out of the book. “I have very emotional conversations with readers that any writer in the world would die for,” he said. “It’s a very important book and I still to this day thank Glenn Beck for being such an asshole. … You can Google this and him saying that I created Miles Morales because Michelle Obama brainwashed me with her agenda. … He said that and then Keith Olbermann had to gun at him, Jon Stewart and Colbert — and Howard Stern ended up doing an hour on it.” The controversy in turn brought up sales, prompting Acker to tell the audience to start bringing up “Powers” controversies.
According to Bendis, after 14 years, “Ultimate Spider-Man” is still him picking at the scales of high school. “The more intimate and personal story it is, the more universal it is,” he said. “You have to be willing to share and drop your pants a little bit. The fears and romance in the book is all very personal.”
And it certainly did become personal, at least at one point. During the course of his time at Marvel, Bendis has raised four children — and as the father, he says he can’t “blubber in front of his children.” “Eventually, it will wound them!” he said to laughs. “When my first child was born, my wife had a shocking sudden medication allergic reaction, and her brain tissue swelled and she fell over. Have you ever had to call an ambulance before, it’s scary as hell,” Bendis said. “The doctor literally pushed me out of the room and said this is brain damage, brain damage doesn’t go away. Here’s a beeper, we’ll call you if it changes. I had a six year old baby … the guy was like, ‘Here’s your new reality, go raise your baby,’ I was like, ‘What the fuck is happening?’ It took a couple days, but my wife was in a coma.” While Bendis’ wife eventually came out of the coma, “I for the next year and a half wrote coma scenes in every book I wrote — I swear on my life that I didn’t know I was doing it, but I got the art and thought, ‘Oh, I’m fucked up.’ … I wrote this without any conscious effort.” Another example was Luke Cage and Jessica Jones having a child at the same time Bendis himself was raising a child.
Bendis’ wife is fine, and has had another child since — and he emphasized that he has told the story in the past and left out that last detail.
The emotional side of the writing also came up as a corollary, and Bendis said he doesn’t laugh at his own jokes, but he has teared up when writing a scene. The writer is heading up a number of books every month, and he has a busy schedule. “One of my favorite things about the job is I don’t have a day that’s like another day,” he said. “My plan is to write a script a week. I’m a big believer in David Mamet — what one man can do another can do — if Aaron Sorkin had to write ‘The West Wing,’ he’d write an 88-page episode. He got to 88 pages on coke, I only need to get to 25. If he can do it, I can do it. I’m a big believer in that. One a week makes me feel like I did something that week. … Sometimes you’re in the zone, and sometimes I don’t go to bed until I clock one in for Monday.”
He’s a multitasker as well, transitioning between different projects at will — if he’s in a “Powers” mood, he’ll write “Powers.” If he’s in an “Ultimate Spider-Man” mood, he’ll write that. For story arcs, Bendis said he used to plan way far out, but when you’re in a shared universe, it sometimes makes it difficult to plan ahead really far. “You should have a bold-stroke plan — a list of things I want to do, and sometimes I don’t get to all the things on the list,” he said. “Sometimes, I’ll get excited about something and I post it online. … It’s always the one you can’t have that people want. I write down everything I can think of, put everything down — you will never remember to write it down later — and I just try to have everything organized. Sometimes I spend a day trying to organize all my thoughts.”
While Bendis also had a lot to say about writing, such as “finding the music of language” for conversations and the power of words as opposed to fight scenes; and the importance of researching (“If you’re going to write about a police officer, you have to talk to a police officer!”), he also concluded the session with some good advice to readers about comics.
“Surprise yourself,” Bendis said “Spend a couple bucks on something that you would never buy. You could change your life with it, and nothing would make me happier.”
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