In the pages of “Scarlet,” Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev have tackled the concept of government corruption in modern day American cities. Through the eyes of Scarlet Rue, the pair have introduced readers to a version of Portland, Oregon steeped in violence, police brutality and young people taking a stand against the problems they see plaguing their city and society as a whole. In short, even as part of the creator-owned Icon imprint, it’s not your average Marvel Comics series.
Now, Bendis opens up about how his and Maleev’s story of a modern day revolutionary made the leap from a comic to an upcoming television show. The writer explained where the initial confusion about whether it’s going to be a Cinemax of HBO series came from, how he and Maleev never wrote the comic with television in mind, and why that just made the decision to agree to the adaptation that much easier to make.
CBR: What’s the status of the recently announced “Scarlet” television adaptation? Is it set up at HBO? Or Cinemax? I’ve seen differing reports…
Brian Michael Bendis: It’s Cinemax. I should explain, because there has been some confusion. I was at the Austin Television Festival; I was very nicely invited by the people at Sony. They put me on some panels to talk about specifics, and it’s an excellent festival. I absolutely loved it. It was like a comic con, but for deep dive TV stuff.
One of the panels I was on was about comic book adaptations. So I was on stage with other people who have adapted or are adapting, like the women who directed “Jessica Jones.” People were asking questions and someone literally said something like, “I wish ‘Scarlet’ could be a TV show, but it feels like it would never happen.” What was funny was, we had just closed the deal. It had taken a long time to close and we just closed it for “Scarlet.” I, too, never thought “Scarlet” would be anything, but a graphic novel, and I was kind of proud of that.
We’ve talked before about how when you’re reading through “Previews,” it can sometimes seem like a bunch of Hollywood pitches. Sometimes, even with the Image section, you go whole pages before it’s like, “Well that’s an original idea.” It’s not just, “Zombies at Applebee’s,” or whatever the pitch is. I’m not sassing anybody, and I know sometimes I sound like a hypocrite because I’ve had things that have turned into TV shows.
You’ve read a lot of my work. so you know I write a lot of hopeful, romantic, mainstream fare. None of that got turned into TV shows. It’s always the weird, dark shit that gets turned into TV shows. Did I ever think “Jessica Jones” would get turned into a television show? Was I aiming for that? Absolutely not. With the subject matter as dark and twisted as “Powers” gets, did I ever think it was going to be a TV show? The whole time people were developing it, I would look at Mike [Oeming] and go, “Who would make a TV show out of this? We’ve got a person on the toilet with their heart hanging out of their ribcage.” It doesn’t happen.
So “Scarlet” was another thing, and when we came up with it, I was like, “Here’s some things Hollywood loves; a female lead, the police are put into question, revolution, murder.” It’s not “C.S.I.: Miami.” We honestly didn’t go looking to sell it, and I was good with that. It was like, “Comics should come first.”
Once you get the TV show, it’s like, “I like the experience of producing a TV show this challenging.” Comics first has to be the goal, though. We don’t want to forget that, and some people do. They’re very successful, and that’s fine, I’m not sassing them. I’m talking about what I want for me out of life. Comics come first, and the idea shouldn’t be funneled through a feeling of, “I’m not going to do it because I don’t believe it could be translated into anything else.” That’s not a good reason. In fact, that is a reason to do it! If this could only be done in a comic book, then you absolutely have to do it.
So back to the festival: When this guy made the comment about wishing “Scarlet” would be a TV show I was all excited because it ACTUALLY might be a TV show. So I muttered under my breath that Scarlet might be a TV show, and at comic con panels you can often do that and no one will ever find out you said it. I was at my spotlight panel at WonderCon and I said, “Scarlet might become a TV show” and no one reported it.
The press was at this show, though, and as soon as the panel was over this lovely woman from “Deadline Hollywood,” which is a website I visit religiously, walks right up to me, identifies herself, and asks if I could give her the details on the “Scarlet” deal. I said that it was too early and we had just signed. So she literally went to find out on her own. She wasn’t going to listen to me, which was the right thing to do for her.
When I muttered, I muttered HBO, but it is Cinemax. HBO and Cinemax are sister channels. They run out of the same building. When we sold it, it was in the HBO building. So I thought HBO, but it is at Cinemax.
I’m excited at it being at Cinemax because it puts out stuff like “The Knick.” They’re specifically looking for challenging material to do, and that’s what they see “Scarlet” as. So I was so happy because that’s what you want. You want to find a partner that goes, “For all the reasons this wouldn’t be on CBS, that’s why we want to do it.”
So this got announced prematurely because I opened my mouth at a panel. It was my fault.
You mentioned “Scarlet” has a showrunner. Can you reveal who that person is?
We do have a showrunner, a director, and a team in place. None of that has been announced, though. So enough of me and my mouth. It’s also their news, not [just] my news, so I’ll let them announce it when they want to. Some people don’t want to be spotlighted, even in our little nerd circle. So if they want to, I’ll let them stand up and go, “ME!” And eventually, if the show goes forward, you will all find out.
I can tell you from our meetings at HBO/Cinemax that I personally felt like I had graduated television college. The people who run these channels are the real deal. I was in the room where they green lit “Game of Thrones,” “The Knick” and “The Sopranos.” I felt good when it all came to pass.
Have you had a chance to think about what this TV deal means for the comic?
I don’t think about it too much because it’s still a ways away. We’re just now feeling it with “Powers.” It’s nothing bad. It’s all good. You want people to read your comic. More people read “Jessica Jones” and “Alias” and “Powers” this year then the whole time it’s been out these past 14 years. I’m just happy that I’m not horribly embarrassed by it. As far as I can tell, it aged well, because no one is saying shitty things about it or making fun of it to me.
I feel good about that. If anything, this inspires Alex [Maleev] and I to put out more material so we’re ahead of the show. We do have a plan for that.
Alex has been my partner in crime for almost 20 years. I’m very, very proud of our friendship and creative partnership. He’s never had this experience before of having something optioned, and people who have met Alex know that he’s a very particular Bulgarian who likes what he likes and nothing else. So Cinemax and HBO is about where he thinks he should be, and I’m glad we delivered him to where he would want to be.
I’d like to close by reiterating, as I’ve done numerous times, and I do think of it every 45 seconds so you know I mean it — I am sorry this book was late! I truly am. Sometimes, when a book is late, people will say that you don’t care about it anymore. It was the opposite, here. We care so much, we were almost paralyzed. With this material being challenging to us as human beings, we want to make sure we do it well. I think putting out as many issues as we have this year and that I promised proves that we care.
Now, we’ll have two collections that people can take a deep dive into and see what the book is all about. So thanks again to those who waited, and I’m sorry to those who got impatient. I agree with you. I’d feel the same way if it was me — and I have. In college I waited a year and a half for the last issue of “Camelot 3000!”
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