In their careers in common, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar have shared several titles. Writers. Collaborators. Best-sellers. Industry leaders. But one new shared name fans may never have expected for the pair is former Marvel Comics talent.
Saturday morning at the 2018 Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (better known as C2E2), Bendis and Millar took the stage both on the verge of new phases in their careers – the former as a DC Comics exclusive writer and the latter leading up his own division at Netflix. And during this one-on-one panel, the longtime friends were ready to open up about their own work and the state of the industry in a unique unfiltered style.
The panel started with Bendis recalling his earliest memory of meeting Millar at a Chicago con where the latter came up and said, "Would you like to see me go blind?" and then poured vodka in his eyes. The friendship was born, even as both writers were on the edges of the industry.
"The downside of having a Scottish accent is that one in three Americans has no idea what you're saying," Millar said, laughing that his early editors at DC would say "That's hilarious" to everything he said – even him explaining that he was going to be late on a script because of a death in the family.
Bendis opened up the back-and-forth saying, "How are you, do you get Netflix for free?" to which Millar replied, "No I don't, but I've got a relative, and he gives me his code."
Things took a serious turn as Bendis caught Millar up on his recent life-threateing illness, which the Scot had somehow missed on social media. "I thought you were just working out," Millar said, mildly astonished. "What was amazing about it was Marvel and DC coming together and being good friends and good partners and letting me finish all my work at Marvel," Bendis said.
"No matter how you come into comics, you will be fat eventually. It's just what the job does to you," Millar joked, saying that both of them were hot when they started at Marvel. The writer then recalled how in their years as the two top writers at Marvel, Joe Quesada would not allow them to ride in the same cab together for fear that something would happen to both of them at once. "There were no two more unlikely people to become this for Marvel."
When the pair started at the House of Ideas, Bendis was a largely unknown indie comics writer and Millar was "failing at DC" in his words, though Bendis insisted "You were burning it down around you."
On their success with the Ultimate line, Millar said, "We went into this expecting it to fail" as Bendis remembered that when they first went to Marvel's headquarters, the banruptcy proceedings were still going on, and most of the lights were off. "I was like, 'Am I going to write the last Spider-Man comic?'"
Even compliments turned into razzing as Bendis said, "I'm obsessed with the way your mind works" and recalled the Marvel summit where Millar said, "I have an idea: Marvel Zombies...but they're actually zombies!" Bendis admitted that he thought the phrase was "The stupidest thing I ever heard. I was embarrassed for you." The pitch went on to be an Ultimate Fantastic Four arc and a series of best-selling spinoffs by Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips.
When fan Q&A started, someone asked Millar was his favorite alcohol is. The writer replied, "Fattening stuff. Anything that'll make me gain weight. I like Guinness, and I like Baileys."
Asked about new creator-owned series that may be on tap, Bendis said that he and Michael Gaydos will be doing their first new book since Alias as part of the Jinxworld setup at DC. Millar said that part of his Netflix contract is creating all-new concepts, and they'll continue at about the same pace as he was making new books before the deal.
Bendis asked Millar when he left Marvel to go fully independent, to which the Scot answered 2009. Bendis said, "Okay, because none of us were sure that you'd left." Millar's gentle exit after Old Man Logan was his way of bowing out on top.
Asked about the future of an industry in flux, both men had positive things to say. "I think were coming in to the most amazing period in comics...there are 20 years cycles in comics of boom and bust...it's been a little quiet over the last few years, and now there's something in the air," Millar said. "Brian writing Superman is a genuinely monumental thing...I think you're going to have a lot of [new readers] coming in, and the rising tide will lift all boats."
Bendis said that there are plenty of big things happening in comics from the success of Raina Telgemeir and the growing book market to new voices coming in to Marvel like Donny Cates, Matthew Rosenberg, Kelly Thompson and Ed Brisson. He said one of the reasons he wanted to go to DC was to open up the core of the Marvel Universe to new voices in the same way that he and Millar had been given the keys in the early days of the Ultimate line.
The incoming Superman writer revealed to a fan that he wrote a "seven-page manifesto" about what makes Superman relevant today and forced everyone at DC to read his rants. "There's so much about him that's very relatable...and we're going to dig into that. I love Clark Kent. I love him. And he's fascinating to write, maybe more interesting than Superman," he said. "I can't wait to see how people react positively and negatively."
The pair got into their writing life and the psychological profiles that went into it. Bendis said he flips back and forth between extreme self doubt and pure ego. Millar said to be a writer, you almost have to be an egomaniac. "We think that what we have to say is so interesting that people all over the world will not only want to read it, but that they'll pay to read it," he explained. Bendis put a final point on it saying that once your career is established, jealousy and ego goes away, and everything is about craft. The question for him today is "How much honesty is in this book?"
Millar asked Bendis is criticism of his work has ever affected his approach. "Creators know this is true: a good critique, you already know it," Bendis said, admitting that you're aware of where you've fallen short creatively. Millar compared it to being caught for a murder. Bendis said, "I've never heard a critique that makes me like something more or like something less."
The friends told an extended story about the worst prank Millar ever played on Bendis: pretending to be his favorite writer David Mamet via a hotmail address years ago. Bendis said he was pacing his office waiting for every new reply from "Mamet" to hit his inbox as Millar said, "I love your work...would you like to write a Spider-Man comic with me?" and the proceeded to pitch the very worst Spider-Man ideas he could think of. Bendis said for years now, whenever he's had the opportunity to interact with Mamet including an interview on CBR and a chance meeting at the Sony lot, he always hears the name and thinks, "This isn't happening. Mark is still fucking with me."