Comic book fans were shocked last November with the news that Brian Michael Bendis — the most prominent Marvel creator of the past two decades — was moving to DC Comics, having signed an exclusive deal with the publisher.
Friday at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle marked the convention debut of Bendis as a DC Comics creator, making his DC panel debut with the “Write Stuff” panel, also featuring Julie Benson, Shawna Benson, Jody Houser, James Tynion IV, Mark Russell and Jeff Parker.
Bendis, serving as moderator, joined the panel slightly in progress, following the Bensons talking their work on the recently announced Green Arrow Annual #2, which is scheduled for release on May 30 and illustrated by Cameron Carnero.
“Your work was the work I’m most recently familiar with,” Bendis told Russell. “I love when someone takes a book like The Flintstones and turns it into the best book on the market.”
Russell thanked Bendis, and said books like The Flintstones had given him the reputation of not “the guy you give the keys to the Ferrari to, the guy you gives the keys to the broken down VW bus to.” Bendis compared it to Frank Miller taking over Daredevil when it was in danger of being cancelled. “There’s a freedom in no one expecting anything.”
Bendis asked Russell how Hanna-Barbera let him get away with what he did on the series. Russell said that he got a lot of feedback from Hanna-Barbera at first, and “none of it good.” “I spoke to Marie Javins, my editor, and Dan DiDio — once I spoke to Dan DiDio, that was the last I heard from those people.”
Bendis told Parker he was “murderously jealous” of Future Quest. Parker credited “the late, great Darwyn Cooke” for a lot of the leeway he received on the series. Cooke worked with Parker and Evan Shaner with their pitch, and said it was a “master class” on how to get people excited with a pitch.
Turning to the Bensons, Bendis asked the sisters if they write together — they do. Bendis, startled at the prospect, asked how it works. “We have the same voice, we divide and conquer,” Julie Benson said. “We both get a shot at doing something in it, and it ends up being the same voice.” “Best idea wins,” Shawna Benson added.
Bendis said he knew he was official at DC when he added “Tynion” to his spellcheck. Bendis asked Tynion about his “unique place” at DC, including sharing the Batman universe. Tynion recapped his shared history with Scott Snyder, and his work at DC.
“Batman is an icon, and there are 17 writers doing different takes on the character, sometimes simultaneously,” Bendis said. “How do you find your place?” Tynion said he would look at “What are the stories that made me wan to write these characters? With Tim Drake, my Tim Drake is kind of a center point between what Chuck Dixon did with the character in the ’90s, and what Geoff Johns did in Teen Titans.” Tynion said he looks to write stories that are “emotionally honest” and make him feel the way he did when he read earlier stories that shaped him as a fan.
Tynion said a lot of fans don’t like his work due to how often he has characters tell Bruce Wayne he’s wrong. “Some fans really, really don’t like that,” though fans are more OK when Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) does it.
Bendis said he’s “fascinated by all things Young Animal,” and asked Houser about Mother Panic. The series was already in motion, but was shaped dramatically when Houser joined the series. “I did enough work on the back story that Gerard [Way] had me credited as a co-creator,” Houser shared.
Bendis asked the panel what gig at DC they’d most want to have (but not the Superman gig that Bendis currently has). Parker: Jason Blood. “I love the Etrigan stuff from the ’70s.” Russell: Swamp Thing. Tynion: Teen Titans. Houser: Catwoman. Bensons: Lois Lane. “I’m also quite obsessed with the Green Lantern-verse right now,” Julie Benson said.
Turning to audience Q&A, the first question asked about the unique aspect of collaborating with other writers with shared universe characters. The Bensons said it came down to communication — open lines between them and the other Batman family writers. Houser pointed out that much of the Young Animal writers are based in LA, which helped plan stories like the freshly wrapped “Milk Wars” event.
“I work in obscure isolation,” Russell said. “The closest I have to a writers’ room is my 11-year-old stepson.”
Bendis said for a writer, working in a shared universe is like life. “As writers, we wake up and think we know what Batman’s going to do today, but nope, Batman’s on a spaceship!” Bendis said. But instead of getting frustrated, writers should lean into it, he advised. “You’ve got to be zen about it,” Parker added.
Next question was what characters they’d like to explore more in the current era of DC Comics. Julie Benson: Harbinger. Shawna Benson: Zatanna. Houser: Holly Robinson. Tynion: “My answer to that question is the entire supporting cast of the book that hasn’t been announced yet.” Russell: Booster Gold. Parker said he couldn’t focus on the text because he just got a text saying his family got a dog while he was away in Seattle.
Next audience member asked about authentically writing characters that share very different life experiences themselves. Shawna Benson said when they write characters that don’t look like them, “We’re going to find people to talk to, to make sure we’re representing properly.” Tynion said it comes down to “research and empathy.” “People aren’t accessories in their own lives,” Russell said. “They’re not the sassy gay friend. They have lives. Treat that seriously.”
Bendis echoed the panel’s comments, saying “everyone should explore things they don’t understand.” “You should eagerly be searching and be curious about all things and all people, and if not, you should look inside yourself and ask, ‘Why don’t I care about anyone besides myself?'”
A fan asked about how to deal with negative commenters who purport to be against increased representation in comics. “I feel like anyone who wants you to justify a character that reflects real life, to me, that’s not even an argument I can necessarily have,” Houser said. “It’s because they exist in real life, end of story.”
Bendis told the crowd that in his “custom imprint” — which has been announced, though details remain sketchy — he’ll write “every single one of the characters that I love” in DC Comics.
Bendis ended the panel by praising the work of the panelists, saying that the quality of comics at DC played a major part in his decision to move from Marvel to DC, and that he “couldn’t recommend [the work of his fellow DC writers] higher.”
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