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Inside Marvel’s “Shame Itself”

by  in Comic News Comment
Inside Marvel’s “Shame Itself”

“Victor Varnado and [Marvel editor] Steve Wacker performed improv comedy together in their heyday,” Brennan revealed. “Steve has often commented on what a strong writer [Victor] is, so he was a natural fit. For his story, we wanted an artist who would play it straight. Clayton Henry and I worked on ‘Spider-Girl’ together. He has such a clean, exciting, pure superhero style. The contrast against the silliness was key.”

“I knew Kurt Braunohler from the web series ‘Penelope: Princess of Pets’ that he produced with Kristen Schaal and I thought the writing was a little in line with what we do. I was lucky enough to take an improv class taught by Kurt and saw firsthand what a professional he is to work with,” Brennan told CBR. “For his story, we again wanted to play the visuals straight — it’s superhero dating advice — so we went to John Tyler Christopher for an amazing cover image, and Horacio Domingues and Dalibor Talijic, both of whom have a very Marvel Style, for the advice bits themselves.”

“Michael Kupperman is someone you all know from ‘Strange Tales,’ but no less than Conan O’Brien has referred to him as a man with ‘one of the best comedy brains on the planet.’ That’s pretty much all you need to know,” Brennan told CBR. “I first read his work in ‘McSweeney’s’ at my volunteer gig over at 826NYC, a writing tutoring center here in New York, and have since seen him just kill on short stories for any number of projects here at Marvel.”

“Anyone who’s read Sara Benincasa’s commentaries for CNN, Comedy Central and a few other notable sites knows that her personality leaps off the page, so I was interested to see what she would do given a chance to take on a Marvel character,” Brennan said. “I won’t divulge much about hers, but it’s titled ‘I HATE PETER PARKER’ and the high school angst and drama is hilarious, as is the punch line. The painting by Stephanie Buscema is a perfect match for Sara’s unique brand of peppy, happy political incorrectness.”

Some of the comedians telling tales in the one-shot are relatively new to the medium. Writer Sara Benincasa noted that “writing for ‘Shame Itself’ was more technically difficult than writing my memoir, ‘Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom’ — although it was also more fun and less emotionally taxing.” Victor Varnado writes in screenplay format and tends to think about comedy visually, so adapting to comics didn’t prove too challenging. “The difference between writing comedy for prose,” he said, “is that I think of it as controlling the cadence of the voice that reads along inside your head. Does that make sense or am I crazy? Better question: Why am I crazy?” Answers to these questions and more await you in “Shame Itself!”

And if you’re asking yourself, “Waitaminnit, what do comedians know about my superheroes?” then calm down. Also, lighten up. Also, get some sun. These funnymen and women know their Marvel mythos. “My particular nods to Marvel fans were the inclusion of Flash Thompson and a reference to Mr. Warren, the science teacher,” said Benincasa, referencing her Spider-Man short. “I was afraid of angering the mighty majority of geeks while at the same time, [I was] desperate to please them. It was so reminiscent of my daddy issues that I’m now convinced I was fathered by the whole of Marvel fandom.” If you’re wondering whether or not your favorite character was safe from ridicule, odds are — not a chance. Brennan admits that every Marvel character was potential comedy fodder. “Galactus gets hammered, like, three times.  He’s a world eater that chose to dress like someone in the Mummers Parade. He has it coming.”

Even Galactus isn’t sae from the comedic stylings of the “Shame Itself” creative team

As for the editor himself, Brennan is no stranger to the world of comedy. When he’s not editing comics, Brennan shoots short comedy films and has tried his hand at stand-up, though he’s quick to say, “I’m really just getting into the world.” Brennan even took an improv class at the People’s Improv Theater in New York City as a way to become more comfortable giving presentations at work. “I was only planning to take one class, but I really got into the program and have since tried my hand at performing it here in the city.” Despite this, his comedic chops don’t come into play all that often while at work. “Except I charge a two drink minimum for every meeting I have to run.”

While “Shame Itself” does give hardcore Marvelites the chance to revel in the glorious ridiculousness of Dormammu, Brennan assured CBR that special care was given to make the comedy understandable by a wider audience. “I want this to be something anyone can enjoy, and that decision went into the artistic talent as much as the writing talent. So while there are jokes in there for die-hard Marvel fans, I was impressed that all of these writers took the time to make very accessible, simple jokes.” Brennan even ran two of Varnado’s pitches by a panel of his least comic book-inclined friends to see which one they liked more, as his love for both ideas left him stumped. The idea that won out saw print, but Brennan vowed to resurrect the lost gag, given the chance. “I had pitched an idea to Tom that he liked a lot,” explained Varnado, “but it would have been a whole new Marvel Universe.”

Overall, Brennan summed up “Shame Itself,” calling the one-shot “a veritable love letter to the Marvel Universe from some brilliant comedians. These folks set out to make you laugh and smile, and they delivered it. Big time.”

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