Brian Bendis: All That and a Bag of Tricks – Part 3

DT: Are there any of your books that you find are more successful at reaching out to that first time comics reader or that first time independent comics reader?

BB: A lot of them are crime genre material that are complete works. Torso is a very successful graphic novel, it wasn’t a successful miniseries, it was just doing enough to make the rest of them, you know? And we sold it to movies and we’ve done all right off it. But as a series it wasn’t big, but we’re already close to our third printing of the trade in like under a year, which is amazing. So that’s done very well, Jinx is in like its fifth printing. It’s 450 pages, it’s a big mammoth book, you drop your dollars and you get a whole big epic read and people feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. It depends on what people’s tastes are, if they like crime ficiton they’re gonna dig it. I have another book [Fire] that’s a spy thriller that is my earliest work that I have out, that I’m still proud of, it’s a spy thriller and I can’t believe how well that does. And it’s a lower price, a smaller cover price because it’s a smaller graphic novel, but it constantly sells and it’s bizarre to me. I wish I knew why, because I’d do it again.

DT: Do you find that some first-time readers have trouble following your work, because they might not be up on the vocabulary or storytelling techniques of comics?

BB: I’ve been to the movies where people have trouble figuring out what the plot of American Pie is, so you try not to worry about too much what people will or will not get. I’ve not had anyone e-mail me and go, “What happened?” And many, many people read all of my things before anyone sees them in the public, because I’m very aware that I’m communicating to a large number of people. Even independent filmmakers go through a screening process where they show the movie to people and take notes and see what works and what doesn’t work and adjust. I’m not some genius that thinks everything I do is pure gold and everyone will love me. I remember Scorcese saying he shows his movies to a group of friends, a trusted group of friends, and he asks them questions. If there’s a scene and everyone got something different out of the scene, then the scene isn’t working. It doesn’t matter what he thinks it said, it doesn’t say it, because the people didn’t get it. So he’ll go back and he’ll do something to the scene. That’s exactly it, and the same thing with the comics.

I have my trusted group of advisors, and at Marvel you have your editors that are very in tune with what you’re trying to accomplish and the artists that you work with, and everyone comes together and discusses where we’re going, what we’re doing, and is it working. And I absolutely can’t stand myself, so I’m very happy to hear if things aren’t working if I can go back and hack the script to death. I’m really kind of good at that, and that’s why when the book comes out, you can’t control everything about a person’s reading experience, people have their tastes and people have what’s going on in their lives or what situation they’re reading the book in. But I’m pretty much sure that the work will stand up for itself and anything that you ask me about it, it’ll be there on the page. I get that even online. Someone will post on my board, you know, “I don’t understand why the cop did this,” and then before I can even answer someone else will have already gotten it, and the guy just missed it. It’s like blinking during the movie. “What happened, I missed it, what’s going on?”

DT: It’s like, you can’t always trying to write for the guy who doesn’t get anything —

BB: I personally can’t stand when I’m being talked down to or not challenged. I like being in the hands of someone, they know what they’re doing, they’ve got something to say, they’re in control, and they’re not pandering to me. I hate being pandered to, I can’t stand it. So why would I do that to people? I’d rather overshoot, and miss, than shoot underhanded, you know what I mean? I don’t have any respect for creators that pander. That’s why with Ultimate Spider-Man, I was biting my lip . . .it’s a character study more than it’s a superhero book, and that doesn’t necessarily always mean, you know, “Top 10 book.” So I’m biting a hole in my lip, going, “Oh, I hope this works!” I was proud of it, and everyone who read it was digging it, but if someone’s used to a certain kind of superhero comic and you’re handing them something else, you know, they get very angry. “Where . . . what happened to the fight scene? Where’s the costume, you son of a bitch?” And you do get that, there are Marvel purists who want what they want and don’t want you to screw around with their icons. But you know, 99% of the people are happy to be taken for a ride. In comics, just like filmgoers or people who buy CDs or when you’re watching TV, people just want to be told a story. “Here’s my couple bucks, entertain me for twenty minutes, because you know what, I had a really crappy day at work, so just tell me a story, man, just let me forget for a minute.” And I take that job pretty seriously.