Marvel scribe Brian Bendis interviews creators in and around the comics industry.
Posted June 12, 2006 10:15 AM
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of biweekly interviews that writer Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers) will conduct for wizarduniverse.com. His second interview subject is “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” creator and the writer/director of the upcoming “Wonder Woman” movie, Joss Whedon).
|BENDIS:So the first one of these I did, I did with Stan [Lee]. |
BENDIS: Your name came up like, four times. In a very positive way. He’s very in love with you.
WHEDON: I just did that tribute thing they’re doing to Stan. I did a story for that with Michael Gaydos.
BENDIS: I know. I’m right after you with [Mark] Bagley.
WHEDON: Oh cool! Oh my God! Gaydos’ pencils were so amazing.
BENDIS: Aren’t they so nice? He doesn’t get nearly enough credit.
WHEDON: [Gaydos’s art] is so textured and so rich and so on the edge of comic books and so human. I was loving life because, you know, the story is really silly, so that’ll sort of help cover it.
BENDIS: What’s your story?
WHEDON: My story? It involves a comic convention of alternate dimensions where people are comparing their comic in worlds where there was no Stan.
BENDIS: Oh, okay. Cool.
WHEDON: It’s very silly. A lot of talking. What’s yours?
BENDIS: My story is, the Impossible Man returns to the Marvel Universe and is disgusted by what House of M and Civil War and me and Mark [Millar] and you and [Jeph] Loeb have done to it. So he goes to try to find Stan to complain. But he can’t get near him because he’s all immersed in his Hollywood stuff.
WHEDON: Ah. [Laughs] I got a soft spot for the Impossible Man.
BENDIS: Me too! It’s hard to work him into a story though. I wanted him to be the villain in House of M, I just couldn’t make it work.
WHEDON: Yeah, it’s gotta be the right kind of version. The thing about the Fantastic Four is they can be fluffy. There could even be H.E.R.B.I.E.
BENDIS: Yeah, that’s true. When [Mark and I] did Ultimate Fantastic Four, we got H.E.R.B.I.E. right in there, immediately.
WHEDON: Yeah. [Laughs]
BENDIS: That was more important to us than the Human Torch. Alright, I want to talk to you about a few things. One of which, and this is one of the biggest things I’ve wanted to talk to you about, even when we met in person, and I’ve never brought it up just because there wasn’t an opportunity. I would like to talk to you about why and how you came about hiring Jack Green as your cinematographer, because I kind of worship the guy. I was amazed you hired him. It was a pretty amazing thing.
WHEDON: The first American cinematographer I ever bought was Jack Green doing “Tightrope” for Clint [Eastwood] back in college. So I’m kind of a nut for him too. And the way I hired him was this—he came in and said, “I can do this.” And besides the fact that he already had a rep for being fast and his stuff looked good, he’s the loveliest human being on the face of the planet.
BENDIS: That’s so good to hear.
WHEDON: Just five minutes in, you feel like you guys went to school together. This guy has been in it now for a long while. He’s worked with big names. The only baggage that Jack Green brings with him are three of his children, who were on the camera crew. All of whom are good at their jobs and really sweet. He had one first assistant, one second assistant and one b-camera operator; two sons and a daughter. He just came in, he totally got it and then he kept on getting it.
There was one time I was gonna tell him to do something really weird. It had practically come to me in a dream, and I was just like, I just don’t think… it had a spotlight and it seemed to…. I’m like, I’m not even gonna pitch it. But I needed something to distinguish this and Jack was like, ‘Well, I didn’t want to say anything, and you’ll probably make me take it down, but I’ve been putting up a spotlight.’ I mean, it was just creepy. He gets the material. He does so much and has so much art. And you’ll notice that the shot is never about Jack.
BENDIS: Yeah, you know, we were just talking about that with Gaydos and Bagley, where there’s certain artists and craftsmen where they don’t get the credit because all they care about is the story and servicing the story. They’re professional and don’t have tantrums and a lot of times those guys don’t get the credit they deserve.
WHEDON: Yeah, I mean Jack is the fastest cinematographer I know and there are others who say, “Well, if you don’t take six hours and make everybody wait and make the shot so beautiful that it takes you out of the story, then no, you’re not gonna be the big name and not get the credit you deserve.”
Sublimating yourself to a story is sort of the opposite of the Quentin Tarantino school. When I watched “Kill Bill,” it was like sitting next to Quentin Tarantino and having him go, “Alright, cool! Check out my music that I love!”
BENDIS: [Laughs] Yeah, Rob Richardson, his cinematographer, is a guy I worship too. And it’s kind of the polar opposite, style-wise, of Jack Green, but I just love that guy too. But it did make me want to talk to you, as someone who works in both comics and film, about the difference between your relationship with your cinematographer and your penciler. Can you talk about that?
WHEDON: Well, my penciler is also my inker. It’s often [John] Cassaday that I work with. And in addition to my cinematographer, he’s also my actors. And it’s not so much like I’m the director; it’s more like television where I’m the executive producer, because he’s also the director. You know how many artists make their characters overact. You know, when you write something subtle and deadpan and they put in giant manga mouth and big lines coming out of their head. [Laughs] And you’re like, “Uh… wait a minute!” That’s the equivalent of having Halle Barry give that hilarious reading of the Toad line in “X-Men.”
I’ve had trouble with every aspect of that- working with a director who didn’t understand the material or a cinematographer who wanted to make it fancy at the expense of what was real and beautiful about it. And of course actors can bring their own baggage, although I’ve been pretty lucky. And your penciler is that whole package. He’s all of them. You’re definitely overseeing that. Usually, I get thumbnails and go back and forth with my artists; but Johnny, when he’s done with the pages, I get them. And it’s never more than, “Can you change an eyebrow? Can we have an eyebrow change?”
BENDIS: I know you’re obviously very happy with Cassaday. What was it like working with other artists like Karl [Moline] who you worked with on Fray, your first comic? Did you have a similar relationship?
WHEDON: With Karl, there was more back and forth because first of all, we were creating a brand new world and all brand new characters. And Karl and myself were both pretty fresh. He’d had more work than I had, since I hadn’t any at all. Karl would give me thumbnails and we would go over them because there were certain things I was looking for specifically. There was more back and forth, but I loved what he came up with.
BENDIS:Yeah, I loved that comic. It doesn’t get enough play out in the nerd world. So I’m using this opportunity to plug it.
WHEDON: Bless you.
BENDIS: I used to do thumbnails on every book I wrote. Like, fully draw the book and hand it to the artist and go, “Here, do this.” Some artists loved it and some artists really… they weren’t offended by it, but they’d be like, “Well, what am I gonna do then?” Some artists are like, “Great, I just wanna sit in front of the TV and draw.” But more and more as I went on, I saw I was kinda not trusting anybody and being very megalomaniacal. So I just started writing full script. And unless there’s a scene where, like you said, you had a dream with a shot and you had to get the shot out, I kinda just sit back and let people do it.
So sometimes it’s a learning curve. But I was just curious about the creative relationship of the cinematographer versus your artist.
WHEDON: Well, it’s always a question of who you got. I worked with one artist, who shall remain nameless, who could not get what I wanted at all. And I’ve definitely worked with one or two actors like that, and directors and cinematographers and production designers. I mean, the artist is doing all of that, costume design and everything, and I’ve had trouble on every front. I am also megalomaniacal. I don’t do the thumbnail art because, unlike you, I am not an artist and I don’t think even I would understand what was happening. [Laughs] But I try to describe very specifically when I’m being very specific about a visual, trying to use as many words as possible. Although with Cassaday, again, I do that less and less.
Ultimately, you have to have both, I think. You have to be a megalomaniacal fella who’s got a singular vision and then as you go on, and you find more and more competent people, who can not only service, but expand or challenge that vision, that’s when it starts getting really fun. When you go, “I’m not gonna dictate,” it’s fun because he’s gonna surprise you. He’s gonna bring something new to the table. It’s like, when you’re working with actors, they’ve got their rhythm. You’ve got yours and you’re always in danger of having all of your characters speak with your rhythm. It’s the same rhythm. And that’s a pitfall for any writer to fall into. When you’re working in movies or TV, you have actors and you know their strengths, or they’re gonna surprise you. Especially if they’re Christopher Walken. Then you never know what words they’re gonna land on. But with the writing, you have to create all that. You don’t have as many opportunities to be surprised.
BENDIS: I never asked you this—what’s your writing process for comics?
WHEDON: My writing process for comics is similar to my writing process for movies, although I tend to write comics chronologically, which I don’t with movies or TV. I’ll circle for a long time, for as long as I can without being late. Despite my reputation, I do care about that. [Laughs] And when it’s time and I feel it, I’ll start to free associate. I know the basic arc and I know where I’m heading, so I’ll free associate. I have a dry erase board I’ll write on a note pad, just to get ideas and then eventually, I’ll number out the pages and start trying to place all the ideas I have and when it starts to really take shape, only then do I start writing. I don’t write page one until I know exactly what page 15 is gonna be. And every now and then I’m wrong. Every now and then I go, ‘Aw, I’ve expanded this or contracted that.’ You know how that is. But it’s weird. There’s actually a very small amount of sitting down and typing because I’ve played out all the scenes so much and because I don’t describe as much with Johnny as I used to. So it really doesn’t take that long to physically write it at this point.
BENDIS: I’ve said this probably a couple times, but sometimes you know exactly where you’re going and then you get to page 18 and all of a sudden, you figure out you’re going somewhere else that’s so much better than you planned. And sometimes it sounds like you got your head up your ass a little bit, but you don’t! It’s just, the characters took over and it’s an awesome feeling where you go, “Oh my God! I’m on a roll!” But sometimes when you tell people that, it translates to, “What’s going on? Tell the story you were gonna tell!” They want the original story.
WHEDON: But again, it’s the thing that makes you, and I mean you in particular and also “one,” good at your job—the combination of absolute maniacal focus and absolute submission. The story is more important than what you intend to do with it. And when it starts talking back to you, you listen! And I know people who don’t and their stuff is not as tight. Their worlds are not as rich. Because they’re so adhering to their first idea that they lose the beauty of something that gets bigger than that.