About the Event
MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing was thrilled to welcome award-winning comics creator Brian Michael Bendis, a New York Times bestseller and one of the most successful writers working in mainstream comics, for the 2018 Julius Schwartz lecture, in conversation with fellow comics writer Marjorie Liu.
For the last eighteen years, Brian’s books have consistently sat on the top of the nationwide comic and graphic novel sales charts. Now with DC Comics, he is the co-creator and consulting producer of the Peabody Award-winning Jessica Jones on Netflix from Marvel TV. For Marvel entertainment, Bendis was the monthly writer of the bestselling Defenders, Jessica Jones, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy series.
The introduction of the multiracial Spider-Man, Miles Morales, made the front page of USA Today and went on to become an international hotbed political topic featured on Fox News, CNN, The Daily Show, Conan O’Brien, Howard Stern and many others.
The news of a new ‘Iron man’ character in the form of 15-year-old Riri Williams made massive international headlines when the story broke in Time magazine. Her solo debut as Invincible Iron man debuted in the top five nationwide.
Before that, Brian completed a 100 issue run on the X-Men franchise with the debut of ALL NEW X-MEN and UNCANNY X-MEN and 9 years helming Marvel’s popular AVENGERS franchise by writing every issue of the NEW AVENGERS plus debuting the hit books AVENGERS, MIGHTY AVENGERS and DARK AVENGERS along with the wildly successful ‘event’ projects AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN, HOUSE OF M, SECRET WAR, SPIDER-MEN, SECRET INVASION, AGE OF ULTRON, SIEGE and CIVIL WAR 2.
The Julius Schwartz Lecture, produced with generous support by the Gaiman Foundation, is hosted by the Comparative Media Studies/Writing program at MIT and was founded to honor the memory of longtime DC Comics editor Julius “Julie” Schwartz, whose contributions to our culture include co-founding the first science fiction fanzine in 1932, the first science fiction literary agency in 1934, and the first World Science Fiction Convention in 1939. Schwartz went on to launch a career in comics that would last for 42 years, during which time he helped launch the Silver Age of Comics, introduced the idea of parallel universes, and had a hand in the reinvention of such characters as Batman, Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Atom.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: First, I would like to introduce author Marjorie Liu, who, tonight, will be leading a conversation with Brian Bendis. Marjorie is an accomplished author of over 20 novels and a prolific comic book author, as well, most recently making the news– oh, we have some fans, that’s great– for Monstress, Eisner and Hugo Award-winning graphic novels that have found a home on The New York Times Best Seller List.
And like our main speaker tonight, she is also a Marvel comics alum, like my Marvel, having written for the Dark Wolverine series, Black Widow, X-23, Han Solo, X-Men, and others. Her portrayals of LGBTQ characters have won her accolades, as well.
The MIT community first got to know Marjorie here in Comparative Media Studies and Writing where we have had the pleasure of hosting her comic books writing class. So if you’re interested in that, hopefully next fall it will be offered again.
I also forgot– did I introduce myself? I don’t think I did. Anyway, I’m Ed Schiappa. I’m the department head. But–
MARJORIE LIU: Yay!
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Tonight’s featured guest is Brian Michael Bendis. Brian is a five-time Eisner winner, which the Eisner Award is sort of like the Oscars of the comics industry. The arc of his career is interesting. He initially supported his comics habit with a gig as an illustrator for his hometown newspaper.
After stints at smaller comics, such as Image where he won his first Eisner, Brian was hired by Marvel Comics in 2000 to launch its Ultimate Spider-Man series. At Marvel, he would go on to write or collaborate on some of the biggest steps forward in contemporary comics. For example, in 2011, he and Sarah Pichelli created the character of Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager, as a new Spider-Man, who is– I saw a preview for a animated movie coming out. I hope you’re getting a piece of that– but at any rate.
Brian created or developed many characters for Marvel. He has served as an author on everything from Daredevil to Jessica Jones, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and an incredible 100-issue run for X-Men before moving last year to write for DC Comics. Even people at MIT who don’t follow comics knew that Invincible Iron Man Volume 3 Number 7 when Brian introduced the character of Riri Williams, an MIT student who hacks together parts poached from campus to create her own Iron Man suit, and thus creating Ironheart, a black female superhero.
The middle picture, by the way, is artwork that somebody, I don’t know who, painted in one of our tunnels here after MIT Admissions did a video that featured her as a character for Pi Day last year.
Now, of course, as many of you know, this is the Julius Schwartz lecture series. Julius Schwartz worked for DC. I had one of my colleagues say, I don’t know how it would feel to have a Marvel person invited to speak here. And then I think that’s why Brian jumped ship and went to work for DC.
But at any rate, as you all know, Brian is now writing for DC and working on the original comic book superhero, Superman. And I think this would have been your first work published with that. Is that right?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, that’s right.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: As I said, this lecture series honors Julius Schwartz, the co-founder of the first science fiction fanzine in 1932 and the DC Comics editor that helped launch the DC side of the Silver Age of comics, seeing the reinvention of characters such as Batman, Superman, and The Flash, as well as others. This event is supported by a generous gift by author Neil Gaiman who was our first Schwartz lecturer, and we are most grateful to him.
Previous course lecturers have included Gaiman and Babylon 5 creator Michael Straczynski, and tonight’s Comparative Media Studies is happy to add to that list Brian Michael Bendis. So I’ll turn it over to you.
There will be Q&A later, and that’s what those mics in the aisle are for.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: All right.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: OK.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Well, I want to say thank you for doing this, Marjorie. Before I was interrupted– no– I wanted to tell you that, because sometimes when people see things like this, they’re like, oh, we know each other. Like, we would be pals. We don’t know each other at all, like at all. We have a lot of mutual friends.
MARJORIE LIU: Yes.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And Kelly Sue has made it very clear this will be great. But I love that. I love that we don’t know, but I thought people would like to know that you’re asking questions you might not know the answers to as opposed to–
MARJORIE LIU: I actually don’t know the answers to any of these questions I’m asking.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: That’s awesome.
MARJORIE LIU: So I am genuinely curious, and I’m here, just like all of you, to find out more about you.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: OK.
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: All right.
MARJORIE LIU: Well–
SPEAKER: Marjorie’s mic is not on or–
MARJORIE LIU: Is it not– is this better? Is that–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: All right.
MARJORIE LIU: Was it pointing in the wrong direction? It went sideways. All right.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: All right.
MARJORIE LIU: OK. If you guys can’t hear me, just shout. Just let me know, all right? It’s good?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: All right.
MARJORIE LIU: All right. OK, cool. So I thought I would just start out with the beginning because you’ve had a long career. You’ve worked on so many books and so many different projects and different mediums. And so please forgive this most basic question. But why do you write?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, I appreciate that. That’s actually one of the themes of my life of the last few years. You spend a lot of time– and I’m sure a lot of you are in the how phase. Like, how do you do this? How? And you’re so busy with the how that the why can fall to the wayside because the why is actually a scarier question. It’s actually a much harder question to answer, and the answer is constantly changing. And as soon as you grab the answer, it could, like, jump out of your hands and become something else, and you got to keep chasing it.
But because of that and because of the noise of the world that we live in lately, I’ve seen a lot more fear-based decisions being made. Like, a lot of people, they’re scared to be with their truth, so they write something other than, they write something they think that people will like. Maybe people will like me if I write this instead of writing really what’s bothering them or what’s inside of them.
And every time I ask a question online or I’m talking in class, when you ask someone a question about what they want to write, you’ll hear the words, “I’m afraid, I’m fearful, I don’t want to,” and it’s always embarrass themselves or I guess the literary version of, like, dropping your pants in public and just being ashamed.
And when you actually say, well, who’s done that, who in literature has expressed their trueness and embarrassed themselves, and you’re like, oh, I actually can’t think of anybody. Like, you can’t think of anybody that got laughed out of being an honest creator. So I want to, where I can, just bring that up, bring up the why we write and talk about where I am in the why.
And for me, it was always about– I always talk about writing something that I would like to buy. Like, I want to make a comic book that no one else is making, right? And for me, that was always like a genre thing, like, oh, just this cool idea that I want, right? And that’s where, like, Powers came from. Like, I would love to buy this book and no one’s making it. If Howard Chaykin was making this book, I would buy it. But he’s not, so I’m going to have to go do it.
So that would start me. And then as I would dig into the characters and I would find these deep emotional moments, and the moments would subconsciously have similar feels to them. Like, there would be a frustration about the world or an anger about the world that was coming in through the characters, and then only when I read it back to myself in the balloon stage, in the lettering stage, would I go, oh, I’m working on some stuff, right?
And I get fearful for students who are being taught to not dive in that deeply, you know? I worry about it, because there’s two things going on in this culture. Number one, there’s a lot of shaming online that I think, even if it’s not shaming you directly, it makes people feel like, oh, I’ll just stay in my little bubble. I’m not going to express myself outwards because, oh, there’s a lot of people playing whack-a-mole with people’s feelings online, right?
And the other thing that I see is that they don’t– because of the fear, they don’t finish what they start. So they’ll start a project and then not complete it and not know why they did it or what kind of creator they are. Does that make sense, what I’m saying? Because I see so many people. They want to show me their first 10 pages of something. And I’m like, I would love to see the last 10 pages because I know that’s why you wrote it or that’s why you’re doing it. And if you don’t write those last 10 pages, you’re never going to know what the point of you is.
MARJORIE LIU: So when you first started out– because as Ed pointed out, you were an illustrator.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. I was a writer and illustrator for–
MARJORIE LIU: Writer illustrator in Cleveland, correct?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yes.
MARJORIE LIU: A newspaper?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Mm-hmm.
MARJORIE LIU: And so when you were deciding to make that leap into comics, first of all, why comics? And second of all, how did fear affect you?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Well, for comics, for me– and I think a lot of you will know this feeling– it’s a very unique intimate storytelling experience. You’re alone in a room, and there’s pictures. And I know when you’re with a book, there’s a very different but similar intimacy where you and the author are now creating a visual together, right? There’s a word picture that you’re creating, and I’m going to put it together with my values, and we’re going to make it together.
In comics, it’s actually white space in between the panels that we can all now collaborate together, right? Like, I’m going to tell the story, but there’s a lot of space in between these images where you, the audience, get to fill this in, and I love doing that. I absolutely love it. And I love when the creator tries to completely control all of the collaboration, yet you can’t, right? When someone’s trying to control the pacing and the timing of it– but the audience still has such a voice.
Also, the audience has such a control over the tempo and the pace of the page no matter what you do. So I love that as a reader, and I wanted to– and then as soon as you find out it’s a job. Like, oh, someone makes a living doing this. Well, I can’t think of a better way to make a living than that.
So it was a very young age. I was like six or seven years old when I read my first credit box in a comic, and I went, oh, someone did this that you can get paid? All right.
MARJORIE LIU: And you knew that was going to be you?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. I was in very early. And I can tell you what’s fascinating to me is that the realities of life set in as, like, how many steps are between me and Spider-Man. Like, from my bedroom in Cleveland at age six to Marvel Comics, there’s a million steps. Nothing was standing in my way.
There’s absolutely– but not like I was– I wasn’t, like, ruining people’s lives to get there, but I was just geared towards– sometimes when you say that, it sounds like you’re like Gordon Gekko. You’re just going to destroy everybody to get to your goal. But what I meant was I was going to earn my craft to get to that. And no matter how hard I found out it was or what the odds were, nothing dissuaded me almost to a pathological– now I can laugh at it, but, like, David Mack often will now think back about it. Boy, you were just deluded. You just went through life– just I’m going to be Spider-Man.
MARJORIE LIU: So basically the hunger to create in this medium burned hotter than any fear or–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yes.
MARJORIE LIU: –hesitation you had.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, I didn’t know the fear, and I now feel very lucky that I didn’t know the fear because when I see people sometimes drowning in it, to be honest with you– I’ll even see, like, some of my students will come to class. They have they have made the effort to get here, which is a big effort, and you can see, oh my god, I’m gonna– you know, just they’re terrorized to share themselves.
And so I feel lucky that of all the neurotic issues that I’ve accumulated over the years, that was never one of them. So it did help me get to where I need to go. So now I do feel, as a creator and a professor, that now I can tell you, yeah, you don’t need that fear. There’s legitimate stuff to be afraid of in this world. Expressing yourself is not one of them, yeah, to me at least.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, I’m sure there are a lot of students here on campus who would love to take that leap to becoming a writer, to being in the arts in some way, but they just don’t even, you know– they don’t even know how to get there, if it’s possible. And I think the great thing about hearing you speak about this is that a dream you can have as a child can manifest.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, absolutely.
MARJORIE LIU: You can actually do this.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Absolutely. And so many of our peers– like, we all just– that’s it. We just decided we’re going to do this. And then there’s no one in comics who is going to be– well, I was going to be a lawyer or in comics. It was like– no, like, even Charles, he was like– he became a lawyer and said, nah, I want to be in comics.
MARJORIE LIU: That was me.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, so– and I think–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: But, I mean, that deep need to be in comics or film or music or whatever it is, everyone who ends up doing it shares that.
MARJORIE LIU: And so do you think that comic books connect more powerfully with readers than other narrative mediums?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I do, and I do feel that that’s why, even with print medium being in chaos for the last 10 years, comics and graphic novels always are healthy because– and they are. It’s a shifting market, but the readers are there and the numbers are there, and it’s because, even with all of the television and movies– and really television and the amount of comic book television that there is out there is the thing that’s most competitive to us, which is that there’s, like, 1,000 episodes of Arrow for free on Netflix right now. Like, if you need to scratch that itch, it’s right there, right?
But still, people buy the comics because, as cool as those shows are and as cool as the movies are, there’s a deep intimacy and layers to the narrative in comics that movies and TV aren’t there yet. They will get there because they’re always chasing us. But it– and honestly, it’s the thing I was most stunned by when I saw the first episode to Jessica Jones is that they went there. I was terrified that they weren’t going to.
MARJORIE LIU: You were involved in that television show, correct?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I was. I was a consultant, you know? And I was there, and the consulting is always writers asking you questions they know the answer to. They just want to hear you say it. And when you don’t, they get angry. It’s very funny. And there’s a lot of questions about Luke and Jessica, and they wanted my answer, and I wouldn’t give it to them.
Anyways– so. Yeah. But someone else is authoring this character in this medium, and you have to kind of get zen about it and hope for the best. So I was grateful that she went where other shows don’t go. I was so grateful because I did not want the other thing. Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: I don’t think anyone did.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I know, but, you know–
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It’s our culture. There’s a 90% chance it was going to be the other thing. So I’m relieved beyond comprehension.
MARJORIE LIU: Well– and you already mentioned Powers. But my first introduction to your work was Powers, which is, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Powers, it’s about two detectives who investigate crimes committed by people with superhuman abilities. Is that kind of a–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yes. And what Powers and Monstress have in common is that we both have titles that everyone else in comics goes, oh, I can’t believe no one took that title. Oh!
MARJORIE LIU: Yes!
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, yeah, it is– I hear that so much about you, and we heard that about us.
MARJORIE LIU: Oh great.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: The first two years, like everyone at Marvel just said, there’s never been a book called Powers? I’m like, ah– yeah, I know.
MARJORIE LIU: Sorry, guys. Well, I love that book, partly because it was so character driven. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but soon after Powers was released, you started writing Daredevil, correct?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: OK. And that–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I started writing Powers the year before I started at Marvel, and then Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil happened within a few months of each other in that even though Daredevil came out first, I was writing both at the same time.
MARJORIE LIU: So my dude, having been in a situation of having written three comic books at once, that is a lot. That’s a lot.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, you should see what I’m doing now.
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah, yeah. No, I can only imagine.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I genuinely– and other people, we’ve lived long enough to know this. There are creators that can only do one project, and you even offer them a variant cover while they’re in the middle of a project, they spiral out of control because they can’t do it, while there’s other creators that thrive with multiple projects going out at once and actually think the projects get better because all parts of the brain are being used at once. So that’s where I have found myself to be. I’ve tried all the different ways, but multiples is where I thrive.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, I was going to ask another question, but I’ll ask this one.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, sorry.
MARJORIE LIU: No, no, no, no, not at all. I’m happy for that response because it actually made me think about something else because I know a lot of students here have– they’re familiar with having passion projects. But passion can get tiring sometimes.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Exhausting.
MARJORIE LIU: Exhausting
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: And so for you, you seem to be someone, like you just said, who gets energy the more you do and the more you’re creating. How do you– do you ever feel like you’re running dry?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No. Also, such big things have happened in my life, particularly, that just keeps things constantly at a level of energy and good energy and enthusiasm and entertainment that I want. And, you know, there’s a constant stream of original art being thrown into my email.
That’s one thing– once you start working on multiple projects. So every day I wake up and Ryan Sook and Ivan Reis and David Mack and Michael Gaydos and Alex Maleev just keep flooding my– like, I woke up this morning to 45 original pieces of artwork, and I’m so– I can’t get out of here fast enough to go start writing, right? And so that’s the world I live in. So it’s super, super, super exciting.
I also, not to get too maudlin– I know it bums people out when you talk about it. But last year, literally almost a year ago this week, both me and my wife had a near-death experience, separate near-death experiences, and so we were faced with the real reality of it being done. It’s over. And so– and I had days where I was blind and I couldn’t write. So it was the first time where I– and there will always be days where no matter how stressful the day is, I’m going to go write it out. I’m going to go just type. I don’t even know what I’m going to write. I’m just going to type it out. And it was always there for me, and then it wasn’t. Right?
So when it wasn’t there for me just for a few days, you go, oh no, oh my, oh lord. So once you get out of a situation like that, you’re, like, shot out of a cannon. Like, you want to– especially, not only that, but I was coming out of it at a time where DC was literally, you know– we have whole lines of material to start producing that DC was so enthusiastic about us doing. So it was all this opportunity to write and now– and having just a memory of what it feels like not to be able to keeps you very enthusiastic during the day. So the two things together are really– and also, I get to pay my bills.
MARJORIE LIU: Money’s good.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: When you write, a check comes when you’re done. So all these things– really enthusiastic way to keep writing.
MARJORIE LIU: Knowing that time runs out and money– these are all big motivators.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I’m a big fan of deadlines. I am. I know writers, some hate them. I think us in the deadline– if you embrace them, they will make you your best self.
MARJORIE LIU: I can’t function without deadlines.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. Yeah. And actually, in going back to your earlier question that I never actually answered, in the earliest days of Powers or in the early days in the ’90s when I was young creator, even in college, I gave myself deadlines, and if I didn’t hit my deadlines, I was fired. I literally was that nuts. And I was like– but I was, like–
MARJORIE LIU: You fired yourself?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, I would, like, literally– I never missed my deadline because I was very serious. But I would take it so seriously. And like, books– like when we were working on Torso, literally 900 people were buying it monthly. No one was buying it monthly. But I acted, if this book doesn’t ship, the whole community of comics will collapse, and the whole Jenga of comics would fall.
But I behaved that way, so by the time I got to Marvel, I was already behaving– like, now I’m doing Spider-Man and X-Men, and if this doesn’t ship, yeah, something bad will happen. So I had trained myself well for the job that I wanted.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, it’s such important training because if you miss a deadline, then your writer misses a deadline– I mean, your artist misses deadline. Your editor is completely stressed out. Your colorist is stressed out. Everyone is stressed out down the chain.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And for a nice Jewish boy like myself who was raised on stress, it’s perfect. It is. It is. It is. All I can think about is making sure that our colorist– and really, colorists really are the ones that get the short end of the stick. They’re the last step of the chain. So if everyone took a week, it’s his week we stole, his or her. So we want to make sure that we do that correctly. I think about that all the time. If I miss, they miss, they miss.
And also, in comics, we see other creators doing this all the time. We see them messing up. And you see how stressful it is to an editor and how really you can really threaten an editor’s job by messing up that way. Even like a brand-new creator, if you mess up, you really can get your editor fired. And I don’t think some creators even think that way or understand it because their editor or their boss will go, where’s this book?
MARJORIE LIU: Well, and it’s one of these things that actually isn’t talked about much, I think, in our industry, about how just missing a deadline, missing a deadline is so problematic, can be so problematic, because this is a team effort. It is a collaboration, not just between you and your artist, but between a bunch of different people who rely on you.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. And then there’s the audience, as well. Like, I’m sure some of you have had this experience where you preordered a book and– I mean, I recently got an Amazon update on a book that I ordered so many years ago that I was, like– I literally had to Google it to make sure the creator’s still with us. I was like, holy lord.
MARJORIE LIU: That’s terrible.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: So I know that feeling. I’m sorry, but it happened.
MARJORIE LIU: No, it does. It does.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: But I know that feeling. So as a fan, you never want to do that. And life can happen. Like, someone gets sick or pregnant or things happen that can delay a book, so you don’t ever want to purposely–
MARJORIE LIU: No.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: –you know, because of Red Dead Revolution 2 be the reason the book is not shipping. Yeah. By the way, that is a very funny joke, but not to editors because there is at least one artist I know who were waiting on artwork and they literally tweeted, 19 hours Spider-Man PlayStation, and I’m like, oh, dude. You can do the 19 hours on– just don’t tweet it at us. Don’t tell us that’s what you did all day.
MARJORIE LIU: Shh.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. Come on.
MARJORIE LIU: Keep that a secret.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, exactly.
MARJORIE LIU: So what was the transition like from indie to corporate? Were there any surprises, good or bad?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I lucked out because I had a lot of false starts. I had a lot of almosts and misses, and I was hustling from the age of six to get– I already decided Marvel needs me, not that I need them. They need– oh my god, I’m gonna– I’ll fix all their problems. I was incensed by their Raiders of the Lost Ark adaptation. Mine would have been so much better. And it’s insane talk because it’s Klaus Janson. It’s one of the great comic artists of all time. That’s how nuts I was, right? And I’ve expressed this to Klaus. We’ve gone through this as creators. He understands. It was not a personal thing. And–
MARJORIE LIU: Believer.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. But I would constantly send in portfolio submissions. But in the– it’s funny how arrogant it was. It’s adorable how I was so sure that one of these is going to get in. And I’m so glad I went in there so gung-ho because every time I got knocked down, it taught me a lesson.
And going back to what we were talking about before about what people are afraid of, ah, failure is so much fun. Failure– people are terrified of it. They’re so deeply terrified of it. And I have failed. And I’m not talking about commercial failure because that really doesn’t matter. Like, I’m talking about creative. I’m talking about, like, owning your moment and having a moment and grabbing it and making the most out of it. And a lot of that has to do with getting to your truth, going back to what we were talking about earlier.
But the fear of failure so consumes people that they stop. They just freeze and distract themselves with something else and never even face the fact that they even– not even knowing that was failure, not trying was– yeah. Yeah.
And every failure has made me go, oh, man, I feel so much better about myself having failed so desperately. And I’ve done it publicly, and I’ve done it privately. I’ve done it on things I’ve won awards that I know I could do better that I’ll never speak of publicly because I’m not going to ruin the book for everybody. But I’m like, I could do better.
And instead of talking about it publicly– I always hate when actors do that, when they tell you of some movie they hate, right? I’m like, oh, but I like that movie. You don’t have to tell me that. Just do better in your next movie. Just take whatever you feel and do better next time. And so that’s what I try to do.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, the novelist John Scalzi has a saying that I read years ago, and he said, “I’m too lazy to fail.” And I think about that all the time, particularly because writing requires so much tremendous effort, and you’re just working your ass off all the time. And yet, failure, I feel like, it doesn’t mean what we think of it.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No.
MARJORIE LIU: I’m too lazy to fail. I might fail at a book, but this idea that I would ever go back to doing anything else, never.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: Absolutely never.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. I mean, I remember– the only time I was faced with it full blast was I didn’t get into the school of my dreams when I was in college, and my friend goes, oh, so I guess you’ll go be a doctor, and I went, what? Like, I’m not giving up. What was that? Like, it was the only time I remember being faced with a question and then– so it was never going to be.
But going back to the switch to mainstream, I lucked out because by the time I broke in, I’d broken in– I had achieved a couple of things in independent comics that I didn’t think I was ever going to get, like an Eisner. Like, I didn’t think that was going to happen. I wasn’t down that track.
And so when I’d gotten to Marvel, I had so many false starts, I had so many dashed and failed and just completely bizarre submissions that I had sent in over the years that by the time they offered it to me, I was ready.
And also, I was ready because it was Joe. It was a creator who was hiring me. So it wasn’t some suit. It was one of us. It was a creator I really admired. It was one of my favorite artists called me up and said, your artwork sucks, you’re a writer, let’s get going, all right? And– yeah.
I’ve told this story quite a few times, but it was– David Mack had been hired before me at Marvel Knights, and Marvel Knights was really producing some beautiful work and really was the cream of the crop in mainstream comics at the time, and David was writing Daredevil, and I was like, show them my shit, you know? I’m like, as soon as– you know, we all do that, show them my stuff.
And he finally got to a place with Joe where he showed Joe a couple of my graphic novels, and Joe called me right away, and then I literally was like– he goes, what would you do if you came to Marvel? Like, where are your passions? And I said, well, what do you need an artist for? And there was, like, literally dead silence on the phone.
And he goes, well, your artwork’s not very good, Brian. He goes, your artwork sucks. He goes, you know, you’re a very good writer. He goes, I was assuming you were drawing to show off your writing. And I was like– no, but my initial feeling was that this is either going to be the greatest boss of all time or this is going to go badly in a few months, because I’ve got a mom, you know what I mean? Like, I got someone who’s going to hang my stuff on the refrigerator and tell me I’m awesome. I need a boss that’ll tell me the truth, tell me– like, that’s what you need in life. You need people who will constantly tell you the truth.
And also, once you realize, oh, I’m now on the real stage of comics– and I remember when I got Daredevil or Spider-Man, Joe had said, “Welcome to comics.” And I said, I’ve been making comics for, like, nine years. He goes, yeah, welcome to comics. And I didn’t know what he meant. And then when my first Marvel Comics came out, I was like, whoa, this is a way different experience. There’s, like, actual people reading them.
So yeah, it was– but I love– no. But people who read independent comics love their comics, and it’s a deep passion, and it’s tight, and it was my message board, and we’re wall buddies and friends, and maybe there’s people here from there that it’s a real great bond. And then you get to hear from the Daredevil fans. That’s a different experience, right?
And then it was all just building up to here from the X-Men fans. That’s the most hardcore of hardcore.
MARJORIE LIU: Oh!
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Right? Right? Yeah. And it was funny because even then, I’d just done, like, nine years on an Avengers and I was taking over X-Men, and a couple of X-Men creators of past went, get ready. I’m going, oh come on, man, I’ve been writing Avengers. They’re like, oh, no, no, no.
Every X-Men is someone’s favorite. That’s a very unique experience. Like, there’s other– there’s a couple favorites, but every X-Men is someone’s favorite. You’re going to hear from everybody.
MARJORIE LIU: No, it’s the pantheon of the gods.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: It’s a religion.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And I feel like I climbed that. Right? You climbed that. You climbed the wall that can’t be climbed.
And also, the reason it’s on my mind, I’m actually, last night, was writing an X-Men movie for Fox, which is very funny.
MARJORIE LIU: Brian!
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It’s funny. No. It’s because I’m so immersed in DC. I’m so deeply, deeply living in the Daily Planet, yeah, that it’s funny to be back in the X-Men chain.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, hmm, I’m not going to ask for spoilers even though I dearly want to. But congrats.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you.
MARJORIE LIU: Yes.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: There’s a lot of gossip about what it is online. That’s all I can say.
MARJORIE LIU: All right. Wow. So– I mean–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: But I can keep going with that transition because it was a big– it honestly was a big deal, that move to mainstream comics. I learned– almost everything I really learned about comics, I learned in that first year at Marvel.
MARJORIE LIU: What was the biggest thing you learned?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: The relationship with the audience was a big one. I had such a snarky little, like, Don Rickles attitude about everything. My Powers letter column was just me goofing on everybody and just having fun with it, and it was just having fun everywhere. And then when you get to Daredevil, we’re not joking around anymore, buddy. This is Hell’s Kitchen. Yeah. So yeah.
But I enjoyed. But even when I got there, there would be people reading Spider-Man every week and screaming at me about it. And I’m like, well, why do you buy it if you don’t like it? Like, I don’t understand. Like, I’m confused by that. Like, I can’t get through seven pages– if I don’t like something, I’m out in seven pages. I got kids. I got a life. I got– you know.
And so I flat out once asked the question. I said, why are you buying this book if– and they said, oh, you know, you like comic creators. I go, yeah. I go, well, we’re like Marvel fans. We’re like Yankees fans. Like, I’m going to give you a sports analogy you’re going to have to go look up because I don’t know sports at all. But we’re like Yankees fans and we’re going to scream the loudest if you win and we’re going to boo the loudest if you fail. And once that was opened up to me, I loved it. I completely play that game.
MARJORIE LIU: I’ve never heard that before. Now it makes sense.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I honestly– it was one of the guys on my message board said it to me, and it completely changed my stuff. I was so grateful. And I’ve said it a few times in interviews ’cause I want, whoever that person was, to tell them, you completely made my life easier.
MARJORIE LIU: Was Joe you first editor?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Well, yeah. He was. Marvel Knights– it was Joe and Nancy. And then, literally I’d written, like, two issues of Daredevil, and they were written for my best friend David Mack, and they asked us to come in and do Daredevil because Kevin Smith is very late. And if you could just hold–
MARJORIE LIU: This is what happens when you miss a deadline.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, but also my career is filled with me being there when someone else blew a deadline. I tell this to every creator because my fortune has been made on other people blowing their deadlines. And Daredevil was a gig that it was someone else’s job and they didn’t hand in their job. They go, here, you guys do a few issues. And then we did a few issues, and then they go, actually, do a few more. He’s going to come back eventually. And so my first run on Daredevil was– my first six issues was I thought it was, like, treading water for this big comeback. And then he wasn’t coming back. Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: What?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. And then I stayed. Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: That’s–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And Ultimate Spider-Man was someone else’s job. It was someone else had the job.
MARJORIE LIU: No.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: All right.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. So and I don’t say it to be mean to the other creators or anything, but it is a– when people ask what the magic trick is, show up.
MARJORIE LIU: Show up.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: Show up.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: Sh. Oh damn, man.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I stunned you.
MARJORIE LIU: No. But I mean– but also, that’s just awesome because you were such a phenomenally hard worker with so much passion. But it’s opportunity meets the skill, the talent, whatever, and that’s how luck happens.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Well, the other thing is people break in and they think that’s it.
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, the easiest part is breaking in. It really is. You think it’s the hardest part. It’s maintaining is– because it’s not set up for the creator to stay.
MARJORIE LIU: No.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It’s actually set up for the creator to be cycled out. And so you have to kind of make your own choices, and a lot of creators think that the publisher is making the choice for them. And they’re not. It’s not– it’s, like, you’re looking at the wrong thing. You have to make the choices yourself.
And I was very grateful that, like, Joe and the people in my life at Marvel were very helpful to me and also making that clear, like, a no is a very powerful good thing, and it’s not a bad thing. Some creators think that if you say no to a job, oh, they’re never going to ask me, never, ever. No, it’s not the case. They’ll take you much more seriously. Like, oh, you know your value. Yeah. Or good– you’re not going to waste my time and write something that you don’t like. Editors really admire a no. They really do.
MARJORIE LIU: My first editor was John Barber, and he is the reason why I was able to maintain a career at Marvel. But also having been a novelist and having seen how people could be completely irrelevant after one novel, I also knew going in that the key wasn’t, like you said, it wasn’t just that you get a book. It’s about maintaining your presence and continuing to write and taking on projects. And that’s a hard, hard, hard fought battle.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It is. It’s shocking for some people to find out how much of life is like a video game.
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And you always get to– you think you’re going to hit the boss level. And that was just the door to the next thing. Yeah, yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: The claw, the claw– keep clawing.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It’s constant no matter what. And doing that while all the time centering yourself on what you have to offer as a creator, what your truth is, what your goals are is the most important thing. And for those sitting here– and I know there’s quite a few writers in here looking for me to say that, and it’s absolutely 100% true. You’re going to be constantly surrounded by people testing your ability to stay true to yourself. There’s going to be constant, constant asks for compromise. Some of it’s going to seem tiny, and some of it’s going to seem enormous, and sometimes the enormous ones are going to seem so enormous have to think about it for a while. Like, why am I being asked to make something red when I know it should be blue? Sorry about that.
MARJORIE LIU: That’s all right.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And so your job as a creator, no matter what, is to stay true to yourself. And by the way, you can do it being polite and lovely. You don’t have to scream, no, no, no at people when you’re– because that happens a lot.
MARJORIE LIU: Well.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: But I do think that kindness and passion, you can get a lot done.
MARJORIE LIU: Oh yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: Oh yes. Now–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Also, the great thing about comics is that the wheels turn so fast that if you just come at them with a strong take– and again, I know this is one of the things that people think I’m in a privileged position, but you’re talking about my first years at Marvel. I did not have a privileged position. But I would come at them with such a strong take on Spider-Man that they went, OK. It’s either yes or no, and this time it was yes after nine years. It was a yes. And the wheel has to turn so quickly, they don’t have time, really, to second guess you until next issue.
MARJORIE LIU: No, it’s true.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: You can really keep going for a while.
MARJORIE LIU: I’ve used that trick.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It’s a good trick.
MARJORIE LIU: I’ve used that trick. Yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It’s one that you don’t do, like, evilly.
MARJORIE LIU: No.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: But you go, oh, I– yeah, or at least I don’t.
MARJORIE LIU: No. But if you want to slip in a couple moments in your story that are a little bit more progressive than what other people might want, it’s a good opportunity to do so. You just do it. Well, since– this actually segues nicely because you’ve actually, since you started at Marvel, gone on to sort of shape much of what we know about the Marvel universe.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It’s hard for me to see it that way.
MARJORIE LIU: OK– well, for the rest of us.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, but there was an enormous amount of people in any room I was in always. So I always felt, to me, like I had a front row seat to it more than what the way you’re wording it, an outstanding seat to one of the great pop culture stories of our generation. I was there when they were in bankruptcy. Like, my first visit to Marvel, they were selling filing cabinets for cash. There was actually a Post-it note on a pile of filing cabinet that said “Sold” on them, and the lights were off in the bullpen. And you’ve visited, right?
MARJORIE LIU: Oh yeah. No, I’ve heard the stories, also, about how they limited toilet paper in the bathroom is because of it cost too much.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, so I was there for that, and then I was there for this. So it was quite a– there was genuine times where I thought, oh, am I writing the last Marvel comic? What an honor. I literally said, well, if I’m writing the last Marvel comic, really, really bring it home because– it really felt that way. You live like, oh, they hired me because everyone else left. It really felt– a lot of people went off to video games, me and David were there going, at least we got to do it once. Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: Yay.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, it did. But the other version was that in bankruptcy, in complete devastation comes, hey, let’s roll up our sleeves and go nuts. Let’s everyone just tell crazy stories and, like, listen, if we’re closing the doors, we might as well go out swinging. And so there was that kind of feeling, too, and the boss who was running it was determined not to let the doors close. So he was making deals with Payless Shoes and getting Ultimate Spider-Man in every shoebox in a country. And so there was a lot of genuine movement to get the ships running.
But with hiring me and Mark Miller and a few other people, it was definitely like, hey, let’s let them do what– nothing else is working. And with that comes genuine enthusiasm. Like, if everyone’s- we’re kind of creating for the right reason, you know?
MARJORIE LIU: Well, Jim Lee calls you an impact player.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: What does that mean?
MARJORIE LIU: I assume it means–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I’ll have to google that later.
MARJORIE LIU: I assume it means good things–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I hope so. Yeah, yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: –and that you make a lot of changes, good changes. And I was just– I’m not going to ask you for, like, long-term spoilers as far as the DC Universe goes. But what has been one of the great joys and difficulties in the transition to DC?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Well, first of all– and we’re talking about fear earlier– the move to DC terrified me. It was deeply scary. And there’s quite a few things I’ve done this year that I’ve been as scared creatively as I’ve ever been, and I’m so, if I may, deeply proud of myself for putting myself in this situation yet again where I could have not. I could have picked things that I could have relaxed a little bit. But this whole year has been just a holding on to the railing thing.
But the plus for me was– and the choice was made before I got sick– was getting to write Superman all year after everything that me and Alisa had been through and everything that’s going on in the world and trying to raise my multiracial family in this increasingly stressful nightmare world that we’re growing in, having to spend hours a day trying to think, what would the best person do? Like, all he can do is the best thing. What’s the best thing?
And it makes me feel this David Mamet line from the movie Heist that I used to quote all the time, but now I’m kind of living it. It’s Gene Hackman is this thief, and they go, how did you come up with this great plan? He goes, I thought of a smarter person, and I thought, what would they do? And I literally– that’s how I think when I’m writing Spi– Superman– oh, I did it– Superman is I think–
MARJORIE LIU: Turn off the video.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: –he’s better than me. What would he do? Right? And so you have to spend hours a day thinking what the best thing you could do is, and then when you’re out in the real world, you can’t, then, go fight with people at the grocery story. You’re thinking like Superman. I’m being much more helpful and being much more– can I help you with that, ma’am? I’m doing that a lot more than I used to do. And I find my parenting zen, my calm, the calm you have to have when faced with, you know– and I have four kids, so can really get a circus going. It’s much more potent to my– I do everything but the hands on the hips.
So I’m insanely grateful for Superman being in my life right now at this age. And I think a lot about how much of Peter Parker is inside me and how much of that nervous energy that I poured into my pages, that I lived with, and now as a more mature man, I have a more centered energy, and now I’m more tapped into that. So I find that fascinating. And Miles is quite in the middle there, so I’ve always kind of journeyed with my energy without being conscious of it. So I’m grateful for that.
The hardest thing is DC continuity. Holy lord, it’s like you’re reading–
MARJORIE LIU: Wait, it’s worse than Marvel?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Well, Marvel never rebooted. For all of its mishigas, Marvel is a straight line, right? It’s a straight line. Yeah. But there have been start and stops. So you could be reading a graphic novel and then find out, oh no, this doesn’t count, right? So that is the biggest–
MARJORIE LIU: Oh, I can see that would be a pain in the ass.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. But honestly, there was, like, a DC Universe year-by-year visual book that helped me put it all together. It was so great, one of those big giant DK books, you know? It helped me just line it all up and make some choices for myself. That was really, really great. So yeah. Of all of the things, this really helped me, because I’d read almost all of it.
And also, how interesting it is to have read so much stuff as a fan, never giving it any potent brain power– like, what would I do with Batman? I never actually went there because I have so much of that part of my brain is in use right now. I never was fantasizing about what Legion of the Super-Heroes would be. I never thought of it. But now, so rereading this material as someone who could actually help author this is really unique. Oh, it’s so exciting, deeply exciting, and also just to look at some of the choices other creators have made that I may not have understood at the time, but now I can understand them, like, as a creator with a little bit more under my belt. Yeah, yeah, yeah– so both things.
And also, I must say I love– there is something genuinely awesome about living in the DC Universe right now because it is not our world. It’s a different– you know what I mean? There’s different– Marvel is our world. It’s New York City and Chicago and LA. DC is Metropolis Gotham. There’s a disconnect that, now, lets us get to more truth. You know what I mean? Now we’re in a fantasy world, like you, like in Monstress. So now I can really talk about some stuff, because I’m not pointing any fingers, I’m just talking about real stuff.
MARJORIE LIU: Got it.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. So that I love.
MARJORIE LIU: OK.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, how do you feel about taking questions?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I want to take some questions.
MARJORIE LIU: All right. Let’s do it.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: All right.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: [INAUDIBLE]
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh.
MARJORIE LIU: Oh, that’s nice.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: My pleasure.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: –the conversation thus far.
So that we can include you in the videos, we do need people who want to ask questions to please go to these mics that are in the walkways here, the stairways.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And I will say that if you have specific questions about your writing that you say, I don’t want to ask that in a microphone, do it because you’ll be surprised how many people are feeling the same feeling or expressing the same, are having the same frustrations, or we could just go, here we go. You can do it.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Writing can be–
MARJORIE LIU: Right. Don’t be shy. This is a great opportunity.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: There you go. There you go.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I love the awkward.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Right. Over here, go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Hi. So I think the ending– the death that you gave Peter Parker in your run for Ultimate Spider-Man is– I honestly think it’s one of the most beautiful comic moments I’ve ever seen.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: How did you feel when another writer decided to just drag the dead horse back out?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, no, no. I dragged that horse out. I wanted that horse back what.
AUDIENCE: What motivated you to do that?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I knew I was leaving, and I wanted to put the toy back for other writers to have. Why should they be denied what I was given, which is that playground that I loved? And I often think what I would want, like, if I was the other creator, and I’ll just do that, because you hear through– we’ve both heard these horrific stories of creators just screwing over other creators with storylines or just editorial decisions that they knew was going to mess them up, and I would like to go through life never having anyone ever said that about me.
AUDIENCE: It was just interesting since, like, your run with Miles Morales was great. And I thought you’d beautifully just set him up as, like, the mainstay in the Ultimate universe since it was removed. But regardless, that’s cool.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you. No, you know what? I just thought we got to a place where we could have both, and I think the movie proves me right. So yeah.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: All right, over here.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I really have proof that I was right about anything.
AUDIENCE: I got to you via Powers. That was my first introduction.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: And I hadn’t really actually read the Marvel bits. But I hope– A, are you going to do any more Powers Bureau? And secondly, could you discuss a little bit, since you were– I didn’t realize you were an artist. I’m not that familiar with your background. Your cooperation as a writer with your artists– and if you’d just talk about that a little bit.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I have two things. Number one, yes, yes. The good news, great, I have Powers good news, which is that the 20th anniversary– because we’re old people– is this summer. And so DC Comics will be releasing a brand-new Powers graphic novel that’s already written and drawn. And we’re actually adding a lot more onto it because when we realized it was the 20th anniversary, we’re going to make it a very special celebration. We’re not putting it out as a miniseries, but as a graphic novel. So no one has to wait. They can just have it because we’re sorry for the wait. So yes to more Power.
AUDIENCE: Favorite strip.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And it’s pretty big. It’s like 180 pages long. So there’s a lot to show you there.
And Powers is actually a great example of why I’m not drawing because literally when I first met Mike Oeming at a signing in Philadelphia, me and David Mack and Mike Oeming, we just didn’t really know each other. We were becoming buds on the road. And Mike was developing what would become his Powers style. And he went home and he sent over drawings of my character, Jinx, and David Mack’s character, Kabuki, in that style that he was drawing.
And I immediately would have rather that book be in Mike’s style than my style. I immediately was, like, personally as a fan, I would rather read this than what I’m doing. And I called up David and I said, are we going to fight over him, or can I just have him, because clearly we need to work with him. And so Mike and I were not friends, we did not know each other, and I just called him up and I said, I have this idea– homicide book. And he literally that night sent in the first drawings of Christian Walker.
And Mike was over at my house two nights ago, and I can tell you that he is like my brother. So I went from, like, throughout the creation of Powers and everything we’ve been through and the TV show and all that, having just created my family around that. It’s quite something.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Marjorie, do you want to mention your relationship with your artist with Monstress?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. Because that was the first question I asked you when I saw you today was about how you guys worked together.
MARJORIE LIU: You know, I actually met Sana when we were working on X-23. She was the fill-in artist initially, and then I loved her work so much, it so evocative, that I requested her when our actual artist went off to do other things. I think he was pulled for an Avengers event or something. And so–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Is this me you’re talking about?
MARJORIE LIU: Actually, I don’t so. I think it was– I don’t think so.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: OK.
MARJORIE LIU: Anyway.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: OK.
MARJORIE LIU: So it worked out for me, a great opportunity, because we just totally– I mean, I fell in love with her style. She was absolutely amazing. And what’s happened since then is that we’re doing Monstress, and she lives in Japan. When we first started out, she didn’t speak any English. She had a translator. And so she would get the scripts in English, they would be translated into Japanese, and then she would just draw them. And she would draw her X-23 books in, like, two weeks. I swear to God, this woman was like a beast. She would just whip them out.
And Monstress, now, takes her about six to seven weeks per issue. But the detail and the– what she pours into this book, you know, our collaborative process, for me is like having a psychic bond with someone, because before we started writing the first issue, I would give her notes, and the barest, barest notes, and she would come back with these character designs that were as if she had reached into my head and pulled out my dreams. It was actually incredibly profound.
And so whenever I get pages from her, it is like I’m seeing someone just manifest my imagination on the page. It’s one of most beautiful things I’ve experienced, and I’ve worked with a ton of amazing artists. But Sana– whatever we’ve got going on, I have no words for it, but it’s special. And sometimes in this business, that’s what makes it really beautiful, when you collaborate with an artist and you just– you click. Something happens. And no matter– the rest of the world could hate your work and be like, this the worst thing we’ve ever read, but between you and this other creator. It’s magic.
And for me, that’s one of the reasons why I write comics, because I love the medium, but also because I love the collaborative process and I love that magic.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And I was telling you, Sana really upsets a lot of other artists because it’s so intricate, because there’s literally two things she does that are antithetical to, like, what most comics are, which is she designed costumes that are so elaborate that she now has to draw in every panel that elaborate, because now that book is about elaborate design, right?
And it made me laugh because I thought Joe and Sarah Pichelli were designing Miles Morales’ costume and they did the reverse web line, which is so hard to draw. Ask anybody. It’s literally the opposite of easy. And Joe came up with that and then left. So all these artists are now stuck drawing the hardest costume, right? And she’s doing it with glee in Monstress.
MARJORIE LIU: Well I don’t know if glee, but she’s definitely doing it.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s amazing. But you definitely have that thing. Once you’re working with someone who doesn’t even speak the same language as you, but it’s working, and now it’s working on this other level, you just want to run and scream at everybody, it shouldn’t be working! It’s the best feeling in the world.
MARJORIE LIU: It is. It is. Thank you.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Over here.
AUDIENCE: Hi. First of all, thank you. There’s been so much of your work that’s meant so much to me.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: I appreciate it. Secondly, as far as the question, you mentioned there being so much of Peter Parker in you. And I assume that’s kind of a two-way street. How do you–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Isn’t everything, though?
AUDIENCE: Well, yeah. Like, as a writer, that’s what you have to do, but how? Like, I’m working on a project right now that’s one of those things where, like, the fear makes it really easy to want to stop, and I don’t think I can. But it’s so much of me that it’s hard to get that out, especially a character who’s a different generation, for example.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: You may have heard people talk about this online. It’s very hard to talk about. But what you need to do is to get into almost a zen state when you’re writing, which is– and I’m not saying, like, all to yourself, but stop thinking about all the stuff you’re thinking about. Just don’t think about anything about what this character needs to do right now, like, right this second, what does this character need to do, right? And if you have trouble even getting there, you can start with the easiest thing you can do in genre, which is take your character and put them in the place they least want to be whatever that is.
And let’s say you’re writing about you. Where was the place that you least wanted to be at the moment? And then put yourself there, and then write yourself out of it. All right. And just do that. And by doing that, you’ve now created almost like a survivor story where you’re not even thinking about anything but how can I get out of this situation? And then you’re going to read back what you wrote and go, oh, I wrote all that stuff I was worried about. It’s all in there. All right.
All that stuff happens, but only when you literally stop thinking about it. It’s literally like if you stop thinking about being single. You know what I mean? It’s the same thing. Like, the minute you stop thinking about it, you meet the perfect person, right? It’s the same thing. Just stop thinking about it, and you will get there. Does that make sense?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, totally. Thanks. Thank you.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And I know it’s one of those things that’s easier to do than say. But I talk to a lot of creators about it, and it really is you just got to just get there. I’m done worrying about it, just going to do it.
And then sometimes it’s always a matter of just looking at one other creator, going, oh, they did it and they’re stupid. I’m going to do it. Yeah, I’m gonna– yeah. And I know that I’m that for a lot of people. There are people who read my scripts and go, he can’t even spell, and he got in. So yeah, get in. There you go. Sorry.
AUDIENCE: Hey, Mr. Bendis. I’ve been a big fan for a long, long time.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: I’m a little nervous, actually.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, don’t be. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: I kind of got, like, a two-part question. I was wondering what you thought about of the Heroes in Crisis story and how writers decide the fights, like anybody could be doing anybody. Who would win a fight between Captain Marvel and Superman, if you were to write that?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, who would win the fight between Captain Marvel and Superman?
AUDIENCE: Yes, sir.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, Superman. But to ask your–
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: When asked– to your earlier question, now, I do love Heroes in Crisis and I’ll tell you why. What Tom is bringing is real truth. He has lived a life and has feelings and has no problem putting them on the page and is doing so almost in, like, a punk rock kind of way that I think is very, very good for comics. And it’s exactly what I’m speaking of. And I can point to– see, that’s what I’m talking– that’s his truth.
And for me, who never had PTSD in my life up until this year, I’m actually genuinely grateful for him. Like, I got to read the first three issues of Heroes before anyone else did, and I was like, I genuinely don’t know if this is just what I needed right now or this is the best thing you’ve ever done, because this hit me. It punched me right in the chest–
AUDIENCE: Yeah, it’s definitely–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: –and made me feel better.
AUDIENCE: –definitely hooking.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. And I go–
AUDIENCE: I can’t wait for the next issue.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I can’t even tell you how many comics have made me feel that way. You can count them on a hand, like deeply hit me, right? So I was grateful for it. So yeah.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, sir.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you, man. It’s good to meet you. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hey, I just want to say thanks to both of you for putting this event on. This has been great.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: When you said earlier, learning how to say no to a project, that seems really odd to me just because of my day job. You’re taught you never say no to a project or you always say yes. You take on more work. You put more on your plate. When do you know when to say no?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Well it’s different for freelancers. I’ve never had a real job, but I know people who have, and they’ve told me about it. So I know that there’s different ways to success and different things. But for freelancers, every time you take a job– it could be Scrooge McDuck– you’re giving of yourself. You’re putting yourself– you’re putting your name on something and you’re putting yourself out there. It is a piece of you. And you really should take that under consideration.
And you know what, man? I’m not taking away from– like, you know what? I need to pay my rent. And I did a Star Trek gig to pay my rent. But OK, find my truth in there. Absolutely. You can you absolutely take a gig, but then find yourself, find a reason that makes it special that you did it.
AUDIENCE: Do you mind answering it also, Marjorie?
MARJORIE LIU: Oh, for me?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, please.
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah. No. I’ve gone through certain situations in my life, as a writer, where I have been asked to do certain things. Like, one of the first big questions I was ever asked that I had to say no to was that an editor wanted me to change my name because it was thought that a Chinese name wouldn’t sell books.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: What?
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah. And I said no to that. And so you get questions like– if you’re a person of color, sometimes you get questions like that. I was asked to make a character white because they didn’t like the fact that the hero was brown and that they didn’t want to put a brown person on the cover of the book, and I had to say no to that. Now, that’s just with novels.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, thank God.
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah. I mean, comics are entirely safe. But it was a little–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Comics have problems.
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah, they’re not entirely off the hook. But–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I was thinking that I couldn’t even think of who you were talking about. I was so upset.
MARJORIE LIU: This was when I started out my career as a novelist. When it came to Marvel, for example, I was actually pretty lucky at Marvel to work with fantastic people. But towards the end of my time at Marvel, not including Han Solo, I got to the point where I was just itching to do something else. When you write corporate comics, at a certain point sometimes, you’re writing for a corporation. You don’t own the characters.
And that’s something that’s easy to forget because I became so invested in characters, like X-23 and the X-Men and all that. And then all of a sudden, you’re like– it doesn’t matter how much you remind yourself that they’re not yours. At a certain point, you forget in order to invest yourself in the writing.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And my– the way the universe keeps reminding me is crazy. Miles is on the can of Campbell’s Soup this week. There’s Campbell’s Soup cans.
MARJORIE LIU: Yo. Really?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It’s crazy. Yeah, no. I didn’t know that was a goal of mine till I saw it. I go, I’m so proud of myself.
MARJORIE LIU: You’re like, yes. And so I got offered– towards the end, I got offered two books. And I would have– under certain circumstances, I would have loved doing them. But I realized the corporate controls were going to be such that I couldn’t tell the story I wanted to tell. I couldn’t. And I decided that it was time for me to do independent comics. I had to leave.
I didn’t have a project. I didn’t have Monstress at that point. I didn’t have anything to cushion the fall. I just knew I couldn’t do this anymore. I had to write my own thing. And so I said no. I said no to two big books that otherwise might have been great to do. But I was done. So it happens.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. And by the way, you can hear these stories going back to the Terry Gilliam story is that they wanted him to do the hottest script in Hollywood was Enemy Mine. And he said, no, I got a better script. It’s Brazil. They go, better than Enemy Mine? And then they made this movie. A no is very, very sexy.
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah, it’s very powerful.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It really is.
MARJORIE LIU: No is powerful.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yep.
AUDIENCE: I have two questions, one short and one long. The first, the short one, is you said three words that really hit my heart, which is Legion of Super-Heroes. So is there anything you can say about them?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: They’re cool.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, because Legion fans want them to come back. They’re worse than X-Men fans, I think.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: All I can say is that if someone was preparing a run on Legion of Super-Heroes, it is easily the hardest job to prepare reference and research for that they could ever imagine. But I just– that’s all I heard that. I don’t know if that’s true.
AUDIENCE: OK. And then second, I grew up in a time where it was letter columns that you learned how people felt about a book, and that was five months after the issue came out. And now you’ve got Twitter where people will give full reviews in 140 characters.
And so my question to you, really both of you is, how do you interact with fans that way? Do you read blogs? Do you check tweets? Do you shut them all out? Do you go to places like CBR or Bleeding Cool and read what they have to say? Do you go to message boards? I mean, do you immerse yourself in what fans have to say, or do you distance yourself, or is it a mix?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I’d like to hear your answer on this.
MARJORIE LIU: I am not– you know, ever since the 2016 election, I’ve been pulling myself off Twitter because it just became too stressful. And I realized that I could be an advocate and an activist in ways that didn’t involve 140 characters, but that involved actual real-life, feet-on-the-ground work, also including the work I was doing, the writing.
And so– but even before that, I didn’t read reviews. I never read reviews as a novelist, didn’t go to Amazon and scour. I didn’t do it because– and occasionally, you can’t always escape reviews. And if they were negative, I read the negative reviews, and I was grateful for them because I inevitably learned something.
Criticism is good. You can learn a lot. And sometimes it’s valid, sometimes it’s not, but you take what you think is useful and you incorporate that, because as a writer, I am always learning. There has never been a point in my life where I thought, damn, I got this, because I don’t.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: I just don’t. Yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: We know a couple of people who genuinely feel that way once in a while, like Mark Miller. He says it online all the time, so it’s not like we’re gossiping. He constantly goes, nailed it! I never felt that. I have never felt that in–
MARJORIE LIU: Never.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And he genuinely feels it, and sometimes he’s right. He nailed it. But I’ve never, ever felt that in my life.
MARJORIE LIU: Never felt that way. And so– yes. And also, I think that, for me, I love my readers. And I have really great interactions with my readers for the most part, you know, and thankfully. But when I was on Twitter mostly, I would engage every now and then. But for me, to meet a reader in real life and engage, like, that’s why I do Comic-Cons, because I like seeing people face to face and talking with them and actually having a conversation.
And I grew up before social media. I didn’t have the internet until I was 18. I grew up having conversations with people. And I hate to sound so old, but I miss that. I miss that. And that’s kind of what feeds me.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. And I was lucky. Like, I came up while the social media of comics was building itself. Like, I was one of the first message boards when I was indie, and so I kind of grew up as it evolved. So I was able to, like, gently make the mistakes that you would make, which is, oh, they’re over there talking about Ultimate Spider-Man. I’ll chime in. Oh, they actually did not want me to chime in.
Well, you learn that. You’re like, oh, we’re all friends. We’ll come and I can help with this conversation. Oh no, that was their conversation, and you ruined it by showing up over there. So you learn that. And you learn just to stay in your lane, and if people need you, they come find you. There’s no reason to venture forth. Everyone has their own space.
You don’t need to– but what I feel deeply honored by, to be honest– and this is because I’ve gotten to work with so many of my heroes– is that they’ll tell you, like Bill Sienkiewicz will tell you– when he was on New Mutants, they got two letters. He had no idea he was blowing our minds. He had no idea. He was sitting in his room going, well, I’m taking some big shots here, yeah, hope everyone likes it, and had no idea that he was altering us, literally changing our lives.
So I’m genuinely grateful that, like, every Wednesday– and it does feel like– and in sports, every given Sunday you’re the hero or the villain of the game. For comics, it’s every given Wednesday. It’s any Wednesday I’ve done right or, oh, you, you know? And most of the time I have genuinely no idea what it is that’s going to set people off good or bad, and that’s an exciting feeling.
MARJORIE LIU: It’s an adventure.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It is. I do. I genuinely love the adventure. And as far as critique goes, I have found that most of it is very truthful and honest and that you can– and the ones that aren’t, you can tell right away. Like, when you see a reviewer talking about it they wrote the book, I’m like, OK, you’re coming from a different place, right?
But when you read a review and it’s painful, you go with that’s true, then you know that’s true. If that really hurt your feelings, then this is true. And I’ve read a rave review of something where I said, well, that’s not true either. It’s got some problems. I know what the problems are. I will do better next time, right?
So I’ve had the experience of both not having my mind changed when someone hated something and I loved, and it’s usually, it’s my baby– the one that everyone said crap, and that’s the one you hug the most, right? And other things that people have been very generous to me about hasn’t made me love it anymore, if that makes sense. But instead of just focusing on that, I apply it to the next thing. Like, I go, well, how I’m feeling now I should apply to this issue of Superman and make it more honest and more true and do all those things.
So I think it’s– but just spending all day online reading about yourself could not be more of a trap. Like, holy lord, that is not–
MARJORIE LIU: Don’t do it.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah.
MARJORIE LIU: Don’t do it.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: You’re not supposed to be doing that. You’re supposed to be researching your work and helping other creators with their work. That’s what you should be doing online. And if I’m sitting there obsessively reading about what people think about the third season of Jessica Jones or something, that’s– I know it’s not out yet.
MARJORIE LIU: Its like internet masturbation. You’re just basically just like–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah– ego surfing. And I read a quote by Maya Rudolph of all people in Interview Magazine, and she said that she realized that a lot of people on Saturday Night Live were sitting around reading every review, every tweet, everything, and then they would only be satisfied when they read the worst thing they could possibly read about themselves. Like, you could skip over 100 good comments about, wow, that was funny, blah, blah, blah, but when someone says something so brutal, you go, whew.
And then she realized it was like a version of cutting. Like, you’re literally trying to hurt yourself. You’re literally looking for a way to make yourself feel bad so you can feel good. And then once you realize that, stop. You’ve got to stop immediately. Yeah. So it’s been many, many years since I’ve ever–
AUDIENCE: Thanks so much. I can help with the Legion if you need it.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: What was that? I’m sorry. I didn’t hear it. What’d he say?
MARJORIE LIU: I actually didn’t hear it, either.
AUDIENCE: I can help you with Legion.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Ah, thank you.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Yes, over here.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: When’s Chameleon Boy? No, I’m sorry.
AUDIENCE: Brian, I’ve been a fan since the Spiral issue of Torso, so a long, long time. Good to see you healthy. It’s really good.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: I know Chaykin’s a big influence. I know Mamet’s a big influence. I also know you’re a huge Howard Stern fan. And I want to know what your experiences are growing up with that, and has that influenced you? I know you’ve had some run-ins with him. I want to hear about that kind of stuff.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I did. I haven’t listened in a few years. It was the fourth child was the one that– that was it. Choices had to be made. And I’m bummed out because the show has evolved– the interviews lately, the Neil Young. I do hear the big interviews. He did an hour and a half on Neil Young that was just riveting, just about process. It’s become a process junkie show, and of all the things you think that show would have turned into, that’s kind of amazing. But yeah.
Years ago, I got a call from Joe Quesada who said, come to New York this week, we have a meeting with Howard Stern, and I was like, what? And I was like as in you can get. And he goes– and we were literally in Howard Stern’s apartment talking about making a superhero franchise for him.
It was weird. It was a weird day, and I loved every second of it. And it was actually a day he actually took himself off the air to show the FCC– what it will be like if the FCC goes after him. And so we were there. He was shot [INAUDIBLE]. So we were in his penthouse apartment in Central Park West overlooking the universe, and the tallest man in the world met this little Jewish man, and it was like meeting– I felt like Frodo.
And we sat and talked about comic books and making a superhero out of Howard Stern. And I knew it was never going to happen in a million years. I knew this was the meeting he was taking as the serious deal was being put together, and I didn’t mind it at all. Usually you get in a meetings like that and you’re like, oh, this is not a real meeting. You’ve had those, right?
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. You go, oh, this isn’t real. But that one, I was like, I’m completely entertained. I’m getting my own private Howard Stern show. It went on, for, like nine hours. It was great.
AUDIENCE: That’s cool. Thanks.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. It was the best. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Just want to say thank you. I’ve been a fan since way back, and Ultimate Spider-Man was incredible. And Superman is my all-time favorite, so when you made the announcement you were moving over, I was as thrilled as could be. Are there any characters, like [? Connell, ?] that you knew out the gate you wanted to play with when you moved to DC? Are there any things that you’re like, if I could finagle things and I could play with that guy, I would love to play with that?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, you’re genuinely seeing them. Like, this is it. Wonder Comics is a perfect representation of what I thought Alisa and I could bring to DC that they weren’t doing, that wasn’t there. And when the idea of the pop-up imprint was floated by me, it was an empty bowl. I could fill it with anything. And I was like, oh. And my first instinct was, oh, I’ll make a bunch of crime comics. And then I realized, oh, jinx, well, there’s a bunch of– I’m actually doing a handful of crime comics right now.
But boy, all these characters that I love aren’t in any book at all. And so Young Justice– and I said, like an ultimate line, but with a different purpose, but with a similar kind of these characters are at that moment where they’re discovering themselves, and that’s a great thing that comics has– and so Young Justice and Wonder Twins, and Dial H for Hero. But it’s also having Dial H for Hero by Sam Humphries. Like, I’m very selfishly making a comic book that I would like to have a copy of. Like, that literally is– I’ve never felt so selfish.
And Wonder Twins– yeah, I wanted to buy Wonder Twins. And I literally was like, well, I wouldn’t just buy any Wonder Twins. I would want DC to show me someone and I go, oh, I have to buy that. And Mark Russell who just did Flintstones– and he’s absolutely that guy. So we’re making comics that I desperately would buy. Yeah. And so the characters, too– all of them will be showing up.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: So has it been weird watching Scarlet come true?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yes, it is, because I do a book called Scarlet that takes place in Portland, and things keep happening in Portland at the same locations that happened in the book that we did photo reference of, and that’s very strange. Yeah, it’s very weird. And I was going to ask you about this about Monstress, as well, because Monstress reflects– it was born in a different world, right? Monstress was born years ago in a different world, and now it’s existing in this world.
MARJORIE LIU: What do you mean in a different world?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Well, it was before 2016 it was created, right?
MARJORIE LIU: Oh yeah. That was a very– yes.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It was a different world.
MARJORIE LIU: It was a very different world.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No. Because Scarlet was born in the Obama years, and now it’s reflected of a completely different society, but reflects its truth differently than I planned, but gets there faster. And I’m amazed by it. I’ve never had that feeling before. I’ve ever had a narrative alter itself because of the real world, and not alter itself, but it reflects differently to the– the audience sees it differently.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, it’s weird because sometimes as a writer, in my life, I’ve wondered sometimes if unconsciously, you know– not just me, but I’ve talked with other writers who feel the same way– that if unconsciously, in the moment of creation, we are not picking up on something, because so often the work that we do, years later or not so many years later, it is in the right moment. It’s as if we could tell a future or we could pick up on a threat of the future, and we were writing something that there was going to be a need for or that would raise questions that were appropriate for the time that we found ourselves in. And it’s a very strange sensation when that happens.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: The new police captain in Portland, her last name is justice. And I’m like, ah, I would never name my character Justice. I would– but it’s– anyway.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Over here.
AUDIENCE: Thank you guys for being here. My question is really centered around endings because we live in this culture of what’s next. There’s no cohesive ending for something. And as a writer and artist myself, I struggle with crafting the ending that feels satisfying while trying to balance the urge to keep pushing forward and to make that next thing because I’m genuinely excited. So I’m just wondering if you had advice.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, It’s something I wrestle with all the time. It’s one of those things there’s no right or wrong answer for, and every project and character offers their own solutions, right? And first, I come from the Stan Lee school, which is every comic is someone’s first and last, and it’s your fault either way. And that is that– so that cliffhanger– you know, Stan never ended a story. It never fully ended. It was always like– even if it was a big win and a happy ending, oh, but then there was something else, right? So there’s always another reason to pick up the next issue. So I’m a big, big believer in that.
And also, it’s a reflection of life. It never– there’s always something else. You’re always like, you solve that problem, oh, there’s a new problem. So I focus on making the moments as true as possible. So the ending then becomes inevitable, right? It’s the only ending the story could possibly have, and we couldn’t have possibly ever saw it coming. That’s the goal for a great ending of a story, right? Isn’t that how it’s said? That it’s the– like, when people see it, they go, that’s the only ending it could have ever had.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Great. We’re going to get through every questioner here if we can. Am I cutting you off?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, no, no. That was good.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, I was going to– yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, no. Go ahead. Go ahead.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, I was going to add on just really quick that there’s something about a beautiful ending, and I think because I come from writing fanfic, many, many, many, many years ago, that allows for, also in addition to that, possibilities. You allow the reader possibilities to continue dreaming of these characters. And I think that’s something else that a great ending does.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh, Lost in Translation, the movie– that’s the perfect ending to that movie. Right? They go their separate ways with a secret that’s none of our f-ing business. Right? So it can be as elegant as that. And that’s what I think about often, that it doesn’t have to be the Death Star explodes. It can be, I love you, and I couldn’t say those words till now. That’s a great ending to a story.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hey, Brian. I just wanted to say thank you for co-creating Miles because I relate a lot to Spider-Man, and it’s cool to see a character– I mean, obviously there’s a bunch of characters that, quote, unquote, “look” like me, you know, like rocky and stuff like that.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, no, I understand.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you, man.
AUDIENCE: So it’s just cool for that, especially when the movie’s going to come out, I’m going to take my little cousin, so that’s going to be cool.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And it’s good. It’s a good movie.
AUDIENCE: I know, right?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I’m so excited, because I didn’t have anything to do with making it, so I can say this without any ego, and I can say it with– I was holding my breath, going, please, please, please. Yeah, it’s really something.
AUDIENCE: I can still tell him, like, oh, I kind of met the guy that made him– but anyway. So two things– the second one’s kind of long. But the first thing is I’m a big fan of Legacy characters, and I wanted to know if maybe you were going to, in the future, introduce JSA into Superman or Action Comics, not so much for Superman, but for Jonathan, because it’s just kind of, like, to–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, Jonathan– I’m also, obviously, a huge fan of Legacy characters as well, and DC is a completely unique animal in that area. So there’s so many characters that are Legacy characters that are sometimes abandoned, you know what I mean? So even Young Justice– all those characters aren’t being written right now. So I want to get going for there.
What’s coming with John is a very, very special, unique storyline that’s going to take up this whole run of Superman. He’s coming back next issue, and he’s coming back with an entirely huge story that happened with him and his grandfather and his mother out in space, and we’re going to show you some stuff about John and the Superman family we’ve never seen before, which I’m excited about.
And it’s all a reflection, getting back to truth, a reflection of having all my children and all of them having very unique perspectives and unique abilities and unique needs and reflecting that onto Superman and his son is a very joyful thing for me.
AUDIENCE: The second thing I wanted to ask includes about your family, also, because as a creator of characters that are people of color, I want to know about kind of process, because I know you said you have a multiracial family. So I want to know how that– especially as a white male, how does that work exactly, like the process?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Sometimes it’s never as complicated as, boy, I’m very aware of what my kids are taking in in this culture and the voices and the characters that they see. And for kids of color, though it is much better than it used to be, it is still– there’s only a couple of flavors that they see on a daily basis. The brown-skinned kid is usually the sassy best friend, other than KC Undercover and a couple others.
But you go– there’s more flavors out there. There’s more experience and perspective out there that’s not being reflected to these children. And so they walk through life with a culture that doesn’t reflect truth to them or they have to dig deep to find something to connect to. And when you’re aware of that and you’re in a position to change any of it or to be additive in any way, shape, or form, you got to take every opportunity to do so.
So that’s where Riri came from, and Miles came from an earlier version of that thought process, and now we’re adding characters into Action Comics in DC, and we have a new book called Naomi, David Walker and I, coming out that’s a very substantial additive element to the DC Universe, not just with what the character and her point of view, but she’s going to be bringing things to the DC universe that were not there before.
So it just seems to me that there’s tons of story not being told, and I can get there a little bit from my perspective, and then hopefully that helps everybody else get there, as well. But– yeah. I see what’s missing, and I can’t do all of it, but I can do some of it. And also, I’m not the voice that should do all of it. There’s clearly hundreds of people more qualified to do this, but I’ll do my part.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: First of all, thank you both.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Hi.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Hi.
AUDIENCE: Second, so you both have the unique and really cool experience of writing characters that have blockbuster legacies behind them. So I was really curious to hear a story of when you felt like balancing that legacy or that maybe corporate identity of character conflicted with your view of that character, and what was the process of either saying no and then how it was resolved, or what was the experience like?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Well, you think. I don’t think about what the corporate thinks about the character. I think about what the world thinks about the character. It is a shared character. Superman is a shared character. Superman is everybody. Spider-Man is everybody. Not every character is like that. But Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, these are shared characters. And when you feel like– the Wonder Woman movie being a perfect example. That’s how we all feel about her. That’s it. You did it. That’s not a corporate thing. That’s a cultural thing. So I think more about that than I do about what– who cares about the corporate?
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah. I mean, I would say basically I have a similar approach. So when I was writing the X-Men, when I was writing X-23, Black Widow, I was really trying to put myself in the skin of these characters and really think about what their pain is, what their joy is, what drives them, and just inhabit them. And I never really came up against anything as far as early on, especially. It was only much later in my career that I started butting heads a little bit with the way certain characters should be portrayed, and those were on books I ultimately said no to.
The only time I ever had to laugh was when I was writing Han Solo. And I had him drawing his blaster first. They don’t like that. They really don’t like that. I was shocked. I was like, it’s such a small thing, and they’re like, no, no. So I won’t go into the full details of that exchange, but other than those books I actually ultimately said no to, that was the only time I really sat back and I was like, wow, this is real.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: But I do love discovering that there is an argument among fans about a character that I wasn’t aware of.
MARJORIE LIU: Oh yea.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And that could still happen. And I’m so online that I’m always surprised that there’s some deep thing going on that I missed out on. But yeah, I’ve enjoyed my new DC where I’m the voice breaking up the fight between the Superboys.
MARJORIE LIU: The first round of hate mail I ever got when I was at Marvel was because– it was during my run of X-23, and it was because one of the teenage characters makes a comment about Psylocke’s cellulite in a snarky teen way. I got so much shit for that, so much shit. All the fanboys came out and were just like, no, she does not have cellulite. That is terrible. How could you say that? And I was like, all right. Wow. OK.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
MARJORIE LIU: It’s the little things.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: So we started a couple minutes late. I’d like to give you each about two minutes each because I would like to respect the fact you’ve been waiting for a while.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Oh yeah, absolutely.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Yeah This is in regards to Miles and Riri Williams. And I guess my question was we talk about social media and people’s opinions online, and there’s obviously a contingent of folks online who are comic fans who do not like the representation that is out there. And I’m just curious, when you first started introducing the characters, was there any pushback from the company or from the creators? And if there was, how did you handle that?
And I guess my other question that I want to ask, two-part question, is that being that you’re writing about characters of color– I know you talked about your kids and you wanted a representation for your kids– how did you, as a white male, go about with the process of writing for characters of color? Was there a need or a process of having a conversation with folks about kind of their perspective and what are some important issues that needed to be tackled with these characters?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: You asked all of the excellent questions that I wanted to talked about earlier. So thank you. This is good.
Number one, nobody corporate– I never got any pushback on anything. In fact, Miles was created in such a beautiful vacuum of what if, why don’t we, and on a book that was successful it wasn’t being done out of stress or a need, which is sometimes how things are done out of panic and fear. It was being done out of why don’t we? What’s stopping us? We should. Right?
And once the story’s truth, which was the death of Peter Parker, revealed itself, then we’re like, all right, we’re doing it. Let’s do it. And I was so grateful that the response to Miles matched what was going on behind the scenes, because the audience wouldn’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. All they know is they were going to react to what they’re seeing, right? And what they saw reflected well.
It doesn’t always happen that way, but this one did, and it was an enormous thing in my life. It’s hard to describe because I was at the center of a lot of people coming up to me of different backgrounds and ethnicities, going, seriously, don’t mess this up, seriously, seriously.
And a friend of mine– I was working on the Powers TV show. And I’ll say who it was. It was Khary Payton, who was actually the voice of Cyborg, came up to me and told me– and this is before anyone knew anything. He just heard I was doing Spider-Man and that there was a brown skin involved, right? And he pulled me aside on set and he goes, I’m going to tell you a story, and he told me that when I was a kid, all our friends played superheroes, and my friends wouldn’t let me be Batman or Superman because of the color of my skin, but I could be Spider-Man. And that’s why– like, Spider-Man can be anybody. Kids of color think that. So you should know that, and I didn’t know that.
But what was amazing was he told me the story. I then realized it was maybe the 80th person who had told me a version of this story throughout the years I was writing Spider-Man. But I was just hearing it as this is why Spider-Man relates to everybody, right? I wasn’t hearing, no, you need to do more.
And once I was there, I realized, oh, this is what I was being told for years. So it felt like the right road the entire time, and that felt good. So that felt good. And so here we are weeks away from the movie debut. I genuinely– the relief I have is enormous because it’s always– Miles and everything that’s always been treated– been done the right way.
As far as how we go about this, this is something I actually wanted to bring up in this classroom environment. With everyone kind of learning how to write their truth and write from their experience, there’s also kind of a weird thing going on where there’s being taught, like, no, you should only write what you know and don’t write other people’s perspective. You should only write your thing.
And I’m not sure exactly where that’s coming from. That’s not how literature is made. That’s not how stories are told. Part of our job as writers is to go out into the world and investigate and embrace and understand and find empathy and find the understanding of other people’s perspective and experience, and that involves, yeah, an inordinate amount of talking to people and listening and hearing what people say.
And also, when you’re done writing what you’ve written, show your work to people who have lived and say, is there anything in here that sounds like bullshit? Is there anything in here? Could you point the bullshit out? And I do it all the time. I have friends that I can go, point to the bullshit.
And it’s terrifying to write outside your perspective because you do have the world can comment on it, right? And if you make a mistake, you will hear about it, right? And instead of shying away from that, which I’m fearful a lot of creators have been doing, I’ve been eagerly investigating outside of my perspective even more so.
And I just put out a book this year called Pearl. There’s a few books coming out through Jinxworld at DC. And one of them literally has characters based on me and David. It couldn’t be more like our perspective of the universe. And then there’s another book called Pearl that’s about a tattoo artist that works in San Francisco who’s an American-born Japanese girl who’s an albino who couldn’t be less like my perspective. And it’s filled with things that have been just poured over cliche, just like yakuza stories. They’re just filled with the worst cliche in American culture, right?
So I said, let us create a scenario for ourselves where we are embracing all of these terrifying things for writers. And I put out this book in a blind terror. The night this book came out, I literally– I said– I go, I can’t fucking sleep. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I put out a book every week of my life for the last 27 years, and I’m literally, like, sweating about this because I’m so scared.
And then literally went on Twitter and I saw a tweet from Arthur Miller that said, the best work is the work that is that close to embarrassing. That is the only work worth doing. And I go, phew. That’s what I feel. I feel like this is what you’re supposed to feel like. So I tell my students, I tell all the writers, dive in. Go look outside yourself.
And then guess what? When you go outside yourself and look for all that truth, you find a lot of healing things about your own life. You find a lot of commonality, and then that’s why we’re all here, because we’re all connected to stories. You try to reach out. You want to tell your story so it connects to other people. And the only way you can really do that is to reach outside yourself.
MARJORIE LIU: Well, and if I just might jump in for a second–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Please.
MARJORIE LIU: –which is, I think, part of the reason why there is pushback is because there are so few– there are so few writers of color in not just the comic book industry, but in all of pop culture, whether it’s television, film. Our numbers are beginning to increase a little bit when it comes to pros, but really it’s not to where it needs to be.
And if there were more writers of color, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue as it is. But because there are so few of us, because up until 2016 no Black woman had ever written at Marvel– no. I think– I could be wrong, but I think I might have been the first Asian American woman to write at Marvel. And that sucks. Those numbers are terrible, and it really hasn’t improved that much. It gets better in incremental bits here and there. But because there are so few of us, I think that’s the reason why there is pushback.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, I wholeheartedly agree.
MARJORIE LIU: It’s because if we were, like– if it was 50/50, if there was more of us, it would be less problematic. But the visuals just suck. And the lack of structural diversity within these industries sucks.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Great. We’ll have one more question.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: But I’m so proud of Kelly Sue because I do think she was the one that stomped her foot and said it’s safe. And I can feel a difference from the origins of Carol Corps to today that feels like there’s a– don’t you? Do you feel like it’s a shift in a grandly great direction?
MARJORIE LIU: In what way?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: In the voices of people of different ethnicities and sexualities finding their way in comics.
MARJORIE LIU: Oh. I mean, the numbers are definitely improving. I see it mostly in indie comics. I think it’s beginning to trickle into Marvel and DC, not as much as I think as it’s needed, particularly since these are our platforms. These aren’t just companies that have our favorite characters. These are platforms in which these characters reach out to masses, and masses are affected by them and their stories. And so when you only have one kind of imaginary influencing the stories that are being put out, it’s very problematic. And I think that it’s–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: And confusing.
MARJORIE LIU: And confusing– and I think that it’s something that needs to be very carefully examined going forward, how this can be changed and how we can change these structures within Marvel and DC because the indie comics are– like I said, it’s not great, but we’re beginning to catch up more, but how, within Marvel and DC, we can make fundamental changes so that going forward, the imaginations that are producing these stories, no matter how benevolent, no matter how well intentioned, aren’t so limited.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. My daughter is 11 years old, and she’s so connected to Lumberjanes that I caught her taking all 10 volumes to school every day. And it’s, like– just for her back. I’m like, just one at a time. You don’t need all 10. But I used to do that. I used to like– I might need all of this today. I might need every issue of Captain America today. I’m feeling it. All right.
So when I see– and I know it’s anecdotal– but when I see my daughter, on her own, just completely invested in this imagination that speaks so deeply to her, I feel good about things. I feel like these building blocks we’re seeing right now are just going to explode over the next few years.
Also, even the amount of college classes, the amount of people that are teaching and learning has altered the way comics are being made in a very excellent way, I think.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: All right. We have one last question.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: One more.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: And if you brought something, by the way, to sign, then after this question is asked and answered, you can come bring that down. OK. Go ahead.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: So you would now have to create a question that just sums it all up, brings it all home. It’s all on you, man.
MARJORIE LIU: Just do you.
AUDIENCE: This was very cool. Thank you very much. And I had one question. But Marjorie, you said something I thought was pretty interesting. So I have two, so hopefully both quick. But you said that sometimes when you write, it feels like you’re somehow predicting the future. Do you ever feel– do either of you ever feel, when you’re really creating something, that reality somehow bends to what you write? Rather a prediction, it’s actually a creation of reality.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: That’s a good one.
MARJORIE LIU: That’s a really great question.
AUDIENCE: And the second part of this is that when–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Because I’ll be thinking about that for the rest of my life. But go on.
AUDIENCE: No, because the thing is everything’s awesome here. And so I think when you’re so immersed in these worlds that you create and there’s a lot of themes that come up, especially in comics, and one of which is people die and they come back. And so given that you’re immersed in these worlds, do you believe in death?
MARJORIE LIU: Do we believe in– do we believe in death?
AUDIENCE: Do you believe in death? Yeah.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. I almost died. I really believe in it. Yeah. Yeah. I was told I wasn’t leaving the hospital. I was– yeah. I do believe in it.
No, but I know that people in comics get frustrated by the resurrection. But I think it’s one of those things people– you can’t have in the real world. So it’s the only place you can get it is in comics. I know there’s a cheap drama to it, but there’s also a profound way to do it that’s so exciting and beautiful, and a lot of us have really loved those, and a lot of creators have gone out of their way to create that moment of that thing. You can’t get that person back in real life. But you know what? We can get them back here. So let’s have that moment we can’t have anywhere else. So it’s more about that, the wish fulfillment, than baloney, you know, and sometimes they’re the same thing.
MARJORIE LIU: I was raised in a Buddhist-Christian household. So I’ve got a mishmash of beliefs. But, you know, that’ll tell you something as far as death goes. But as far as do I bend reality, I mean, I got to really think about that. I will tell you that when I’m in my zone and I’m listening to super loud music to get into that place where I can just release myself and not self-censor, it’s weird, and it’s going to sound really woo woo and new agey, but I do feel like there’s a part of my consciousness that goes somewhere else. And I can’t explain it any better than that. But it’s when I’m typing really fast– and I don’t write longhand, because if I did that, it’s too slow.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah, I can’t do it.
MARJORIE LIU: There’s something about typing where my brain can just relax and just things just flow out. And it’s kind of this really wild sensation that’s beautiful, and I don’t feel like I tap into it as much as I want. It’s almost a drug.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Yeah. But you feel– like, you’re often writing what you wish was happening, like, not even consciously. , Like you’re writing, I wish the world was better, I wish the world was kinder, I wish the world was more understanding. So you write that world, right? And my conversations between people are often conversations I wish was having versus the conversation that I witnessed, right?
So by doing that, you’re often putting energy out in the world–
MARJORIE LIU: Yeah, I agree with that.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: –that you’re wishing, and then people are reading it, and then somehow they’re reflective of it, and then they may behave better. You know what I mean? Like, you definitely feel like you’re in charge of your energy. You definitely feel like I’m in charge of the energy I’m putting out in the world. And I’ve certainly looked at my Twitter feed as saying, like, this should reflect me more than it reflects others. And so my Twitter feed is all about inspiration and lifting other creators up because that’s literally where I want my energy to be produced.
And so you do, after many years– I guess it takes a while, but you do feel like the energy– I guess it’s because this is the first time I’ve ever felt like there’s younger creators that grew up reading my stuff, like, who have told me now. I never had that before. So I feel like, oh, my energy is– I should keep doing this. This is positive energy and hopeful energy is a good thing to put out in the world. So it’s more that than being, like, a soothsayer– more wish fulfillment.
EDWARD SCHIAPPA: Well, let’s take this opportunity to give both of these authors–
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Thank you so much. Thank you, guys. Oh, thank you.