Brian Michael Bendis Talks ‘Powers’, Comics, and Filming in Atlanta
During the ATX Festival, I was able to sit down with Brian Michael Bendis for what, I have to say, is one of my favorite interviews that I’ve ever done. Bendis is a legend to me. His incredible work spans from the pages of comics to the TV screen with series he has co-created such as Powers and Alias, the basis for Netflix’s Jessica Jones series. Furthermore, he’s written Ultimate Spider-man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, All New X-Men and so many more.
How he has time for everything that he does is beyond me, so that was one of the very first things I had to ask him about.
You have so much going on, how do you manage your time? How do you separate everything that you do?
Brian Michael Bendis: One of the things I’m most proud of over the years, is time management and balancing family and work. Everyday, you just look at what needs to be done and do that, what needs to be done. That includes the idea that family is first, kids are first and when you’re with the family, put the phone down, look them right in the eye. That’s something I see growing a lot lately is kids asking for attention and not in the bad way, but “Mommy, mommy, mommy.” And mom is texting, that’s not attention, you have to look them in the eye and speak to them and listen. Just making sure I do that despite everything that I have in front of me.
You know what? Listen, there were some things in my mind that I had decided that no matter what happens in television, the comics comes first. The base has to be comics and my first true and only love in medium would be comics. You were on the set of Powers, I was sitting in Video Village writing an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy while they were setting up the lights. There’s literally sometimes an hour and a half, two hours where there’s literally nothing for me to do legally. I’m not in a union, so I just sit quietly. Great, I’ll work, I have something to do. The funny thing on that was, I was sitting in the Video Village writing Guardians, and the lead of our show just assumed that I was re-writing something they were working on that day, but I wasn’t because that was all done. He comes up behind me and reads what I’m writing, and really loud, he goes, “I am Groot!” Because I was writing Guardians of the Galaxy, and he has never seen it, so if you don’t know what that is, that sounds nuts. Him yelling that out like scared everybody, why is Sharlto [Copley] yelling “I am Groot” in the Video Village, that was just funny to me.
My multitasking makes for genuinely fun stuff for me.
Yeah, some cool moments!
Brian Michael Bendis: You know what? My string of good luck is unbelievably long, but I do know that eventually they’ll stop asking. Whoever asks me to do these things will stop asking, until then I do as much as I can while they’re asking.
Where do you find that you’re most creative? Is there a certain place? Some people are really creative in the shower. Do you have a place where you go that you’re best creative at?
Brian Michael Bendis: Bike riding is where I go to solve all the problems. I know you can’t tell from looking at me, but I’m a long distance bike rider, it is the thing that gets sacrificed the most for children, but instead now ,I have the double bike with a birdy carrier at the end. It’s a 16 foot thing going down the street with my kids, but I long ago discovered cardiovascular activity and creativity come hand-in-hand, that just comes along with bike riding. I need a destination, I’ll find it, I need to go to Walgreens, I’ll go to the one that’s 8 miles away. I’ll ride my bike and by the time I get back I will have solved whatever problem I had creatively or found that other thing that I was looking for. That’s a big part of it.
Then, you find there’s no magic trick, sometimes in the shower, sometimes you’re just lying in bed calm, sometimes you’re just enjoying life and just have a notepad, it’s never far away. Always have a notepad on you, because you never know what’s going to happen, take a moment and write it down the minute that comes in your head. Even if you can’t deal with it until later, I’ve had that experience where I was in a wedding party and I’m on stage, I’m like, “I hope I don’t forget this, something just occurred to me.” Whenever and where ever, but I do know that for me cardiovascular bike riding is a big one.
Speaking about those moments, do you have any defining writing moments where you remember specifically coming up with something that, of course, has become one of your huge projects?
Brian Michael Bendis: I’m wired with a little bit of self-loathing, not that kind of self-loathing that paralyzes me, but it’s there. The things I’m most loved for are sometimes the things that annoy me, not my favorite stuff, but those flashes of genius moments, they’re called, I rarely see them as a one eureka light bulb idea. For Powers, I was literally in Manila reading Homicide by David Simon who’s here this weekend. For the first time ever, I write something with superheroes. I didn’t write superheroes for the first 10 years of my comic career. I was just doing fan fiction. I wasn’t thinking about superheroes at all, even though I loved them. I was raised by Watchmen and Dark Knight, so I was raised in with it’s all been done, they don’t worry about that. Then, reading Homicide was the first time I said, “What if this was in a world of superheroes?” That was a very good idea. What if Chinatown took place in a world of superheroes, that became Jessica Jones. Just things that I love, you can match up the genres and have fun with it, those moments.
Truly the best parts of those books are so small and intimate, they come from a much more intimate place than the high concept of, “I got an idea.” What was amazing to me, no one had done Powers before, no one had created a book called Powers before. I remember, because it wasn’t as easily Google-able. I hate to age myself, but I had lawyers look at it, because I was like, “Someone must’ve called a book, Powers.” No one had. I can’t believe it.
That’s the thing, when you’re looking at trademarks, it’s almost like everything that you would want to use is like taken.
Brian Michael Bendis: You get used to that. But then you’re always amazed. Like, “Okay, no one’s … Okay, I found one.” Yeah, exactly.
Also when you name a character, and you’re just alone in your room. When I came up with Jessica Jones, and Michael later came out with it. I remember naming her, and you never think there might be actually someone in the world named Jessica Jones who’s alive. You never think it’s going to be a TV show, and that’s going to ruin that person’s world, you never meant to.
I would think that’s pretty cool, if my name was Jessica Jones.
Brian Michael Bendis: Depends on the person. If you were a very devout person, it might be very annoying to you.
Brian Michael Bendis: Yeah, exactly.
What kind of compromises do you feel you have to make for a story perspective when going from comics to television?
Brian Michael Bendis: It’s not a compromise, it’s collaboration. The collaboration is much more intimate in comics, it’s just literally me and Mike. For the first 10 years of Powers existence, it was him in his basement, me in my basement giggling if we thought of some funny thing – not thinking there was ever going to be anything more than. Even when the book hit, we’re like, “Oh, great. The book hit.” The book hit, because we were a little out there. We were just like, “All right, we can just be a little more out there.” Now, it’s hundreds of people. It’s still collaboration, but I’m addicted to it, I get fed by it in a big way, and particularly now that I feel like me and Mike can, regardless of our self-loathing, look at our collaboration as successful.
I don’t look at it as compromised. More as that the idea has been opened for this, it’s been built for this. The only difference is like, when me and Mike were coming up with Powers stuff and we got really into how powers would affect the sexual spectrum and draw all this naughty stuff that we would do in the book, just us. Then, when you have 65 naked people in a Powers-theme sex club in real life and people coming up to you asking what sex basket you want. Now that’s weird. It’s not a compromise so much, it’s just bizarre. It’s just, “I’m going to go back to my basement.” I’m the creepy one in the room, aren’t I?
Having all these kind of new mediums to be able to create content for it and explore, we’re in this shift now between what cable and traditional programming will become and then what you guys are doing with Sony. Do you feel that’s made a difference in what you’re able to do creatively? Obviously, I feel like you’re probably able to get away with more than would be on cable.
Brian Michael Bendis: No, it was cool, and that was part of our long journey of development. Powers was literally purchased by Sony after the first issue was published in 2000. This was a long time ago I’ve been told, but we’ve had a 15 to 16 year journey of getting this on the air. Part of the problem was the adult content and it was sometimes serious, sometimes sexual, sometimes violent. It was adults for adults, and it was different. The network version sounds pretty boring and bad, even the HBO were FX version. We made a pilot at FX, but it was just something’s a little off. The people of Sony said, why don’t you come and just do your thing? Because we think that thing is going to be the way this audience’s looking for more and more edgy material. They’re going to want more, and Marvel have the same thing with the Netflix shows. It was just, that audience who read our stuff growing up and wanting more of it, and that mindset was very healthy for us.
No one said, “Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” It was always like, “Go. Do. Make more.” Even when you’re handing something that says Powers-theme sex club where 60 people are naked, you’re like, “This will be a test to see where they are.” Not a wince, not a “Well, yeah.” They said we want it to be more like the comic, and it is more like the comic. I do think there’s an audience and I’m willing to say, it’s an alternative audience because we just woke up yesterday morning to the YouTube version of it having 3 million views. That’s amazing, we don’t see that coming. That’s millions of people interested in adult fare in this genre. I’m happy that a major studio was happy to oblige. It’s crazy.
Have you got any push back on anything in terms of the scripts or story lines? Were they like, “Maybe this is a little too much or can we kind of change this?”
Brian Michael Bendis: I think we’re in this beautiful bubble now. Even reading the material you could see, this is the intent, so it’s not like you’re reading the script thinking “what do you mean?” It’s all stuff based on the book. I can show you drawings of this or you’ve already seen it, so you know what we’re going to do. That, plus I just think we’re in this sweet spot of doing something they’re not going to see on CBS. Doing something you’re not going to see on Supergirl. I literally can’t think of anything. It was, our mindset and their mindset were on the same page.
Listen, my crazy sex club episode has aired already. It’s out there. I literally wrote a guy swinging in a sex basket with sparkles shooting out of his butt, and there it is. That was the guy’s job that day. Just swinging in a sex basket with sparkles shooting out of his butt.
Can you talk a little bit about filming in Atlanta and your experience with the talent pool that is there?
Brian Michael Bendis: I’ve not spend a lot of time in Atlanta in my life, I was surprised how much of an industry town it has turned into from studio tours. You listen to the radio, you’ve probably heard this, “Come to the set of Walking Dead as you drive by like you would in LA.” It really is an industry town. In Portland, there’s a lot of shows that are filmed in Portland where I live. Like The Librarians, Grimm and Portlandia obviously, but still, when people see it’s a show, they’re like, “Oh, what’s filming?” Even people in New York do that, “Oh what’s filming?” In Atlanta, boy, they’re over it. They’re like, “Yeah. The traffic was horrendous. It was quite daunting, but the food is amazing.”
What was your favorite place to eat at?
Brian Michael Bendis: I’ve got to tell you, there was Fat Matt’s, a rib place on top of the fact the woman that ran the place was so nice to my family. My daughter was going through a little crisis of conscious over something about her skin color. This woman came up and just completely empowered my daughter. I’ll never forget this woman for the rest of my life. She literally overheard something, sat down and helped our family in a beautiful way. Just one of those, that’s Atlanta. That was a very Atlanta thing.
That’s a great memory to take with you.
Brian Michael Bendis: Yeah, it was very, very sweet. Even my daughter says, “Are we ever going to go back to Atlanta? I’d like to say hi to that lady. I’m like, “Yeah, we will. We will be back.”
I have to ask you, is there anything you can tease in regards to Jessica Jones the next season? I know that there’s not a date yet…
Brian Michael Bendis: No, as you would very well know, it’s been said by many of the biggest actors in the world that anything that I said, the joke that little red dots will start appearing on me. No I can’t. I will say that, I have spent time with Melissa who runs the show. Not to be braggy, but we were just at the Peabody’s a couple of weeks ago on stage winning the first Peabody for anything comic book related ever.
Congratulations by the way!
Brian Michael Bendis: Yeah, it was insane. I’m very excited for what she’s going to do so much so that I’m returning to the character in comic book form come this fall. Myself, Michael Gaydos, the other creator of Jessica Jones, David Mack who did the covers, we’re all returning to bring Jessica back to the private eye world that she was born into. I miss her. We’re doing it.
Photo Credit: Tammy Perez/Picturegroup
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