The Man of Many Words
Brian Michael Bendis' name has been synonymous with the graphic novel and comics world for more than 25 years, most notably for his work with Marvel. But in recent years, one of his projects has been "Superman."
For three years, he has written the "Superman" series and more for DC Comics. The 28th and final edition of "Superman" brings an end to his contribution to the historic and nostalgic comic line in December, although he'll still be involved in some "Superman" projects.
The story in his final "Superman" entry, via DC Comics: "Superman comes face to face with an alien race that he desperately wants to help before it is too late. As the cosmically powered race known as the Synmar aim their deadly power at the Man of Steel's adopted planet, Superman finds himself pushed past anything that he has ever faced." It goes on sale Dec. 15.
Bendis, a Portland resident, talked about "Superman," and Miles Morales' "Spider-Man," "Jessica Jones" and many other topics recently in a video conference call discussion with students, "Into the Jewish-Verse," presented by Hillel International's [email protected] The Tribune listened in.
"It's been an amazing three-year run, and I'll be forever grateful that I got to spend this pandemic with him (Superman), I don't know how I would have got through it," Bendis said. "I'm not done with 'Superman,' as we'll be announcing a book soon with myself and David Marquez.
"But, I have a lot of creator-owned stuff coming down the pike," including new volumes of "Pearl," "Cover" and "The United States of Murder Inc." One of his creator-owned characters, Scarlet, was inspired by a woman in Portland. He produces creator-owned work through his JinxWorld company.
Bendis is a native of Cleveland — as were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster when they created Superman in the 1930s.
Bendis, 53, started out writing for Caliber, Image and Oni comics and rose to fame as a writer for Marvel, beginning with "Ultimate Spider-Man" in 2000. He eventually would develop Miles Morales, a Latino character, as Spider-Man, and the 2018 "Into the Spider-Verse" animated movie would feature Morales.
He also worked on "X-Men," "Avengers," "Iron Man" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" storylines and more at Marvel, including Jessica Jones, a superhero-turned-private investigator, in "Alias." The Jessica Jones character later became the basis for a Netflix show of the same name and earned him a Peabody Award.
Bendis, who teaches a graphic novel writing course at Portland State University, shared many thoughts with the students in his "Into the Jewish-Verse" appearance. Some of the notable topics:
• What was the moment that motivated you to write comics?
"Growing up in Cleveland, I discovered them at a very early age. The moment I discovered it was somebody's job to write — reading the credit box — it was, 'How can I get my name in the credit box?' … I was a Marvel child, and a DC teenager."
• What drives you to represent minorities in comics, like Morales?
"I have a multi-racial household, with two daughters adopted. (Comics have) opened up a lot of doors and experience in my life, and it's much different than when Miles debuted (in 2011). There wasn't enough for my daughters to read, not enough fun stuff about being a certain color or age. … If it didn't work, it didn't work, but it did."
• How did you create Jessica Jones?
"I came more from crime fiction background. I got to Marvel and was working on 'Spider-man' and 'Daredevil,' and they wanted me to do a crime fiction novel in the Marvel universe. That's where Jessica came from. I read an article about an actress who was no longer on the A list. What's the superhero version of that? She used to be in the Avengers mansion, but now doesn't have a key card. And I have a deep love of non-A list characters. I'm obsessed with people not seeing how good they are; Jessica doesn't see herself as the hero. … I'm super grateful it got to a place where it got to be a Netflix show."
• Aspects of career you're most proud of?
"The collaborations in my life. Some collaborations are longer than my marriage. (Illustrator) David Mack and I met 30 years ago. I consistently put out work that I would buy. Not everyone's in that position, and I don't say that with privilege. I haven't stepped on anyone's neck to get where I was going. I find it doubly frustrating in the creative arts … when somebody is so competitive."
• Do you enjoy teaching at Portland State?
"Teaching at the college level is very fulfilling. It's adults who got a lot of stuff already figured out, and if you talk about puzzle pieces, they need one or two extra puzzle pieces to put them together — that one truth that gets you into your adult life. Great to have those conversations when you see someone considering something they've never considered before. When teaching college age, they're close to career age."
• Your creator-owned Scarlet character, about a young woman who brings rebellion against a corrupt administration, seems timely, and it's set in Portland.
"It's a very complicated subject for me. We created Scarlet based on something I witnessed. I saw a girl that looked a lot like Scarlet pulled off the street by cops (in Portland), she was shouting 'I did nothing,' and to this day I'm not sure who she was or what was true. It inspired the story of Scarlet. Then Occupy Wall Street happened two years later, and Portland has been in this kind of disarray since then. I'm frustrated we were kind of right. We weren't writing it because we wanted it to happen. We're not going back to the world of Scarlet, because we're living it. My partner Alex Maleev did an excellent job illustrating it. It's haunting and upsetting."
• How do you handle ideas that are shot down?
"I'm kind of famous for not letting anything go. If it gets rejected, I take that as a note, 'What was the disconnect between my love of this and you're not love of this?' Or I'll put it away for a while, and if I can't stop thinking about it, I keep pursuing it. … I kind of love rejection, it's hard to describe. There's an insane amount of rejection in life, especially in the creative arts. Some people get defeated by it and some people excited by it. Train your brain that rejection is a learning moment."
• Have you had flexibility in writing for DC and Marvel and others?
"It's a collaboration. When it's working well, it's everyone listening and creating together."
• What is your favorite comic that no one has read?
"They're all my babies, I love them all so much equally. Always rooting for one that needs a little help. I have a book right now, 'The United States of Murder Inc.,' and it speaks to how people rebrand things. People don't call people gangsters anymore, but we're surrounded by them. It's about the world we're living in where crime is fun."
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