Brian Michael Bendis and André Lima Araújo are introducing readers to a new fantasy epic called Phenomena. Published through Abrams ComicArts, Phenomena: The Golden City of Eyes is the first book in a trilogy featuring three characters who inexplicably meet and go on a globetrotting adventure across what's left of their planet. One of those locations is the mysterious Golden City of Eyes, which Book One is named after. Along with the witty banter between main characters Bolden, Spike, and Matilde, Phenomena is filled with gorgeous art by Araújo, and an intriguing story that will captivate readers and make them want to continue exploring this strange new world.
ComicBook.com spoke to Brian Michael Bendis to find out more details regarding Phenomena: The Golden City of Eyes. The prolific writer discussed the origin of his collaboration with André Lima Araújo, Phenomena's main characters, how one is named after Dolly Parton, his feeling after receiving Araújo's artwork in his mailbox, the early reception to Phenomena, and much more.
The Formation of Bendis and Araújo's Collaboration
ComicBook.com: From some of your past interviews, you've spoken highly about some of the great creators you've gotten to collaborate with. How did you and André get together for Phenomena?
Brian Michael Bendis: Well, André was working with some of my friends, particularly Sam Humphries, who is one of my close friends in comics, and they were doing some awesome work together years ago, and I was just like, "Yeah, I just need to clock it." But I also have a tendency, if someone's working with someone, I don't try to glom in on it, because that can be mistaken as rude behavior, so I try to be polite about it. We kept in touch online, and then when I was at DC, I reached out. There were a couple of things I thought he would be perfect for, particularly Legion of Super-Heroes, and some other things. I'm sure you feel this about certain creators, they speak to you on a deeper level than you can even express in words. There are all kinds of great creators, but every once in a while, there's just someone like, "Man, this really gets under my skin."
And Andre was that for me, and I go, "All right, let's see if it's something I should just admire from afar, or if it's something we can collaborate with." Because sometimes just because you love something it doesn't mean you have to be involved in the process, you can just sit back and enjoy that it exists. But for this, I did a couple of shorter pieces with him at DC, because I wanted him to do them, but also it was, "Hey, let's see if we work well together. Let's see if our voices combine into something." What you're always looking for is something better than you can get on your own, and they came together really well, and we were communicating and talking, and I'm like, "Hey, what do you want to do in comics? What's the big dream?"
And he showed me a bunch of stuff he was working on, and it was all as good as what you see in Phenomena, and some of it were parts that became Phenomena. And it was just pitches he was putting together, and ideas he had, and worlds, and just the way he presented it to me, even though he had worked on it over a long period of time and it was different pitches, to me, it all looked like one big world that he had created in his voice. And so half of it was just the way he showed it all to me at once, so it looked like all one big thing to me, and I came back to him with, "I think this is all the same place, it's all this lavish world."
That opened his eyes, and I offered him some ideas for some characters that we could put into this world, and the journey that it made me think of when I saw it, and we were off to the races, just based on that. Some people will get this reference, but when I was a kid, Frank Miller introduced us all to Geof Darrow, in a way that said, "I'm not writing this the way I write other things. I'm writing it specifically to prompt this brilliant person, to be able to express all the things that they do."
I always thought of that, I always thought of how amazing it was, and because there's some DNA connection between Darrow and André, it made me think of that, and I think, "Once again, Frank Miller to the rescue with the philosophy that will get me where I need to go." And I said, "I think if I apply that philosophy here, we might have something." And that's what we did. There is a script, it exists, but it was a series of prompts of, "Here, this cool thing, and that cool thing." And with the idea that every time a character turns their head, you're building something new. So it was very interesting, a new kind of collaboration for us, the perfect kind of thing to be doing during the pandemic. You're bouncing back and forth on stuff, and we're doing it on Book Two right now. It's one of the great feelings in my life, it's amazing.
I imagine with work-for-hire stuff, it doesn't always get to be that way, and with creator-owned, you get more time to really create something for the person you're collaborating with.
And we were wide open to, "What is this?" And we weren't labeling it ahead of time, we were like, "Let's just create the characters, and we'll feel it while we're baking." So we were as surprised as anybody to find out it's kind of an all-ages, YA adventure series. People who follow André's work, he has another series with Rick Remender, A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance, that shows a completely different side to André's talent, and things that he can do. So I'm delighted by the juxtaposition of the two projects, it's amazing that he's producing both of them in the same time period in his life. And one is so sinister, and the other is so hopeful. They're both kind of hopeful, but it's just two different flavors that I love so much.prevnext
Phenomena Main Characters
The main characters in Phenomena are Bolden, Spike, and Matilde. They keep bringing up how Spike is a Cyper. Is that the type of alien species Spike is?
Well, no, you'll find out that he's actually a very special creature in his world. He basically is a superhero of another place, and we'll find out through the volumes of Phenomena why that all happened, what actually happened to the world that it's like this now, but we have almost a reluctant mythological creature of heroism, basically babysitting these two ne'er-do-wells of the Phenomena world. We have Bolden who is a traveling young man, who may or may not be an orphan, but as the series progresses, we'll find out more and more about him. And Matilde, who we discover is kind of a Robin Hood character. She's flying around trying to do right by everybody, and making most of the world around her. So those are the three characters, and their journey combines them together, their journey connects the three of them. Their journey takes them to the Golden City of Eyes, which we discover is one of the centers of the Phenomena world. It's like a capital city, where something beautiful usually happens, but something sinister has taken over.
So we made the choice to open our world and its years since whatever happened, and things are settled in, and we're just now discovering a new kind of evilness, or sinisterness that has come about. We're going to find out what happened to our previous world. It's not apocalyptic, we like to say it's something a little more interesting than the apocalypse, something a little more livable and hopeful, and some of it really feels like the elements of the world we wish we had, a world that isn't hyperly focused on capitalism, and instead, is more focused on what people actually do as their value of who they are. So these are the things we wanted to dive into in some kind of new world.
How did you settle on what their personalities would be like? Because I loved all three of them, but especially Bolden and Spike, just how they bounce off each other, always picking on each other, and the different name-calling that goes on.
It came out of a couple of relationships in my life. First of all, Bolden, not to be confused with my young son, London. No, not the same person at all, I don't know what you're saying [laughs]. And Matilde is not the name of André's oldest daughter. Anyway, so those were easy. But putting our children in this world as the template for their honest energy going forward, and then for Spike, I'm a big fan of the reluctant hero, I'm a big fan of the reluctant protector.
It was funny, I had a different voice in mind, and then when he handed in those sketches, another voice came into my head that surprised both of us. It was a much more aggravated voice like, "God, stop talking!" And that voice popped into my head. That was not my original, but I was thrilled. That was when both André and I, and not to speak for him, but I know this one is where we both went, "Oh, we've got something." Because we both were yes and-ing into a character until he fully formed right in front of us and we both liked him, and we both wanted to spend all this time with him.
Spike definitely carries that John McClane from Die Hard energy. It's sort of the, "Here we go again," reluctance. "I guess it's up to me to save the day, and save these two annoying kids."
There's a little young Gene Hackman in there, there's a little Larry David in there. This is the exasperated hero. And also I have four children, they have a lot of uncles, I've seen this relationship. Parenting relationships are completely different, but the patient uncle, I love that relationship. And with it comes to a lot of responsibility. The fact that they're together because they want to be, not because they have to be, I just love that relationship.prevnext
Sharing of Personal Stories in Phenomena
It comes up a couple of times in Book One, but the sharing of stories, any time characters meet each other for the first time they ask, "What's your story? And just tell me the truth." What was the idea behind that? Was it more for characters to see who was lying to them, or was it more of showing a link to the past, and showing how much the world's changed so dramatically?
I have on other projects as well, ruminating on truth, what truth means to people, and how truth gets co-opted, or abused, or ignored, and I'm not even talking about anything political that's going on in this world, this has been going on for a while.
And when you're writing characters, or represent truth, and justice, and power, and responsibility 24 hours a day, it's hard not to look at the world, and some of the dichotomies in front of you and really think about it. Another thing that's happened to me in my life is, I grew up in a time, in the '80s, when greed became good. "Yay, capitalism." And I'm not anti-capitalism, I'm selling this book for money, I'm all about it, but the fact that it represents the number one ideal of a human, what you're worth, that is still a relatively new concept to this society, like, "What do I have? And let me show it on Instagram."
But really, your worth is what you've done, and who you are, and which is what your story is. Your story is what have you done so far that got you here? And is your story an inspiring one, or is it a cautionary tale? Both of them have a deep value to everyone who hears them. So in making it, I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if this world settled into a place where your value is your story, and you're looking to create a story around yourself that has actual value?" And after years of that going on in our world of Phenomena, we're just entering a place where people are starting to co-opt them again, and some people know that lesson, and some people don't know that lesson, and so that's the world that we wanted to take it from there. But just that idea, reminding people, your value is, what did you do today? How did you make people feel? What's your story? What's happened to you, and how did you survive it? Or, what did you do with what was handed to you?
I imagine, like you said, in a world where, you don't want to use the word dystopian, but in a world where everything's changed so much, sharing stories like that can be a useful thing, and help people bond more, which again, is always helpful in bleaker times.
It's certainly a reflection of our times during the pandemic, when a lot of us were hopping on Zoom, just to reconnect with anybody and everybody, and feeling that, "Oh yeah, I need these connections. I need to hear what's happened to you to make me feel how I feel about what's happening to me." And also, just taking it down to the most basic level, you can't understand anything that's happening around you, unless you hear all these stories, and that's how you connect. So just having a place like Phenomena, where we can do that, with not an ounce of preachiness, it's just reminding people that, "Yeah, my story is my value, that's right." And, "Well, what do I want to do with that information?"prevnext
Naming a Character After Dolly Parton
Who are some other interesting characters that fans should keep an eye on, and maybe even ones that will cross over into Book Two and Three?
Well, I'm very excited for everyone to meet our lead characters that you mentioned. They're very precious to us, and very exciting, and are the anchor of the whole series that will continue past this first volume. I was very excited about the introduction of Parton, because I think she represents a whole other thing that's going on in our world. I was so excited, no one's named a great heroic character after Dolly Parton, I couldn't believe it, after all she's done for us, no one has called it. It was literally one of those days where you found out that Dolly Parton had paid for everything that made us better in the pandemic, and didn't want any credit for it, and I just needed to name a character after her so badly.prevnext
Receiving André Lima Araújo Artwork
What's it been like to receive some of the art in your inbox?
Whatever you think it is, it's that times a bunch. It's really exciting, it's been going on the entire time. Again, we're working on Volume Two as you're just discovering Volume One. Even today, there are review copies out, and people are getting their copies from DragonCon, we're getting a lot of response, and it's all been, "Holy crap." That's all I've been doing all year, is forwarding this to other friends of ours in comics, and going, "Oh, holy crap" at everything André's been doing. And the one thing I had to temper was showing off to everybody. There were a couple of comic artists I won't name who were getting really bummed out. Because some people get inspired, and other people go, "I can't do that."
So I had to temper things a little bit, how much I was showing to people. But I have been waiting for this week for a while to just share how this has felt. And I was doing it at DragonCon too. I kept flipping the book open, even after people bought it, I would flip it open to show it to them, and if someone goes, "Yeah, I bought it already, you don't have to sell." I go, "No, I'm not selling, I'm flat out bragging. This is a beautiful book that I've been sitting on this whole time."prevnext
Outside Interest in Adapting Phenomena
Has there been any interest from outside parties about adapting Phenomena into other formats?
Yes, but I learned early on, we had optioned Powers after the first issue came out. We were so excited that anybody wanted it. I know it sounds like, "Of course, that sounds amazing." But there's actually some downside to optioning something too early. Wait until it's out. For example, when Sony bought Powers, it took them a while to realize, "Oh, it's a crime movie, it's not a superhero movie." They thought they bought Spider-Man, and they bought Se7en, which is fine, but they thought they bought Spider-Man.
So it took a while for them to figure out what they had, and then I made a note to myself, "See, if we would've waited, this would've not been a hardship." It was months of miscommunication because of it. So for this, I'm just happy to have the book out. Also, I'm very lucky in the Hollywood space, I have so many beautiful experiences, but with that comes the constant reminder that that's not the be-all-end-all. The book is the be-all-end-all.
That's the experience we want everybody to have. If amazingly something else happens outside the book space, that would be amazing, but I really think Hollywood sometimes really tricks people into thinking, "No, you have to have a show." A show would be awesome, but the book's gotta be the book.prevnext
What To Look Forward To
Anything else you want to leave for fans of what you're looking forward to them seeing when Phenomena Book One comes out?
Honestly, I've been dying to share this with everybody, and just getting that little feeling I got today when I woke up to everybody who had read it so far sharing their feelings. I'm very excited to share this world that means the world to us. Honestly, I hope that comes across, how in love we are with all our characters, and we think it was a great space for us to create. Now, I also think it's a good buy for people who are digging our stuff on Miles Morales, and Naomi, and stuff like that. I'm also excited because we accidentally created a beautiful artistic expression of comics. If you love to share comics with your kids, you'll have that too, but if you just love beautifully illustrated graphic novels that aim for the highest art form, it's that too.
And when it started becoming both of those things at once, I got super excited. Again, I give André all the credit for that in the world. So I'm excited to have both experiences with the fans. Now, we'll be taking you behind the scenes on Phenomena, often on my Substack (brianmichaelbendis.substack.com), throughout the course of the fall. So you sign up for Substack, and you'll be getting all the designs and behind-the-scenes stuff that we've been dying to show you.prev