POWERS: Brian Michael Bendis Talks The Joy Of Writing For Comics & TV

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Brian Michael Bendis hears voices in his head. But don't worry, the famed Marvel Comics writer and creator of the Playstation Network series Powers isn't heading to the Looney Bin. Rather, Bendis knows and understands his comic creations on Powers so well, they've taken on not one, but two lives of their own.

Thanks to the success of Playstation's Powers, Bendis now has two sandboxes for characters like Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim to play in: One in television, and one in comics. And as he pushes himself to diversify that chorus of voices by writing an episode of Powers, he's exercising his imagination like never before. With Powers' first season finale on the horizon, Bendis chatted with ComicBook.com about exporting his characters to another medium, Powers' incredible fan reaction, and the power of new television platforms like The Playstation Network. 

ComicBook.com: So, you wrote an episode of Powers.

Brian Michael Bendis: Yay! I wrote it like 8 months ago, but still I know what you're saying.

Was it everything you hope it'd be?

It was. It's almost a cheat to come in on Episode 9 after all the actors have found their characters and the show has found it's voice. You get to saunter in, take a yummy piece of the show, and have some fun with it. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Nice.

You're writing towards a big finale that's already been locked in and outlined so you know exactly where you're putting your pieces.

Did you have the chance to see any of the filming before you got to writing this, or did you write this before production?

Yeah, I had seen at least the first two episodes. I see the dailies everyday. I see every little piece of footage that's filmed, so I would see stuff that you don't even see on the show. So I was helping out with episodes 7, 8, 9, and 10 and just grabbed the one that I had the most passion for.

Was it weird for you to break a bit from the comic character voices that you had in your head versus what the actors and the TV characters ended up becoming?

For sure. It was even doubly weird because I was actually working on an issue of Powers at the same time. I was working on two different versions of the characters, at two different places in their lives. One is always the voice in my head and the other is a living, breathing person who has to act it out. But you want challenges like this in your life. You want creative challenges. You don't want to just do the same thing over and over again. You want to find things or let things fall in your lap that make you go, "Ooh can I do this, let's see," and roll up your sleeves. It was interesting to be sitting there typing, then stop and go, "Hmm this is an interesting little puzzle we got here."

Television also gives you the benefit in that you're working from an outline put together in a room with other writers, so you're not working off a blank page like you often are in other media. In comics, you're working off your own outline or you're working off a blank page. For me, that's a hard part, so the hard part was already done in the room. You're just trying to make it all sync and add some voice to it. I won't get all process nerd on you but yeah, the whole thing is an experience. You take the good parts of the experience and you bring it back to comics and you take the good parts of the comics and you bring it to the TV show. It all helps itself on the right way.

Now that you have had some time to spend with both sets of characters, do you like one version of the characters over the other?


That's like asking if you like one of your kids better. No. There's the intricately cool freedom of having a blank page. There's no budget and there's imagination and you literally can do whatever you want because you flat-out own this. Then there's the other cool thing, which is here are the actors and here is their energy and here are their voices and here's the stage and be cool.

There's this quote by Ridley Scott about Blade Runner--which is his best movie because he only had half the money that he needed so he made it be smarter-- that really sticks with me. Sometimes pure imagination can be fun to look at, but it doesn't always have great story. Having these things in front of you that you have to work off of makes you come up with stuff that's truly magical and fun. There's plus and minuses for both and I lean into the pluses as much as my brain allows me to.


You have also had the chance to explore some avenues you haven’t gone down before with the Powers comic. One most notably with Retro Girl. How’s that been?

We did flashbacks sometimes, but nothing like this and nothing with an actor with the power of Michelle Forbes. I think people are getting a sense of it now in episodes 7 and 8, how much she's bringing to the character and what a crossroads the character is at. It's funny, my Tumblr inbox is full of GIFs. People make GIFS of the show, and it lets you know what people like and it's a lot of Michelle and her monologues about not wanting to wear her costumes and not wanting to be judged. I know that stuff really resonates.

Did you get to dust off a giant pile of Retro Girl “What If” scripts?

No, no, no. Now you're full on into the actors. We're in episode 9 of 10, so the giant boulder is rolling downhill and you just got to go with it. I wasn't like digging through old files going, "Do I have anything good here."

You mentioned the fan interaction and seeing fans make GIFs and things like that. This a whole new level of interaction for you because I mean, just the GIF creation is something you can’t do in comics.

Exactly. I'm so happy people do it, because I want to do it but I don't have time. So people do it and I can just re-blog it. It's fantastic.

Right.

Like we were just at a WonderCon and we did the first Powers panel since announcing the series. It's Sunday and I'm like "Who's going to show up, is anybody going to be there?" And we sold this enormous room of people who really loved the show. It was super exciting.

That's awesome.

The actors got to feel it which was a little new for them. You and I go back, and we've been in these big giant panels where there's a sea of people. It's so unique because even if you're online and you hear from a lot of people, there's an abstraction there. It's like there's a distance, but when you're in the room with the people and they're like, "Oh my God you're talking about our stuff," it's quite special and it really is quite moving.

It's quite powerful to have people who just love coming at you like that. It's so wonderful, and as intimate as an experiences as comics is for the people who read them, there's a similarity in TV but there's something else there too. Also we're still like this weird experiment for Sony. Who knew who was going to watch it, if anyone was going to watch it. People showed up. It's amazing. Tons of new shows come on the TV and have the best hopes in the world and doesn't necessarily mean anyone's going to show up.

You've worked behind the scenes in television before. Was the process for this any different, or was it what you expected?  Is this model something that you'd like to see more of?

To be truthful, the actual production wasn't surprising because we were being produced by Sony and they actually make a lot of excellent television.

Our executives are the same executives on Breaking Bad and Blacklist. Some really good stuff. They had our backs and they knew what to do, so that wasn't an experiment at all. What the experiment part is that it is a new platform, and asking people to come watch a show on a platform that they may not have watched shows on before. Thankfully millions of people have Playstations, so they're like "All right, so I'm on my Playstation. I'll watch this while I eat lunch or whatever."

If they were eating lunch while watching, then I'm sorry there was so much blood on the show 

I have to say, between this and Netflix and Amazon, from what I gather this is a very similar kind of thing where there's the new landscape in media. It's all kind of happening at once, and the freedom given to the creators to create something special that's not on normal television, whether it be something weirder or something darker or something sexier, whatever that new energy that you're bringing. Yeah, I think this a very good time for people who are just interested in something else. There's a lot of something else's going on now. My my philosophy that comic books and television are closer sisters than comic books and movies has been proven correct. I want an award for saying this 10 years ago.

Do you feel that with the Playstation, you're potentially reaching an entirely different audience to potentially turn into comic fans? 

A couple things. Number one, this idea that gamers don't do anything but play games is incorrect.

What you do have is people who are very loyal to their consoles. They've unplugged from cable and they go to their consoles for all of their entertainment. That's what Playstation was seeing when they decided to take a chance on us. They've already seen people play their games, they don't hang up the console, they put on a show. Why don't we give them some new shows? That's where that's coming from, and obviously that's the same thing Netflix is doing. They're like, "Okay we got them, so let's give them stuff they're not getting anywhere else, right? Not just showing reruns of Frasier.

They looked carefully at what people were watching on their Playstation. This is millions and millions of people. This isn't just some clique of gamers. Sure, it was like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. They're like, well all right, let's add to the mix. That's where it came from. It wasn't just, "let's mess with the gamers." 

Their initial thought was, "Are you going to stop making games? No. No one's going to stop making game stuff. Then, the show comes on and they're like, "Oh, I already have this Playstation Plus account, because it makes my gaming experience so awesome and now I get like 10 hours of this cool funky show. All right, let's check it out. It's additive. No matter how hardcore the gamer is, it's an additive experience that they can enjoy or not. 

Looking ahead  without spoiling anything, what's next? What are you looking forward to when it's all said and done?

Today is the finale, in which a lot of the character threads will be wrapped up in a very nice way, and in a very meaningful way. Then there's going to be some other aspects that make you go "Whaaaaaat? Where's my second season right now?" I'm also excited that we have a nicely sized audience that's watching it every week, and then we have people who really need to binge. There's some people who have completely lost the taste for cliffhangers, and so now they can watch the whole season at once. That's cool, too.

We're delighted about how many people tuned in. You can try everything in the world, but who knows who's going to show up? We're so happy we're in such a healthy place. Such a relief.

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