Bendis & Araujo Interview “Phenomena: The Golden City of Eyes”!

I had a great experience interviewing Brian Michael Bendis and Andre Araujo on their new graphic novel Phenomena: The Golden City of Eyes, which we at Comic Book Herald have ranked as one of the best comics of 2022. You can hear our full conversation on Comic Book Herald’s “Creannotators,” on the podcast.

But since some people prefer the ancient art of “reading,” we’ve also transcribed the interview below, talking with Brian and Andre about making the graphic novel. The transcription has been slightly edited for clarity. Read and enjoy!

CBH: Hello, and welcome to Comic Book Herald’s Creannotators. I’m Dave Buesing, founder and editor-in-chief of Today I am joined by the creative team of Phenomena: The Golden City of Eyes, a new all-ages book out from Abram’s Comics Art. It will be out September 13th in bookstores wherever you get your comics. It is great. We’re going to talk about that today. I am joined by Brian Michael Bendis and Andre Lima Araujo. I am incredibly excited to talk about this book.

So, Phenomena is a story of an unlikely duo. We’ve got Bolden, an energetic young boy, and Spike, a robotic character with a mysterious past, journeying through this transformed, futuristic Earth, questing together against the odds, coming across all sorts of wild stuff along the way. It’s one of my favorite books of 2022 and a high recommendation for you to check out. We’ll have links and all that fun stuff in the show notes, but what I want to do, of course, is talk with the creators of this work. Andre, I’m going to start with you. So, I’ve been looking into the creative process you both have shared of this book and it definitely sounds different. It sounds a bit unlike what I think a lot of comics fans are used to. Were you surprised by the way–it sounds like a very art-first, design-first kind of process–were you surprised by the way the story got shaped once it got into Brian’s hands as Phenomena progressed? What was that like?

Araujo: Oh yeah, I think that’s one of the key bits of the process is that me and Brian keep surprising each other because we allow each other to pick the pieces that the other one is leaving behind, you know? We present a bunch of stuff to each other and then the other works with it and that’s really the basic rule. And, yeah, you were right in one aspect: it really started with a chat between me and Brian and then we were supposed to present each other our own ideas because I have a lot of pitches that have not been published yet. Brian, of course, has a lot as well. I sent him my stuff, he never sent me his stuff because he saw my drawings and he said “let’s do all of this.” And then he pitched me an idea with two lines in an email and then I started drawing and basically we went with that and we presented a bunch of characters and places and all that without having very much of a plot at all.

And Brian picked all of that stuff up and started writing, and I felt that the process that he allowed for this book to happen because usually the writer with the status that Brian has usually comes with an idea and presents it to an artist and then tries to move the story forward like that. And I thought that it was incredibly brave of him and I think that the results paid off because it allowed for a very unique book and a really unique creative experience for both of us because then I sent all of this stuff to Brian, he started writing but he’s not in the place I sent him and he told me that “character x from page that I sent him, is this one the one that appears on this page” and then he would give them voices that I would have never imagined that they would have. That would change the way I would draw them in a page. So, like, this back and forth keeps going. Even right now, we were working on volume two, I have twenty-something pages penciled in already and it’s like, the process remains the same and it’s quite an adventure as the final project is our own experience as creators is quite an adventure because I never know what he’s going to send me and he never knows what I’m going to send back.

CBH: Very cool. Very cool. Brian, do you feel that you need to add a new chapter for this…

Araujo: Hold on. He was gesturing. Just a second.

CBH: Oh. We lost Brian. Okay. No worries. So, actually, let’s follow up then, Andre, with you said you’re seeing the voices come back in and it’s a little bit different than you’re anticipating. Can you think of any specific examples where certain characters have shifted, you know, by the end of the book?

Araujo: Oh absolutely. For the main characters–we have three main characters–but the ones that Brian asked for were a boy and a creature, that was his description, which is Spike and Bolden, of course. And then I added a third one: Matilde, and for Spike and the kid, and any character really, Brian had no description other than the one that I just told you, so I drew them as you see them in the book and then I sent it to him and the way that he wrote his pitch was with the same design but the poses they were in, the way that they were walking or looking at each other was very much dictated by the way that Brian wrote the pitch for them.

CBH: Interesting. Interesting. Yeah, Brian, I was asking you a moment ago. It’s funny, I moved my notes and it’s like “oh, there’s nobody there. What happened?” I was going to ask you, so this process is quite unique. Do you feel like there’s a new chapters for words-for-pictures that needs to be added based on the Phenomena process?

Bendis: Well, I am working on another test book that dives into specifically the art of creation and how every single thing built its own organism around it. Like how everyone communicates with each other, how…every creation needs its own kind of special love and tender care and what I think Phenomena represents to me is a perfect example of how you just can’t figure a way to do things and then everything just fits into that thing. Some things would, but I have found not only in Phenomena, but with Pearl and The Ones that I’m doing with Jacob, everyone of them has their own energy, you know, much like all your friends. You have friends that have different energy. Like there are some friends that are loud and crazy and there are friends that are just the most relaxing, just being around them calms you and you celebrate them the best you can with them.

But yeah, for Phenomena, I will say that I use this reference–and I know it dates me terribly–but when I was in college, Frank Miller introduced all of us to an illustrator called Geof Darrow with a book called Hardboiled. And I remember because, obviously, Frank was the most important person in my generation. Everything he did got analyzed and looked into and he talked at great lengths at how discovering Geof’s world and how he did things and how he realized that it was his job, unlike other projects that he’s been on, it was his job to prompt Darrow into doing whatever the hell Darrow does, right? So it’s not technically a script so much a series of drawing prompts that bring about a plot. I know that sounds like a weird thing to say, but I use that as my “well, they did that” and obviously there’s a vague connection between Darrow and Andre in how they produce work and the detail in which they bring into the world, so it occurred to me that that’s my job here, is to create a list of prompts and to get the hell out of his way. And then come back in and do whatever I can to just keep the ball rolling along in the best tempo it can be and goddamn if he ever sees a page where I’m like “blah blah blah blah blah blah.” Then I’m really doing everyone a disservice and so it was really about servicing the story and the art as much as possible and using Hardboiled, which is completely opposite in theme to our book as the template of how to do that.

CBH: That’s an interesting touch point. Definitely. Well, this book definitely reflects that. It’s such a showcase for your art, Andre, in so many awesome, amazing ways. But then, I think for fans of you, Brian, who are familiar with your work, I think a lot of fans are very familiar with this snappy back-and-forth dialogue and that’s there, and you get the fun dynamics between the characters, but it doesn’t read like Pearl. It’s not that style at all. You’re clearly such a fan of Andre’s work, which I found really delightful, both in reading and just in interviews and such. One thing I’m curious with, a lot of Andre’s work–particularly A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance, coming out now with yourself and recommender–very violent, very gorey stuff, you know? And there’s hope in there, and there’s beauty in there, but mostly a lot of action and violence and stuff. What was it about his work that said to you “I can find something all-ages and super hopeful?”

Bendis: Well, that’s interesting because that wasn’t the goal. The goal wasn’t to be “all-ages and super hopeful.” The goal was “let’s see what comes out and whatever comes out, we’ll market.” And god bless comics that it’s open to everything from the darkest heart to the most whimsical all-ages book, and obviously that’s one of the things we love about comics, so I have learned through experience on every collaboration, and even on the stuff you didn’t work for hire, it’s “don’t label it. Let’s see what it is when we’re done,” and then to start marketing. And that way, genre expectation, all that stuff kind of gets pushed aside for hopefully some sort of original energy. Like, the minute you start labeling things, you can really start strangling them. And particularly in those early days of creation and particularly when Andre–and obviously you see –he’s throwing all this fantastical imagery, but it’s not fantasy. It’s not sci-fi. It’s something else. So, “alright, let’s not be so quick to label” is what I did. But what happened was we’re about twenty-five pages in and the energy of it–and I think we even had one draft were there was swearing–and then I was like, “no, that’s not edgy or whatever,” so we’re looking at it and the other thing that happens in this is a little bit of a privilege and I hope everyone will forgive me, but I didn’t set out to become a YA author, but over the course of the years with Miles and Naomi and Iron Heart, I have quite a few YA titles on the bookshelf at Barnes & Nobles. Like it’s the YA section and I love that section so much and defined my work included with Raina and Captain Underpants and all these other tentpole things and went “oh hey, I’m a YA author.

I thought I was a crime author, but I’m a YA author, okay, well if that’s the case and we have this thing here that, yeah, could be labeled YA” and even the book I did with Alex Maleev, which is called Scarlet, which is a much darker piece, was labeled in the YA listing in the library awards. And that was the first time I’d seen it labeled as YA and went “oh, that’s right, alright. I guess that is too. She’s a teenager. That’s YA. That’s right.” So I’m not thinking about the labels until it’s time and here we were and I’m looking at that bookshelf with Miles and Naomi and Ruby on it and I’m like “let’s see if Bolden and Spike go on the shelf. Let’s see if they have a place.” So we reached out to our lit agent, Genine, and I showed them what we were building and they sent it out and we immediately got offers from people and yeah. It sort of is a YA book and it is an all-ages book, but also what I love about it–it occurred to me half-way through–that this would be a book that I could read with my kids, but also I could just enjoy comics with it. Just enjoy it as a piece of comic art and both things at once is certainly something I’d like to buy. So I’m thrilled that’s the way this was coming together. So as soon as I saw that as the two things that this is, leaned into it heavy everywhere we could.

CBH: Yeah. Yeah, no that’s awesome. And I think that it’s interesting that you point that out. No, go ahead Andre.

Araujo: No, just to reinforce what Brian was saying, this was a completely organic thing that happened that became a YA book because I remember Brian saying that it was not cursing. Like, we were halfway through the book and we just had a character who was showing the finger and for me because I was drawing, I didn’t notice it like he did because he saw all the places and I only saw it bit by bit, so I didn’t see it and at the end, of course, I could see it once we had everything put together, yeah, he was right. And I redrew that bit. It is the only thing that has been redrawn in the book. And it’s because Brian was right on picking the tone, but at the time, we were not sure about what we were doing. We never said “YA” to each other. We just started putting the cussing aside and those little things aside because we felt that this doesn’t fit. And even on character designs, some of the characters in place that I drew for the first volume even before Brian wrote, we never used them because they were a bit too dark or a bit too science fiction. They didn’t fit. That’s the organic transformation that the book had that was really something with a life of its own.

Bendis: One of my favorite parts of the process is that you really do feel you’re just “oh, I’m carrying all the bowls. I hope I can get to the end of his metaphor before messing it up.” Anyway, but it’s weird for me too because I live in a house that the F-word built. Jessica Jones and the F-Word, like, made me, so for me to think “hm, maybe not in this one,” was a switch of the gears for me.

CBH: Yeah, no that’s interesting. And you find fun ways to do the same thing, like the use of “nucknuts” you know? And you find inventive curse words, but it doesn’t have quite the same thing, it doesn’t mess with the tone. It’s interesting to hear you both describe that was never the plan because I do think in reading this, you can kind of feel that in the sense that it doesn’t feel like what the YA label might mean to a lot of folks. You know, there’s a lot of nuance in it, there’s a lot of complexity I think just craft-wise just in how the story is told. It’s pretty hyper-kinetic, but if you’re a seven year old just reading your first book, this would be a weird book where you’re like “hey, it’s your first learning thing,” it’s like “no.” But when you say all-ages, it can mean pre-teens, it can be teenagers, it can mean “I’m reading it with a teenager,” right? Those sorts of things. But adults can definitely enjoy it too. In that best case picture perfect world of true all-ages. It’s shooting for that level and I appreciate that about it. I was going to say, as you settled on the voice for Phenomena, how do you think your kids–and we were kind of talking about being dads before this–how do you think your kids shaped the experiences and the stories you wanted to tell here?

Bendis: Well, I mean, what a wonderful question, and I will tell you. So, I am of an age where I saw hen I was first in mainstream comics, they were quite shunned in the mainstream. There was still the “ick, comics” and I remember my daughter brought one of my comics to school and the teacher was not pleasant about it. And not that it was mine, but now here we are years later and not only are comics allowed in schools, they’re celebrated in school and being fought for to be kept in school and so it’s quite the shift. And then inside that shift is that YA section at the bookstore that we talked about, right? So here I am in Portland where there’s Powells, the biggest bookstore in the world, I’ll be appearing there next Tuesday, and there’s this enormous YA section that did not exist ten years ago. It did not exist. And it is amazing, but inside that shelf, there’s a lot of copy-cat stuff. There’s a lot of people doing Raina or doing Captain Underpants and I get it. I understand all of the variants of the marketplace and once something’s a hit, there’s fifty people trying to make that hit, but there also is an audience that is reading this stuff that now has a base language of what comics will be–Marvel and DC and Dark Horse and all sorts of Image stuff for them to look at as well–but there also will be some people who aren’t connected to that thread but are looking at this and there will be books like Phenomena and there’s quite a few others that will hopefully take them to the next stage in their reading and understanding and appreciation of the art form. So that was my feeling.

CBH: Yeah.

Bendis: It’s that there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s like that, so we should be other-than, and also when you see a lot of people doing the same thing, I tend to go the other way. I tend to go, not to be like contrary, but that’s been done. Whoever wants that, they’ve got plenty of it, so there’s no reason to do that unless I was dying to do my version of the cat boy. No. This is what we want to do and if properly placed on the bookshelf we could hopefully grab someone’s attention.

Araujo: Yep.

CBH: Yeah. It actually reminds me a little bit, the experience reminded me of Bone. And I wasn’t there when I was a kid. Yeah, no. And I say that with the highest praise because I adore Bone and you hear that from everyone who reads it, of any age. And it’s like “oh yeah, Bone. It’s so great.” And then of course the other piece of it though is black-and-white, right? Which feels actually like a bold choice in all-ages. Andre, did releasing in black-and-white make you nervous? Did you have any apprehension or were you always game?

Araujo: No, no, no. I was not apprehensive and it didn’t make me nervous for various reasons, but one thing was that black-and-white was Brian’s idea. Which I really appreciated because it didn’t occur to me at the time to have it be black and white, but I did a book a few years ago that I wrote called Man: Plus, which I wanted to be black and white but they said “eh, market doesn’t say yes” but because I grew up reading were European, Japanese, and American books all with enormous quantities of all of them. I have a bunch of stuff from every market from Japanese market–as we all know–is black-and-white, so for me, that’s the language of comics and those books are probably the ones I respond to the most as people familiar with my work will tell. So, black and white for me is as much language as comics as color. You just need to utilize it slightly differently.

And Brian knew my stuff because all the pieces that I sent him were black and white. Some with off-tones, and yet our brief collaboration at DC before we started doing this, I sent him stuff with tones as well, so he saw all that and proposed it to me and I immediately said yes. I never thought twice about it and I think that it is more of a visual experience. It leaves a bit more for the reader to imagine, so it gives a bit more room for the story to truly breathe. It’s in the artwork, it’s light in terms of brightness of the day. If it’s cloudy, if it’s not, there’s strong shadows. I leave all the hints there. There’s color on the cover for you to carry the art/imagination through the story. This is a colorful story, but there’s no color in it, you know? It’s that kind of deal that we are making here. But I really enjoy the idea of doing it like that. And it’s an another testament of how much we didn’t think of this as a YA book. Because if you think about YA books, of course you need to have color, right? For kids. Because that’s the immediate thing that they need to be, but it doesn’t need to be anything like that.

Kids, nowadays, in America particularly, all of them are reading manga. They are all black and white. No one buys manga in color because they don’t exist. Most likely. You know? So we did all the artistic approach that we had to to stay true to the story that we were making, and everything that we did, every design, every decision that we have made, I felt completely comfortable with them because they all felt like this is the right choice for this story. So I was very, very excited when Brian proposed it to me and I immediately said yes and I think it’s the right choice for this. Because it will stand out. It stands out. There’s nothing like it because very few people do black and white and even less of those that make black-and-white make black and white make black and white like I did, like we did with the tones and the shadow and that stuff. So, I hope people enjoy it.

Bendis: And also, it occurred to me that I was at Dragon Con where we sold a bunch at Dragon Con and Andre was pretty cool and it was very nice. And this is still early goings with this book, so it was very exciting and someone said “oh, I should buy two. I should buy one just to read and one to color” and I’m good with that. I’m totally okay with that idea.

Araujo: That’s great. I would love to see that actually.

Bendis: I know right? I was mad I didn’t think of that myself. Like “damn, that’s actually a good idea.” But, for me, just to add to this, I came up in the 90s and comics was a lot of black and white independent comics and I was making black and white crime graphic novels for the entirety of the decade and for the entirety of the decade, I was shunned. And yes it was cheaper to produce for a news print and everything like that, so it was a lot of the reasons why we were in black and white, but we were embracing the format. We embraced the form of black and white totally, but it was always looked at as lesser than, and I never understood it!

Like, it was fully completed to me but people would always say that, so watching comics evolve to a place where that wasn’t the way people saw things anymore, it did make me want to go back into a black and white book. Like oh, okay. So that was one of them, but also on an aesthetic level, I would see Andre’s work in black and white like you just experienced and it got me! It really got under my skin! And I love his collaboration with Chris. I love just, every time I saw the work in black and white, it just really got under my skin, like I’m on another level. And I’m like, “it’s gotta count for something!” there’s gotta be other people who feel this way about it and so I was so happy that our partners at Abrams agreed and you know, we had a conversation about them. Like, “yeah, it’s black and white. What do you think?” and them understanding immediately why we were going for that and for all the reasons we just described. We went for it. But I will say, regardless of that, this was one of the most meticulous publishing endeavors of my entire life. Every single page of this book was gone over by our publisher and our editors for maximum exposure, just so the image was perfectly laid out on the page. So a lot was put into how this book was published and printed.

Araujo: Oh yeah. This book was quite the experience, like Brian said. Once we had it in Abram’s hands with Charlie and our designer, I had a bunch of meetings with her, even for preparation for volume two, for example. But we ran into some problems with printing the grey tones because they’re not really grey, they’re dots of black and the density and the size of them is what makes the different shades of grey. So, for a printer to pick that, we had to go through the process and realize how I had made it so they could print it properly, so they had all of it cared. And Charlie, our editor, completely embraced the book as it was and for us creators, it was very good to have that feeling that they had our backs, you know?

CBH: Yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. I’ve been really impressed by Abrams over the past year-plus or so. I don’t know if you’ve checked this out, but Alex Ross’s Fantastic Four: Full Circle, which just came out and the books that came out–. No, no go ahead.

Araujo: Charlie, I was just going to say, Charlie sent me this week with their latest books and I have a Fantastic Four book as well from Alex Ross and I was just marveled by it. I love Alex Ross, but I think this is my favorite stuff that he has ever done. To see stuff like that, and you know, the production of the books is just outstanding.

Bendis: And you’ll notice on the back of the book is a quote by me on the Fantastic Four book. I read it last year. I read it way before everyone else got a shot, so I’ve not only been living with “holy crap. Alex’s masterpiece” but I did call Andre last year like “oh, we gotta roll up our sleeves, man. This line up is intense.” But I will say that it made the offer to come to Abrams all that more of an honor when I saw all of the other books they were producing. I was honestly, as a fan of the more classic stuff they’re doing and look at what they think comics should be, I was very very honored that they included us.

CBH: Andre, so you’ve got A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance this year. You’ve got Phenomena, both these books really blew me away. I’ve been loving both of them in their very different ways. It feels like you’ve really leveled up on these books. Do you feel that way? Like you’ve hit a new stride in your career?

Bendis: I can answer for you if you can’t.

Araujo: No, no. I can. I don’t have any problem with that. I do feel that, but there’s one thing. I do feel that in a way, but probably not in the same way you do because the stuff that Brian saw from my pitch, I think it’s already on this kind of level, kinda. Because this stuff is a bit older, but it’s already..I don’t mean the quality per say, but I mean I have varied interests in comics, and I am as much interested and and I am as much into Phenomena–which is like now we know it’s a YA book–as I am into the very violent world of Righteous Thirst for Vengeance. I didn’t feel I had to shift anything inside of me. I did those books back-to-back. I did Phenomena, then I did Righteous Thirst, and now I am back into Phenomena. And like, so, for me this is the most natural expression, what you’re seeing, which is creator-owned books.

So I feel like I’ve been trying to do this for a long time and I had all these pitches piled up and I was trying to–in my career, this has always happened since the beginning–which is like, I try, I try, I try, and all of a sudden I have five opportunities all at once and I need to pick. Like, when I started working with Brian, like a couple of months later, something that I was trying to make happen for like two years just happened, which was one publisher–one of the big independent publishers of creator-owned comics–said to me “we want a book of yours. Send us a pitch. Whatever you want, we will publish it” and I had to postpone it, obviously, because I was working with Brian already, doing Phenomena and with Rick, me and Rick, we had been back and forth for the last three or four years trying to find out how we can schedule. So on the technical side of things, I think when a creator does creator-owned books or when a writer writes or an artist draws them, I think that your artistic abilities are really pushed to the max then because you will be drawing and designing everything. So, not only was I waiting for this opportunity, but the fact that I was drawing creator-owned books for the past three years by now, has really shaped up my abilities and then with Righteous Thirst and Phenomena, which I drawing right now, I’m much faster then I used to and then I need to draw and erase much less, for example.

And I think that all comes from really having to be on my max level, every day, for every page because all of this needs to come from me. I have nowhere to rely on for design. There are no previous designs. There is nothing. It’s creation completely from zero with Brian, of course, and Rick, of course, but both of them completely trusted me with everything that I’ve done and for me that meant the world because as a creator, you are working with two of the best writers, two of the best selling, best creating, their stuff is just marvelous and to have their complete trust, them treating me like an equal from the get go, like no questions, there’s nothing there. Our relation is perfect as creators was like a great feeling for me because I’m getting to do what I’ve wanted to do the most, which is creator-owned stuff, and I always had ambitions to do it with the best writers. And I have a list. Brian and Rick are now crossed off, you know? I can put the thing over their name. I hope to work with them for many years. But eventually there’s the stuff I want to do alone whenever I have the chance, but I am very happy. And like you said, I feel like I am where I wanted to be.

CBH: Yeah.

Araujo: And it’s perfect because this year, it’s my tenth year as a professional, so I’m pretty happy that for the last three already, I’ve been doing what I want to do.

CBH: Yeah. I’ve got a question for Brain now. One thing I’ve noticed because I’ve definitely been going through the catalog and Words for Pictures in anticipation for this, and you talk about finding truth in writing and it’s a theme that comes up a ton in Phenomena as well, very much as storytelling is a form of currency, very literally in Phenomena, and there’s this conversation going and I don’t think it’s a definitive answer, but it’s sort of the true stories versus the fantasies we tell ourselves, right? And it’s an ongoing thing, right? The series isn’t done. We’re only on book one. The concept of truth–against all odds–has come under fire in recent years. This idea of alternate truths, the realization that I think for a lot of us that truths do not match the way we thought they did. How did you find yourself as you’ve been processing writing honestly and writing truth? How has that shifted going into Phenomena and kind of the way that you talk about it?

Bendis: I don’t know if it’s so much shifted as it evolves. I keep using truth as an overall theme in the way that “great power and great responsibility” was the theme handed to us at Marvel and you can really look at it from every possible angle and come up with different stories and perspectives on it and since I’ve been on this truth kick, and I will say, it was unrelated to the world and it’s relationship–or social media’s relationship to truth–but you can’t help but look at that cracked funhouse and go “ah…duress.” And it’s constantly being challenged and it always has been by the way. This is not a social media thing. This has always been the way. It’s what Citizen Kane was all about! Someone who’s always been in charge of who’s telling the stories and I got it into my head about how we live in a very capitalist society–and I’m not anti-capitalist, we are selling this book for money–but I was raised as a young man and I got to see when greed became good in the 80s and it sort of kept its strangle hold on us for a while, like it’s a part of our society.

That’s still tilted things, but the reality is that our value is our story. It is who we are, what we’ve done. That’s what your value is as a human and yes, you can all-day long pretend it’s how much stuff you’ve accumulated or what your net worth is, but it really isn’t. It really is what you’ve done and what the deal is with you. And I thought “wouldn’t it be interesting if that was the primary focus of how people related to each other in a society.” Like, “tell me your story” and we get to experience each other. And one thing that it is a direct reaction to is when I see people not listening to each other and not taking in each others perspectives, not hearing each other’s pain when it’s so obvious–it’s right there and you won’t look at it–that kind of stuff, I wanted to, if we were creating this new world, let’s create a world where we listen to each other and how wonderful that would be! And we really appreciate each other’s energy and if we don’t, we know why, because we’re really talking to each other. Sorry for that long answer. And just still have fun with it. There’s nothing here that’s preachy. I’m not interested in it. But I just wanted to see what the world would be like if your value is your story–which is your story is what you’ve done.

CBH: Yeah, no. It’s a great concept. It’s integrated very seamlessly too. That’s one thing I love about this work, especially. You know, we talk about the all-ages nature of it, but it is so not handhold-y. There is so little exposition. It is not dragging us along. It is “here’s the world. We’re all going to figure it out together,” right? And I think that is one thing, there’s an assumption with something that is called all-ages that “oh it must have to explain these things to kids.” Kids are smart! They figure stuff out!

Bendis: I see it all the time! The earlier question you asked about how my kids informed this, that’s it absolutely! They picked it up right away! This “in a world,” I guess I grew up with way too many movies where they tacked on the not-good-Star-Wars-scroll. So like, yeah.

CBH: Definitely. Yeah. It’s awesome that it doesn’t have to do that and pulls you in. The book one is out, it’s going to be out right now. We’re going to have links in the show notes. Sounds like both of you are already way into book two.

Bendis: It’s the best feeling! Sorry.

CBH: No, that’s awesome! You’re way ahead because you got a lot done ahead of this. What can you tease out without spoiling anything about what’s to come in book two and where it’s going?

Bendis: Well, you’ll see right away in the first book that this book allows us to do kind of a road picture. They’re walking around, they’re exploring. It’s an explorer’s book, right? So we explore one area of this world and with every page, I think you get little clues and hints of “oh shit this is Earth! This is our world!” Right away, you get little hints and pieces and you’ve got to figure out what area it is and then in the second volume, they’re going to a different place. They’re going to a different part of the world and every part of the world has a different feel to it. The Phenomena that took hold changed everything but every part is different. So we’re going to go to a place a little London-England-ish and we’ll see what’s happened to that place that has allowed us to open up a series of brand new inventions. I must say that we were very, very inspired by the Original Star Wars trilogy in that Empire Strikes Back went dark. It’s a little bit darker and there’s a fallout from the actions of the first movie that everything gets a little bit more mature. Everything gets a little bit more involved and I was always a big fan of that they didn’t repeat any of the locations or the themes of the first series in the second.

Araujo: And by the way, Brian sent me the–because we had the foundation for volume one–he sent me this great script for volume two for the first chunk of the script and the first thing I did was spending a week designing new characters, new places, all that stuff and even stuff that came to my mind and I sent all of that stuff to Brian so he could riff off of it to keep writing while I’m drawing the first and I can tell you that Brian and I have finished penciling the first twenty-six pages. So I’m going to start inking tomorrow.

CBH: Man! Awesome. That’s cool.

Bendis: And from my end, it was very important to me to keep a semblance of what made the first volume. The collaboration balance so unique that you described earlier in this podcast. I wanted to keep that going for the second one, that I’ve seen behind the scenes some times where some special magic is in the first thing and then when it’s time to do the second thing, everyone just tightens up and doesn’t bring the magic to the second thing. In this one, I said in the back and forth, I said we were going to do it exactly like we did the first time, the second time, knowing full well what we’re doing and how far we can take it.

Araujo: Yeah.

Bendis: Yeah, so we go with full confidence in what we are doing.

Araujo: Yeah, we didn’t mechanize the process. Like, Brian sent me the script and there were no descriptions. He had names for characters and for groups of characters and places, but there was no description whatso ever in them, so I’m drawing whatever I want again. And he writes whatever he wants. And that’s how we do it.

CBH: So far so good, yeah. It’s working out. This was really a delightful read and I enjoyed the heck out of it and I was excited. I’m excited for book two, definitely. I’m looking forward.

Bendis: For people who don’t know, this volume that we’re talking about today is the first of three volumes that Abrams is going to be putting out over the next few years. So, this is a series of graphic novels. So if you liked the first one, there’s more coming.

Araujo: Yeah.

Bendis: And by the end of the three volumes, you will find out what the phenomena was and all answers will be given.

Araujo: Yeah, the first volume is on sale exactly one week from now, so next Tuesday. On September 18th.

CBH: Yeah, this should go up the day of release.

Bendis: Hey! It’s out today, Andre!

CBH: There we go. You’ve got to get used to the time travel. Alright, a couple final questions for both of you. Brian, you famously co-created Miles Morales–of course–star of Into the Spiderverse and so many Marvel comics, did you know that Andre co-created Miles Morhames? The Ultimate Universe Spiderham? Were you aware of this connection?

Araujo: I had forgotten that.

Bendis: Oh. This is so sad that this is how our collaboration ends. Oh we were doing so well. Bummer.

CBH: Sorry to put an end to it here.

Araujo: What I’ve got to say about this is that the money I received from Miles Morhames is slightly less than Brian has been receiving from Miles Morales. Isn’t it? Because I got zero.

CBH: There’s still time! There’s still time! Into the Spiderverse 2! Who knows?

Bendis: That’s a very good one. No one talks about I actually don’t think I put those two together. Now that’s all we’re going to be talking about for the next few years.

CBH: Yeah. It’s something to behold. What else do you both have coming up that you both want to plug? What other comics are coming out that you want to make sure people check out? Andre, let’s start with you.

Araujo: Yeah, as an artist I obviously have less stuff coming on. Brian has like a hundred books, so I’ll get out of the way fast. I have A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance obviously. Volume one is already out there. I did that with Rick Remender. It’s still coming out, like next week’s a big week for me because we’ve got September 13th Phenomena, volume one. 14, the finale of A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance issue 11, so it’s the last one. And like a couple of months later, we’ll be getting volume 2 out, collecting the last six issues. So five issues on volume one, six issues on volume two and it’s like, if you get Phenomena and Righteous Thirst, you’ll get a good chunk of what I like to do and the way that I like to do comics. So, absolutely check both books out, please.

CBH: Cool, cool cool.

Bendis: I highly recommend that experience as well. I had it early on with Righteous and experienced Phenomena and I was like “oh my god! It’s the same guy! This is amazing!” If you’re a fan of Andre, this is a very exciting experience to have both things together. And for me, I have Jinxworld is our publishing imprint and it’s at Dark Horse comics where we’re putting out all kinds of new stuff, including right now our yakuza comic Pearl with Michael Gaydos is on the stands and also Joy Operations with Steven Byrne. Also, coming soon in November–it’s on the cover of previews–is The Ones with Jacob Edgar. It’s a brand new comedy that I hope everyone takes a look at. I’m really excited about it. And also, Dark Horse is a home of all our older stuff like Powers and Scarlet, and oh my god, a brand new printing of Torso. Look at that! Matching with the brand new printing of Goldfish! Just beautiful. The beautiful job they’ve done on these brand new editions of our classic stuff. So if you want to see the books that got me to Miles and got us to Phenomena, check them out.

CBH: Awesome. I’ve got a copy of Torso from my library and, Brian, I turned to like the middle sequence and the pages just started falling out of the book. Like the binding was so worn that I then had to puzzle everything together. I was like reconstructing Torso for you. So I’m glad there’s a new volume.

Bendis: I’m glad there’s a new volume too. I’m going to take that as a huge complement that someone got that aggressive with the book before you read it.

CBH: Yeah. Well read comic.

Bendis: And it’s like my favorite thing. Someone did this at Dragon Con and people come up with their perfectly slabbed comics–and I’m happy to sign them–but then someone comes up to you with a book that looks like they wiped their ass with it and it looks like it escaped some sort of horrible situation and it is the most flattering thing when someone comes up with a book that they’ve clearly read like a bunch of times. It’s the best feeling in the world. So I tend to focus on that instead of the one part of the production I can’t help–which is the glue. Can’t be in charge of the glue. But there is a brand new version of Torso out right now and I’m very happy that it’s out there. So thank you. And also, I just want to throw out there that I have a Substack. It’s a newsletter and we’re going to have a behind the scenes on everything that we’re talking about today. And if you want to subscribe, that’s where you get the best conversation with us on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. It’s the best version of the social media that we have right now.

Araujo: Thank you.

CBH: Good, good good. Alright, well thank you Brian, Andre. Thanks so much for your time this afternoon. I very much appreciate you coming on. Again, we’re going to have links to everything in the show notes. And of course, you can always just check out the Best Comics 2022 list on CBH for a bunch of what we talked about here today because it’s going to be there all year, just as regularly updated as our read new good things. So yeah, thanks to both of you!

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