Home Culture Professor Brian Michael Bendis Writes His Textbook

Professor Brian Michael Bendis Writes His Textbook


By Todd Allen

Random House has announced that Brian Michael Bendis has signed a deal with Random House to produce a book called Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Graphic Novels. The Hollywood Reporter has it described as “designed to give those looking to break into comic writing a leg up.”  And they might just be missing the point.  It looks to me like Bendis just wrote a textbook.

You may recall that Bendis has been an adjunct professor over at Portland State University since 2009.  He teaches a class called “Graphic Novel.”  (There are only 2 students evaluating, but Bendis does have a very high rating on Rate My Professor — but no peppers for hotness.)  It’s fairly common for colleges to get working professionals to teach specialized courses.  Teaching a class forces you to organize your thoughts on a subject.

Or, as the Hollywood Reporter says:

Bendis’ aim is to explain the many theories and techniques, including the ones he and his writer colleagues use (he wants the book to have many voices), tally up pros and cons, and let readers/prospective writers choose what suits them.

The difference between a textbook and a “how-to” book is going over the different techniques that can be used, as opposed to “How to Write Comics the Marvel Way.”  (Plot, then script being the traditional Marvel Way.)

That Bendis is also including a business section to the book and how to protect yourself as a professional writer also makes me think that’s something that came up during the course of his class.  That’s not something you typically see in a writing manual, but if you’re teaching a professional course, that’s something that will be in the practice portion of the syllabus.

Oh, sure — this may not be marketed as a textbook, but there are a lot of business and non-fiction books that have a healthy shelf-life in the Ivory Tower.

Congratulations, Professor Bendis.  You don’t have to photocopy as many handouts now.

(And yes, before the comment board flares up — Bendis is definitely qualified to write a book on Graphic Novels.  Never mind Marvel, off the top of my head, he’s written for Image, Oni and Caliber.  Graphic novels and serials.  Creator-owned and corporate-owned.  He’s dealt with Hollywood as much as anyone.  His career is more rounded than you might think.)


  1. For all the flack that Bendis gets for his writing ( some of it deserving), he’s one of comics best writers with a long, diverse resume. Look foward to checking out the book when it drops.

  2. Mr Benard, you do realize that Bendis is responsible for a good chunk of what’s wrong with the comic industry and more importantly, how to scorch earth a franchise (the Avengers) so that the whole thing becomes a punch line of failure right? I mean, even with Marvel bending over backwards with X-Overs and variant covers, and other crap, Bendis STILL CAN’T sell more copies than the Busiek run on the title and moreso, has pretty much destroyed what little credibility he once had by doing what he has done on the title.

    And now they are giving him the X-men franchise, which hopefully will be the final blow to Bendis’s hackery as far as the fact that the X-Men fans will NOT tolerate his crap and sales will crash so hard and fast that Bendis will probably have to go crying to DC for work, assuming they will have him.

  3. Heck, it says something that the Avengers movie franchise is a WHOLESALE rejection of the direction Bendis (and to a lesser extent Millar and Brubaker) have taken the characters. Not to mention the current Avengers cartoon.

    The only thing Bendis can teach people is how to act like a prima donna toy breaking diva who steals and ruins characters, screws up entire franchises, and exploiting every cheat one can have to basically artificially boost sales such as the art of the never-ending crossovers and taking stories that could be told in 2-3 issues and stretch them out to 10-12 issues.

  4. Bendis’s resume is one of the reasons why he shouldn’t be teaching how to write comics:

    1. Ult Spidey: dragging out stories beyond all belief in the name of “writing for the trade”

    2. Powers: after the first arc and the Byrne bashing (an irony given how Bendis has turned into Byrne-lite), who reads this book?

    3. Daredevil: Blatantly having your fictional insert character telling your characters why they suck, degrading C-List characters just because you can, BLATANT continuity errors (Frog Man debacle anyone?) and other crap that set the stage for:

    4. Avengers: turned a franchise into a huge joke and even with editorial bending over backwards to prop up the sales, STILL can’t beat the Busiek run AND has turned the Avengers into a laughing stock title, one that is used by many to basically point out ALL of Bendis’s flaws as a writer.

    5. Spider-Woman and Moon Knight: Sold so badly that they were cancelled.

    6. Dark Avengers: Stole characters from thunderbolts (cause God forbid another writer have something nice, Bendis has to steal them and screw them up because he can).

  5. Here, I’ll save everyone some money and post the book:

    Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Graphic Novels

    by Brian Michael Bendis

    1. Copy David Mamet’s writing style
    2. ???
    3. Profit

    The End

  6. awwwww…Goddard’s just upset because Bendis banned his ass from the board a long time ago, and it still looks like he holds a grudge.

  7. It’s not Bendis’ fault that he’s sold a lot of comics. It’s the people who bought them’s fault. Bendis didn’t single handedly do anything.

  8. Bob, take your white knighting of Bendis elsewhere.

    And Scott, just because something sells well, doesn’t mean it’s any good. Limp Bizkit anyone?

    And hell, as stated, for all of the comics he sold, Bendis STILL couldn’t sell anywhere near the number of comics that the Busiek run sold. And Busiek was the red headed stepchild of Marvel, not getting ALL of the breaks Bendis did that outright artificially inflated his sales.

  9. I wonder if he reveals how he use to just watch old obscure black and white mystery movies and take out the plot and tweak it? Or even not so obscure movies. If you’re ever called on it, just say its an homage. Or inspiration. Hack.

    Or…Let’s have more talking heads in comics and have almost nothing happen in an entire issue that’s costing you 4.99

  10. Sounds like an interesting book, as a comics scholar, I’ll probably buy and read it, and see if there are interesting points brought up. But I guess griping and multi-posting about it is cool, too. Whatever leaves you fulfilled at the end of the day.

  11. And yes, before the comment board flares up — Bendis is definitely qualified to write a book on Graphic Novels.

    Except that his Marvel stories provide no indications that he has the vocabulary needed to teach people how to write. His notoriety for “Bendis-speak,” an infatuation years ago with “The hell” and, recently, “level”—he can’t credibly instruct students on writing dialogue or, for that matter, on plotting stories. Were someone to assign a grade level to his Avengers stories, I suspect it would be in the elementary school range. Take a look at a vocabulary list for fifth grade students.


  12. Count me among those who are happy to see Bendis’ career flourish. I’ve known of him since his days at Image Comics and I’ve watched him as he rose up in Marvel. I’m all for supporting comics in all forms — including text books and the use of comics in education.


  13. I don’t think I’ve ever become so disenchanted with a writer I once liked as happened with Bendis. I’m happy to see the criticism leveled his way in this thread. I really don’t see the guy’s stories standing the test of time. High on novelty and schtick, low on depth and an understanding of the heroic genre.

  14. What a bunch of ill-informed nonsense, Jesse Baker.

    For one, I still buy POWERS, and for me it’s the best superhero book out there, with only two or three exceptions.

    Two, using your own logic, sales does not equal quality (“Limp Bizkit, anyone?”). Sales certainly does NOT equal quality.

    Three, the entire comics business does not sell as well as it did years ago, so to somehow use that as a measurement of Brian Bendis’ writing is specious.

    Four, your complaints about how he is “responsible for a good chunk of what’s wrong with the comics industry” is why I say you’re ill-informed. Writers of mainstream books, particularly the ones at the top of the food chain like Avengers and Daredevil and so forth, are tightly directed by editorial staffs and writer’s summits and corporate control. This is not to say that those writers do not have a lot of input and control as well, but it’s impossible to lay the blame for “what’s wrong with the comics industry” at Bendis’ feet. He works for a company that makes comics the way IT wants to, and he’s a valuable employee who helps them make their product.

    For my own part, I’ve always enjoyed what he’s done. I think he’s taken his Mamet influence and developed his own style–most of the accusations of his Mamet-imitation betray no knowledge of Mamet’s work beyond knowing he used a lot of curse words and staccato rhythms (as a playwright who’s studied Mamet pretty intensely, let me tell you, Mamet’s dialogue is only the tip of the iceberg).

    I’m looking forward to his book. If you know so much about writing comics, write your own book, and I’ll look forward to checking that one out, too.

    Clearly, from the number of posts you devoted to this one topic, you feel you have a lot to say.

  15. Jesse Baker makes NO SENSE. Let’s look at an example….

    Jesse says: “I mean, even with Marvel bending over backwards with X-Overs and variant covers, and other crap, Bendis STILL CAN’T sell more copies than the Busiek run on the title…..”

    Scott comments that Bendis has sold a lot of books, and Jesse’s response it this:

    “And Scott, just because something sells well, doesn’t mean it’s any good. Limp Bizkit anyone?”

    So Busiek sold a lot of comics, Jesse, but using your own logic, it doesn’t mean that they are good.

    is that what you are saying? Just wanted a clarification.

  16. Whatever one’s opinion of Bendis might be, a book by one of the most successful current creators (with the added bonus of actual teaching experience) should prove an interesting reading.

  17. Bendis is a very good writer and he got me into reading Avengers full time. No writer in the industry today has written anything better than his Daredevil and Ultimate Spider-man. A lot of comics fans just feel cool to bash the popular thing, which was Bendis for a long time. Bullshit.

  18. @Charles “No writer in the industry today has written anything better than his Daredevil and Ultimate Spider-man.”

    So….you just haven’t gotten around to reading Jamie Hernandez latest Love & Rockets stories yet, right?

  19. Good writer, but I’m wondering how he’ll address how to deal with your letterer killing himself when he sees how many goddamn word balloons you asked for.

  20. Wow! Lots of comic “fans” with their heads shoved firmly up their own asses on this thread. Sorry trolls, Bendis is a great writer. From Torso to Sam & Twitch to Powers to New Avengers he is wildly popular for a reason and some idiot ranting on a message board will never change that.

  21. Bendis’ dialogue always left me cold. I find it forced. I was never a fan of characters repeating dialogue as a way to move the conversation along. I also find his books burdened with word balloons that crap up the page and must drive the artist nuts. That said, some people need to get a grip. So he writes books you don’t like. It’s not like he kicked your dog.

  22. I’ve seen a lot of questionable “how to draw” books (rule #1: if the artist/writer’s only work are how-to-draw books, steer clear), but the few “how to write” books have been worth the coin.

    I’ll buy Bendis’ book, to see what he has to say, and to compare to those written by David, O’Neal, Gertler, and Lee.

    Now, if someone at Watson-Guptill is reading this, how about publishing an omnibus of your DC how-to books?

  23. For an example of a Bendis storyline with a severe plot problem, look at AVENGERS Vs. X-MEN #1. The Avengers talk ominously about the “parasitic” Phoenix Force heading towards Earth, and targeting someone—Hope, of course. However, as the material involving Hope shows, the Phoenix Force has already touched/possessed her.

    The Avengers material contradicts the Hope material. There’s no more reason for the Phoenix Force to be traveling through space and leaving energy signatures than there is for the Holy Spirit to be doing that. But if the storyline is written from Hope’s viewpoint, focusing on the metaphysical properties of the Phoenix Force and its potential to change the lives of Hope and others, then there’s no armed conflict between the X-Men and the Avengers. As written, AVX #1 makes the Avengers look like complete idiots who have no idea what they’re dealing with. Who wants to read about “heroic” idiots?

    Bendis might not be solely responsible for the AVX storyline, but he’s as responsible as anyone else involved is, and it’s showing him at his worst.

    Syfy airs crappy movies (e.g., MEGAFAULT) that take up chunks of time. They’re junk, and everyone knows they’re junk, but as storylines go, MEGAFAULT is no worse than AVX. It’s better to produce junk and to be honest about it, than it is to produce junk and to pretend the junk is something else.


  24. Johnny Memeonic says:
    04/03/2012 at 9:59 pm
    Here, I’ll save everyone some money and post the book:

    Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Graphic Novels

    by Brian Michael Bendis

    1. Copy David Mamet’s writing style
    2. ???
    3. Profit

    The End

    I chuckled mightily at this.

    I feel that the bloom has been off of the Bendis “rose” so to speak for a long time. A victim of his own success? I don’t know. I think that he went back to the well with what worked for him far too many times and now has become a parody of what once seemed like a fresh, new voice.

    I’m sorry that Mr Bedard or Mr Wood find these comments distressing… I feel it’s people finally realizing that the emperor has no clothes, and frankly, hasn’t had them for some time.

  25. The Powers Scriptbook has always been something I found helpful and I recommend to people who want to try writing comics, and Powers is still a book I can go back and read and find full of wonder. I’ll buy this I think.

    And to everyone who has just never been able to find anything to enjoy in comics over the course of Bendis’ long career, I’m sorry. I feel bad for you.

  26. “This is a seriously depressing run of comments.”

    Dude, have you checked Marvel’s sales figures recently? There’s a HELL of a lot of folks who’ve grown disenchanted with all of the “Marvel Architects”, yet it’s pretty darn clear that nothing short of an armed insurrection is going to change the creative regime at the company. And we’re not talking about old farts like me who grew up reading comics as kids in the late 70s and early 80s. We’re talking about “adults” who were reading the books in the last 5 to 10 years.


  27. This is a bizarre thread. Someone offered Bendis some cream to write a book about what he does for a living and he took them up on the offer. It doesn’t mean this is the “right” way or the only way to write comics; it’s just this man’s process explained.

    I’m assuming everyone here has checked out “Drawing Words & Writing Pictures” by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, too? Because if you haven’t and you want to make a fuss about how awful a book by Bendis will be, I’m kinda confused on why you’re part of the discussion.

    I plan on never making a comic of my own, but I am always curious about how they’re made, so I think the Bendis book will give me a fuller look at how it’s done.

  28. “This is a bizarre thread.”

    It’s pretty much what you’d get if someone offered Keanu Reeves big bucks to write a book on “How To Act”.


  29. @Chris Hero–ABSOFUCKINLUTELY. I agree with every point you’ve made here.

    @MBunge–I assume Bendis’ flaws also account for DC’s drop in sales, too, right?

    Man, you go to a convention like Emerald City Comicon and meet a ton of nice, happy, enthusiastic people who love comics, and you forget how many constipated angry pricks want to knock down anybody trying to make comics.

    Me personally, I’d rather make comics for those enthusiastic people than a bunch of negative assholes who’d rather fight over them than read them.

  30. @Matthew Southworth – agreed, seriously depressing. The eagerness to tear someone down – including the person, not just the work – is something I will never get over. It takes a special class of person to proactively spread their bile as opposed to just holding an opinion like normal folk do.

  31. “@MBunge–I assume Bendis’ flaws also account for DC’s drop in sales, too, right?”

    Aquaman is outselling every single Marvel comic and has been for half a year.

    “The eagerness to tear someone down – including the person, not just the work – is something I will never get over.”

    And I will never get over the butthurt people feel on others’ behalf over crap in a comment thread.


  32. @MBunge–nice use of “butthurt”. Guess we can add a little gay panic to your list of rhetorical flourishes.

    Your reference to Aquaman doesn’t address the question–if Bendis’ work is killing Marvel’s sales, who’s killing DC’s?

    Looking forward to your use of some racially divisive language next.

  33. One can not deny that due to his position at Marvel, he has changed the style of how Marvel comics (and ultimately super hero comics in general) are written.

    My personal opinion is that he has changed comic writing for the better, and I am a big fan of his work.

    When you look at the impact his writing has had in the medium, I’d say it’s equal to Stan Lee’s introduction of the Marvel method or the styles Denny O’Neil and later Alan Moore introduced at DC.

    This will be an interesting book because Bendis is a great writer and I’m sure he’ll be addressing multiple writing styles (not just his own). We need a book like this, written by a master.

  34. @MBunge – it’s not “butthurt”, as you so eloquently put it. Bendis is an unqualified success story in his chosen industry, has more fans than detractors, teaches a popular college course and just got a book deal. I’m sure he doesn’t care what you (or me) post on a message board, so it’s not like we feel a need to defend his honor or be insulted on his behalf. It’s more of a general depression stemming from the fact that so many people are so quick to insult someone who has never done them wrong.

  35. I haven’t liked (or even read) every single thing Bendis has done, but there’s enough great work on his resume (Scarlet, Alias, much of his Powers/Daredevil/Ult. Spidey stuff, etc.) that I’m certainly intrigued by the idea of this book. Anybody that’s seen Bendis at a con or heard him on a podcast knows he’s very good at talking about craft/process stuff, so it should be a useful and highly readable text.

    The sheer degree of the Bendis hate in many of the comments upthread is so over-the-top as to be silly, albeit in a pathetic way. Any writer as prolific as BMB is going to have a significant number of misfires, despite the fact that his overall batting average is very good.

    And based on the eloquence, insight, and rhetorical flair with which Baker, Synsidar, and MBunge expressed themselves, it’s not as if any of them would know great (or even good) writing if it bit them on the ass anyway…

  36. I always love the why dont you write your own book defence.

    Or haters gotta hate, cant get more cliched than that.

  37. @Jasmine–the “why don’t you write your own book defence” is not a defense, it’s a challenge. If you know so much about how to make better superhero comics, go write them. Bendis knows how to write comics–whether you like ’em or not, he’s written tons of them, and he clearly knows how to do it.

    “Haters gotta hate” is, in case you don’t recognize it, basically the polite version of “some people are just negative assholes and they’d rather talk shit than actually contribute something of value to a conversation. Some people would rather insult someone than try to find a cogent and persuasive explanation as to why they found a piece of work lacking.”

    I don’t have the slightest problem with someone not liking Bendis’ writing, Brian Wood’s writing, my own writing or art–I’d just like to learn something from it besides that person X thinks it “sucks”. Work a little harder.

    And I’d make the argument that those that did work a little harder to define where they think Bendis or others have gone wrong might A) find they simply had an aesthetic disagreement and choose not to get personal about it, B) choose to write their own material to prove their point, or C) investigate and gather some persuasive facts to make that point.

    But you know–“Assholes Gotta Be Assholes”.

  38. Whether you like his work or not, Bendis has undeniably had a long and professionally successful career in comics. What else can you call someone who writes for and living, consistently gets hired for high-profile jobs, and enjoys considerable respect from his editors and peers other than a professional success?

    He’s therefore as qualified as any other successful professional to write a book of advice to aspiring professionals in his field. The fact that he also teaches on the subject, apparently to his students’ satisfaction, further qualifies him.

    You can hate his work, call it hacky, and deride him, but he has managed to achieve a lengthy, healthy, high-profile career in an industry that’s tough to break into and nearly as tough to last in. The man has the credentials that a publisher and a reader would care about.

  39. I love that the end of the post predicted what many of the immediate comments would be… and yet those comments showed up, just as predicted.

    As if lining up to be filed under “Self-parody”.

    Oh well.

  40. What else can you call someone who writes for and living, consistently gets hired for high-profile jobs, and enjoys considerable respect from his editors and peers other than a professional success?

    You seem to be assuming that “professional” editorial standards are routinely applied to Bendis’s work. However, superhero comics writers aren’t under pressure to be original or creative, or to impress readers with their ideas. The readers follow characters, and practically anything that gets characters angry with each other, or fighting each other, can suffice for an issue’s plot. Insane characters acting senselessly, idiot plots, repetition—Bendis’s latest Osborn storyline had Osborn turned into an adaptoid, just as Yelena Belova was turned into one, and he self-destructed in nearly the same way that Belova did. The repetition alone was a reason for Bendis’s editor to insist that he come up with something else.

    An original idea can make a story interesting even if craftsmanship is lacking. If a story has neither craftsmanship nor an original idea, the poor reader has nothing for his money.


  41. Brian is proof that you can go from independent writer / creator to the very top (and in a pretty short time). I hate hearing that called a sell-out. If he’s adding tips on how to cover your ass it would do aspiring writers well to at least read this. He’s seen a lot.

    Goldfish is still my favorite though :)

  42. Ummm, maybe reading the book will expose the processes behind the work and make it easier for you guys to nail down exactly what he’s doing wrong?

    I, for one, will look for the book when it comes out. As mentioned above, I’m always interested in the processional aspects of comic book publishing and I suspect he will have some cool insights and stories “from the trenches.”

  43. I’m not a fan of Bendis’ writing at all and hate the way that he’s made the Avengers unreadable to me. I’m more about the Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Jim Shooter, Roger Stern, and Kurt Busiek runs. But the man has his fans and books can be sold on his name so he’s doing something right just not to my tastes. I’m actually interested in checking this book out.

  44. “I’d just like to learn something from it besides that person X thinks it “sucks”.”

    And fairly specific criticisms of Bendis’ writing have been made over and over and over again, to the point where no one should have to repeat them just to make Matthew Southworth happy.

    I also love it when people graciously allow that “you can dislike X if you want”, but then throw a hissy fit if you express that disdain.


  45. Standards drop.

    The idea that this guy is teaching people how to write is laughable. His comics read like he wrote them in 10 minutes and never went back to edit them at all or spend 2 seconds to ask himself if they make sense.

    This characterizations are all over the place. His plotting often violates continuity–HIS OWN continuity which he doesn’t even remember anymore because he’s such an ADHD Twitter-head.

    He’s almost single-handedly responsible for all of the pseudo-intellectual “witty banter” that’s ruined mainstream comics.

    And yet he gets to write a book.

    The blind leading the blind. Bendis is a disgrace.

    And I actually used to like his work 10-12 years ago. So I’m not a blind hater. But he fell off something terrible once he sold out.

  46. “but there’s enough great work on his resume (Scarlet, Alias, much of his Powers/Daredevil/Ult. Spidey stuff, etc.) ” About Scarlet, seriously; I work with social activists and a lot of them are anarchists (Anarch-primitivists, anarch-pacifists, etc.) of course, I talk with them and I understand their ideologies…

    And that´s why I don´t inderstand what´s so great about that “Scarlet” book!

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