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News . Feature Stories . Alumnus and superhero comics writer visits CIA


April 16, 2014

Alumnus and superhero comics writer visits CIA

Five questions for Brian Michael Bendis '91

In early April, award-winning comics creator Brian Michael Bendis (Class of 1991) returned to his alma mater to talk with CIA students and Northeast Ohio graphic novel fans about his professional experiences as one of the most successful writers working in mainstream comics. Reflecting on his visit, he answered these questions.

It's often said that illustration is visual storytelling. Did your CIA education help you develop your narrative ability?

So much so. When I was studying at the Institute, I knew a lot about comic book language but I didn’t have a full grasp of pure and true illustration. Obviously, this was a very important formative part of my education. I don’t know where I would’ve been without that hard-core focused workshop environment.

Talking to WCPN's Dee Perry in a recent Cleveland public radio interview, you said that when you were at CIA, "I started to write to give myself something to draw." You said drawing was always a struggle for you and you were eventually hired by Marvel to write for other artists. Is writing a struggle for you?

It is. Everything creative is a struggle. It can be a struggle against cliché; it can be a struggle against just being terrible; but it somehow seems like a more natural intuitive part of how my brain works. The struggle for me artistically was always getting what was in my head on the page. It was always a compromise. More than I was comfortable with. But I’m sure that every artist feels that. The solution that the universe offered me was the opportunity to write scripts for what ended up being the greatest artists working in comics of this and past generations. So my frustration with my art was replaced with the glorious feeling of having these amazing illustrators bring these ideas to life for both of us.

Is it true that graphic novels/comics were frowned upon by the faculty at CIA when you were a student here? Did you pick up on greater acceptance of this art form in your recent visit?

It wasn’t that they were frowned upon so much as they weren’t fully comprehended. I wasn’t alone in my attempts to express to some of the faculty how important comics and graphic novels were becoming. I remember bringing in a copy of Print magazine, which featured a cover story on comics because the most important things going on in American graphic design and illustration at that time were happening in graphic novels. I thought seeing Print magazine focus their attention would help them understand what we were talking about but they weren’t really there yet. But it was okay. I look back at things like that and think that that kind of thing only strengthened my resolve and the resolve of other students who actually ended up making a nice living as comic book creators. Maybe the struggle was part of what made us more successful.

What advice do you have for young people interested in illustrating/creating graphic novels or characters for video games?

I just finished an entire book filled with everything I would say to young people interested in illustration/creating graphic novels so it’s hard to distill it down to one answer. So I’ll just say buy my book, Words for Pictures, available for preorder on :-), AND work every day. As I get older and look back and look around myself I realize that the people who are truly successful are the ones that apply their craft every day. No matter what it is you decide to do… you need to do it every day. You need for it to become part of who you are as a person. You need to make it part of your lifestyle.

Did you enjoy your recent visit to Cleveland and CIA?

I really did. I still can’t believe I was invited to the school in such a lovely way. I look back at my college career as such a struggle. I know things kind of worked out, but it was a big struggle for me. So it is highly surreal to go into an auditorium that I used to go to as a student and be the person standing on stage talking to the students. But when I looked out at the students’ faces and I saw that wide-eyed ‘help me’ look that I so understand, and was able to answer everyone’s questions, I knew that it was the right place to be. It was just lovely to pay forward some of the things that I’ve learned along the way to some people who really wanted to hear.

And obviously the Ted talk (at Cleveland Museum of Art) was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I am very glad I did.

But nobody warned me that Cleveland turned into a giant casino, like Biff Tannen’s in “Back to the Future Part II. :)

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