IGN For Men Interview: Kevin Smith
We catch up with the director of Dogma, a certified comic book junkie
July 23, 1999
As writer/director of the award winning Clerks, the dubiously acclaimed
Mallrats, and the critically honored Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith is known
to the world at large as the preeminent king of the '90s indie film
scene. But Smith has been leading a secret double life which few, aside from his rabid circle of fandom, know about. While Smith makes rent off
of writing and directing movies, he's simultaneously been making a
little extra beer money writing comic books on the sly.
Comic books? Yeah, I said comic books, which shouldn't come as a
surprise to anyone familiar with Smith's cinematic wares. Take a gander
at Mallrats again. The opening credits featured artwork drawn by some
of the top names in comics - Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti (who Kev would
team up with on Daredevil), Mike Allred (who not only supplied the
Bluntman & Chronic artwork used in Chasing Amy, but recently illustrated
the Bluntman & Chronic story in Oni Double Feature number 12), Jim Lee, and
Not only that, but the flick also featured a cameo from Stan "The Man"
Lee, the lord god of the Marvel Comics' bullpen, the very man
responsible for creating Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil
(which Smith would come to write), and numerous other icons of the comic
book realm. As for Chasing Amy, hell, the film's main characters were
all comic book creators. To say that Smith is obsessed with comic books
is no lie (the man is so into comics that he even purchased the local
comic shop in his hometown of Red Bank, New Jersey and re-christened it
Jay & Silent Bob's Secret Stash).
But I digress. For the past year and a half, Smith has been penning the
tales of Daredevil for Marvel Comics (his run on the series ended this
summer with issue number 8). He also crafted the scenarios for two Clerks
comic books, a Jay & Silent Bob adventure which appeared in Oni Double
Feature number 1, a four-issue Jay & Silent Bob mini-series, and a Bluntman &
Chronic (the comic creations of Banky and Holden in Chasing Amy)
adventure, all for Oni Press Comics. But wait, there's more. This past
April, at the annual WonderCon in Oakland, California, Smith snagged one
of the comic book industry's ultimate honors by winning the 1999 Harvey
Award (sort of the comic book industry's answer to the Oscars and Golden
Globes rolled into one) for Best New Talent. Top that off with the fact
that Smith's Silent Bob character was turned into an action figure
toward the end of 1998 and you've got one dude who's seriously livin'
out the fanboy's wet dream.
Smith is currently taking a hiatus from the rigors of comic book
writing (although he has hinted at a comic book adaptation of his
as-yet-to-be-released film, Dogma). Kevin was cool enough to hang out with IGN
For Men's Spence Abbott, who grilled him on his descent into the four-color
pages of comicdom.
IGN For Men: Are you bummed that your tenure on Daredevil is over?
Kevin Smith: No, I'm relieved because at least I got to tell a story
from beginning to end and I made it to the end. I don't feel like I left
anything out. I felt all the T's were crossed and the I's were
dotted and the arc finished. And quite frankly, I don't have another
story in mind, so it was nice to finish that arc and be able to walk
away. Besides, that gives me more time to think up another arc. Like, I
couldn't imagine being the lone writer on the book for years at a time
because I think my stories would begin to suck. I know there's some
people out there that think my stories already suck, but it would suck
worse if I had to come up with **** all the time. It was nice to do this
one because I got to think about it way in advance. So, long story
short, yeah, I'm happy that it's actually come to a close.
IGN For Men: Do you think you hit your stride in the eight issues?
Kevin Smith: I think so. I think basically by issue four I was off and running. Like
I look at issue one now and I cringe because it's verbose beyond verbose
where it didn't have to be. I think I got better at dialoguing as I went
along and didn't have to say everything, letting the visuals take care
of that sometimes. So I think by number four I felt the books were really, really
strong. My writing, at least. I think visually the books were strong
from the get-go.
IGN For Men: What are the primary differences between writing a screenplay for one
of your films and scripting a comic book character like Daredevil or
even turning one your own characters into comic form like the Jay &
Silent Bob series for Oni Press?
Kevin Smith: The screenplays for the flicks are very spartan. There's no
description whatsoever, 'cuz I figure I'm gonna direct it so I don't
need to describe it for anybody 'cuz I'll be there on the day we shoot.
The scripts for the Oni stuff are very detailed because those
[characters] are my "kids," so to speak, and I like to keep it as close
to me as possible and to what I would want to do. I tried as much as
possible to "direct" those books. So I'm pretty detailed with [Matt]
Wagner (illustrator of the Jay & Silent Bob short story which appeared
in Oni Double Feature number one), and with Jim Mahfood (illustrator of Clerks:
The Comic Book and Clerks Holiday Special), and with Duncan Fegredo
(illustrator of the Jay & Silent Bob four-issue mini-series) and just try
and give them as much description as possible to fit into the panels so
that I feel like every inch of that book is covered. The Daredevil stuff
I left very wide open. It's just a lot of dialogue and then I basically described
what was gonna happen within the scene, but that's about it. Joe
[Quesada, the artist on Daredevil] then took the script and worked
backwards and blocked the entire book out, figured out how many panels
per page. Sometimes I'd break it down into panels and whatnot, but my
version of panels are way off 'cuz I'm not drawing it and I don't know
how it should be laid out. Sometimes I'd wind up with like page nine, 26
panels, and Joe's like "Well, that's not really feasible." Then we'd
have to try and break it down. So it's different in as much that I pay a
lot more attention to the visual aspects, but not nearly as much as I
think a real visual talent would.
IGN For Men: What did writing comics give you that writing films doesn't?
Kevin Smith: In the case of Daredevil, I got to play around with somebody else's
character that has a history that's been established over a long period
of time. You don't have to go back and tell a lot of back story because
it's been done for you years before. That was kind of nice. Stepping
into a story already in progress and not having to develop character
because it's already been developed.
IGN For Men: Did you consult at all with Stan Lee, seeing as how he created
Daredevil, not to mention that you had him appear onscreen in Mallrats?
Kevin Smith: No, never got to talk to him about it. I understand he liked the
books, but I haven't spoken to him about it.
IGN For Men: What about the difference between writing an action hero title like
Daredevil as opposed to the Jay & Silent Bob and Clerks titles which are
definitely more humor oriented?
Kevin Smith: I mean it's a lot different. It's kind of writing from two separate
sides of the brain, maybe. I don't know. One is kind of like all you're
worried about is the punchline and the joke and making somebody chuckle.
And the other is about plot and pacing and making a scene develop. You
don't really think about the scene so much when you're writing a Jay &
Bob book because you're just thinking about how many jokes, like, "this
is funny, this is funny, this is funny." There's a sketchy plot, that as
long as you're done telling it within 30 pages you're okay. But when I
was working on Daredevil it was more about pacing and plot and laying in
seeds of stuff that wasn't gonna pay off for issues down the road, so I
was a lot more careful on the storytelling with that title.
IGN For Men: How did you juggle between working on your latest film Dogma and
writing the comics? I know that especially with Daredevil, it overlapped
with the end of Dogma's filming schedule and then of course you had post
production duties to attend to.
Kevin Smith: I didn't juggle it very well and sometimes
things were late because of that. It's one of those things that's kind
of like, I hope the retailers kind of understand. I know as a retailer I
get pissed sometimes when books are late. But at the same time, the
books that I do tend to bring a different audience into the comic book
market and kind of the trade-off to that is sometimes they're gonna be
late by virtue of the fact that this isn't my day job. It's just kind of
what I do on the side and I've got to answer to the other job first.
IGN For Men: So you look at the comic book thing as moonlighting then?
Kevin Smith: Oh definitely. Unfortunately writing comic books wouldn't pay the
rent, y'know. Unless I was doing it full-time. That's the thing about
writing comics. I now know why there are writers who write more than one
book ‹ sometimes way more than one book. It's like just not enough to
sustain yourself on, I don't think. I get a pretty decent wage over at
Marvel, but of course it's not about how much I get paid, it's just the
idea of doin' it. But if I had to live off it? I mean, I'd have to
write a few others books, too, just to kind of make ends meet, I think.
IGN For Men: Dogma is essentially the first film you've written and directed which
doesn't have any comic book references in it. Yet given the subject
matter ‹ renegade angels, foul-mouthed apostles, machine gun toting Jay &
Bob ‹ it certainly appears to lend itself well to the comic book milieu.
Can we expect a comic adaptation of the film or an ongoing series?
Kevin Smith: I think we're gonna do a one-shot that Scott Morse [writer/artist of
such titles as Soulwind, Revolver, as well as art director for Hanna
Barbera's Cow and Chicken cartoon series] is gonna be painting. It's
gonna be a Bartleby and Loki [the characters that Ben Affleck and Matt
Damon portray in the film] kind of 50-to-60 page one-shot which
tells their story before the movie, from the dawn of creation all the
way up to the flick. I never want to do an adaptation of the movie, cuz
what's the point? Everyone has seen it. I remember reading the Star Wars
adaptations as a kid and it was just, "what is the point, really?" Let's
just go watch the movie or at least tell a brand new story. That's the
mindset I'm in. The closest I'll come to adapting, though, is there's a
book I'm putting together with the Oni Press guys which is a sequence
that was cut out of Clerks. We didn't shoot it because we didn't have
the money and it was too involved. So now we're gonna do it in comic
book form. We're callin' it like Clerks: The Lost Scene. (Editor's note: Clerks: The Lost Scene comic is slated to hit
stores this August.)
IGN For Men: You've kind of become the indie king of all media. You've conquered
the cinema, the comic book realm, you've had an action figure modeled
after your Silent Bob character and you're in negotiations for a Clerks
animated series. What's next?
Kevin Smith: Time to take a ******* break, just to relax and drop out of view for
a little while. I think I'm gonna finish up the stuff I've already
committed to and then take a little break, 'cuz I just don't want people
to get tired of me. Thankfully, what brings people in, I think, in terms
of my comic stuff is the novelty of it and what keeps them in is that
they like it. It's like actually kind of good and if you like the movies
you really dig the books. But I don't want that to go away. I don't want
to become the guy that is putting out the books
for the sake of putting out books and not about the story anymore and
not about the quality of what's inside the books. So I'm gonna take some
down time and think about what's next and then go back into it.