Kevin Shinick Interview Part 2: AVENGING SPIDER-MAN and MARVEL NOW!

Earlier this week we here at UTF posted the first portion of an interview with one of fandom’s royal elite, Mr. Kevin Shinick (you can read that here). The writer/actor/director covered a lot of topics but in this second and final part we discuss heavily about his time on the Avenging Spider-Man and the current state of the comic book industry.

We start things off with his two-part arc.

UTF: Why the Hypno-Hustler?

Kevin Shinick: It’s funny, you know.  A couple of things brought that to light, considering what I’ve had to do or what I wanted to do with Avenging Spider-Man #12.  I was going for this whole Inception type-thing, I wanted it all to be a mirage and at first I thought ‘well I guess that means it’s going to be Mysterio because that makes the most sense.’  But then the editor said, ‘oh you can’t use Mysterio because he’s tied up in another story right now.’  That stinks.  And then he said, ‘in fact you can’t use most of the major villains because they’re all tied up.’

But then I went back and remembered, and so I read the history and refreshed myself and I went online and  did some research and reacquainted myself with the Hypno-Hustler. When I saw him I thought, this is perfect, because not only does he have the power I need for this scenario but he also opens it up to so much more comedy.  You know, 9 times out of 10, when I receive restrictions, the work winds up being even better than it was originally planned.  So i’m glad that I had those restrictions, that I could not Mysterio, because now we have the Hypno-Hustler.

UTF: It was definitely a shock when I got to that final page and it was the Hypno-Hustler.  It was a big enough twist when Deadpool betrayed him and turned out to be playing him the whole time.  It was a very fun comic book.

Which brings me to my next question, why Deadpool specifically?  Was that mandated or did you just pick him?

Kevin Shinick: It was funny because I love Deadpool. My main guy is Spider-Man and I’ve always read Spidey.  I know a lot about him. I wrote and directed the first feature length stage production of Spider-Man back in 2003, long before Julie Taymor.  I did it at Radio City Music Hall and toured forty cities, so my background is totally Spider-man. So I was on board. And then Deadpool, I’ve always loved.  I love that he’s a pop culture guy and he breaks the fourth wall.

I was talking to the editor, Stave Wacker.  Steve told me he wanted me to work on a Marvel comic, and I said ‘Yea, me too.’  And I was hinting at Spider-Man and he said I want you to do Deadpool. And I thought, Alright, I like Deadpool.  And he said ‘Deadpool in High School.’  I said, ‘I like the sound of that but I don’t really know what that means.’  His origins are a bit hazy on purpose. I wouldn’t want to be the first jerk to say ‘I know where he came from’ and make up a ridiculous story. I asked if I could at least place him in Peter Parker‘s High School so I could ground him some place.

And then I thought it would be cool if it was an Inception-type thing. If I could put them in High School but then it wouldn’t lore, where I had to rewrite history. Eventually when Wacker called me back he said, ‘Hey, I have an opening at Avenging Spider-Man, do you want to do that?’  I said ‘oh my God, absolutely’ and he said, ‘Well, did you get anywhere on that Deadpool story?’  And I said ‘Yes! I have this crazy idea that I think you’re going to love.’ I  pitched it to him, and he liked it, and that’s how we started.

UTF: It was an appropriate angle to take the series, with the rotation of the different superheroes and it being freed up from continuity.

Kevin Shinick: They had been together before. I didn’t want to tread on familiar ground and I thought, what can I do that is completely different and hasn’t been done before?  You know, I’m from Robot Chicken and MAD and I wanted you to see that when you picked up a comic book.  I could have fun with Spider-Ham and all sorts of stuff.  I could go nuts.  Avenging Spider-Man is just the perfect venue for it.

UTF: It certainly was. You brought in some random villains like the Boomerang, the Painter, and even Morlun, who hasn’t been in comics since “The Other” story arc.

Kevin Shinick: [laughs] Being a fan of the comic books, I kept thinking, ‘who would he fear the most out of his villains?  Kraven‘s put him in a grave, Goblin‘s nearly killed him [and] Morlun‘s killed him. I thought those would be my top 3 if I were Spidey.

UTF: Hands down. They definitely had to show up there. It was a very entertaining scene, complete with that sudden realization as Spider-Man saw the names on the wall, and he realized they weren’t those people [Goblin, Kraven, or Morlun] and that he could beat them up.

Kevin Shinick: It is a mind over matter thing.  I think we do get bogged down in life by things that really come down to a psychological understanding. There’s this scene I wrote where he says, ‘I’ve got to shake off this baggage,’ and that’s it.  You think about a fighter getting into the ring, and it’s more about the opponent’s reputation than the actual guy, and you can get psyched out easily. Especially if you get in the ring with Goblin or Kraven or any of those guys. When you take a step back, and you realize yes, I can beat these guys… it’s really about convincing yourself.

UTF: Definitely. I have to ask, how was it with working with artist Aaron Kuder?

Kevin Shinick: Aaron’s fantastic. I did not know the artist would be Aaron prior to starting the story, and I hoped that it would be someone who could get all these dream fantasies that I was coming up with, and in hindsight, I could not have asked for a better artist.  He just has this quality that’s specific to him, but ambitious enough that its almost dreamlike.  No one really has a face at times, or it’s so wacky that it totally matches me on the whole… wackiness of it all.  I was writing it as creatively as I could and when I gave it to Aaron he just knocked it out of the park.

UTF: When you wrote the script, was he assigned to the issue? Were you able ot bounce ideas off him?

Kevin Shinick: The first one, I think I wrote befoe he got it. But, as all artists are encouraged to do, I was hoping he’d bring his own stuff to it.  Which he did.  And I think I mentioned this before, but I put in all these little things like Spider-Ham and Morbius wearing a ‘Team Morbius‘ shirt and all these crazy things I could think of.  And I think it’s funny he put in Forbush Man, he was Marvel‘s version of Alfred E. Newman all those years ago.  I thought that was a nice nod considering I’m working on MAD right now with Alfred E. Newman. It was just stuff like that which was the icing on the cake.

UTF: Very Nice.  In Avenging Spider-Man #13 there was a very specific scene: when Spider-Man is apparently impaled by Deadpool.

Kevin Shinick:  Right.

UTF: And it has the block of text where it’s like: ‘censored by the man.’

Kevin Shinick: [laughs] Yes.

UTF: I literally bust out laughing when I read that scene and I was actually kind of curious when doing a panel like that, one that relies on the use of text in that way, is that pre-planned in the script or is that something you guys kind of came up with as you were going along?

Kevin Shinick: No to be completely honest and again this is an example of notes making things better and your limitations making things better. I had him being impaled and Aaron drew him being impaled and we were really proud of that scene. And then when the editor got it he was like: ‘You guys can’t do this.’  And we were like, ‘What?’ So it went very much to the very end of the deadline and then Whacker said ‘No, we could either blow it or we could put a censorship over it,’ like you saw.  And we both agreed that would kind of be a funny thing to have a censorship over it just calling it out [for being] exactly what it is, so that’s how that came about.

UTF: And it was perfect. I mean it definitely nailed the moment and you know it was little anecdotes like that through out the entire arc that encapsulated not just Spider-Man but Deadpool‘s personality fairly well.

Kevin Shinick: Good, good I’m glad.

UTF: Which leads me to my next question.  Are there any other characters from either Marvel or DC that you would love to, I don’t know, write for or take on in the future?

Kevin Shinick: There are so many that I love that…  You know, obviously Spider-Man and Deadpool are very close to me and I thought, ‘that would be great to do.’  But you know X-Men or Avengers, I’d be really thrilled to be able to take on something like that as well. We’re talking about certain things in the future, I can’t discuss what exactly yet, but I will definitely be doing more with Marvel.

UTF: So going off of that as a fan I guess I’d have to ask, what do you think about Marvel NOW! and on the opposite end of the spectrum DC‘s New 52?

Kevin Shinick: Yeah you know it’s always interesting because when writing my comics [Avenging Spider-Man] #12 and 13 I was such a fan of Spider-Man I knew everything that he’d been through but you have to really figure out what’s going on with his current continuity.  To an extent though.  Because you’ll drive yourself crazy if you’re trying to keep up with all that’s going in the world.  Because by the time I started writing it, by the time I’ve finished 8 [or] 12 things may have changed in his world that would be affected in my comic.  So you just have to pick a point and jump off with it.

In reading comics my whole life I’ve always appreciated writers and artists who can give a new fresh taste to something and some people do it better than others.  So I’m always welcoming to a New 52. I’m curious and I want to see.  And you know as a buyer of comics and as a reader comics I can see why you would do that too.  Because like I just mentioned so much continuity changes that you almost want to clean the slate sometimes and say, ‘alright look: forget everything, it all starts here.’  And it gives a whole new generation of people a chance to start fresh and you know start with #1. Which is a great thing for a lot of people. Ultimately I find it usually winds up going somewhere back to the original anyway.

UTF: Yeah.

Kevin Shinick: You know, so you’re not too far from it and what I’ve realized dealing with Marvel, they have a different approach.  Where as they may start fresh but everything that came before they’re saying, ‘no that still came before.’  You know, they may do something like have Mephisto make everybody in the world forget but we all know it still happened, you know?

It’s really doing the same thing but you have a little different guidelines. One says, ‘look, this starts now! ‘ And the other one, oddly enough Marvel NOW!, says, ‘this is a whole new take on something, but everything you knew before also came.’  So I think the idea is to make comics fresh for all ages, all generations and look some people, like I said, do it better than others. I wish them both success because I love writing comics and I want them all to be around for a long while.

UTF: Both companies definitely took varying routes and I’m certainly looking forward to the rest of Marvel NOW! I’m already slated to review several of their titles.

Kevin Shinick: Good.

UTF: One of which comes to mind, Superior Spider-Man.

Kevin Shinick: [Excited ]Yes!

UTF: Have you heard anything on that yet?

Kevin Shinick: I did a panel at [New York] Comic Con this past weekend and this doesn’t really tell you much because they were very tight lipped about it but is sounds very intriguing. Because I believe Dan Slott said, ‘This is not Peter Parker.’

And we were all like, even I was like, ‘who is it then?’  You know he’s going to get my money because I’m curious.

UTF: Definitely.  We have one of the editors on the site, who’s practically begging for it to be Ben Reilly under the mask.  That somehow Ben Reilly survived being disintegrated or that wasn’t him, it was a clone of a clone of Peter Parker or some crazy thing, but you know lots of theories definitely floating around the web about what exactly is going on. But it’s definitely very interesting, I’m again, looking forward to the change but I’m a little apprehensive.

Kevin Shinick: Of course and Dan even said, ‘be prepared to be annoyed and angered.’

Because here’s the thing, you can’t please everyone. And when you sit down to write a comic you have to realize that what you’re writing is… At least I do when I did it, I’m an audience member first.  I want to write what I want to read you know? So I’m going to write what registers with me first and hope that people are on the same wavelength that I am.  And I think for someone like Dan’s case you got to take a stab at certain things and you’re going to win certain people and you’re going to lose certain people.  But you gotta take chance because that’s what makes these things interesting.

UTF: Absolutely.

Kevin Shinick: Let me ask you this, what did you think of the whole Clonage and the invention of Ben Reilly?  Where they went almost a year, I think it was, trying to convince us that Ben was the real Spider-Man and that Peter was the clone.  They’ve taken a lot of heat but at the same token we’re still talking about Ben Reilly and that came from that story line, you know?

UTF: Yeah it’s definitely very true.  For me I have mixed feelings. Like I said the other editor Ciaran, his Spider-Man, because he started buying Spider-Man when Ben Reilly was under the mask will forever be his webslinger.

Kevin Shinick: That’s funny. Yeah, I here you.

UTF: For me it more or less had its good and bad moments. It was goofy, I mean it was the 90s.  Even going back now and reading the more edgier independent books they’re still chock-full of ’90s goof and fluff.

Kevin Shinick: Yeah.

UTF: Which definitely leads to my next question, do you think comic books should take themselves a little bit less seriously than they do? Because it does seem that some of them are sipping their water a little bit too much.

Kevin Shinick: I kind of agree with you. You know, look everything goes in waves.  The reason why there was this turn to a darker side across the board is because I think comics were getting too goofy at times.  Batman, you know it was a dark comic then they made the ’60s TV show and then they wanted to bring it back to serious and then it wound up going back to goofy, it goes back and forth as culture dictates.  Sometimes when it doesn’t dictate.  But I agree, I did pick-up a couple comics recently and I thought, wow, God, everybody is so dark.  Which is one of the reasons why I wanted to do this two [part] story arc, because I kind of missed the fun of it, you know?

UTF: Yeah.

Kevin Shinick: Everybody is so… you know, they’re so fallible, they’re so upset, they’re so injured that I thought, let’s just have fun with this. Remember when you used to read and laugh at comics and stuff?  And, you know, if that story line would have kept going obviously I would have found a balance, but my point in doing this was I did want to make a funny story. I did want it to, you know like I said, resonate with ‘oh this guy obviously comes from Robot Chicken and MAD and has a good comedic sensibility and stuff.’

But at the same token, everything I said in that story line I thought had to be grounded. As ridiculous as it is, it does make sense in my world.  I can make sense of it and I can explain it. You know, I’m not just making jokes for jokes sake.  I’m trying to be true to the characters and have them interact in a way in which they would, for me it all starts with character and if the stakes are high enough, you can go on any journey, as ridiculous as it is, as long as it’s based in some sort of concrete story.

The funny thing is, you know everybody is going so dark and stuff, that’s what made Spider-Man so popular to begin with… He was the guy who was down on his luck, he was the hero who was fallible.  You know, it was during a time when Superman was invulnerable, everybody was perfect and then along comes this kid who can’t get good grades, he can’t pay his rent, he can’t do all this stuff and what I admired most about him was, he was dark and yet he approached it with a joke and a lightheartedness. And i think it is finding that balance that really is what has kept him popular over these years. And this is my long-winded answer to your short question, but yeah I do want more of a balance. I do find a lot of it is getting too dark for my taste.

Hopefully, you know like I said if I continue to do more I’ll be able to continue on my route. Because, I have fun with it and I want people to have fun with it [too].

UTF: Well, I guess I just have really one more question to ask.

Kevin Shinick: Sure.

UTF: Well you’ve had a lengthy career writing/directing/producing either on stage, in movies or for television. Are there any projects that you either missed the opportunity to be apart of or that you regret being involved in?

Kevin Shinick: No. I’ve been very fortunate, in fact my career has probably surpassed my wildest dreams to an extent… especially in the writing world. To be able to write on shows like MAD and to be able to write comic books and to you know I’ve got some feature films I’m working on, it’s just I’m trying… I’ve always gone with the door that opens and I’ve been very fortunate to go through some really great doorways. And I hope to do more of that and maybe try and find some mediums that I haven’t conquered yet. But so far no regrets, I look back and think ‘wow, how did I get here?’  I’m just as grateful as the next guy to be able to work with the people I’ve worked with on the projects I’m working on.

UTF: Thank you once again Kevin for participating in this interview, it was my first one and I just was very excited about the opportunity.

Kevin Shinick: Excellent. I’m glad I’m your first.

[Both laugh]

UTF: And once again, really great story arc . And I look forward to reading or watching whatever you do next.

Kevin Shinick: Thanks pal I appreciate that.  And good luck to you as well.

So what did you think about this mammoth discussion?  Do you agree or disagree with the perspectives offered?  Are you jazzed about the future of comics or underwhelmed by the advent of narrative shifts like Marvel NOW!?  Sound off with your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

Before we close out completely, I want to again take the chance to thank Mr. Kevin Shinick for taking the time and being such a wonderful interviewee.