Earlier this month, Marvel reintroduced a refreshed and reformatted edition of the classic, Eisner Award-winning crime comic TORSO, by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko to graphic novel readers everywhere. Read on for an interview with Brian Michael Bendis and an excerpt from the comic’s opening pages.
How did the writing of TORSO influence your later crime comic work including SCARLET?
Torso was one of the biggest challenges of my career. Taking on the responsibility of a true story but abstracting it in graphic novel form is a very large mountain to climb. When Mark Andreyko brought up the idea he was thinking of it only in movie terms, but I became obsessed with the idea of how to do the story is a graphic novel.
Once you delve into that level of reality and research on one project, it becomes the standard to which every other project, whether it is Scarlet or even Spiderman, must rise to.
The “Torso” case was never officially solved. What is your personal take on the real case, and did you ever consider crafting an ending much different from the true story?
What we put forth in the book was what we thought was the most logical conclusion to that story. There was a lot of evidence that spoke to that conclusion, including quotes that Eliot Ness gave in interviews later in his life.
We actually thought that ending was the best ending to the story could have. Left her own devices, I’m sure we would’ve done something a little more cliché/satisfying to the reader. I was very happy to uncover what we uncovered.
What are some interesting facts you uncovered when doing research for this book?
It was mostly stuff that would never happen today and stuff that you never really hear about.
I was in a very unique position at the time. I was working as a cartoonist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and my editor gave me access to the Torso murder files that hadn’t really been touched or seen in many many years. And because I am by nature a visual thinker I became much more focused on the visual evidence and the unique visuals that surrounded the case.
The fact that there was a drawing of a bogeyman on the front page of a major metropolitan newspaper, telling you that the Torso murderer might come and get you, was absolutely fascinating to me. Or the fact that they made plaster molds of the dead and hung up these death masks, in the bus and train stations to get people to come forward…and my favorite image is the coroner examining a severed foot with a large magnifying glass. It’s the opposite of CSI.
Why does the graphic novel lend itself so well to TORSO and crime stories in general?
Because it’s the greatest storytelling medium on the planet. Crime stories should be dirty and seedy and there is nothing dirtier and seedier than rubbing ink on the page.
Is your process different when you are writing a comic with a plot like TORSO or SCARLET versus one with a superhero who has an established backstory like Spiderman or the Fantastic Four?
No. but with Spiderman or the Fantastic Four there is an established back story, voice, and continuity and all you have to do to research that is read a lot of cool comic books.
With books like Scarlet you are creating the character whole cloth and building the world around her. With that comes an entirely different set of challenges.
Although both are obviously writing, I sometimes feel I’m using a completely different part of my brain.
Brian Michael Bendis is an American comic book writer and former artist. He has won critical acclaim (including five Eisner Awards) for his self-published, Image Comics and Marvel Comics work, and is one of the most successful writers working in mainstream comics.