REFLECTIONS: Talking with Tony Bedard & Paul Pelletier about "Exiles"

Mon, February 27th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

REFLECTIONS


Volume 2 Number 4

By Robert Taylor, staff writer

Most of the time I can understand why a book isn't selling as well as it should. Comics like "Fallen Angel" and "Witchblade" are both amazing books that should be selling 100,000 copies every month, but I understand why they don't.

And then there is "Exiles."

Earlier this year the book began a mega-storyline called "World Tour." The comic would visit much-loved Marvel alternate realities for a year, beginning with a crossover with "House of M," kill off original cast members and prove to be the best book Marvel has been publishing every month since the event started. Better than "Captain America." Better than "The Ultimates."

Add to that Tony Bedard writing the best work of his career and Paul Pelletier and Jim Calafiore turning in some of the best art on the stands, and one might think that sales would go up.

But it didn't. After an initial bump, sales have stayed more boring than a rerun of "JAG." Which brings me back to the question of why no one is reading the book. It's not getting reviewed across the 'net. Readers aren't buzzing like they should. What is going wrong here?

I had to do something. That something involved getting masterminds Tony Bedard and Paul Pelletier to sit down with me and discuss the book, and in the process hopefully pulling in another couple (hundred? Billion?) readers. Because you really need to try it out.

Robert Taylor: So guys, how's life?

Tony Bedard: Still getting paid to do funnybooks. Still married to a beautiful girl who'll watch Godzilla movies and the History Channel without complaint, so…pretty good.

Paul Pelletier: Ditto, but my sweetheart still won't watch "Iron Chef." Someday she will see the genius that is the Chairman!

RT: I only enjoy "Iron Chef" when they have to cook weird foods like blowfish, truffles and cuckoo clocks. Tony, how's about giving us a little up-to-date about what's been happening on the "World Tour" so far.

TB: Well, we started out in the "House of M" reality, where the Exiles ran into Proteus, the mutant who changes bodies as often as I change underwear…more often, actually. Proteus found out that there's other worlds out there and used his reality-bending powers to start visiting them. The Exiles have been chasing him ever since. So far we've dropped in on the New Universe and the 2099 Universe, and we have stops scheduled with the classic Squadron Supreme, the evil Hulk of Future Imperfect, and everybody's favorite: Heroes Reborn. Hmm…maybe I shoulda stopped at Future Imperfect. Also, Proteus has taken Mimic's body, effectively killing him, and he's currently wearing the body of Hulk 2099.

RT: Why should we be reading this book?

PP: In my opinion, Tony and I make comics that are throwbacks to the comics that we grew up with. They are good stories with lots of action, characterization and a sense of humor. Comics don't have to be grim, gritty and serious all the time. It's fun to kick back with a decent comic book and just let go and enjoy. This is what I think "Exiles" is all about. Have fun!

TB: You should be reading "Exiles" for a break from the Big Events. Except when we cross over with the Big Events.

RT: Paul, what has been the most artistically taxing so far on "Exiles?" Your favorite thing to draw?

PP: To be honest, the schedule for the first six issues was the most taxing! I had to average eight to 10 pages a week for 3 months, and in between I got married and went on our honeymoon! That was tough. My favorite stuff to draw was the Future Imperfect story. Drawing the Maestro and Hulk 2099 beating on each other was lots of fun!

RT: Just because I am a Crossgen fanboy…how do you feel your professional relationship has changed or evolved since you worked together on "Negation?"

PP: I don't think it's really changed at all. It was great when we did "Negation," and it carried over to "Exiles." For some reason, whenever I get a new script from Tony, visuals for his stories come together very easy. I don't have to guess at what he wants on the page. The nice thing with our working relationship is that Tony trusts in me that if I take some liberties with his plot, he knows that I'm not changing it, I'm just adding stuff on top of it to give it a little more spice. I think it works well for us.

TB: I still feel like Paul "gets" me better than anyone. He never fails to turn in visuals that are exactly what I wanted, only twice as cool. It's a very rare thing to mesh so well with a collaborator, and I'd be happy to share a book with Paul for the rest of my career.

RT: Is Mimic really dead?

TB: He's dead to me. Someone might always come up with some exceedingly clever…or terribly hackneyed…way to bring him back, but it won't be me who tells that tale.

RT: Awww…why'd you kill him?

TB: He stole my lunch from the office fridge. From that day on, his days were numbered.

RT: How did you approach his death from both a writing and visual standpoint?

TB: I first made him ugly - scarred head to foot by Deadpool's healing factor -- then had Blink react rather poorly to his appearance. Then we killed him before Blink got over it and told him she'd love him anyway. I also made him die because he hesitated to kill, so his inner nobility was his downfall. Basically, I'm a jerk.

RT: Okay…Tony, did you torture bugs and small animals when you were younger too?

TB: I killed many gecko lizards when I was a child in the Philippines. Somehow, I didn't turn out a serial killer.

PP: From a visual standpoint, I tried to make Mimic look like he was really wasting away. Proteus has that effect on a body! The shot that I really wanted to sell was the one where Blink is cradling his body after she found him dead. It demanded real emotional impact. Hopefully it came across that way.

RT: It did Paul, and for my money the shot was more impressive than the similar scene with Batman cradling Robin in "Identity Crisis." So, Tony, why'd you choose the worlds you chose on World Tour?

TB: Some were chosen because I loved them for no good reason: like the New Universe. Some because they actually have fans, like 2099. Some, like Future Imperfect, because Paul draws the best Hulk since Dale Keown. And some, like Heroes Reborn, because I should've known better.

RT: How has this storyline affected the main cast emotionally?

TB: Losing Mimic (and an Exile-to-be-named-later) means some pretty wrenching change, especially for Blink. It also means there's new blood on the team, in the form of Longshot, Spider-Man 2099, and another upcoming member. This series has always benefited from frequent shake-ups. In fact, the cast has been static for too much of my run, so World Tour just puts everyone through the wringer.

RT: Tony, who's your favorite character to write? Least favorite?

TB: It actually changes every few issues. Started out loving Mimic, had lots of difficulty writing Beak, although he ended up with a couple of my best moments. Morph's harder to write than you'd think, but Paul does amazing things with him visually. Longshot has turned out to be unexpectedly fun to write. Sabretooth is consistently fun to write, though he seems to be the one most readers want to see gone. So go figure.

RT: Paul, who's your favorite character to draw? Least favorite?

PP: No fooling, I enjoy them all. I try to find different ways to handle the cast every issue. Take Sabretooth for instance. Every issue I'm trying to make him a little more feral and intimidating. With Blink, I'm trying for more of a quiet, graceful beauty. I always try to find goofier ways to use Morph. I guess it's just getting to know the characters better with each issue.

RT: So the Exiles visit the New Universe, and then there is this whole fifth-week event thing announced. Coincidence?

TB: There's this thing called the Zeitgeist, see?

RT: Huh?

TB: The Collective Unconscious.

RT: Oh.

TB: And we're all just slaves to it. Or, as Voltaire put it, "If the New Universe didn't exist, we would have to invent it."

PP: There was once a little comic called "Negation" and now there is a phenomenon called "Lost." Coincidence? As Tony goes, so goes the entertainment world!

RT: So, there will suddenly be tons of movies featuring lots of squirmy things coming out of a toilet a'la "Route 666?"

TB: Uh…"Dreamcatcher."

RT: Oh…darn you Bedard! Are there any worlds Marvel wouldn't let you visit for World Tour? Any others you'd like to visit but didn't have time?

PP: Not that I can think of. Does Star Comics count?

TB: I would have loved to go to the Ultimate Universe, but that was out of bounds. Would also have liked to hit the Ultraverse. I really liked "Prime," y'know?

RT: No, not really.

TB: Oh (pouts). People kept mentioning MC2 to me, but I just don't know the place. I would have actually enjoyed hitting the Shadowline Universe, too. "Doctor Zero" was an awesome book. Well, for four issues, anyhow. Damn, how many comics universes have I seen spring into being, only to sputter into nothingness? I feel like that Pariah guy from "Crisis on Infinite Earths."

RT: Why'd you choose who you chose to be the villain?

TB: I loved the original Proteus story in "Uncanny X-Men." He was genuinely scary. Plus, his reality-warping powers seemed to fit a book about reality-jumping mutants. Plus, I always wanted to write the world's worst Scottish accent, and I've succeeded, so I have!

RT: Yes, you have succeeded in at least that. After this and Rogue you will be known throughout the industry as the master of bad accents. Paul, obviously you can draw a broad range of art, from high comedy to horror to superhero antics. Is there a favorite genre you love drawing?

PP: Well, with books like "Negation" and "Exiles," I get to draw a little of everything! I generally enjoy books that have a sense of humor, and those that have a good ol' fashioned "old school" feel to them. I don't know if I would be the right guy drawing a book that called for gritty realism. That would take some work.

RT: Have you been happy with the reception to the World Tour so far?

PP: It seems to be making some folks happy. At the end of the day, I'm pretty proud with what Tony and I are doing and that's all I can ask for. If the fans are enjoying it too, then that's gravy on the meatloaf!

TB: Well, there was a guy at HeroRealm who said "Exiles" is the best monthly book Marvel puts out…

RT: And then his column was cancelled and he stopped doing reviews….

TB: Shhh…don't tell anybody that!

RT: Could that be merely coincidence?

TB: (coughs loudly) And Newsarama said "this book is so much fun right now that it'll make your head spin." I'll take that kind of reception.

RT: Who's Jim Calafiore?

TB: Jim Calafiore is the lifeblood of "Exiles." He's been penciling the series since issue #10, so he's sort of the Original Gangsta of our Get Fresh Crew. Jim actually used to draw "Magnus Robot Fighter" a lifetime ago when I wrote that book for Valiant. Now he and Paul trade off on "Exiles" story arcs, and I'm the lucky writer who gets to work with both of them.

PP: You've heard of the "Young Guns?" Well, guys like Jim, myself, Tom Grummett and all the others who turn out quality monthly comics on time should be known as the "Work Horses!" Someday we'll all get the respect that's deserved! If not, we'll rise in rebellion and destroy the infidels that delay the gratification of our fine comics fans! BWA-HA-HA-HA!

RT: That might seriously be the scariest laugh I've ever heard. Did you just inhale some sort of illegal drug?

PP: No…seriously though, Jim is a talented dude who's been at this game for quite a while. Show him some love.

RT: Why'd you get rid of Beak?

TB: Everyone hated him.

RT: Yes.

TB: I don't mean readers, I mean the Exiles. They kept pulling me aside and asking me to write him out of the book. He's too young to go to bars and too honest to use a fake ID, so he was really "cramping their style." Read those early issues if you don't believe me. The Exiles used to go to nude beaches and everything!

RT: Well, us readers kinda hated him, too (laughs). Tell us about the new members of the team.

PP: Er...em...ah... there's Wolverine, Superman...ahhh... Gamera...Smurfette...anyone else Tony?

TB: Longshot wears a mullet and a leather bodysuit. So, basically the Red States don't want him and the Blue States won't take him. He's a genetically bred soldier with a sweet, childlike personality. And he's a chick magnet. Spider-Man 2099 has organic webshooters, poison fangs and little curved claws on his fingertips that make wiping his butt a life-threatening risk. And yet he still manages to be a scientific genius, make wisecracks, and exercise proper hygiene.

RT: Can you give us any hints as to what this is all building up to?

TB: Just a lot of mayhem, cast changes, nostalgic glimpses of universes gone by, and that awful Scottish accent. We were starting to fall into an episodic formula, so why not do a big, sprawling storyline for a while? We'll return to your regularly scheduled reality repairs before you know it.

PP: Well, I know it's gonna make some fans really happy…I mean really happy, and some really sad…I mean really sad. It just may throw any sense of right and wrong on its head. You'll see.

RT: What was your first comic book?

PP: "Uncanny X-Men 136." I bought it at a garage sale.

TB: Probably "Turok, Son of Stone" from a supermarket in Puerto Rico when I was four. Many years later, an issue of "Savage Sword of Conan" and "Secret Wars" got me back into comics and sealed my fate.

RT: What is your favorite comic book of all time?

TB: "Swamp Thing" or "Nexus."

PP: "Powerman and Iron Fist." That or Megaton Man.

RT: Has there ever been a comic book that touched/changed your life? What was it?

PP: "Uncanny X-men 136." Chris Claremont and John Byrne got me hooked. Now look at me. So sad.

TB: I remember reading "Ronin" and feeling like I really had to take chances in life and follow my dreams. I could either get a safe corporate job and be like Billy Challis -- armless, legless, dependent on the System -- or I could take a leap of faith, follow my dream to be a storyteller, and become my own inner ronin. Why, oh why did I fall for that romanticized crap?

RT: If you could only write/draw one book for the rest of your career, what would it be? Who would be your cohort?

TB: Don't know. There are books like "Captain America" and "Aquaman" that I'd love to get my hands on, but it's really more about who you work with. Paul's at the top of my list. My old "Route 666" partner Karl Moline, Retro Rocket partner Jason Orfalas, and old pal Rags Morales are also up there.

PP: Something with Tony wouldn't be so bad.

RT: What's the best comic book movie ever made?

PP: "Mystery Men."

TB: Easy. "The Incredibles."

RT: What is your weirdest convention experience?

TB: Probably the week I spent at San Diego when I worked for Billy Tucci, rooming with JG Jones, Jason Orfalas and Jeff Zapata. It was hellish, hilarious, exhausting and exhilarating. And by the end of the week that room smelled like feet! I once saw a drunk industry professional try to pick a fight with Steve Dillon (bad idea!), then he staggered away across the Hyatt lobby as his pants fell down around his ankles. I was looking around for a hidden camera at that point. I also saw some jerky teens try to mess with a guy in a Lethargic Lad costume. The Lad grabbed one of them and bounced his head off the concrete floor. Oops! And then there's just stuff I've sworn never to reveal…

PP: Pick any Con experience I had with Crossgen and...wow...there you go!

RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

TB: I introduced JG Jones to his wife. Top that, Pelletier!

PP: I won every argument I had with Mark Alessi. Oh...and I saved Tony Bedard from the evils of the Quemas. You know what I'm talking about Tony!

TB: Well played, Pelletier. Well played.

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