Walt Flanagan is living the dream. He’s got a TV show, draws comics, and he runs a comic shop with a bunch of his friends. Why he would want to let our collection of sad sack and snarky mouth breathers darken his metaphorical doorway is beyond comprehension, but in the interview below, Flanagan fields our questions about comic book reboots, whether he’d advise someone to run their own comic shop, the brick and mortar battle against digital, his upcoming comic book Cryptozoic Man, and the upcoming season of Comic Book Men, which premiers Sunday on AMC at midnight, following The Walking Dead and Talking Dead. (more…)
Comic Book Men is a reality or unscripted show for our kind, highlighting both the world within a comic shop and the kind of relationships — caustic, cruel, strangely intimate and loving friendships — that develop over comics, pop culture, and debate about those things. It is those bonds between Walt Flanagan, Mike Zapcic, Bryan Johnson, and Ming Chen that keep us watching Comic Book Men and those bonds, and Kevin Smith’s appreciation for them, which were on display Friday at New York Comic Con during the Comic Book Men roundtable session. Here now, are some of the highlights.
Kevin Smith on seeing his friends excel:
Nothing makes me feel better in this life — I promise you and that includes my daughter bringing home good grades — then after the airing of the show watching somebody tweet something that Walter said and then hash tag it “Great American” or, you know… Shit like that just drives my crank in such a big, bad way.
On the inception of the show:
Charlie Corwin and Original Media was like “AMC wants to do some geek programming to follow The Walking Dead.” And I didn’t really want to go back into TV ever again, because I worked on a cartoon with ABC a decade back and it really didn’t work very well, so I was like “Maybe I’m not meant to do that.”, but then when he said AMC I was like “I actually watch AMC.”
So I sat down and talked to them and it lead us here, lead us to the point of my friends being on TV and that wasn’t even my idea man, that was just something that organically happened. When I talked to Charlie about the idea of the show I pitched it as “Pawn Stars in a comic book store.” Just half seeing people negotiate and shit like people do on Pawn Stars or Antique Roadshow, which I used to watch back in the day. Every once in a while you’d see a comic book come through and you’d be like “This is amazing!” and there’s one for every three hundred transactions and you’d always feel like “wouldn’t it be great to just do more?” If everything was just comic book or geek transactions, kind of like a box of Crunch Berries that’s all crunch berries and not Captain Crunch.
So one day, when Charlie was talking about it he was like “Why not do that? This thing that’s like Pawn Stars and comic book stores?” he said “Where do you find the crew? The comic book store?” And I owned a comic book store, I knew the crew and I was like: “We search America. We find the most acerbic comic book store crew somewhere in this world because these cats are so erudite and they’re the smartest cats in the room, they’ll make for great television.” So Charlie went to AMC with the idea from which they said “We wanna see a pilot” and I was like “How do you do a pilot for a reality show?” and he said “you just put together a presentation of what it would look like.”
I said do we have a budget and he said yeah, it’s like this — and it was very small — and I said the first thing to do is find our comic book store crew and he’s like that waits until we get a commitment. He’s going “we need to shoot something now, so any comic book store”. And I was like “Well…I own a comic book store in Red Bank.”
I swear to you, it took this long for me to connect dots and even at this point I wasn’t pushing these guys, I was like I own a comic book store in Red Bank and the guys who work there do a podcast and they’re really funny so they could stand in for whoever the real crew winds up being. And so he was like “Well alright, let me hear their podcast.” So I sent him to Tell’Em Steve-Dave! And he said “these guys are the show.”
Smith on getting a second season:
In my house we were raised to take the bar, lower it to the ground and step over it and that makes life a lot easier. So the moment things get hard you back away, just little victories and this to me — six episodes on AMC — was a little victory in a big bad way and we were excited to be asked back.
On the show’s shrunken run-time:
Basically, it feels like last season. But put it like this: oddly enough it feels like it moves about the same pace even though it’s the same thing. I don’t know if that’s a good thing to say about a half-hour show, but it feels like all the content is there. Like I’ve watched six episodes fully edited now and I don’t go like “shit, this isn’t our show anymore.” It feels like a quicker version of our show even though nothing feels lost. And the storyline is in the store, there’s still like a bunch of transactions per show and we still wind up doing podcasts and stuff.
Reality TV vs. Unscripted:
It’s not reality TV because if you put cameras in the [Secret] Stash and ran them for real you’d see maybe three people come in on any given day. Nothing funny really happens except every once in a while someone mutters something funny, that wouldn’t be a TV show.
So it’s unscripted where it’s like we all acknowledge that there are cameras here, but nobody’s pulling strings and go ahead and talk. The nice thing is that they’re all very quick at being able to speak kind of on their feet. Watching it come together and watching it come together inexpensively, it’s a cheap show and I’m not going to lie to you if the show was expensive I doubt the network would have been like “bring it back.” Our numbers were great, but they weren’t like Earth shattering, but the fact the fact that the show is very inexpensive, it’s inexpensive to roll that’s why a lot of people make unscripted reality TV. It’s the cheapest programming you can make and guess who tunes in? Real people, man.
On showing “real geeks”:
When I was talking to Charlie in the first place he said “This audience would love to see itself”, but you’re always shown a depiction of this audience in the media like — I love the Simpsons — but Comic Book Men represents comic stores and people who run them so it felt nice for me to put a camera on people who didn’t fit the dopey stereotype of dudes who live in their parent’s basements. Most of them are married, with the exception of [Bryan] Johnson, who does live in his parents basement so my argument falls apart there, but it’s nice to hold a mirror up to what I feel are real geeks rather then, with all due respect to the Big Bang Theory, that version of geeks. Very polished and very kind of over-the-top versions.
A friend of mine, Dave Mandel, referred to it as…you know what, I can’t even say what he said. I’ve never watched The Big Bang Theory, I’ve seen it only through commercials and a little piece on Youtube and I was like “I don’t know if this represents me as a geek.” But Dave Mandel — he was a writer on Seinfeld; he writes for Curb Your Enthusiasm — he goes “When I watch The Big Bang Theory, I imagine it’s how black people felt watching Amos ‘n’ Andy.” I was just like “Oh God, that deep?” He goes “I feel like it takes the geek in all of us and just makes it dance in a way that we don’t”. He’s like “it’s just a weird caricature.” Again, I haven’t seen it and it’s his words not mine, so for me I just felt like I’d heard so many times people talk about like “you never see real geeks on TV” so let’s try it out.
The irony is that the first episode airs and there’s a litany of people going “These people don’t represent me at all! These aren’t the true geeks, this upholds the stereotype!” and I was like “It does, their married and they’re fucking having conversations that aren’t like “Who’s better, this or that.” So to me I thought we had broken a mold, but to somebody else we hadn’t gone far enough and that’ll be the same for this season I guarantee you. As much as I’m like “this is a real snapshot of what real geeks look like” there will be a percentage of that audience -God willing it’s not half, but a bunch of people going like “That’s not my geekdom.”
Smith on fan-girls and their possible view of the show:
And in fact, in this nation over fifty percent of people that might tune in and might be like “I don’t see myself represented” because the show is called Comic Book Men and it’s about four dudes working in a comic book store.
Now that kind of leaves out women in general, but this was the thing we fought last year where it was like people were like “Why don’t you call it Comic Book People?” and we were like it’s about the four guys in the store and we’re not saying these cats are wholey indicative of the collective community or geeks in general it’s just about life in this little store and there aren’t any women that work there.
And some people said “Well you should hire some” or some said “Didn’t you hire one for the pilot?” Like before we went, AMC was like “We would like to see a version of the show with a woman in it, so we would like you guys to bring a woman on the show.” And this was for the presentation reel, before we got our green light for the season. So we did it and we’ll see what happens, but at the same time we felt already like this was already artifice, we don’t have anybody, the people that work here are the people you see.
So it’s one thing to be like “it’s an unscripted world” it’s another to go and be like “And now here’s wacky cousin Oliver.” You didn’t even show them who we were before all of a sudden we were showing them a version of who we are, or who the boys are in the store, so mercifully after we submitted one of the presentations, 12 minutes long, they watched it and the woman (Zoe) who we brought in was great and she was fantastic, but at the end of the day it felt like one of these things is not like the other. Everyone else knows each other and what they look like naked and then there’s one person who’s suddenly introduced into the mix. That felt sitcomney in a weird, bad way and that felt a little too Big Bang Theory based on the versions I’ve seen. So we submitted that version and God bless them, AMC was like “This feels fake” so we did a different cut of it with just the boys and they were like “This is the show, go forward.” That still doesn’t address the fact, you know, women in the geek community…
Look, my heart is set on the fact that if this season does well, AMC will green light Comic Book Women and I’ll have another TV show to my credit which I accidentally backed into. As for right now they’re waiting to see how Comic Book Men does, but nothing would delight me more to find a crew of comic book chicks who run — just like our guys somewhere in America and it must be possible. Doesn’t even have to be America, I’ll take Canada or North America in general — that we could do a flipped version of our show with for the distaff or at least the distaff half of the audience.
After Smith wrapped up his session with us, Walter Flanagan and Bryan Johnson stopped by our table for a quick session that touched on the day to day aspect of running The Stash.
Flanagan and Johnson on the beauty of bargaining:
I think that the bargaining thing is something that everybody has inside of them, it just has to be drawn out. Who doesn’t feel good about getting, even if it’s just a dollar or two dollars off? Like you go to get groceries, you know at a supermarket and if you’re able to find a coupon on the floor or someone just handed it to you at the back of the line and you just get a dollar or two off, it just feels awesome doesn’t it? – Walter Flanagan
Let me tell you something. I’ve found coupons on the floor and I’ve also done heavy drugs, there’s no comparison alright. Finding coupons on the floor is not that great. – Bryan Johnson
Where Flanagan stands on digital comics:
It’s scary. We’re moving into a paperless world and we sell paper, so it’s the end of times on the horizon and we just don’t know when it’s coming. But eventually, I think it will have a major impact on the future of what gets printed. Maybe only the crème de la crème gets printed in the future.
Flanagan is not just the manager of The Secret Stash, but he is also an accomplished comic book artist — pencilling Kevin Smith’s Batman: The Widening Gyre and Batman: Cacophony as well as Johnson’s Karney book. I asked Flanagan about his future illustration plans and got an interesting nugget about an upcoming storyline on Comic Book Men:
I’m working on something creator owned, it ties in with this season though, and it’s a part of one of the show’s episodes.
Flanagan also confirmed that the show will detail the process of getting that project made, something that really appeals to me as a comic fan. Regarding the first episode of the second season, I asked Flanagan and Johnson about the ill-fated kid’s birthday party that they threw at the stash:
“There was quite a bit of damage.” said Flanagan, who said that he wouldn’t let the store be overrun by the destructive force that is a horde of hyperactive children:
It was fun in theory when we were thinking about doing it and how we envisioned it going down, but seems that it never comes out like in your head.
Near the end of the session, I asked the guys what the worst reaction they had gotten from someone trying to sell off a collectible was:
If I find their unhappy they look much like “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Like they feel like they’re getting taken, but no really bad reactions. No one’s screamed or swung, they come in thinking their item is worth X amount of dollars which is then deflated by this guy and they either accept it or they don’t. – Johnson
The second season of Comic Book Men airs at 11:30 PM ET on AMC after The Talking Dead.