Though he was ostensibly at New York Comic Con to promote the upcoming seventh season of ‘Comic Book Men’, Kevin Smith will be the first to tell you that his involvement with the show is minimal, preferring instead to allow Walter Flannigan and the rest of the cast reap the credit. Of course, that’s not to say that Smith was at a loss for things to talk about when we sat down with him at the convention. With his films ‘Moose Jaws’ and ‘Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’ in various stages of development and work well underway on a BBC America pilot based on Todd McFarlane’s ‘Sam & Twitch‘, Smith had plenty bring to our conversation, which touched on upcoming projects, his relationships with the ‘Comic Book Men’ cast, and how his film career has been like “farting in a car.”
Fair warning before we begin. This is a conversation with Kevin Smith. We’ve tried to minimize it in editing, but the language does occasionally get a bit salty. That’s just how he talks.
How does your mindset change as you approach different projects, contrasting your approach to something like ‘Chasing Amy’ with your run on ‘Daredevil’, for example?
You know some stuff, like when you’re making a Jay and Silly Bob movie, obviously you’re not working in the realm of Daredevil. Like everything’s goofy and stuff like that. But when you work on ‘Daredevil’ or on the ‘Green Arrow’ comics that I’ve done… I get to exercise a part of me that I would never get to exercise on those movies. It sounds weird because they’re comic books, but the more grown-up side of me. The stories don’t revolve around “Let’s get high and see what happens!” The stories usually revolve around some grisly crime or series of crimes. So that’s the stuff I grew up watching more than stuff like ‘Clerks’ or ‘Jay and Silent Bob’. I love comedies and stuff, but I loved comic books, I loved horror movies. Those are the things that fed my imagination. So if I could jump to another medium, or “pivot” as they say nowadays, and play in a different way than I normally get to play in my day job, that’s thrilling as a creator. And the beautiful thing is that in comics you can’t really fail, you know what I’m saying? Like it’s one thing if I were to make a Green Arrow movie, there’s every chance in the world it’ll fucking fail. And if I’m directing it? Trust me, it’ll fucking fail. But if you’re writing in the comics? You can’t really fail. Even if you’ve got a six-issue storyline that sucks, just wait seven months. Somebody else will be taking care of that character and you’re moving on. So it’s a nice lab, it lets you play around, and for years of doing for lack of a better description, “off-brand” material – like, not Jay and Silent Bob, not View Askew – just doing ‘Daredevil’, ‘Green Arrow’, stuff like that, it’s now led me to this place where we’re hoping that – fingers crossed – BBC America is going to do this ‘Sam & Twitch’ show which… Todd McFarlane tells this great story which is nice but always makes me want to cry when he tells it. He goes “They came to me with a couple creators, a couple writers to be behind the show. You were one of the names, and there was another guy who was from ‘The X-Files’.” And he goes, “I’ll be honest with you, I’m not going to say you were the best writer.” Okay, thanks, what’s next? And he says “But there’s an x-factor because he’s done this kind of material, but you never have. And that’s what’s kind of interesting. What would it be like if you were working in the supernatural realm, on a procedural?” And I didn’t want to point out that I did ‘Dogma’, but never mind. So thanks to that early comic book work, I kind of had an in to try that. But that also has to do with the confidence one gets from working on those CW shows. Like normally I’m used to doing my own thing and shooting at my pace, doing whatever I want. But when you work in that world, you’ve got to shoot on a schedule, you have to shoot their stuff, you have to make sure it looks like the show, otherwise they don’t invite you back. So having done that a few times, I’m like “Oh, I understand the episodic world a lot better, and if I was in charge of it like if I was writing the scripts, this would be even more fun.” So it made me a little more confident to open the door for that sort of thing. Like back in the day, people would be like “Do you want to a TV show?” and I’d be like “Fuck no.” We did a cartoon once and ABC cancelled it after two episodes. Then this made me a little braver because this [‘Comic Book Men’] has been going seven seasons, but I have nothing to do with this. I just show up and talk on camera. The boys and the showrunner, they create the show. They decide “This is what we’re going to talk about,” and they turn on the cameras and extrapolate and the show happens. So I don’t even do that. I show up like two times a year and stand around a table like “What happened this week?” and they tell me a story. But that made me a little more confident heading towards TV because I come from a world where I have to do everything. And suddenly, this show was a world where I do nothing. I show up and I’m like “Tell me what happened.” And that’s it. So suddenly you learn to work with others, and once you can do that – and CW helped a little more, where I’m like “Oh, I don’t have to do everything. It’s better if these people do it because they’re experts at it and they’ve been doing it every episode for the last two seasons.” So that allowed me to grow. Maybe it’s taken time, maybe people would’ve gotten here a lot sooner than me, but it’s allowed me to go from a self-definition of what I was, which was an auteur, and one day got me to a place where I can work with others within their system and jump out, to be always free to go back to my thing but to be able to play with them. And that, honestly all starts with me writing ‘Daredevil’ and then ‘Green Arrow’, stepping outside the comfort zone. Now it’s kind of commonplace, people in movies and TV jump into comics, it’s easy. But when we did it, there were only two people that I ever saw that had come from movies and were working in comics. It was Sam Hamm, who wrote 1989’s ‘Batman’ and he did an arc in ‘Detective Comics’ called ‘Blind Justice’. Like two issues or something like that. And I was like “Holy shit, that guy works in movies and he’s writing comics?!” And then the next one I saw was Jeph Loeb, who runs Marvel’s Netflix shows now. He had written ‘Commando’ and ‘Teen Wolf’ and then one day years later wrote ‘Challengers of the Unknown’. So you can’t be it unless you can see it, and I saw two people who went from movies to comics. And that was considered by most like… not even a step down. I remember I told my agent I wanted to write this Daredevil comic, and he’s like “Why? What are they paying?” And I was like, “That’s not the fucking point, dude! Like $100 a page, but whatever. It’s all about writing the character!” So because of that I got to step out of a comfort zone and now years later I get to try something I never imagined I would have tried, taking someone else’s thing and trying to turn it into an ongoing series with all the flavor of what I do without it being my thing at all. Like there will be no Jay and Silent Bob in it and stuff. It’ll be not that different from ‘X-Files’, but maybe a little funny.
Over the years, you’ve given a lot of advice on how to make it in the business, how you made it and the like. Is there something you find that’s special about you, about Kevin Smith, that sets you apart from the rest?
I’m really good at foosball. But that’s never helped my career once. Like nobody knows that, and I’m kind of hoping that one day it outs, where people are like “Fuck! He’s smokin’ at foosball!” But it’s never helped anything. One day people are going to be like “That is a legit sport.” Like do you remember how poker almost got into the Olympics? One day foosball will too. I honestly don’t… I mean a big part of my shtick, and I say “schtick” a lot, but it’s the absolute truth is I believe there’s nothing special about me. And people try to argue and that’s very sweet of them. We just did an episode of ‘Smodcast’ that’ll go up this week with me and Bryan (Johnson) and Walter (Flannigan). And for the gazillionth time, I’m like “Without these two people, I’d never become who I am. And I don’t make ‘Clerks’ and I don’t… you know?” I put them as the origin point. Ground zero for everything I would become. And Walter’s like ” I disagree, I think you always would’ve done that. You were always into stuff and it would’ve gotten there.” And I completely disagree. Because I hung out with those guys, I have their sense of humor and I didn’t want to do anything else but hang out. I found true soul mates, people who were funny and brilliant and thought differently than other people and stuff. So I wanted to be with those guys a lot more. I had a job at Domino’s, and June 23rd, 1989 was my first day on the job. And it was me and like four other trainees. And I wanted to go with my friends to the movies that night because they were going to see ‘Batman’. And so somebody said “We have too many trainees today. Does anybody want to volunteer to go home?” And I was like “ME! I’ll go!” And they said it’s your first day, you’re supposed to stick around. I was like “I’ll come back tomorrow, swear to god. But you’ve got too many people, I’ll be the first one to go.” So I went two blocks over and I saw ‘Batman’ with Bryan and Walter. Never went back to Domino’s. And the next day my mom’s like “How’s Domino’s?” I tell her “Oh. It was alright. I gotta be honest, I left. I went to see ‘Batman’.” She’s like “WHAT?! You just got that job!” I’m like, “I know, but they said people could leave, and so I volunteered to go.” And she’s like “You have to go back today.” And I said, “I don’t think they’re going to welcome me back.” And my mom got real pissed, and she said, “You have to find a job, Tiger.” That’s how pissed she was, she still called me Tiger. “You have to find a job. A real job. You’ve gone through three jobs this summer. You dug graves, you worked an Italian bakery, and now Domino’s. And you quit all three. You can’t just live here rent free, you’ve got to get a job.” So she gave me a week. And I looked in the newspaper and found an ad for a video store in Leonardo, New Jersey, RST Video. I could draw the line directly. Right from wanting to be with Bryan and Walter because I admired them. They were older than me by about two years, maybe three. But they didn’t give a fuck about the shit that other people did. They didn’t want to drink, they didn’t want to party, they wanted to sit around and talk about fucked up shit. And not fucked up shit like “Let’s kill kittens,” it wasn’t that. It was just like, “Hey man, imagine you’re in a situation where you could save everybody but you’ve got to suck a dick.” It was that kind of stuff. And you go deep down the well. I would rather sit around and talk to them about fantasy dick suckings that I would do to save people who were like “Let’s drink, let’s go party.” That wasn’t a party to me. So hanging out with them, their sense of humor groomed mine. I mean, I’d like to think I was a funny person, but their shit made me even funnier. Like everything you see in those movies was informed by them.
How has your relationship with the cast of ‘Comic Book Men’ changed?
I don’t see them as much as I would like to, but that’s the beauty of the show. When the show is on, I can turn on the TV and I’m like “Oh my god, it’s my friends!” And the show’s very much a nostalgic show. I mean, we’ve been on seven years and think it’s an open secret. It’s not a show that’s predicated in the now, even though comic books are very “now.” We sit around and we talk about comics we used to read and toys we used to buy and stuff like that. So for me, it’s a memory lane show. There was a show on HBO waaaay back in the day called ‘Remember When?’ My old man loved it. It would be like “‘Remember When’…. 1956” and they’d just do a deep dive on that year. And since he was alive then, he was way into the show. Now when I watch this show, I’m like “I get it.” It’s a deep dive into the things that I used to enjoy. And one of the things I used to enjoy, that I used to enjoy more than anything in the world, was listening to those two dudes talk to each other. Like, even more so than engaging with me, I would just sit there and watch them tennis match back and forth. Walter’s the kind of guy that likes to stir the pot, just for the fun of it. And it’s kind of fascinating to watch. And for years I would always say “You guys are funny. I’ll put you on my podcast and people will think you’re so funny and you’re different and you think different…” And they’d always be like “No, people just say that shit because we’re your friends.” But it’s not. They are different. There’s something there, and having this show and being able to put it on display for the rest of the world? You know, I spent most of my career going “Hey, it’s me!” and the latter half of my career I’ve been going “Hey, it’s them!” Just introducing a bunch of other people through shows, through podcasts. But the best thing I get out of it, man, and it’s bittersweet, is we get to make the show together, and part of the reason the show exists is because I live in Los Angeles and they live in New Jersey. And so I don’t get to hang out with them as much. And a lot of the hanging out that we do is on set. Now, the good news about that is that we are literally paid to do the exact same thing we would do if there was no show. So we sit around and talk to each other anyway. We just don’t get to curse as much.
Is it hard to break away from your reputation? You mentioned before that you were interested in horror, but with a resume like yours do you find that you’re expected to be funny?
It’s certainly not hard for me. Do whatever you want, right? But it’s hard for other people, who will sometimes be like “I don’t know. I don’t like that.” Like people like the earlier funny movies I did, but lately, I’ll make a walrus movie and people are like “Go fuck yourself.” So I get it. Some people don’t want to take the trip with you, they think you’re once flavor and suddenly you taste like something else. That’s weird for them. But it’s not weird for everybody. And ultimately it’s not weird for me and you’ve got to serve yourself. It sounds masturbatory, but the only reason I’m on this journey is because I was like “I want to see what that would look like if I made a movie.” And everything I do is never predicated on how much it’ll make. It’s always like, I want to see that. I just want to see it. So if you’re willing to see it and you’re willing to understand that not everyone’s going to follow you and some people, in fact, are going to actively campaign against you – because how dare you do something else – you can do anything you want. You’ve got to let go of fear. And this is a real first world fear, to be afraid of some stranger on the internet being like “You suck at this!” People have been telling me I suck at anything I do for about forty-six years now. Professionally for about twenty-five. And then for as many people as tell me I suck, there’s a lot more people that tell me I’m good. So the truth’s in there somewhere in between. And sometimes those cats can’t make the trip with you if you want to change up. I try to be courteous about the whole thing, try to be like “Thanks for taking the trip so far, like oh my god. You made all the difference. If you want to get out of the car, I understand.” It’s like, you make something like ‘Tusk’ or ‘Yoga Hosers’, it’s like farting in the car. Only certain people can stand it. You know, Jason Mewes will be like “EW!” but he’ll stay in the car. Everyone else might pile out of the car. So you know, you find the people who can live with your stink and you keep working with them. And then maybe one day you learn not to fart in the car again. I don’t know. The analogy kind of falls apart. But you can’t do it… It’s a weird job. Like you work for the audience, but you can’t do it for the audience. You’re doing it for the audience because eventually, they’re going to see it, but you have to do it for you first. Which again, sounds very selfish and masturbatory, but it kind of is. It’s about going “I want to see something that doesn’t exist.” Even if it’s lame. Like “I want to see a show about my friends on TV.” Never existed, was never going to exist. Thank god AMC kind of made it. So as long as you’re willing to pay the price for that, and the price is sometimes people will be like “Go fuck yourself,” you go for it. And to be fair, people have been telling me to go fuck myself since long before I was ever doing shit like this. So you’re used to it. You realize there’s one voice you have to listen to, and it’s the one that’s in here. [Kevin points to his head] As long as it’s never like, “Kill children,” don’t listen to that! But if it’s just like “Hey man, go make that thing. And if they don’t like it, fuck it. Maybe they’ll like the next thing. And if they never like anything you do ever again, they were there at one point when they did like something.” It’s weird to watch fans go from being fans to being people who actively dislike you because you’re not doing the thing that they like you for originally. It’s not even like “Well fuck those people.” It’s a shame. It’s bittersweet. You hate to lose anybody, but you have to keep being you. It’s why they liked you in the first place. And even though they’re not liking you right at this moment in time, in the grand scheme of things, you are respecting the individual that they looked to in the first place. The one who’s like “I’m going to do this even if you don’t like it.” Just like how ‘Clerks’ wasn’t for everybody, ‘Tusk’ isn’t for everybody. It’s for even less people. And even though there are a bunch of people who hate it, there’s a hardcore group of people that are like “Now you’re on the right track!” It’s crazy how many people I meet who are like “I finally started paying attention to your bullshit after that walrus movie.” It’s like, “THAT movie did it?!” So you never know what it is.
And lastly, do you have any updates on ‘Moose Jaws’?
‘Moose Jaws’ soon. First ‘Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’. We start in January. Pre-pro in January, shooting in February. And then ‘Moose Jaws’ follows that.
‘Comic Book Men’ will return for its seventh season on AMC on October 22, 2017.
Be sure to check back with Science Fiction.com for more on Kevin Smith’s upcoming projects, including ‘Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’, ‘Moose Jaws’, and ‘Sam & Twitch’ as it becomes available!