This Sunday, right after the premiere of The Walking Dead, AMC launches its first reality series: Comic Book Men, a look at life inside - and outside - of Kevin Smith’s Secret Stash comic book store in New Jersey. To celebrate the launch, the network invited the whole cast and producers all the way to New York City’s Caroline’s Comedy Club, where the “Comic Book Men” regaled assorted members of the press with stories of their times in the trenches, what it was like shooting the show, and whether Snooki would have a place in a comic book shop.
The panel was introduced by Joel Stillman, SVP of Original Programming for AMC: “We decided to do non-fiction programming for a few different reasons. We thought there were different worlds to explore... It would be a gross understatement to say the world of comic books has been legitimized. But miraculously, there’s been no show set in the world of comic books... Until now.”
We assume he doesn’t know about “Bob” the Bob Newhart starring sitcom that featured the actor as a Jack Kirby-esque comic book creator. But we’ll let that go.”
Then it was time to introduce a sizzle reel, which showed off the format of the show - mixing podcast recording with Kevin Smith, and scenes at the store. They also introduced the “characters:” Walt, the store manager; Bryan, the “career slacker;” Michael, the Asst Manager; and Ming, the website producer.
Then Kevin Smith and Executive Producer Charlie Corwin, with Smith freaking out about AMC’s bagged and boarded press kit: “This is badass! Sorry, I smoked directly before I got here.”
More seriously, Smith talked about the approach of the show: “If you’re going to do something for the geek audience, just hold up a mirror, not a distorted fucking mirror. The guys who work in the story have wives, and kids, they just want to live like Arthur for the rest of their lives.”
He continued, explaining that Walter Flanagan told Smith he wanted to open a comic book store, which led to the podcast at the store, which led to the show... And then it was time to bring them out! The first out was Ming, who passed by Smith without shaking his hand, leading the creator to quip, “Dude, you left me hanging. I gave you a TV show, and you left me hanging.”
With the cast assembled, the first question was about how real the transactions on the show are. Smith joked that if they told us the whole thing, AMC would have to shoot us all. More seriously, “Here’s the honest thing, if you’re rolling cameras in the store for two months, you’ll be burning a lot of film with not much to show for it.” Instead, Smith said they put out notices for fans, buyers, etc., and then brought them all in on one week of shooting. So the interactions were real, but the transactions are scheduled.
“It’s not like we say, ‘Hey, here’s $50, can you be a psycho?’” continued Smith. “No, you ask psychos, they’ll show up for free.”
Next asked about whether the dialogue on the show needs to be watered down for “non-nerds,” Smith said, “Thankfully, the works been done for us. The Simpsons has had Comic Book Guy as a character. That’s entered the mainstream, the lexicon if you will. The shorthand is already established.”
“The authenticity of it is what’s accessible,” added Corwin.
Lastly, Smith talked about the Superbowl, saying, “Ain’t no difference between a sports geek and a comic geek. We both like muscled men who dress in tight costumes, wear masks, and fight each other.”
Talking about the title, Smith discussed that for the presentation pilot, AMC asked them to bring in a woman, they shot the pilot, it went great... But then it felt like the show was inauthentic, because they added in a “casted” element. Fun-fact! That woman was Zoe, an employee at New York’s Midtown Comics! He also said that he hopes they can do a Comic Book Women show, “because we own that copyright.”
Moving on to talk about the “Jersey-ness,” of the show, Smith said that he was happy they’re presenting another side of the state. Though when asked if Snooki, who recently built her geek cred a bit in an X-Men twitter convo, could come on the show, Smith said, “You don’t even need to finish that question. You say ‘Sno’ and I know ‘oki’ is coming. Yes, I’m there.” Bryan, on the other hand, joked, “I’d be out that day.”
Smith then talked a bit about the tone of the series a bit: “This is Clerks meets Mallrats the series. This almost eliminates the need for Clerks 3.”
And for the look of the series, they tried to split the difference between a really cinematic look, and a more sitcomy one. They also forgo the traditional “confessional” to the camera in favor of a framing device set at a podcast recording.
Smith then moved on to talk about the direction of the series, and that there’s so many places you can take the show beyond just talking about comics. They’ll also explore toys, board gaming, and more. “I know we have a zombie episode...” said Smith. “Suspiciously enough.”
Asked their favorite characters and first issues, Walt said "Deadshot," Bryan joked he didn't read comics, while Kevin Smith said that he got back into them with Dark Knight Returns. Michael thinks his first book was Superboy and the Legion, while Ming started with Avengers - though his favorite character is Daredevil right now.
Moving on to how Smith sold the guys on the show, they actually started, "Not pre-sold," on the idea. Walt immediately said, "No, I don't want to be Snooki." Smith shot back, "Come on, everybody wants to be Snooki!" and convinced him by saying it would be a commercial for the store.
"I guess it doesn't say a lot about the genre that these guys didn't want to look stupid on the show," said Smith. "We honored that, and try to let them be themselves and have fun."
Smith also plugged that the show has a complimentary podcast that will be released... Though if the show doesn't continue for a second season, it probably won't. He also said that if the show isn't successful, it's their fault, because the show is right after The Walking Dead, and, "That's a sweet spot."
Asked about cameos, Smith said, "I don't want to spoil it, but fuckin' Mewes shows up. The store is named after him, he heard cameras were rolling, so he fuckin' flew."
Talking about collectibles they wish would go away, Walt said, "Superman #75. Bagged. The Death Of. It's worthless. And it comes in daily." And Michael joked, "Anything with 2099 after it."
Finishing up, the guys talked about the weirdest thing they've seen in the store (or in comics in general):
- Ming talked about a guy who threw up next to Smith at a signing.
- Michael said that there's a guy who comes in every week for Simpsons comics, and started turning red when he didn't want to insult the customer. Finally, he explained that the customer would actually yell at Homer on the TV every week.
And that was it!
Comic Book Men premieres at 10pm on Sunday, February 12th on AMC.