The new live-action The Tick television pilot debuted Friday on Amazon, and coinciding with that Newsarama is talking with Ben Edlund, who created the character in comic books and is a principal part of the new television series.
After our initial talk about the origins of the new Amazon show and its contrast with the two previous TV series and the original source comic book, our chat with Edlund continues as he goes over how working with Joss Whedon on Firefly and Brian Michael Bendis on Powers, along others, influenced the film.
Edlund also takes on the controversy of the Tick's new live-action masked look, as worn by actor Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, Spaced).
Before you dive in here, we recommend you read Thursday's Part 1.
Newsarama: Ben, you’re returning to The Tick after working on a number of different TV shows, several of which were based in comic books and featured other comic book creators on staff. So I’m curious about what you feel you’ve learned from collaborating with all these different people over the years, and what you’re bringing back from these experiences with the new show.
Also, on a purely geeky follow-up, I was curious as to whether you were ever tempted to have them arrest the Tick while you were working on Powers. You know, just have him do a perp-walk or something.
Edlund: [Laughs] We talked about that once in a while! Brian Michael Bendis, who was very fun to work with, would occasionally toss around the idea of a Tick appearance. It was kind of useful and symbiotically great for me to go to Powers because it was all under the umbrella of Sony, so I could work on The Tick pilot while working on Powers. But unfortunately, the Tick’s dance card was full.
To answer the pre-follow-up part of the question: I’d say yeah, I learned a lot. I mean, my initial experience in prime-time television was characterized by…I owned the rights and had written the pilot for a greenlit series, and became an executive producer in live-action television with no experience.
Nrama: I’d imagine there was a lot of throwing-up.
Edlund: There was, at the very least, a lot of motion sickness. And it was kind of like white-water river-rafting, which is sort of the pace of this business, and all I wanted was to keep my head above water and try to stay afloat, and make it what I wanted to be. And that was very difficult, and this was a very hard show to undertake. All the executive producers were very challenged to try to pull off something that had all these costumes and was very art-directed, you know, in its aesthetic.
I kind of staggered away, after those nine episodes, somewhat traumatized. [Laughs] I did some writing on my own, and worked on some features, but didn’t really look back to TV until I realized I had no money and needed a job. And it was kind of a beautiful moment when I looked up and my agent let me know that Joss Whedon was looking for writers on this show called Firefly, which had just sold as a pilot. And I went in for a meeting and that began a good 13 years of learning what I didn’t know the first time around.
I started as a producer on Firefly, and was able to get involved in production, and learn from, I think, one of the very best myth-makers in our country right now.
Nrama: You and Joss were both credited as writers on Titan A.E. several years before – did you work on that at the same time, or was that a case of different drafts being rewritten?
Edlund: Those drafts were several years apart, so yeah, we hadn’t even met at that point. We only met when I went in for an interview on Firefly, which is also where I met Tim Minear, whom I also consider an amazing force in creativity. Of course, I mistook him for Joss Whedon at first. [Laughs] I knew his work, but it was easier not to see someone’s photo back then.
So that was a really great situation - I think Firefly is among the best sci-fi expressions in U.S. television history. It was really wonderful to be a part of that.
From there, because it was such a short run - very reminiscent of the short run of The Tick, also under the same heads at the Fox network, in terms of erratic airing order and promotion. So that was starting to spin my head a little bit, but I was lucky enough to get invited over to Angel after that, and I got to direct on that, and had a really good year there.
And there were more stops along the way, but I eventually found my way to Supernatural and that was…seven seasons, I think. Crazy, right? But that was also another situation where it was…I would say there was a certain amount of time where I should have stepped into a more active role in terms of trying to be much more involved, or should have moved on.
But for most of the time in Supernatural, we were engaged in some very interesting work, and it was… a large part of an education about how to use character in narrative, how to really make stories where, even if they weren’t funny or scary or whatever, that they were still something where you go, “I need to know what happened to that guy! I’m worried about him, I hope what he wants comes true!”
Before, when I was generating the live-action The Tick, these things weren’t on my radar as much. I wanted story to be functioning, in a beginning-middle-end sense, but now I want a story where you can really feel its ebb and flow.
That’s got to be a portion of what makes a superhero comedy function - there has to be a sense of caring about it, because otherwise you’ve only got a story that should run an hour and a half. If I can’t make this work, then it should have been an hour-and-a-half feature, which is also a possibility.
What I’m trying to do is something that’s keeping more with contemporary superhero stuff - something that has an ongoing narrative people can give a shit about, but can still can laugh with and at.
Nrama: In terms of it being an ongoing narrative, how long would you see this running? There’s an ongoing narrative for the first season, as I understand it, but do you have plans for season two and beyond? Secondly, I was curious as to how much of a hand you have in terms of writing and directing this.
Edlund: Well, I’m the showrunner, and I’m writing it, and if the timing works out, I’ll want to direct it myself. But I have to make sure I got my chops up before I’ll hire me, because that’s not my primary forte.
In every way, I’m involved, because that’s kind of the ideal. I’ve been doing a lot of conceptual design work along with the production designer and the visual effects folks, and have been trying to direct the tone and aesthetic of this as much as I can.
In terms of how long it could run - it’s a question if people buy the tone and the balance of the universe we’re propagating here, but if they do, I could see it going four or five seasons, where you feel like you’ve seen a whole story, one you feel like you didn’t even know was happening while it was happening, these pieces that stand alone but add to the core feeling of the universe and pay off over several seasons.
That’s my intent. It’s pretty ambitious. We’ll see.
Nrama: One thing that’s come up a few times with this new version is the interpretation of the Tick’s mask, going with that instead of the full-face version from the 2000s show – people have had some feelings on that.
Edlund: That’s putting it nicely, yes. [Laughs] There’s some people who are very against the mask on the internet, and that’s okay.
For me, I feel without it, I never quite understood what this thing was. He’s supposed to be almost like he’s pulled from the true essence of what a superhero might be. So you have a face mask that, in my opinion, has to mimic most of the face masks - Batman, Daredevil, Captain America, all these masks that cover the upper third of the face. That is the Men’s Room icon of a superhero for me.
Without it... I loved Patrick, but the feel of that suit, the cutaway of his face... I can’t help but see it and associate it with something like the Teletubbies. It’s not like most superheroes. There are some - the Vision, kind of, but not really. There’s some with that look, that kind of lozenge-shaped reveal of their face, but it’s not the same as that upper-third cover with that mask.
To do The Tick again and not nail that simple, basic signal of the species to which the Tick belongs felt…wrong.
Nrama: It’ll be interesting to see how it plays when you see Peter moving around with it. I remember being young and going, “Wait, this cartoon Batman has a square jaw?! That’s never going to work!”
Edlund: [Laughs] Yeah. This is a different Tick series, and I think the mask will not be an issue. People will be able to accept it as part of this creature when they watch it, and the question will be whether this creature does and says things that makes you want to watch more.
Nrama: I have now the geekiest question of the lot - which is saying something from me, obviously. Now, I don’t want to go starting any beefs, sparking any controversies, but your pilot is being released alongside one from Jean-Claude Van Damme, and that for me begs the question: Who do you think would win in a fight between Van Damme and the Tick? Do keep in mind that the Tick might be nigh invulnerable, but Van Damme neither retreats nor surrenders - in that order - and can also do splits.
Edlund: Those tremendous chair-to-chair splits, like nobody’s business! That’s impressive. I’d say in terms of fighting ability, there’s no question Van Damme is a better combatant, in terms of moves, strategies, etc. So there’s a good chance he’d be able to use the Tick’s movement and weight against him.
However, without the aid of super-weapons, I’m not sure there’s anything Van Damme could do that would even harm the Tick. It’d be like Jean-Claude Van Damme dealing with a more affable Hulk, probably.. [Laughs] Maybe he could talk him into getting some kind of smoothie.
He’d have to use all his tools, you understand?! All his weapons! His mind, his heart!
Nrama: You’d have to get peak Van Damme – Timecop, Bloodsport. He can’t just phone it in, he has to be on his game.
Edlund: Could he bring Dolph Lundgren with him?
Nrama: I understand Lundgren’s over on CW's Arrow, but he could come on over…
Edlund: If the Tick’s gonna be fighting Jean-Claude Van Damme, I think the borders of the universes are starting to erode slightly, so Dolph Lundgren could come over to help. I’m thinking in terms of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s well being here!
Nrama: They could wind up all teaming up to fight Mickey Rourke or something.
Edlund: Oh, goodness.
Nrama: You mentioned doing some concept art for Amazon's The Tick - you’ve mainly been known as a writer for a while now, though you both wrote and drew the original Tick comic books. Do you see yourself drawing again - doing graphic storytelling, or at least writing some more comic books?
Edlund: I do draw a lot - occasionally, on my Twitter feed, I’ll release some stuff. I did a lot of office art. [Laughs] Because a lot of my time was spent in writers’ rooms, I would use whatever media was in there - highlighter, index cards, sharpie, dry-erase marker... that became kind of a cool way of keeping the channel open.
I think, yeah, I’ve always wanted to return to some kind of graphic/sequential storytelling. I have many stories in note form, but I’ve yet to complete one, because my primary focus has been this other medium for so long, and it’s a pretty demanding one. I’d like a nap.
Nrama: Naps are good.
Edlund: Oh God. So good.
Nrama: What are some current comic books and creators you’re enjoying?
Edlund: I’m not super-versed these days, but I keep tabs on Saga, which always looks beautiful and the storyline is wonderful. I really liked this thing that came out a while back called Rice Boy by Evan Dahm. I’ve always been a fan of Chris Ware’s - Building Stories was beautiful, kind of really interesting, deconstructivist way of taking a story and turning it into a kind of cloud narrative.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about or say to the fans that we haven’t discussed yet?
Edlund: I think it would be a suitable time and place, given my aspirations, to say: As many people as possible, please tune in on August 19 for the pilot, and go to Amazon and write their opinions and vote on The Tick pilot. You’re required to watch the whole thing and go in and vote and write what you thought to get it to become a series.
So as much as you enjoy it, let people know! Everyone working on it, we’re having a great time, and we’re very enthusiastic about it. So we’d like to keep doing it, and bring about more stories, and possibly, inevitably, profit. [Laughs]