In recent months (right up to this week) Kevin Smith has certainly cultivated a rogue’s gallery of foes within the journalism world, but Saturday morning at the Bayfront Hotel in San Diego, the filmmaker, podcaster and raconteur was among friends. Walking in the door ten minutes late, clad in an oversized hockey jersey and the easygoing charm that won him a legion of fans, he was received with open arms, and reporters in the room promptly began to spar verbally with him like a group of longtime pals reconnecting for a chat session.
“I’m shocked that anybody is here,” Smith said with typical self-deprecation. “I’m flattered. It must be a slow interview day.”
“We were promised food,” a reporter joked. The room was empty except for two tables and the 12 bodies encircled around them.
“Where is it? They didn’t deliver that,” Smith responded. “It was an empty promise man — just like my career. It showed some promise at the start, show up, no fucking food.”
While Smith’s attended Comic-Con in past years just to participate in panels and share the stage with a variety of legends from both the comics and movie worlds, this year he was there promoting “Comic Book Men,” his unscripted TV series set in his comic book store Jay and Bob’s Secret Stash, where a team of his fanboy pals wax poetic about pop culture while procuring rare and unique comics. As the show gears up for a second season on AMC, Smith said that he definitely wanted to refine the its focus, but wasn’t necessarily interested in razing it to the ground and starting over.
“Going into it we literally thought it would be ‘Pawn Stars’ in a comic book store,” he revealed, standing to better be able to articulate himself (in the process making the journalists look like schoolchildren at a lecture). “But I read Twitter like fucking Neo reads ‘The Matrix’ and I just sit there every waking hour of my day, and what I pull from it is nobody gives a shit about that. It feels contrived. That literally feels like you’re creating conflict and drama by cutting to Walter [scratching his chin] going, ‘hmmm,’ and trust me — he never thinks about anything that long and hard and never like this or pain or anything.”
Smith’s gratefulness for a second round of the show prompted him to keep things within the same wheelhouse, but the opportunity also highlighted the fact that they didn’t need to transform a humble series about comic book enthusiasts into Reality Drama Central. “When you get a season two you’re like fucking thank God, especially in the face of people who are like fuck you and your show and your friends. [And] at that point there is an impulse to be like, well shit man, let’s fucking turn it up for season two. We only had six episodes — it’s not like we had a season 22 and then suddenly we come back and we have to reinvent or something like that.
“Six gives people a chance to get to know you a little bit,” he observed. “But I don’t want come back for season two and be like ‘everything you knew about these fuckers is wrong.’ That show was on and off before we fucking knew it.”
Modifying the series’ original concept, Smith said that “Comic Book Men” will use the sales transactions of the comics as a launching pad for greater discussions about fandom and life in general. “We said this year instead of concluding transactions and going, the drama will be will he or won’t he buy it, it’s more about like stuff gets introduced that creates conversations and we might not even wrap up the transactions with the customers,” Smith said. “We might just wrap it up at the podcast table with me going did you buy and he’s like ‘no, but it was cool to see him,’ and then like okay, onto the next thing.”
Since releasing his breakthrough directorial debut “Clerks,” Smith has been a mouthpiece for the comics-buying community, a dyed-in-the-wool fanboy who has championed the medium. Looking at Comic-Con as it bursts at the seams with panels, presentations and of course attendees, Smith said he embraces the increasing turnout and the growth of geek culture as a major commercial force.
“It’s like when anything gets discovered, man — the world that builds up around it is bigger than the world that created this,” he said. “This Con started in a fucking hotel not far from here in one room probably not that much bigger than this, and it’s changed over the course of the last how many years because they doubled in capacity, but it’s the same commitment to programming.
“Of course there are some people who want to market on the backs of that, which is fine. You bring in money to the geek community. I got no fucking complaints — I don’t have the garage-band fan mentality where it’s like oh, this shit is less cool because more people like it, bullshit. I’m one of those cats like, ‘the more the merrier’.”
“It’s no longer a simple Comic Con,” he observed. “It’s no longer about, ‘I’m going to find back issues that I don’t have.’ It’s celebrating the popular arts. It’s a massive umbrella that covers a lot of territory — and that’s why the chick that wrote ‘50 Shades of Grey’ is fucking here.”
Although the pervy pop culture phenomenon has now joined the ranks of superheroes and other sorts of wish-fulfillment properties at Comic-Con, Smith said he’s not ready to see the convention move to a place perhaps more conducive to escapist fantasies: Las Vegas. “The big question is how much longer can San Diego sustain it? Every year you hear whispers of people going take it to Vegas. [But] this is its home and as far as I hear the residents still haven’t thrown us out or come at us with pitchforks and torches. Why bring it to Vegas? It diminishes it to some level to like a porn convention.
“And I’m not against porn conventions!” he insisted. “I’m not fighting for wholesomeness, believe me because I like to stand on the stage and fucking say ‘buttfuck’ and stuff like that. But this is a kind of a family thing. Like my kid is coming down today, and I’m more apt to go like, ‘go nuts, go crazy’ here than say the same thing in Vegas even at a convention center. I’d be like, ‘no, no, no, don’t go nuts, because you’ll probably wind up kidnapped.’ There is still an air of like safety to it.”
In fact, Smith said he reassured his wife about their daughter’s safety using the same argument. “With the exception of the poor woman that got hit by a car the other day, which is unfortunate and tragic, you never hear of anything bad happening at Comic-Con. I told my wife that the other day; she was like, ‘is our kid going to be safe there because she’s 13 now — will she be safe with all those guys’.”
“I’m like, those guys?” he retorted. “Yes. We’re terrified of women, don’t worry. She’ll be fine.”