Kevin Smith inspires a reaction. As he noted when we spoke with him on the opening morning of New York Comic Con in early October, he’s been around for a quarter century and he’s been through the process of getting lifted up and lit up by critics and audiences. But despite it all, Smith is still standing and still creating.
We spoke with Smith about his evolving relationship with criticism, his efforts to make geek culture feel like a positive force, when its time to get out of the way in the name of sparking more diversity in Hollywood, and why he absolutely isn’t going to abide people saying that he’s given up.
How does Comic Book Men reflect the good of geek culture and what do you feel your responsibility is as a producer of that show, but also as an artist, as a father, as a creator to kind of make geek culture feel positive and feel open to women?
I remember season one of the show, because the title was Comic Book Men, we got tagged a bunch by people being like, “Where are the women? Women like comic books.” The title… we didn’t even come up with [it], AMC gave it to us as a kind of spin on Mad Men, and they told us like, “We like the term Comic Book Men as a title.” It was called The Secret Stash all while we were making [season one], which was a little more gender neutral and kind of more inviting, but Comic Book Men was an ode to a show that doesn’t exist anymore. But, you know, it’s the title we live with.
The title kind of reflects the staff. That’s what the staff is at the Secret Stash and has been for, well almost 20 years at this point. It’s certainly not like a boys club, exclusive by any stretch of the imagination. But the show is not really about the comic book store, it’s about four friends that kind of hang out and they happen to work in that field.
It’s nice that this deep into the discussion people have stopped saying that. Like, “Where are the women?” Like you know at one point we tried to make a show called Comic Book Women. AMC didn’t want to go for it. So, you know, you can only do so much. You know, we don’t own those words, “comic book,” or “women,” so anybody can make that show and stuff. This show, you know that title will always kind of haunt us a bit, but what can I say, it wasn’t my title.
In terms of our place in geek culture or whatnot, it tends to be a positive show anyway because it’s not rooted in the present. This is a nostalgic show. It’s very sentimental. It took me years to realize that, but this show has almost nothing to do with the current climate of comic books.
While we can reference the movies and stuff like that, and every once in a while somebody from the Netflix shows can come by, like Mike Colter or Rosario [Dawson, who will make an appearance in the upcoming season] or something like that, basically we sit around and talk about when we used to read comics 20 years ago. The toys we used to collect. The artists who were our gods when we were kids. So that puts us in a place where we really don’t wind up commenting on current geek culture all that much. Only to be like, “Well in my day.” I mean, that’s literally what the show is at this point. It kind of has been from the jump, a show that looks back rather than at the present or forward.
Do you feel that’s accessible to a broad enough audience?
I would have thought no. I honestly thought the show would have been canceled after season one. For whatever reason, the numbers… it’s definitely the numbers otherwise they wouldn’t fucking pick it up again.
So somebody’s watching it. About a million people and stuff like that. It never goes bigger than that, and it falls a little below that, but that seems to be the range. I would imagine it’s working for somebody, right? In terms of like somebody enjoys that aspect of comic-dom. You know, I would imagine anyone who grew up around the years that we did. Children of the ’70s and ’80s, get off on the show because it’s like, “Oh I have that. Oh, I remember that. Oh, I read that.” The people I meet at cons tend to be people my age who have kids who are like, “Hey, we watch the show together,” which is like weird for me because I never made anything very kid friendly, so it’s nice to hear. I guess that’s what the audience is.
As an artist who’s obviously, you know, you’re a filmmaker also.
Depends on who you ask.
Do you feel an urge to try and make geek culture that is more focused on that broad picture? Obviously, you directed an episode of Supergirl. You’ve been involved in a lot of interesting stuff and there are really strong female characters in a lot of your work. Is that something you feel a need to do at this specific time where there’s still a divide?
I tried to make a movie with girls as leads last year and boy I got fucking beat up for it big time. Yoga Hosers was my attempt at a comic book movie with two kids, two girls. Like two female heroes and stuff. I didn’t get beat up because they were like, you know, “Ew, fucking some male is mansplaining or trying to represent for fucking women or girls.” You know, I got beat up because people were like, “Fuck this movie.”
That was me going, “Oh, let me do something.” After years of taking my kid to see SpiderMAN and BatMAN and SuperMAN and stuff like that it was like, “Well, let me make something with her that’s my version of a comic book superhero movie.” They don’t have superpowers, but they are fighting fucking monsters and stuff. I went in there, I gave it a shot. I’ve always kind of liked trying to be more inclusive.
I grew up, you know, in the lily-white suburbs of New Jersey. So it was basically through my filmmaking that I was able to kind of expand my world and embrace more of the world that looked more like the world today than it did in the world I grew up around. There’s only so much… like at the end of the day, you feel weird going like, “Hey, let me do this,” because then it’s just keeping the problem going.
Here is a perfect example: This woman I love named Carol Banker, she used to be a script supervisor. She was the continuity person on Dogma, Mallrats, Jersey Girl — a bunch of my flicks. She wanted to be a director. Like big time. Back then in the ’90s it was tough for her to find a place. She didn’t write for herself. So she was hoping to break into like TV, documentaries, whatever. Took her a while. We did a show called Spoilers. I gave her the whole second season to direct.
I was up directing Supergirl a month and a half ago and we were in a park doing this outdoor scene so we had a little tent so they could do the DI, you know, keep the color correction on the media. So all of a sudden the tent opens up and Carol Banker’s there. I was, “Hey! What are you doing here?” Give her a big hug, and she’s like, “I’m directing an episode of The Magicians.” They shoot that up there. I said, “Oh my God, that’s awesome!” She’s been directing now quite a bit.
I said, “You gotta direct one of these, man,” like, “They’re letting me direct it, but like you a woman, show’s called SuperGIRL, like you gotta do one of these. You’d be excellent for this.” She goes, “I had a meeting, you know at Warner Bros. last year. Met with the person who does the hiring and she loved me and she’s ‘Oh my god, we have an episode of Supergirl for you to direct like as soon as possible.’ My agent called me two days later and said ‘The Supergirl gig’s not going to happen,’ and she goes, ‘Why? Did some fucking man get the job?’ He goes, “Yes, Kevin Smith’.”
I realized, oh my God, I’m fucking part of the problem. As much as I loved to go to Supergirl… and I’m not just saying only women should direct Supergirl, but every time I step up and direct, that’s an opportunity lost for somebody else. So you know, you sit there going all right, maybe I’ll be helping by not being engaged or not doing that thing. Taking that job away. That one haunted me, you know, because I was like “Fuck, she would have been doing this a lot sooner.” And I’m also the guy that like comes off of every episode and talks about how little I actually do in the process. Maybe Carol would come on and bring something to it, you know?
I love now that I’ve been around long enough where they’ll let me work in the space and places that are kind of hit and run. Like you know, Supergirl or Flash is, tops, a month of your life.
When you do one of those features, man, that’s like a year of your life and it takes talent that I don’t have and stuff. But I get to go to the Flash show and Supergirl show and feel like, “Oh shit, I played with characters that I loved,” and then fuck off and go back to my own world. But you know, what is that? There’s a name for that kind of… dilettante or something like that. Honestly, it’s something I think about a lot. As much as I love doing those shows, and particularly Supergirl, I wonder if I should bow out of doing that particular show. Like Flash, no problem, but shouldn’t — not saying in every case — but shouldn’t Supergirl you know, be ushered by a woman more than me?
Because there are so few opportunities. Like, Patty Jenkins obviously killed it with Wonder Woman.
Crushed it! It’s like, you’re going to get… and believe me, I hate that when you say shit like that people jump down your throat and are like, “Fucking turn on men!” I’m not turning on men, dude. I fucking love men. I am a man. It’s like, how many? We’ve had a lot of shots. Like you’re going, just as a fan of this shit, you’re going to see different results when cool material that we’ve always loved (or any material) is handed off to someone else who hasn’t had a zillion swings. That’s why you get something wonderful like Wonder Woman. Which, well you know, unless you’re Jim Cameron and you’re like, “It’s okay.” The rest of us were like, “Oh shit!” That movie was never going to come from a dude. It’s weird to be a fan and want to do it, and want to be involved, but then know that on some level you’re probably prohibiting somebody. It’s the reason I never got into Kickstarter.
Like I got an audience that would fund my stuff, but I’m like, I had my chance. I put it on credit cards and then people paid for my movies and stuff. If I apply myself, I can find money to do my stuff. But if I jump into that Kickstarter pool I’ll soak up a lot of fucking dough that could go to somebody who has never had the chance. I think about that quite a bit, man.
As much as I loved Supergirl, and they seemed to like me up there doing it, you know maybe there’s a better way for me to do it. Like just go up and hang out for two weeks, rather than direct. Let somebody direct and just like, honestly what I did on the last episode more than anything else was go out and get burgers for everybody, so I should really just work craft service on this motherfucker. Which is what critics have been saying for years.
You mentioned Yoga Hosers and critics: Do you still take anything constructive from criticism? Do you pay attention to criticism?
Sure. If somebody says something, oh fuck, absolutely. When it comes to me, because of… you know, my career and because like when I went after critics back with Cop Out, you know some of them will hate me until the day I die. There is some criticism, you know, it’s just “Let’s fucking gut the corpse and pour gasoline and burn it just to watch his bloated body fucking burn.”
What’s the response to that, though?
I mean it’s the internet. That’s the price you pay.
I mean creatively.
Well, this is the way I look at it: for somebody like that who’s like, “Fuck him, I hate this movie.” I mean I’ve heard that before. I heard that on my second movie out. With Mallrats. Like that’s why like none of this shit ever really phases me because I’ve lived through movies that haven’t done well, and you know what happens? You make another movie and people fucking forget. Then you spend the rest of your life telling people about shit they don’t even remember. Like I can’t tell you how many times I tell people like, “Mallrats was a huge flop,” and they’re like, “No, it wasn’t. I own it on DVD.”
From day two of my career, not day one. Clerks pretty much had people liking it very much. But from Mallrats forward you know, I saw the flip side instantly. I had one year fucking like, “He’s the flavor of the month”, and then you know a full year after that I was the whipping boy.
This is what happens when you give Sundance kids money and shit. That was in the written press where they pull their punches. They’re not like, “Fuck his mother in her ass,” like to finish up the article. By the time the internet came around, people started getting personal and whatnot. You know, kind of advocacy journalism I guess one would call it. It works in my favor, and it works against me as well. There are plenty of people that have written glorious things about me which have prolonged my career for a quarter of a century. You take the good with the bad. I can’t really get mad at people. I used to back in the day.
I used to like fight back to be like… not fight back like “You’re wrong,” but be more clever. And what has that meant? Like at the end of the day, like being clever in an internet fight gets you bragging rights for two minutes on a day nobody’s going to remember. I learned to kind of let go of that. I used to then go after people that would say incorrect things. So if they were like, “His movies, I fucking hate them!” Fine. You know, I can’t say anything about that, that’s taste. If they were like, “I heard he did this, that, or the other thing,” then I would engage. I stopped engaging in a kind of, “Hey man,” and more in a friendly way. I remember… this is going way back to the heyday of Ain’t It Cool News. There was a person in the TalkBackss and they wrote, “Kevin Smith wrote an essay,” and blah, blah, blah. A lot of it was misinformation.
So I wrote to the dude and I was like, “I get that you don’t like me, but do me a favor please don’t spread misinformation. Disinformation like that is patently untrue,” and I put a link up to some shit. The dude wrote back, blew my mind open. I was like, “Oh shit.” Made me understand things. He goes, “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know your movies. I’ve never seen them, but you’re one of the names that if I pick on you on here they all come out of the woodwork and that’s my Friday night.” I swear to Christ that was the response. I was like, “Oh, I get it. Like you don’t fucking know me, you don’t care.” He’s got no skin in the game. He just wants to see people jump out and be like, “Hey, fuck you,” so he can sit there and fight. That’s how he entertains himself, or that person entertains themselves. There’s a bunch.
I can’t dismiss them all as like, “They’re all wrong.” Like you know, some fucking people are very film literate and shit. People I’ve respected over years who you know, don’t give a fuck about what I do anymore. And that’s totally fine. You learn to live with that, but it doesn’t mean you stop. You know what I’m saying? Like, as long as I finance my own shit, as long as I can find money for the shit I want to do. The beauty of this world is there’s so many options that people are like, “I fucking hate his shit!” They don’t have to go see it. Like, they really, really don’t. You know, if they’re seeing it for free like, they don’t have to get that hostile about it. You know, I get it. It’s click bait-y man.
Just recently one of the websites did it. A.V. Club said “It’s okay, Kevin Smith knows his movies stuck too.” That wasn’t what I said at all in the interview. In the interview, I’m like, “Oh I know people think the movies suck, but I love them.” Nobody wants to write that headline. “Kevin Smith knows you hate his movies, but he loves them.” They assume that’s true. So a headline that’s like, “Kevin Smith hates the movies like you do,” is clickbait.
There is a narrative that people think that you’ve given up.
[Laughs.] Have you seen Tusk!? Nobody who makes the movie about a guy who turns another guy into a walrus has given up. Nobody who makes a movie with their kid knowing that world is going to fucking scalpel you with their dick because they’re like, “Oh you had fun with your kid? Let me just fucking fist you, you piece of shit.” That is the hardest work in the world, dude. Giving up would have been like maybe Mallrats, but like Tusk and Yoga Hosers… that’s looking at it through a completely crazy prism. You can hate those movies and you can be like, “Oh they totally suck,” but to be like, “You’ve given up,” it’s way harder to do this shit than anything I’ve ever done before.
I think because you’re not making the movies that they’re used too.
Then they’ve given up, not me. Like, I’m still doing exactly what I was doing in 1994, making the movie I want to see. They’ve either grown out of it or they’re like, “I don’t want to see no movie about a walrus.” To say that I’ve given up is fucking redonkulous. Giving up would be like, “Hey man, I’m just fucking making all CW shows now.” That life is glorious. They pay you a lot of money to sit there and hang out with famous people and say nice things. No work whatsoever, and if the episode sucks, next week another one’s coming, they’ll forget about it and shit. That would be giving up. If I would just enter the machine and did only that, but motherfucker, I’m sitting here trying to fucking find financing for a Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.
That’s not easy. Like it’s easy to go like, “Hey, I want to make a comic book movie,” then people are like, “Oh, that’s intriguing.” I’m like, “I want to play with my old toys.” You know you’re going to knock on a few fucking doors. Good news is, I’ve been doing this long enough where you meet a lot of people who are like, “Hi, when you made Clerks it spoke to me and it made me want to do something and I became a billionaire. How much money do you need for your movie?” You’re like, “Oh, okay. Thanks.” It all kind of pans out.
Yeah, no, you call me lazy because I don’t want to like work at a real job, that’s absolutely fucking true. I’ve been ducking real work for like a quarter of a century now, but these movies are the clear signal that motherfucker hasn’t given up. Like motherfucker is like, “Oh let’s see how much fun we can get into,” and granted it’s not fun for some people and stuff.
Fun for you.
That’s the important thing, man. Just like with Mallrats — if I wait, sooner or later the audience finds the movie. That’s why I wasn’t worried about Yoga Hosers. I remember seeing a quote, it was in Premiere magazine. I said, “I’m sitting in my room with a stack of bad reviews in one hand, and a shotgun in the other.” This is like 1995. I was being facetious, but still. Like, you know, even as bad as the Yoga Hosers reviews got, I lived through the Mallrats reviews. They were worse, and those were like damaging because they were like, “He’s over.” Like it’s one thing for somebody to be like, “I think he’s given up,” but it’s another thing for motherfuckers to be like, “He’s over and he shouldn’t be given any money.”
That was an uphill battle after that, but it’s like anything in life, man, if you’re going to make something, put it out there. I’m no expert, but in my experience, some cats like it, some cats don’t. Some cats never fucking hear it, receive you, and no matter what it’s been, whether it’s been fucking Clerks or Dogma or fucking Tusk and Yoga Hosers, it’s the same drill. So you know that going in. You know every time you fucking you know, put your money in the slot, sooner or later the ghosts are going to eat you and then if you want to play Ms. Pac-Man again, you put another quarter in the slot. You know, every once a while you gotta get eaten by the fucking ghost. I hate to use that Pac-Man analogy, but it’s true. So you expect that, but I refuse to accept somebody going like, “He’s given up.”
Man, there are so many easy ways to give up. Making Tusk, making Yoga Hosers, that’s a guy who still fucking tries, still swinging. If they can’t see that, hopefully they’ll see it in one of the next ones. If they never see it, look, the only reason they’re mad is because they liked me at one point. So I gotta be happy about that too. Like it’s all upside, it’s all win, even the people that are like, “I fucking hate his guts now,” what’s being said is, “Oh I loved him when he was younger.” You know, thank you for taking the ride with me that far. I wish you would stay in the car, but I understand things change. Hopefully, they’ll come back.