Benny R. Powell

Benny R. Powell is the author of Academy Comic Ltd.'s Robotech: The Movie comic book which was published in November, 1996.  Mr. Powell is best known for his time at Marvel Comics and his own independent comic studio, Bench Press Studios.  Warrior's Way was the studio's first major comic series, but unfortunately was cut short.  Mr. Powell now works in the Marketing industry in Florida.

 

Robotech Companion: Good to have you. Let's start from the beginning of your career.

 

Benny R. Powell: Let's see... well, I started out in college as a music major, which logically would lead to a career in writing and marketing.

 

What musical instrument did you play or focus on?

 

Keyboard and vocals.  Though to be fair I was a Music Composition and Technology major with minors in writing, journalism and fine arts.  So I DID at least have some background. I was lucky enough to receive an internship on the recommendation of Archie Goodwin to Marvel.  I was given the honor of being the intern to Bob Harras, who was the X-Men's Editor-in-Chief at the time.  This was during the period of Marvel when each "group" had their own Editor-in-Chief (E-i-C)... right after Tom DeFalco was... no longer E-i-C.  I was intern during the entire Age of Apocalypse run, (the original).

 

What did you get to do during your internship at Marvel?

 

I did a LOT and was really encouraged by Bob Harras and Ben Raab to have the freedom to give input and really be a part of the team.  This would have been in January of 1995 to May 1995.  During my time in the offices, I pitched my first comic book to What If... and it was accepted.  I'm TOLD that at the time I was the youngest writer to "break into Marvel" since Stan Lee.  Whether this is true I've never bothered to verify...  Writing work snowballed from there, in large part due to my somewhat encyclopedic knowledge, (at the time), of all Marvel books.  Something that endeared me to another legend (and hero of mine) Mark Gruenwald.

 

What was the title of your comic published under What If series?

 

My first work was What If #77... "What if Legion had Killed Magneto."  It was SUPPOSED to be a two-parter, but got crammed into one issue (a pattern that seems to plague my comics career).  It was, in essence, the first What If surrounding the Age of Apocalypse, which at the time occupied the top 9 slots of highest selling books.  (Top 10 the month Unlimited came out.)  They asked Warren Ellis to do the dialogue for the book, to give it a "name", (yet another issue that plagued my comics career).  I basically became THE "ghost" writer at Marvel.  As you can tell, my typing speed is rather fast. So editors would invariably call me when they needed something done QUICKLY.

 

You stayed at Marvel until May or so?

 

Much of my work was un-credited.  I stayed as an intern until May.  I worked with Marvel as a freelancer through until 1999.  For instance, I was a major contributor to Marvel Vision magazine, wrote most of the content for Marvel AOL (and Marvel Zone), Fantastic Four: The Legend, etc.

 

Where does Bench Press Studios come in?

 

During my internship, I met a colorist, Chia-Chi Wang.  He hung around the bullpen a lot, and I got to know him.  One day he showed me a bunch of mech-armors, some Transformers designs, and other robots.  I was amazed.  His artwork wasn't the best when it came to people, but he had a GREAT technical eye when it came to mechanics.  For years I had a concept for a team of super-heroes who were masters of martial arts with armors that augmented their skills.

 

Did that become Warrior's Way?

 

Yes.  I asked him to help me design the armors, with the understanding that he would not be the actual artist.

 

Did you plan Bench Press Studios to become a company?

 

It didn't start out that way.  As we were shopping the project around to various publishers, Chi mentioned that he was a big fan of Robotech...  Well, I had grown up a huge fan and rediscovered them again in college.

 

How did your relationship with Academy Comics form?

 

We knew Academy Comics was producing the series...  and they were trying to branch out.  So we approached them about Warrior's Way and also, (since Chi wasn't going to actually be doing the artwork), about doing a project for Robotech to introduce us to their fans.  Jean Elane, the editor, was terrific.  She immediately fell in love with Warrior's Way and promised us a home for the book. BUT she told us of impending problems...  They were going to lose the Robotech license in a couple months.  It was at that point when she proposed, "Hey you guys wouldn't be interested in doing an adaptation of Robotech: The Movie, would you?"

 

Did Academy Comics plan to re-license the series?

 

They WANTED to, but Antarctic Press had offered more money.  Academy simply couldn't compete.  So, we asked her if we could see the movie to see if we'd like to do the project or not.  Chi had heard of the project and explained to me what little had leaked on it.  Jean sent us a VHS copy overnight, and we watched it.  WHOA.  It was AWFUL.  I don't think I've ever seen a more screwed up cartoon.  It was like watching some sort of Frankenstein monster...it was so badly hacked together it simply made no sense.  I really don't want to sound disrespectful of Macek or Harmony Gold. They did the best they could I am sure.

 

Do you know what was behind the decision for Academy Comics to do an adaptation of the movie?

 

Well here's the way it was told to me.  Macek really always felt that there was a good story there.  But he was forced to chop it up a lot, and given budget constraints simply couldn't make it work.  He knew that Antarctic had no interest in doing the comic book, and so the only real chance of it ever being brought to the public in ANY form was if Academy did it.  So the directive we were given was simple: "We don't care what you do, please fix this."  However, we had effectively only 6 weeks to do TWO 32-page issues.  In a nutshell, I had 1 day to come up with a VERY tight story, re-imagining the entire movie from scratch.  Because if you've ever SEEN the movie, it's a mess. There are plot holes you could pilot the SDF-1 through.

 

Volume One seems to be a pretty decent adaptation of most of the film. The scenes and art recreate the animation look and action. I guess you had to do that on purpose to save time.

 

Had we had time, honestly, we would have probably spent 6 issues telling that story.  And yes, here's the decisions we made...  First, the original movie made VERY little sense why the clone even CARED about the stolen motorcycle.  I mean, all the clone REALLY had to do was leave well enough alone in the original story and everything would have worked out fine.  Furthermore, there was a complete disconnect.  It was all very weird and we had to re-watch the movie more times in 24 hours than I care to recount.  So some tough decisions had to be made.  What we decided was simple...the MODAT, (motorcycle), had to be the key.  What if, instead of just being a console to the supercomputer...what if the MODATs also had shielding that would allow them to penetrate the mothership's shielding.  THAT would be something the clone would NOT want to fall into the wrong hands. So we decided that since most of the original movie would never translate to the comic, (can you say 80's dance sequence?), anyway, condense the HEART of the story into the first issue and use the second issue to have it all make sense.

 

Which led into Volume Two, where the storyline was expanded greatly.

 

Exactly.

 

Though, where did the bullet-proof female outfits come from? lol

 

Well...we wanted there to be damsels in distress, but I've always liked empowering women in comics as well.  And besides, there's no way a father would have her daughter go into a dangerous place without some sort of protection...  Plus it gave us an excuse to have a little bit of comedy thrown in.  I admit to having been a Dirty Pair fan as well...

 

Which pretty much fits with the way the movie is.  You also created the MODAT-6, correct?  That was an original design?

 

Original in a way.  In the original version of the movie, the big "Star Wars" rip-off plot point required someone pilot to the mothership to shoot a missile down it's weak point.  This is one of the things that we often get accused of doing that is "so cliché..."  But that was IN the film.  What we decided was, let's do something to tie Mark more closely to the space battle.  So, what if the clone had created a MODAT that had an outer spacecraft shell?  He would, after all, want to escape before earth is destroyed.  But Mark finds it instead and uses its MODAT armor to pierce the force fields to deliver the payload.  So, we basically combined the modat motorcycle with the spaceship shown in the movie to create the MODAT-6.

 

The MODAT-6 was confusing between those scenes.  It appeared that it had three modes - space plane, robot, and bike.

 

Yes.  The space plane was basically an OUTER SHELL over the MODAT bike which is why the robotic version looks like a modat with "extended parts."

 

I see, like a type of armor. That makes a lot of sense.

 

Probably would have made more sense if we'd had 6 issues rather than 2 to play with.  What was frustrating was, we often got accused of being "unfaithful" to the original story...when in fact, we did our best to keep faithful to the INTENT of the plot.

 

So, you had to completely rely on the movie VHS and nothing else?  They didn't give you the script or let you talk to Macek?

 

We had the script as well.  Macek's position we were told was basically..."you can't make it any worse."

 

Were you aware of the original anime that Untold Story was created from?  Did they tell you anything about that?

 

Chi knew about Megazone 23.  If you look carefully, there's an Easter egg in the artwork for issue #1.

 

Did you review the Robotech TV series before or during the project as an extra resource?

 

No.  We were fans of both, however.

 

Hmm, is there anything else about the comic to clear up people's misconceptions?

 

Main points were A) This was the one shot to try to tell this story.  B) This was the one shot to FIX it as directed by the publisher and presumably Macek.  C) We love Robotech.  D) We had only a few weeks to complete the project.  And E) we were faithful to the story as best would could and still accomplish A - D.  In fact we were SO pressed for time that we LITERALLY had people INKING the second issue pages in the back of the van on the way to the Fed-Ex station at the airport.  We got the package sent with seconds to spare before the cutoff.

 

Wow that's something!

 

This literally almost became untold forever.  LOL Sadly, Academy folded soon after losing the license...so we ended up self-publishing Warrior's Way.  AND at the same time, we did approach Antarctic Press about doing some Robotech backup stories.  But let's just say their professionalism and care for the series left much to be desired so we chose not to pursue working with them further.

 

Yes, you wrote a letter at the back of volume two introducing fans to Bench Press Studios and Warrior's Way.  You said that you would sign every issue for fans who followed the instructions on how to get them sign.  Did you ever get to do that?

 

Actually, we did when we self-published.  Our first issue sold nearly 10,000 copies and actually got distribution into Barnes & Nobles and Borders.  Quite a feat for an indie startup.  Unfortunately, issue 2 was under-ordered, (half), and #3 was half that.

 

Why did the stores order less and less of the comic if it did so well?

 

Its just the way comics tend to sell.  Big orders for #1's. Half and then half again.

 

What did you and Bench Press Studios do after that?

 

Well, we began trying to secure, (and succeeded briefly), the rights to Hasbro's properties.  But at the 11th hour our investors backed out, paving the way for Devil's Due and Dreamwave to swoop in and pick up the G.I.Joe and Transformers properties.  This... proved we had the right idea...just not the right investors.

 

A real missed opportunity.

 

I've often said I have the "Cassandra" curse.  I can predict the future but I'm doomed to nobody believing me.  (Little Greek mythology reference for you.)  I tried, for instance,  at Marvel to stop the whole Heroes World debacle.

 

What was that all about?

 

Hubris.  Marvel thought, "hey...why share profits with Diamond and Capital?"  So they decided to buy a SMALL distributor and make it exclusive. And because bad ideas are contagious, DC and Image followed suit and went exclusive with Diamond.  Problem is, most comic book stores' margins were on the brink as it was. With fewer kids buying comics every day, (why should they when they can buy video games?), the direct market was teetering.

 

End result: comic industry goes down a couple more bars.

 

Going exclusive shrunk the direct market's already thin margins to the point of no return.  When you get buy on 5-10% of profit, you can't stand a 5-10% loss. By the end of 1999, however, all of my editors at Marvel had either been fired, quit, or in Mark Gruenwald's case...died.  Marvel was bankrupt.  Bench Press Studios folded...so I began looking for work in other fields.

 

Where did you go from there?

 

I landed at a little startup called Priceline.com and became their head marketing writer.  When that NASDAQ bubble burst, I was the global writer for IBM's ad agency.  Then I moved to Orlando and have basically been in the marketing biz ever since.  You've probably seen commercials, read books, or newspaper ads I've done...and never known who actually did them.

 

From music to comic books to marketing.  That's something!

 

Well, it's all connected if you think about it.  Music tells stories.  Writing tells stories.  Marketing tells stories.  And when you learn their history, many of the comic book greats, (such as Kirby), were commercial artists, (marketing), as well.

 

Is your web site still active and open for business? Ye Olde Art Shoppe?

 

LOL.  No, I forgot about that.  No, I own about a half dozen businesses these days.  I do hope to one day soon return to comics.  It is my passion.  I just want it to be on my terms a bit.

 

Would you be interested in working on Robotech again if given the chance?

 

Absolutely.  I've spoken to Tommy Yune, (Harmony Gold), about that in fact.  Robotech is a huge playground that I don't think has truly been explored.

 

Oh really?  Anything to look forward to?

 

Well that's in Wildstorm's hands, (the current license holders).  For me, it's not really about the money...  I truly love Robotech.  It really introduced America to Japanese animation, and so many current successes owe a huge debt to Macek bringing it to the masses.

 

Maybe they could use your writing skills somewhere.  Palladium, the creator of the Robotech RPG, is open to freelancers.

 

Who knows?  Chi has a short we did for Antarctic in the can somewhere.  You can see some of Chi's stuff we did for Transformers on http://www.bigbot.com/chi/

 

Hmm, he has a comic called Simpleton High.

 

Yes. You can read 11 issues at Simpletonhigh.com Simpleton High was a series Chi created in High School.  He updated it on the web from scratch, (of course).  Also I recommend for GI Joe fans another piece he did at http://members.fortunecity.com/cwmodels/hiss.jpg.

 

That made me think about when I read the comic today.  The Masters used the word Simpleton in Vol. 1 lol.

 

So I'm SURE there was an in-joke there.

 

Well I guess that's it.

 

Hope that helps clear up things.

 

Ok. Thank you very much for your time!

 

No problem. Goodnight!