Deadpool is always testing the boundaries of the fourth wall, but in this week’s Spider-Man/Deadpool #11, he gets a magical assist. The issue was guest-written by Penn Jillette, who shows up within the story alongside fellow magician Teller. Immediately upon meeting Deadpool, Penn gets into a fourth-wall-breaking contest with the Merc with a Mouth, a showdown that ends with Teller and Deadpool switching places. Hilarity, as you might expect, ensues – along with a heaping helping of magic. Jillette spoke with EW about writing his first comic and formally introducing Penn & Teller to the Marvel Universe.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like writing your first comic? How did this come about?
PENN JILLETTE: I met Marvel editor Jordan D. White when he came to our [magic] show, Penn & Teller. He spoke afterwards and seduced me with “you get to hang out at Marvel.” After he got my attention with that, he asked, “How would you like to write Spider-Man and…” he got that far before I said yes.
I had played around a little bit with writing comics about 10 or 12 years ago. It’s interesting because I have very bad visual memory. I can’t bring my mom’s face to mind or my children. So I used to read comic books as a child and I would have to use willpower to look at the pictures. My natural desire was to whip through the words. As I was growing up I found that very useful, to try to slow down and see how Spider-Man is moving and so on. So the idea of collaborating with someone visual, that always interests me. That is, in one oversimplified sense, what Penn & Teller is: Teller is very good visually and I’m not. To me, Penn & Teller is a radio show, but don’t tell Teller that.
I also love the idea, though the execution is s–t, of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy. That series of movies is so fascinating to me, to take kinda-sorta real people, who are also characters, and have them interact with characters (which are actually real people dressed up). I was very interested in the idea of Penn & Teller meets Spider-Man and Deadpool. My fascination with fantasy and reality and how they interact – that’s what magic is. Teller calls it “the unwilling suspension of disbelief.” That kind of fantasy/reality difference, when you get to go as a human being in a comic book, was pretty stunning.
I guess of the whole project, my favorite thing is there’s one frame where Teller is dressed as Deadpool, and he’s walking alongside Spider-Man. What the artist Scott Koblish is doing there is so complex. He’s got to get a real character, who’s never been represented in a comic book, to not look like a character who has been represented – in that exact same costume, in that exact same world. There’s a turn-out of the right foot, a tilting of the shoulder. I looked at the frame and went, “Man, people are good at s—.”
This tells you a little bit about how excited I was, but when we got the contracts back from Marvel, there’s that one part where Marvel has to be granted permission to use Penn & Teller, our images and our names. I looked at that piece of paper and said to my manager “no no, we’re just granting them permission for this comic. I would like to grant them permission, in perpetuity, to use our names and likenesses forever with no money.” So we went back to Marvel and said we don’t want to just have Penn & Teller available in this comic, we want anyone who’s ever writing a Marvel comic to the end of time to use Penn & Teller in any context without our permission. I don’t just want one comic, I want to be able to say if somebody writing Guardians of the Galaxy decides it [would] be great to come across Penn & Teller, they would have complete rights to this, and not even have to make a phone call.
What was fun about both putting yourself in the comic and having that face-off with Deadpool?
What person that read comics as a child wouldn’t want to see themselves in a comic book? I certainly wanted that more than I wanted to be on TV or in a movie. The first time we were in Mad Magazine was sometime in the ’80s. I believe it was the parody of Total Recall, where all of a sudden Penn & Teller showed up in the middle of Mad. It was just so, so surreal. People try to tell you what the milestones of your life are, like the first time you saw your name on a marquee on a Broadway theater. “Wasn’t that the best time of your life?” Well, no. Not to be disrespectful to Broadway, but it wasn’t, that’s all. It wasn’t like playing bass with Lou Reed. That was something. Other people can’t really tell what sort of thing is gonna click for you. I realized Mad and Marvel are not same company and it’s an entirely different situation, but in some sense this is a continuation of that.
“It was weird, because a couple years ago I lost over 100 pounds. I look different, all the billboards are different, but somehow seeing myself through the artist’s eyes in a comic book, it felt like a click, like this is the way I look now. Which of course is insane, because it’s not the way I look, it’s a f—ing drawing. But being able to think about it that way, for someone who’s not visually-oriented like me, was kind of profound in terms of self-image. I couldn’t really see myself, the way I look now, until they drew me. It was really fun.”
Did Teller have any input on his role in the story?
Teller didn’t. He was just a cheerleader on the side. Obviously I got permission from him, and he signed off on being part of the Marvel Universe and he was thrilled. He was finishing up directing Shakespeare while I was writing comic books, which is all you need to know. I would email him these line drawings and concept sketches for what he was gonna look like. I would just get back how thrilled he was.
Would you think about doing any more comics in the future?
Yes. The instant they ask me, yes. As a matter of fact, I just saw Jordan when I was in N.Y. and he said we [have to] start thinking about doing another one of these. I think there’s a relationship between Deadpool and I that I’d like to see go further. It comes out Wednesday, so once the nation puts this nightmare of an election behind us, they will then move to Spider-Man, Deadpool, and Penn & Teller.