ComiConn 2017: Chatting with Comic Book Man – Ming Chen
Graphic Policy: I am here with Ming Chen from AMC’s Comic Book Men! I have to say man it’s an honor, I am a big fan of what you folks are doing with that show and I wanted to take the chance and ask you some questions.
Ming Chen: Sure. Fire away.
GP: So you’ve come a long way, from this show that started as a small cult type thing and sort of a rip off Pawn Stars.
Ming: (interjecting) Oh definitely a rip off of Pawn Stars. I mean there’s no doubt about it.
Ming: The show got started because AMC had such a hit with The Walking Dead that first season and so they wanted to do something else comic book based. So they asked “who do we go to for something like this?” So they went to Kevin Smith.
GP: Of course.
Ming: Kevin who is one of the top minds in the comic book world, they asked “Kevin what would you do?” He said well “Why don’t you just rip off Pawn Stars but do it in a comic book store and focus on vintage toys and comics?” AMC thought it was a good idea and could work, however they needed to shoot some kind of pilot and put it on tape and see if it could actually work.Kevin told them he had a comic book store and some guys that worked there AMC could use. He told them flat out, they are not actors and sort of a bunch of knuckleheads but they might not be your guys. In terms of for the purpose of shooting the pilot Kevin thought we’d be fine. So they (AMC) shot it with us and said “That’s it.” “These are our guys.” At that point there was no reason to try and cast anyone else.
GP: Yeah no kidding? Why? You guys fit perfect.
Ming: So AMC was like “Why didn’t you see this and tell us these guys were that good?” To Kevin we were just his friends and co – workers and he didn’t really see it, but it worked out really well. We initially shot 6 episodes to start and to see if it worked. I was like “Who’s going to watch this though?” “Who wants to see four old dudes griping in a comic book store talking about Star Wars and Flux Capacitors and such?” Lo and behold people actually dug it so much that we are about to go into our seventh season. I love it. I want to do it forever.
GP: I mean yeah it’s incredible to have it take off the way it did like that.
Ming: It definitely is.
GP: That was my follow up. For something that you didn’t think would take off, to have it go multiple seasons.
Ming: We thought one, two maybe..
GP: I think the Kevin Smith thing certainly hooks it, but it’s you guys that keep the asses in the seats. It’s really great.
Ming: Thank you so much man. It’s cool to get that response.
GP: Now I’m a huge Batman ’66 fan myself and I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask this. The day you guys shot the show for the Batman ’66 Batboat, did it all really go down like that? Was everyone that disappointed?
Ming: Yes. So for those who haven’t seen the episode, I meet the guy who I’ve met at several cons and he owns the ’66 Batboat. He had it in Red Bank (NJ) asked if I wanted to come down and go on it. He told me to bring the guys too. So naturally I tell them “Hey guys you want to go down on the Batboat?” They were all for it. I figured we’d go down there and float around for like an hour on it. We brought sun screen and sandwiches. Then we get down there and it’s not even in the water and it’s bolted to a trailer. He tells me it doesn’t go in the water and it’s not sea worthy. So yeah the guys were a little pissed with me for that one. I mean how was I supposed to know? When someone invites you down to their boat it’s usually on the water. I don’t think it was my fault, but they never see it that way. So they are like “You screwed up Ming, You suck.”
GP: That’s the true to life dynamic? They treat you like that?”
Ming: All the time (laughs) I mean if I do something they consider egregious no matter how stupid or small, they will call me out on it. It’s been like that for twenty years.
GP: I have to ask you, as a fan who like me grew up idolizing these folks and all this stuff, having those same people dropping by or coming up to you like “Hey Ming” is it surreal?
Ming: It is surreal. To have those people come up to me and say they are fans of the show and like I’m doing, it’s very cool. I mean to me it’s just something I do every summer with my friends. It very much feels like summer camp and it just gets put on tape. I love how it comes on after The Walking Dead and Talking Dead because I’m still a huge fanboy. I want to meet these people (Zabka, Pearlman, Jason David Frank) because they were such huge parts of my childhood. I know they are actors and actors are regular people but also they were so awesome that what they did shaped my life. It’s cool to be able to meet them now on this level. I mean we aren’t on even ground but like my badge is the same as theirs so there’s a modicum of respect and it’s all just really cool. So if they want to treat me as if they don’t know me or blow me off I will catch up with them later.
GP: Yeah in some cases you moderate their panels afterward (laughs)
Ming: Yeah moderating the panels is cool too. I mean I’m so glad it happened this way to me. As a fan first, where as a lot of people here grew up in the acting world and the con thing came later to them. So I’m really lucky in that way. I like that I’m a fan first.
GP: Absolutely. I think it keeps it authentic.
Ming: It’s definitely way more fun.
GP: I’ve noticed that you seem to be spearheading the task of taking on these cons more and more lately. The others (Mike Zapcic and Bryan Johnson) join you time to time but not always. So is that your ambition? Are you going to be a lot more Comic Con oriented or branch off and do your own thing?
Ming: We’ll see. I think Comic Book Men works so well because it’s the four of us. It wouldn’t work with just three of us or one of us. Out of the four of us though, I think Bryan Johnson and I have a great dynamic where I will do something and he just reacts to it honestly.
GP: Mike Zapcic is great too. Don’t forget him. He’s like the straight man to you guys comedy.
Ming: That’s true. So I want to continue to do as much with the show for as long as I can because I love it so much. Mike and I have a couple podcasts together and we work very well on that so we have such a well rounded base. I would love for Comic Book Men to keep on going forever, I know it can’t but I’d really like it to. I’m happy with that right now.
GP: Well seven seasons is nothing to sneeze at.
Ming: I’d like to keep the energy from this going and be somewhere in the Pop Culture world after this, I don’t know where it will be but we will see. I will take an opportunity no matter how weird or how small it may be. You never know where it will take you. It might even be more of the Con world. They don’t seem to be stopping any time soon.
GP: They do not. You know what I think would be ideal though? Is that one day you open your own store across the street from the (Secret) Stash and you become a bigger deal then all of them. That would be great.
Ming: That would be so fun. We could have like a rivalry and all kinds of pranks and hijinx. Maybe we’d even have a gang war with like Molotov cocktails (laughs) not really but you know, just a lot of weird and fun stuff.
GP: Absolutely. I’d watch the hell out of that. Well thank you for your time and so much success to you.
Ming: Thank you man. Absolutely this was great. See you around.
Well that was my chat with Ming “The Mighty” Chen. Such a great guy. He loves what he does and wants to do it always, for the fans. You can’t beat that. Hope you see him at a Con in the near future.
Till next time true readers!