Following on from our recent interviews with the founders of Daredevil sites from around the web, Comic Booked concluded its Matt Murdock mission by talking to Kuljit Mithra, founder and webmaster of ManWithoutFear.com. Highly lauded by both of our past two interviewees, it’s certainly the greatest resource of Daredevil information you’ll find on the internet, and potentially one of the greatest independent comic character-devoted sites around, and has just recently celebrated its fifteenth anniversary. We spoke to the very humble Kuljit and picked his brains on all things Daredevil:
Kuljit, to kick us off can you tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to comics?
Well, I live in Toronto. I guess maybe at about twelve or thirteen years old I started collecting comics – I had just moved to a new house and my neighbor had a big comic collection. He showed me a store downtown called Silver Snail, and showed me there were stores that just had comic books in them – that was the first time I’d ever seen that. So I picked up a Transformers comic, and just from there things progressed.
And how did you happen across Matt Murdock?
To get to Daredevil, I was going on a trip with my family, I was in a store and there was a Daredevil book, it wasn’t a comic. It was a pocketbook – a Marvel Illustrated book – and basically they had taken two really old Wally Wood Daredevil comics and printed it in black and white in a paperback book. That was my first exposure to Daredevil, I read those and at that time I thought he was a really interesting character. I thought it was an interesting concept with him being blind, and having all these powers.
Do you remember your first actual issue of the title?
The first issue I ever picked up was issue #219, where Frank Miller had come back to do the special one-shot with John Buscema.
The ‘Badlands’ issue? (In this issue Matt swaps his spandex for a leather hat and jacket, jeans and shades, and spends the issue fighting injustice in a New Jersey town, with little reference to the fact that he’s Daredevil or anything taking place in Daredevil continuity at that time)
Yeah. So… I had no idea what was going on in that comic. (laughs) It didn’t tie in to anything, he wasn’t even in his Daredevil costume, but I still stuck with it from there I collected it every month and I collected the back issues. So I went backwards from #219 and I went forwards from #219. From there, I’ve got them all now and here we are.
Congratulations on fifteen years of ManWithoutFear.com! Fifteen years is quite a lifespan for any website – could you talk us through the origins of it? I was thinking about it and figured out that when the site first launched, in the comic JM DeMatteis would be in the thick of his run – round about Daredevil #350?
That’s true, DeMatteis’ run was just ending so Matt was still going through his ‘Identity Crisis’, which he seems to go through all the time! I was in University, it was my last year, and the internet was still this new thing at the time. I was thinking about it when I posted on the site about the anniversary, I must have just started it out of sheer boredom, I was probably waiting for class at the time, waiting for classes to start. One of my friends was working on his website – you know, at that time everyone was saying ‘here’s my name‘, homepage – just to make something and work with this new thing called HTML. I just started to do that, I was still collecting comics – not so much, I had gone in and out of the hobby for a bit, but I still collected Daredevil. Every month I still got it. So I just thought, ‘okay I’ll put something up about Daredevil’. From there I just made a little website on my University’s server and somehow other people started seeing it and it just grew – I just started getting emails from people: ‘thanks for making this website‘, ‘thanks for updating and providing all this stuff‘. At that time I was still working on my really slow computer and uploading things to the internet would take a long time. I still had a hand-scanner, not even a flatbed one, so I had to really slowly scan them and then get them on the website. Just from there it just grew, I just saw more people visiting and asking me more questions about Daredevil, like ‘when’s the next issue coming?‘. I just kept going with it. So I guess it was really by accident, I didn’t set out to make a website all about Daredevil and do all these things, it just happened and I just kept on going with it because I saw people were enjoying it. There was no agenda like where some people start a website because they have something to say.
You mentioned how much the website has grown – it is massive, we’re talking about a one-stop shop database of Daredevil knowledge. Is it all your own work, growing bit by bit or have you reached out to other people for help?
The majority of the information was prepared by me just going through every issue and getting it, but I do get help from lots of people, they submit summaries of issues, or reviews, or fanart or pictures of themselves in Daredevil costumes. Something I would never do but, you know….
I couldn’t imagine a world where I woke up to emails people have sent me with pictures of themselves dressed as Daredevil…
Well, everybody’s a big fan of Daredevil and they have their own way of showing it.
Well this is it, any Daredevil fans I’ve met online or elsewhere are incredibly passionate about him – if they like him they really like him. In your opinion is there anything in particular about the character that draws people to him and then beyond that, keeps them with him?
It’s a tough question. For me I was just drawn to the gimmick of it at first – he was blind, he had all these cool powers.And then I started reading all the Frank Miller stuff as I started going backwards, first I read the Denny O’Neil and David Mazzuchelli stuff, and I was getting into Born Again at the same time. For me, from there, I started getting into the artistry of everything, the writing, the art. I can see how some people like the ninja part of the book, or the noir part of it, or they’re still old-school, they like the swashbuckling stories. There’s a lot of different things that people like about him. I know that some people like that he’s always having issues with his whole life, it’s always down and depressing, and other people that want him to get out of that. So hopefully Reborn will at least get him out. It’s been about ten years or so since he’s had anything nice happen to him.
Ten years of pure misery. He did get married inbetween issues, but I suppose that was part of his nervous breakdown. Talking of Reborn, is there anything you’d like to see happen to Matt once the series has concluded?
I guess the trouble with Daredevil itself is that it’s tough to bring something new to the comic, but then I guess that’s the same with any comic. Most of the stories have been done, it’s tough to bring something new, so hopefully this will open up a lot of doors to differnt types of stories. A lot of readers are tired of the ‘what kind of thing can go wrong with him now‘. Hopefully he can do some heroic things – superhero things – instead of complaining about everything that’s gone wrong.
I’ve always noticed that creators tend to have a great deal of respect for your site. Brian Michael Bendis for instance give you a mention in his farewell letter in Daredevil (Vol 2) #81, and from my time on the board I remember Ed Brubaker paid visits during his run. Plus of course you’ve conducted numerous interviewers with writers and artists that have worked on Matt’s adventures – are there any notable interactions with the creative forces behind Daredevil that you could share with us?
There’s been a few – I don’t want to get all braggy or anything like that. Let’s see, Joe Quesada and Juimmy Palmiotti would drop by from time to time and email me questions and things like that. I guess since with my site’s been up I’ve been in touch with most of the people that have worked on the title – even if they never really responded to any of my emails, I would send them a note with my take on how they’re doing. That’s really all I did with Bendis, I didn’t have any discussions or anything with him, I would just send him notes: ‘I like this issue’ or ‘I liked what you did here’ things like that, and it was surprising when he put that in the comic.
You said Joe Quesada contacted you – what was he after? Was it just some character fact-checking?
Yeah, a lot of the writers come on and they don’t know the back history of every single thing that’s happened with the characters, so Joe Quesada asked me questions like ‘has this character appeared here?’ I’ve helped out Jeph Loeb, Joe Kelly, Andy Diggle, Ed Brubaker as well, when they were on the title, whatever. Since they knew of the site they would ask me questions, even the editors as well for a quick take of ‘is this correct’ with what may put in the book. Even when the movie wasn’t even out yet (Daredevil director) Mark Steven Johnson got in touch with me. He sent me all of his storyboards and sketches, before the movie was with Fox, he just wanted to get my take on those. What he sent me was really great, I loved it. If they had filmed that, people would’ve responded more to that! Things like that, then getting in touch with all the different people through interviews. I’ve been very lucky with people that wanted to be interviewed, I would bother them and ask if they want to talk about Daredevil a bit, and 99.9% of the time they’re very happy to. I think a lot of people who have worked on the title have enjoyed working on this character, they just loved it.
That must be incredible to be such a fan of the character and however tangentially be somewhat involved in the creative process – you’re not writing the comic obviously, but people do seek you out for advice. That must be a great feeling.
I don’t want to review people’s work, I know how hard it is to actually work on the comic. I don’t send them stuff like ‘you suck‘, I say ‘I thought this worked’ or ‘this didn’t work‘, but I’m very respectful. I don’t like to be negative for no reason.
A couple of weeks ago, round about the fifteenth anniversary of the site, I noticed on Twitter a vague hint that you weren’t too sure about ManWithoutFear.com’s future…
I was just joking around because Daredevil’s disappearing – so what is ManWithoutFear.com going to do, right? Really I’m still into it, the day whenever that day will come that I’m not I’ll just stop. Right now, even with no regular title I’m still into it – I’ve went through stretches where there were so many delays with the Marvel Knights run where they’d be months and months without a regular Daredevil title but people were still coming to the site and talking about things. I’m still going, I don’t know how much I’ll do – maybe I’ll never stop.
I for one hope you don’t Kuljit, but even if you were to stop one day it would be an amazing resource to live on because there’s so much information there to be viewed!
No, thank you Kuljit! And thanks to Robert and Christine, our other Fans Without Fear this month. Head over to their incredible sites for all the Daredevil information you would ever need, and tell them Comic Booked sent you!