August 2004

Michael Farrelly


An Interview with Brian Wood

It’s not pretentious to call Brian Wood a multi-media creator. Wood burst onto the comic scene in the late nineties with Channel Zero a searing political comic he wrote and drew, that seems eerily prescient in a post-Patriot Act world. But Brian Wood isn’t just about political mind bombs, he’s also up for creating the hottest action movies committed to paper (The Couriers, The Couriers 02 and the upcoming The Couriers: The Ballad of Johnny Funwrecker) with artist Rob G. Wood, s well as creating striking covers for the Global Frequency series written by Warren Ellis and wrote the series Fight for Tomorrow for DC.

Wood has also done design work for the video-game juggernaut Rock Star games and is now producing t-shirts and fine “hard goods” through his “Heavy Industries/Northern Boy” store. He was kind enough to answer some questions for Bookslut from his west coast base of operations.

Some of your early comic work was very political in nature (Channel Zero, Jennie One), and a recent issue of DEMO showed the turmoil of a young soldier in Iraq. In the current supercharged partisan atmosphere, do you think comics are saying enough about social issues and politics?

I don't think comics readers want to read about it, to be honest. The books that do this and do it well, stuff that Ted Rall and Joe Sacco do, sell a handful of copies to comic shops and the rest of it to Barnes and Noble. So, no, I don¹t think comics are doing enough, but I am not really sure they should. Joe Average Comic Book Reader doesn't care. It's sort of a stupid idea to try to make them, I've found.

I think the comic format can be a good way to communicate these sorts of stories and ideas, but we have to figure out how to get it out to the right audience first.

Each issue of DEMO talks about some aspect of more than normal abilities and how they change characters lives. Each story is so intensely personal, how much of your own experiences have gone into issues of DEMO?

I think almost every issue has something of me in there, and some more than others do. DEMO most certainly isn't autobiographical, but it’s as close as I am likely to ever get. "Breaking Up" (#9), draws upon every failed relationship of my life, going back to when I was 20, and "Stand Strong" (#4) shares the same type of turning point as I experienced when I was younger. But are any of these characters supposed to be me? No.

Becky Cloonan's art style on DEMO changes from issue to issue. What's the process between you two on deciding what style fits the story?

I think for the first couple issues I would suggest what style perhaps might work for the story, but Becky would just go ahead and use her own judgment. After she proved me wrong a couple times, I decided to just shut up and let her do her thing. That's pretty much our working relationship right there: we let the other alone to do their thing.

If you had to choose one issue of DEMO that best articulates the vision you had for the series, which one would it, be?

Probably "Stand Strong" (#4) or "Mix tape" (#8), but so many of them would fit the bill.

Your design book Public Domain, was fascinating in how it pealed back layers on artistic process. Do you plan on releasing any further design books or portfolios?

Maybe, in a long time when I've built up enough work. No plans for the near future.

In one of the early issues of DEMO you included a sample of your script for artist Becky Cloonan. Does your style vary much when working with other artists? Like Rob G? How about when you’re writing something, do you plan to draw?

It’s similar in that it’s loose and open. I like to give my artists as much freedom as they can handle when they do the art to make their job easier. I think it pays off - they are happier and can feel more creative and as a result the story is stronger. If I am drawing, I just start with a bunch of handwritten notes and jump right into the art. All the dialogue and narration comes after.

A project you outlined a long time back was The Walk about a suicide bomber en route to carrying out his mission. The terrorist attacks in the US seemed to stop this project. Do you ever plan to revisit it?

It was over before 9/11. It wasn¹t a political story at all, not even close. It was a suicide story, and I never intended for the character to take anyone with him when he went -- it was a very personal and introspective story. But then around 2000 when the second Infitada started up, I thought it might be tacky to do the story, since it’s not about suicide bombers like the ones on the news, I was worried I would come off as trivializing the whole thing. I have this character who is so down and out with his fucking breakup or whatever and decides to selfishly end his own life, but there is this nation of oppressed, brutalized people where some of its citizens see suicide bombing as a desperate, last ditch effort to resist... How could I do my little comic? I'm not that big an asshole. So it’s gone and probably gone forever. People should go and rent Santosh Sivan's The Terrorist instead.

One of the more intriguing projects you’ve teased on your website is “Life During Wartime." What’s the idea behind this project and do you plan to write and draw this?

Its just called "Wartime," and yeah, I intend to draw it once I find a publisher who can take it on. In this case, it’s a deliberate reaction to the current war, but from the perspective of a spectator, which is what we all are. I can't write about actually being in a war, not with any degree of credibility, but I can write about watching a war, because that¹s what I do every day.

"Wartime" is about a war on our soil, and a rookie photographer who is left alone by accident in No Man's Land, and sets off to make his career by doing stories on the human/civilian aspect of the conflict, the day-to-day life in a war zone. I tagline him "the ultimate embedded journalist."

You’ve done graphic design for Rock Star Games [publishers of the Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne series]. What were some of your favorite pieces from that job? And what’s the better gig, comics or game work?

[Game design] pays way, way more than comics does, and the profile is higher, but the controls are crazy. I guess if you are a company spending 10 million dollars on a game you are gonna be kinda fascist about how it goes, but I didn't like being treated like a slave. I'm happy to have left, but it was a lot of fun a lot of times. The tone/direction of Manhunt was mine in most ways, and I have some pride for the work I did on the Midnight Club and GTA games, most notably the game booklets. They felt like little books and I designed the shit out of them.

You’ve also added clothing designer to your resume. What prompted you to start up “Northern Boy/Heavy Industries: Hard Goods and T-shirts”?

"Clothing designer"? You flatter me. I just make some art for t-shirts, but it’s something I've wanted to do for ages but never felt I had the time to spend on it until recently. When I worked at Rockstar Games I designed maybe 20-30 t-shirts, and it’s a lot of fun.

Last year your wrote a Vampirella/Witchblade comic with art by Steve Pugh. What prompted you to take on those characters? Were you a Vampirella fan growing up?

Jesus Christ, no. Maureen McTigue called me up and asked me if I wanted to do this job. It was too crazy to turn down, and it gave me a chance to work with Steve Pugh again. Llots of fun, and Maureen was great and let us do whatever. I am doing another one, a 10-pager for the Vampirella magazine with Dean Haspiel on art.

Your cover designs for Global Frequency have been amazingly eye-catching. What’s been your process for creating them? How much input did Warren Ellis or the series artists has on your designs?

Warren sends out a few lines of text, a general description of what he wants, and I take it into consideration. Haha. I don't mean for that to sound flippant, but since these were all photo-based, and I had to use my own pictures, some things he asked for were miles out of my range of capabilities. But he never asked me to change anything and as far as I know, he was happy with all of them.

I did these all way in advance, so I didn¹t know who any of the interior artists were.

Many of your projects come out through Larry Young’s AIT/Planetlar, including the collection of your first series Channel Zero. How did this relationship begin and what’s made it such a lasting one?

Larry's a nice guy who understood me and what I wanted to do very early on, and let me. It’s pretty simple. I've worked for other publishers that either tried to control me or resented me for specific reasons and the working relationship was tense and the work always suffered. Larry and Mimi (of AIT/Planet Lar) have lots of help and support to offer if and when I need it, and they don't bust my chops when I don't. So it’s been a good relationship, and a profitable one for everyone. And I seriously believe that books like DEMO would never have happened anywhere else. No other publisher would have trusted Becky and I or understood the book.

As far as how the relationship started, Larry knew that my Channel Zero was out of print and offered to reprint it. I was pretty wary -- I think AIT only had two books in print at that point, but I did it anyway and it worked out well.

You've got an upcoming project set on an oil derrick, what's that all about?

Not to jinx myself, but The Tourist is my next serious graphic novel I am writing, with art by Toby Cypress. It's set in an unnamed North Sea fishing village, not on the oilrig itself, although it does play a role in the story. It’s a dark, twisty action story about an AWOL American soldier running a drug deal to get himself home, and without meaning to, gets this small village he is hiding out in into a lot of trouble.

Starting with DEMO, I've been trying to push myself a little, getting out of my comfort zone of "punk rock teenagers fucking shit up," and trying new things and new ways of telling stories. The Tourist should live up to that hype.

You did the cover for an upcoming book Tales From Fishcamp. How did that project come about and where did you get the idea for the cover?

As far as how that project came about, I will refer that question to writer Danielle Henderson and publisher AIT/Planet Lar. The concept for the cover was pretty simple, since Danielle's leatherman knife plays a conspicuous role in the stories. We tweaked the colors and typography a bit until we found a good middle ground between what the books about and the personality of the writer.

It’s been seven years since Channel Zero came out. Where do you think the next seven years will take you?

Lots more books, more artwork from me, and hopefully a few fiction novels. I love comics to death, but it’s not all I want to do in life, ya know?