Comic Crusaders got the chance to chat with Brian Wood, the multiple Eisner nominated writer whose impressive career includes work on such iconic characters as Conan the Barbarian, Star Wars, and the X-Men, critically acclaimed titles DMZ and Northlanders, as well as upcoming titles Rebels from Dark Horse and Starve from IMAGE. Known for infusion of political and environmental activism into his writing, titles such as CHANNEL ZERO and THE MASSIVE are thought provoking and stylistic and in the case of Channel Zero, which was originally published in 1997, contains an eerie foreshadow of a post 911 America.
Brian sits down and talks about his experiences breaking into comics, working on The X-Men, and his love of historical fiction.
LETS START AT THE BEGINNING, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO MAKE COMICS AND HOW DID YOU BREAK IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
That’s a really long time ago. I think I first got the idea to try to make comics for a living around 1995. I wasn’t a hardcore fan – I liked the form but wasn’t a fan of any specific character or universe. My reading tastes ranged from Peter Bagge to Garth Ennis. I was in art school at the time so I started making my own comics, just experimenting and aping and trying new things. At some point that turned into me pitching around the industry. It was so much harder then – there was almost no “comics Internet” to speak of and I was still dorking around with an AOL email address. So I printed up my own comics, snail mailed them to every comic company I could think of, and did that for about 4 years straight. Eventually I hit with “Channel Zero” and Image Comics.
I’m not sure if that was me ‘breaking in” or not. It was just a 5 issue miniseries and I lost money on it. I got a day job and kept making comics in my free time, and it wasn’t until “Demo” in 2003 when comics starting paying off for me.
CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT? IS IT MARVEL STYLE OR FULL SCRIPT?
I write full script almost all the time. In some rare cases I write a little looser, usually with a trusted art partner like Becky Cloonan, but otherwise its a full script, about 35 pages in a Word doc at 10 point type. The first part of my process is always by hand in a regular notebook. That’s where I break down the point of the story and the major events of each issue. I’ll assign page numbers to that, so I end up with a loose map of the issue: pages 1-3, this happens, then this reveal on page 4, and so on. Then I go to the computer and start writing. I usually do one major pass, writing all the descriptions and full dialogue in a linear fashion, and then one polish pass at the very end.
If all the stars align, I can write a script in two days. Three, if I’m doing a lot of research as I go.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A COMIC BOOK WRITER AND ARTIST? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?
I haven’t been doing this THAT long… about 18 years all told, but its long enough to have both seen a lot of ups and downs, and experienced a lot of ups and down. Most of my advice is ethic in nature: be nice, be fair, don’t start fights, own up to your mistakes, don’t try to be famous, don’t confuse hanging out with working. Try and have a personal life separate from your work life. Don’t try to date within the industry. Stay off social media. Work, work, work. Be patient.
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR/ARTIST LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?
Everything I just said, basically. I’d also add that it’s important early on to get some of your own ideas into print. Even if it costs you money, you need your own book, your calling card. Its fun to work on the company books and the licensed books, but at the end of the day no one will really care about them, or even really remember them. But if you bring something new into the world, you can carry that with pride until the day you die.
YOU WORKED FOR ROCKSTAR GAMES, WHICH MADE SOME OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL VIDEO GAMES OF THE EARLY 2000’S. HOW WAS THAT EXPERIENCE AND HOW DID WORKING FOR A VIDEO GAME COMPANY EFFECT YOU AS A STORY TELLER?
It was a pretty miserable experience, to be honest. I was trying to be a comics maker, I was making comics at night and on the weekends, but Rockstar demanded my nights and weekends, so I was always tired, always frustrated, always burnt out. Looking back, I’m glad I worked there and I’m happy to have been a part of that GTA3 – Vice City insanity, but I know I would have been full-time in comics a lot sooner if I had a normal job and not whatever the hell that was.
DO YOU PLAY VIDEO GAMES? IF SO ARE YOU A PS4 OR XBOX GUY? WHAT IS THAT ONE VIDEO GAME THAT STICKS WITH YOU AS YOUR FAVORITE?
I’m a PlayStation guy. Generally I like to do two things in games: shoot things, and skateboard. I play Skate 2 and 3, and love Far Cry and Sniper Elite and COD. Possibly my all-time favorite shooter is Far Cry 2. Far Cry 3 and 4 are better games of course, but there is something about 2 that zens me right out. I love that game.
THERE IS SUCH A RICH CATALOGUE OF WORK YOU HAVE AMASSED IN YOUR CAREER. IS THERE ONE PROJECT IN PARTICULAR THAT STICKS OUT IN YOUR MIND THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
In depends on why. For example, Local is something I’m really proud of because its personal and Ryan and I got along well on that project and its a beautiful volume of work. Northlanders is, I think, my best writing and it’s the book I miss writing the most. DMZ is the longest, most ambitious project of my career and there’s a lot there to be proud of. Demo, to me, is more about my friendship with Becky than anything else. I’ve known Becky for almost 15 years now.
ONE PROJECT THAT I AM REALLY FORWARD TO IS REBELS FROM DARK HORSE. CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TELL A TALE SET IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION?
It was part personal experience, growing up in Vermont and having this natural history be local history. And it was my love of history in general and my desire to do another series like that after my Viking book Northlanders. I admit it probably seems like a real curveball of an idea, but to me is just really obvious and logical. I already have a huge base of knowledge to build a series on.
TELL ME ABOUT THE UPCOMING IMAGE BOOK STARVE?
Starve could not be more different from Rebels, and that’s part of the plan – I keep my work as diverse as possible for the sake of my audience but also for my sake too. It keeps me on my toes, keeps me from getting bored with myself. Starve is a darkly funny series that takes the idea of celebrity chefs and foodie culture and TV game shows to an extreme place, pitting chefs against chefs for the sake of super rich patrons in a morally bankrupt world. There’s a lot in there about food scarcity and endangered species and a whole hell of a lot about family and father-child dynamics, but it’s also really caustic in what I think is a funny way. I sometimes describe it as Anthony Bourdain meets Spider Jerusalem (from Transmetropolitan). Starve comes out in June, and is co-owned by the whole team: Danijel Zezelj and Dave Stewart.
THE X-MEN IS THE ONE BOOK THAT I HAVE CONSISTENTLY READ SINCE I WAS A KID. HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF WORKING FOR MARVEL AND WRITING THE X-MEN AND WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE X-MEN CHARACTER?
Truthfully, that job was tough. I love the X-Men, and I’m honored to have been a part of it, but what I learned on that job is I am not the sort of writer that can thrive in the insane world of being a Marvel freelancer. I did, what, 17 issues of that book, and in that time I had 4-5 editors, at least 15 artists, and two events that interfered with my plans for the book. There are obviously lots of Marvel writers who can handle all of that, but I am not one of them. It was frustrating to constantly have the goalposts moved and the rug shifted beneath my feet.
All that said, I like Storm, I like Rogue, I enjoyed writing Hellion, if only briefly.
I’d love to do it again, in some capacity. Probably not on a big, high-profile title.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?
This is going to sound boring, but I read almost exclusively historical non-fiction and thrillers. I’m reading Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy at the moment.
ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?
I think the only one that’s a 100% lock is NYCC in the fall. I’m going to try to do a couple of store signings later this year in California, but its all still up in the air. I’m a stay at home dad with two kids, so it limits the amount of travel I get to do.
Look for REBELS, which came out APRIL 2015 and STARVE which is due to be released JUNE 2015