Sometimes it’s not about the destination but the journey that most informs your life. For cartoonist Brandon Graham, when life got in the way he had to postpone a series of comic projects he had planned. But in that time off Graham he got a shot at doing something different in reinventing Rob Liefeld’s Prophet, and in a way, reinventing the way he does comics. And now with that series going well, Graham is returning to unfinished business and relaunching his sci-fi road trip story Multiple Warheads: Alphabet To Infinity.
Scheduled to debut on October 24th, this four-issue series follows two lovers – Sexica and her werewolf boyfriend Nikoli – as they traverse a fantasy version of Russia replete with organ smugglers, singing cigarettes and people out to get them. Graham, who broke into comics for writing and drawing his own material such as in King City, returns to that pursuit and brings his innovative layered storytelling in both words and pictures, with in-jokes around every corner and sight gags Mad would be jealous of.
Newsarama: Brandon, your work on Prophet has seemed to introduce you to a whole new audience, and it has changed the way some of your older fans see your work as a whole. Multiple Warheads has been on hiatus for five years now – what brought it back now?
Brandon Graham: Yeah, Prophet has changed how I see my own work too. It's not my usual thing.
Multiple Warheads was always my plan after King City, Prophet just kind of jumped in front of it.I think monthly comics has got people maybe too used to the idea that comics don't take a lot of time. I can bang them out on a monthly schedule too, but when I'm trying to do my best work it can take some time.
I think the main trick with comics is just to never promise something you aren't ready to deliver. That's why I'm doing Multiple Warheads as a series of mini series so each year I can see how much I've got done when numbering what'll come out.
Nrama: Organ smugglers, werewolf mechanics and a future where Russia is king. How do you describe Multiple Warheads to someone at a convention that perhaps only knows you from Prophet or King City?
Graham: I usually tell people it's a fantasy werewolf comic about a woman who smuggles magic organs. And that's kind of what it is; sure, why not.If someone knows King City and liked it than I can tell them that Multiple Warheads is along a lot of the same lines. I usually warn people who only know my stuff from Prophet that my own books are much more ridiculous.
Nrama: These are characters you’ve been carrying around for awhile, even before the 2007 book at Oni. Why do you think those stuck with you so much, and how do you think they’ve changed since you first came up with them?
Graham: I kind of went about these characters backwards. The first thing I did with them was a porn comic short for NBM and there wasn't a ton of character development in that one so I had to build on them a lot.
A lot of times I feel like characters are at their most solid when i first introduce them and then it can be a fight to maintain their voice and even keep them looking how I'd planned but the Multiple Warheads characters I'm trying to let them evolve as I go. When I was first drawing them I was trying to make them look really graphic --they both have black hair and were all dressed in black at first-- One of my favorite things to draw is when something is solid black and it bleeds into another black shape but when it's drawn in such a way so that you know they are still separate things. When that works it feels like magic.
Nrama: I’ve read that Sexica is based somewhat on your wife, Marian Churchland. Who would you say is the closest to an approximation of you in the book – or is there one?
Graham: Yeah, Sexica has started to take on a lot of Marian in these Image issues, I think it's that I'm talking about a relationship in it and the one I'm in is the one I have the most to write from. Poor Marian.I always sound like a crazy person when I try to explain this stuff, but recently I've been thinking that I write Sexica almost from the point of view of how I think Marian thinks of me.
Nikoli is much more of an indoor kid -- in that way he's more like my misses.
But there'e not really any character like Joe was in King City that's a thinly masked version of myself.
Nrama: The other main lead in this, Blue Nura, is a very different kind of female character for you. Blame it perhaps on your background in porn comics, but Blue Nura seems like a reaction to that – with someone who acts and is drawn less seductively. Can you talk about Blue Nura and how she sits in your growth as a author?
Graham: I think my female characters have been kind of limited in the past, so this is a baby step out of that. I'm always trying to have my work relate to my life more and it's not like every woman I hang out with is some seductress I'm lusting after most are just cool dudes.I think Nura’s not only kind of reaction to wanting to show different types of female characters but also a reaction to the rest of the Multiple Warheads book. The main storyline starts pretty mellow with Sexica and Nikoli driving and talking and then when I draw Nura it's her tearing through things on her motorcycle cutting peoples heads off.
And I'm really into the idea of her and the main character, Sexica not liking each other but both still being likable to the reader.
Nrama: I’ve read the first issue weighs in at 48 pages. Will that be true of all the issues?
Graham: The 2nd and 3rd issues are each 30 pages. I've got the 4th one mostly done but I'm thinking of adding some more pages onto the end of it. I'm aiming to make them really dense and re-readable. Comics get fucking expensive these days. I want to make work that's hopefully worth the cover price.
Nrama: In your interview over at Comics Alliance with David Brothers, you mentioned briefly that while you write Prophet on the computer, your work on Multiple Warheads is done entirely by hand – not just the drawing, but the writing as well. Is that intentional?
Graham: That was how I was working then, I have to switch how I work up a fair amount. This week I've been trying to try out a different way of working where I take the notes I've written by hand and type them all out for both Prophet and Multiple Warheads.Usually it's easier for me to come up with stuff on paper. I draw a lot when I write.
Nrama: Like we mentioned earlier, you originally planned to do Multiple Warheads at Oni back in 2007 but had to stop due to issues with King City and some health issues. Now in 2012 you seem in a very different place – how do you think your life in the intervening 5 years, from marriage to King City to Prophet and your battle with cancer, has changed the story of Multiple Warheads?
Graham: Sure, sure. It's all grist for the mill. It's good, it helps to have unexpected things going on in my life in order to have new things to write about, thoughts and feelings to power my Genesis device.I'm trying to think about making comics differently these days.
In the past I was more like "f*** you, I'll do what I want regardless" and I was kind of powered off of that.
These days things feel amazingly more positive, I'm in a really nice place where I can do anything I can come up with and have it published in a community and audience that'll support it and pay my rent doing it – and that's crazy.
But what scares me is living up to the potential in front of me. And obviously that can be a bad narcissistic way of thinking about making art. I want to make sure I have as much fun with it as I can. I feel really mortal these days and need to enjoy this comic book life as much as possible.