Getting Inside Kurgan's Head - Talking to Brandon Jerwa

Brandon Jerwa on The Kurgan

HO: The Kurgan #1, cover B by Carlos Rafael

On the landscape of genre entertainment, Highlander’s The Kurgan still looms large.

Brought to life by Clancy Brown in the classic 1986 film Highlander, The Kurgan was a force of nature – a primal, instinct-driven beheading machine. While his story may have ended at the end of Highlander’s final battle, The Kurgan has enjoyed a “life” after death since.

His presence has hung over Highlander: The Series, in novels, and more recently, his history has been fleshed out at Dynamite Comics’ which currently holds the license to produce comic books based on Highlander. The Kurgan’s history with Conner MacLeod was explored in Highlander: Way of the Sword, as well as in Highlander, the latter of which was written by Brandon Jerwa.

In January, Jerwa gets his chance to fully explore The Kurgan in Dynamite’s two-issue Highlander Origins: The Kurgan, a two issue miniseries which will explore the history of the character in depth.

We spoke with Jerwa for more about The Kurgan and his story.

Newsarama: Brandon - what brought you to this project, and what was the straw that broke the camel's back so to speak - the thing that made you say yes?

Brandon Jerwa: There was no back to break, actually. I came into Highlander with a little bit of a learning curve, so I was sort of unsure as to how my 12-issue run would be received at first. As it happens, I was invited to be a guest at the fabulous Highlander Worldwide convention being held in Vancouver, B.C. last October. I think my 9th issue was about to hit around this time, so we were well into the run.

Any fears I had about my place in the Highlander "family" were quickly put to rest after having a chance to interact with the fans, convention organizers and even some of the stars, producers and writers in the movie and TV franchise. I really felt like I had been accepted and warmly welcomed overall. I came home with stars in my eyes and told my editor, Joe Rybandt, that I was 100% dedicated to staying involved with the Highlander comic world if possible. A couple months later, he dropped the Kurgan book in my lap, and here we are.

NRAMA: Obviously, the title gives a good idea of the subject, but in your words, what does this two issue miniseries cover? How far back do you go, and how much do you tell?

HO: The Kurgan #1, cover by Stephen Segovia

BJ: The story starts at the beginning of the Kurgan’s journey and ends…well, at a certain point, and maybe not the one you’re expecting. This was really an attempt to tell the Kurgan’s story in a way that would appeal to long-time fans but be completely accessible to the casual reader as well. We see his childhood, his ascent into manhood and the events that conspire to set him on the conqueror’s path.

NRAMA: In terms of the field you're playing in, what kind of material exists about Kurgan's early life? The only "official" material seems to be in the novelization of first film... How much do you get to make up whole cloth?

BJ: I’ve become sort of a go-to guy for prequels, and I enjoy doing them. I really try to expand on the mythology by creating some fresh concepts overall, but adding a little perspective to future events in ways that don’t destroy what other people have built. I’d say this particular project is about 60-40 in favor of cutting whole cloth, but it was more like having a bunch of scraps and trying to weave them into something greater than the sum of the parts.

The world of active Highlander fandom isn’t a million-man party or anything, but the franchise has a loyal following, and I knew that a project like this would have to pass the litmus test of their scrutiny in addition to standing on its own merit. After observing the major players in the online fan community, and meeting various folks at conventions, I asked fellow Seattleite Andrew Modeen to sort of play devil’s advocate on this project. With so many varying opinions about what established canon is in the Highlander world, I wanted a fan who had a very logical point of view when it came to the lore, and he was the one who seemed to best fit that bill.

While this wasn’t a co-writing situation in the strictest sense, I was very lucky to have Andrew along for the ride. He immediately provided me with all the established information about the Kurgan (drawing heavily from the novelization, and considering things mentioned in the TV show and even in unused script drafts) and we devised a timeline. From there, I wrote the outlines for the two issues and we had a little more discussion, talking about places where Easter Eggs for the fans would work, which other immortals were active at certain times and places in history, and things of that nature. As a sounding board and continuity watchdog, Andrew was completely invaluable.

NRAMA: By putting him in the center of the story, even given who he is, is there a temptation to make him somewhat sympathetic, or is he just an unrepentant SOB from A to Z?

BJ: He’s not sympathetic to begin with? Whaaaat? I look at the Kurgan and think of puppies and rainbows, don’t you?

NRAMA: Only if the puppies heads are cut off…

BJ: Good point.

HO: The Kurgan #1, cover A by Carlos Rafael

When you’re dealing with a villain, I think it comes down to imparting some degree of understanding for why they do what they do. There’s a difference between illuminating and justifying, and with the Kurgan, I wanted to create the idea that he is focused first and foremost on surviving by any means necessary. That sort of instinct opens the door to a lust for power. And once you make enemies -- or, specifically, when one of them is specifically pointed out to you as a threat -- your quest to conquer is tempered with a healthy touch of paranoia.

NRAMA: Where does Kurgan fit into the larger landscape of Highlanders? Is he just "another" immortal, or rather the immortal boogeyman, that is, the one that stories are told about, and the one you never want to meet?

BJ: He’s a bit of both – a fearsome foe and a conqueror whose power is envied by those who would seek such a path for themselves. By their very nature, Immortals know that avoiding someone like the Kurgan is a relatively temporary stroke of luck at best, so I think they tend to keep their distance until he comes looking for them…because he will.

There is a particular band of Immortals, however, who definitely don’t fear the Kurgan. Heck, they may even view him as a potential ally. I’ll let that one hang in the air for now and give the well-versed fans something to chew on.

NRAMA: What are some of the high points that you're touching upon in the two issues?

BJ: You remember that one time the Kurgan did something truly awful? We’ll be touching on that one for sure!

In all seriousness, I think one high point in the story is the clarification of why he’s so interested in Connor MacLeod. Yes, he’s determined to win the Game and he has to take every other Immortal’s head to do it, but he’s particularly focused on lopping off Connor’s noggin, and there’s a reason for that.

NRAMA: That said, in telling his origin, you've spent time in Kurgan's head - why does he do the things he does? Is he solely after the power promised by The Gathering; is his hate for fellow immortals somehow misdirected anger at himself...put him on the couch for a moment...

BJ: As I mentioned earlier, the core of it is survival instinct. Basic impulses – he’s completely driven by Id. For all his bravado, the Kurgan has his own set of fears and desires, but they’re not developed like ours are; he tends to act based purely on instinct, like a child. If he wants something, he reaches out and grabs it. In this case, though, he has the power and strength to remove pretty much any obstacle that gets in his way.

NRAMA: And just to be sure, your mini will continue in the fine Highlander tradition of ignoring Highlander II, that is, it doesn't start with "Thousands of years ago on the planet Zeist..." ?

BJ: There’s a Highlander II? Really? Never heard of it. My DVD collection goes right from the first movie and then directly to the third. Very interesting…

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