It’s been a big 12 months for Brandon Easton – and he’s only getting started.
You’d be forgiven if you hadn’t heard of the writer, but over the course of the past year, Easton has been collecting some huge accolades, whether it’s scoring an Eisner nomination for his work on New Paradigm Studios’ Watson and Holmes, writing a comic book biography of legendary pro wrestler Andre the Giant for IDW Publishing and Lion Forge Comics, or winning a coveted television writing fellowship with Disney/ABC.
Newsarama caught up with Easton to talk about his upcoming comics work, how his background in the industry led him to this prestigious position with Disney/ABC, his thoughts on diversity in media, and the fundamental differences between writing for comics and television, and a preview of the comic series Armarauders.
Newsarama: Brandon, you've got a lot of stuff going on on your plate. The first one I want to talk with you about is IDW and Lion Forge Comics, which is your upcoming biography of Andre the Giant, which has been in the pipeline since at least 2013. How did this pitch come to be?
Brandon Easton:: The powers that be at Lion Forge Comics were looking for a wrestling-related project to develop as early as 2012. A few of the guys behind the scenes there are big-time pro-wrestling fans just like myself so while I wasn’t privy to the business side of securing the rights to various wrestler’s life stories, I know they were aggressively pursuing some major names.
Once they had dealt with Andre’s estate, they brought the project to me and I immediately jumped at it. There was no way on earth I would turn that one down.
Nrama: Andre's been getting a lot of love in the comics-sphere recently, with First Second's graphic novel coming out last year. What about Andre stands out to you, and makes him a character that you wanted to visit?
Easton: I’ve been a pro-wrestling fan all of my life. I was fortunate to grow up in Baltimore, where I got exposure to the 1980s WWF as well as the Southern-based Jim Crockett Promotions (aka NWA/Mid-Atlantic). I saw the best of both worlds of wrestling during its biggest boom period. A major part of that boom was Andre the Giant. Other than the obvious things that make him interesting (his size and voice), most people actually know little of Andre’s wrestling career before the big storyline leading to his famous match with Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III.
Most folks know Andre as “Fezzik” from The Princess Bride and for a few major matches, but what few understand about his wrestling career is that it goes way back to the late 1960s. He was a thinner, more athletic performer back then and his work on the international stage in the 1970s was instrumental in moving pro-wrestling from a sideshow attraction for the working class into a global entertainment machine.
Exploring that side of his career was amazing, but incredibly difficult to write.
Nrama: Can you talk a little bit about Dennis Medri's artwork on this graphic novel? What do you think his style brings to the table, bringing Andre's life, well, to life?
Easton: I have to say that Denis’ work is extraordinary on multiple levels. He has the ability to handle quiet, character-based moments as well as big action sequences. He can do a lot with a single expression and he brought my script to life in ways I couldn’t have envisioned. I believe working with a European creator – Denis is Italian – helps, because he brings a unique perspective to what is generally considered an “American” form of entertainment.
Since Andre was born in Europe, I believe Denis brings a visual aesthetic to the table that an American artist couldn’t – at least not without a considerable level of research. Visually, his panels flow like you’re watching a TV series or a feature-length film. He managed to create a documentary style on the page that also has the tinge of soft-hearted nostalgia. I truly believe readers are going to fall in love with the artwork. I know I did.
Nrama: You're also a recent Eisner nominee, with a nomination for Best Single Issue or One Shot with Watson and Holmes #6. Did you expect that kind of praise when you came on this book?
Easton: Absolutely not! [Laughs]
When Brandon Perlow of New Paradigm Studios approached me to do a one-shot in the Watson and Holmes universe, I was shocked and excited because it literally came out of nowhere. Apparently, Perlow had heard good things about me and decided to take a chance with offering me a story. I decided to do the one issue even though I’d never written a procedural mystery before in my life. I like challenging myself whenever possible so I gave it my best shot.
I had no idea that the title would garner an Eisner nomination. I’d never expected to be nominated for that prestigious award so it was an honor and a privilege to stand alongside my creative peers in the industry.
Nrama: You also wrote, produced, and directed a documentary last year, Brave New Souls: Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of the 21st Century. I know you used to teach history, and I'm sure that helped influence your work. Was there anything unexpected that you learned in the process of making this film?
Easton: I learned many unexpected things – mainly that you can’t trust people when they say they want to help you work on a project. It was a very difficult shoot because I ended up having to record sound, operate the camera, set up the lights and manage the talent completely alone. I felt that a lot of people didn’t take the project seriously and assumed I was just blowing hot air when I sent out notices asking for interviewees and a production staff.
On the positive side, I discovered how many incredibly talented African-American/Black writers are out there who don’t have the industry support they should with the high-quality level of work they’ve created over the years. Names like Geoffrey Thorne, N.K. Jemisin, Anthony Montgomery, Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander, Hannibal Tabu, Robert Roach, David Gorden, Joe Illidge and many others who deserve much more attention. It was an amazing experience to meet these folks and get to know them beyond their projects.
Nrama: Something else that a lot of people might not know is that you were just named a finalist for the Disney/ABC Studios Writing Program, which will give you a one-year position as a writer for their company. First off, can you tell us what the process was like, earning this achievement?
Easton: After I sent my script entries in last summer, I spent months living on pins and needles waiting to hear if I’d advanced to the semifinal round of judging. That alone is an accomplishment, but when I’d heard I’d made it to the last 26 finalists out of the original 1,500-plus entrants, I was blown away. I felt that if I’d made it to that point, I had to do everything I could to win one of the eight slots in the end.
Once they’ve narrowed you down to the last 26, you have to go through a set of incredibly tough interviews. Everything you do and say is graded and you need to be on top of your game on every conceivable level. After the interview process, you have to wait a week or so to hear whether you’ve been selected for the program. Needless to say, the competition is tremendously fierce. Then I got that phone call saying I’d been accepted into the 2015 program. I played it cool on the phone but when I hung up, I literally bounced off the walls of my apartment – I blew out my voice yelling and screaming about my status. It was a fantastic moment in my life.
Nrama: There's historically been a decent amount of cross-pollination between comics and television the past few years, with the Marvel and DC in particular snapping up television writers, not to mention names like Geoff Johns and Marc Guggenheim writing episodes of comic-related TV series. For you, how would you describe the difference in writing for these two mediums? What made you decide to jump from one medium to the other?
Easton: The difference between comic scripts and TV scripts is a matter of movement. For comics, you’re basically describing a series of still images in a narrative continuum. In TV and film, all the scenes are written in “real time” with forward movement and dialogue. Comics are static but still have to move forward, whereas TV requires an awareness of space and time for actors and directors. You can do just about anything on a comics page, but you need to be acutely aware of your budget for live-action productions.
I’ve always been interested in working in TV and film. I went to film school at Boston University, earning my MFA in Screenwriting back in 2001. I also have loved comic books and genre entertainment since first grade so there’s always been a natural connection between the two in my life. I decided to make a solid push for TV in 2008 when I moved to Los Angeles from the east coast. I never left comics behind, but there appears to be greater opportunity for new writers in television more so than comics – at least at the mainstream comic book companies.
Nrama: For this program, you typically have to write a "spec" script for a series already on the air. What series did you wind up picking, and why?
Easton: The Disney/ABC Writing Program now requires a spec script and an original TV pilot and I think that’s a great way to evaluate new talent. My spec submission was an Arrow episode. Arrow is my favorite show on TV right now without a shadow of a doubt. The manner in which the show was adapted for a non-comic-book reading audience was ingenious and everything about the show works from the very first episode. I often hear stupid complaints about the series, but this is a golden age of superhero drama in TV and film. Arrow is the finest example of that. Every week we get an episode that brings you strong writing, excellent dramatic and action scenes from the cast, a fully believable superhero universe and a reason to tune in next week.
I’ve watched a lot of genre television over the years, and Arrow just keeps topping itself season after season. Since I know the Arrow-verse from top to bottom, it was perfectly logical for me to use that as my spec entry.
Nrama: Diversity is a topic that's been discussed a lot in media today, whether it's about sexism or inclusiveness in comics, or about groundbreaking steps that ABC has taken, such as the casting of John Cho in Selfie, or their new series Fresh Off The Boat. As someone well-versed in so many mediums, where do you see diversity headed in comics and television?
Easton: It’s just good business. If you go to Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, Wizard Worlds, WonderCon, etc., you see an incredibly diverse group of attendees numbering into the tens of thousands. This doesn’t even represent the true population of diverse genre fans because a lot of people can’t afford to get to the bigger shows. There are millions of people of color, women and members of the LBTGQ community who love superhero comic books, science-fiction, fantasy and action-adventure materials.
Slowly, but surely, all kinds of people have been demanding some form of representation in entertainment. We’re hitting a wall now – no longer can we have all-white genre universes and expect that to be fully representative of our planet. Television is moving ahead at light-speed when it comes to diverse imagery as well as hiring-practices. While we do have a long way to go in Hollywood in the writer’s room and with directors and producers, there’s a lot of movement for inclusion right now in the entertainment industry. With shows like Jane the Virgin, How to Get Away With Murder, Empire, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat and a few others garnering critical acclaim and high ratings – it only makes sense to continue that trend.
Our society grows more diverse with each passing day and to ignore the shifting demographics of your audience is business-suicide. With that said, I am not as optimistic about the comic book industry as I am about television. There’s a lot of talk about diversity, but I’m not seeing a lot of action when it comes to hiring practices especially in regards to writers. I produced a documentary packed with black writers and yet we’re still told that Black writers in comics are “hard to find.” You can have all the black characters on the covers of superhero comics you want, but if there are no people of color writing the books or – specifically – no African-American writers in the pool of writing talent you get a disturbing uniformity of representation as well as a uniformity of intellectual capital. You get the same stories being told by the same people repeatedly which leads to a lack of interest from the audience. You need new blood and new perspectives and while that’s a standard way of thinking in most industries, the mainstream comic book industry is clearly comfortable with a narrow perspective of experiences and ideas.
Nrama: Finally, what else can we expect to see from you down the pike, either comics or television-wise? Anything coming up that you can tease?
Easton: I can’t speak on any television stuff yet, but I will be dropping teases on my Twitter and Instragram pages. In the short term, I’m still co-writing Armarauders: The Last Battalion and writing Armarauders: Shadow Front for a company called Mecha Workshop.
The Armarauders franchise was created by former Dreamwave and IDW Transformers artist Don Figueroa, and it’s a giant robot/mecha war story best described as a cross between Mobile Suit Gundam and James Cameron’s Avatar. The artwork and milieu are both astounding, and I’ve had a wonderful time working on that series. On Armarauders: Shadow Front, the artist is E.J. Su and his stuff on this title reminds me of Katsuhiro Otomo’s art from the Akira manga. I’m not kidding, it’s really that good.
Other than Armarauders, I have some more Watson and Holmes material on the horizon as well as some other big comic book work that I’m not allowed to discuss at this time. Again, I invite readers to add me on Twitter and Instragram for sneak peeks and updates!