BRIAN WOOD: Endings at Vertigo, Beginnings All Over

BRIAN WOOD: Endings and Beginnings

2011 has been a big year for writer Brian Wood, and it’s not even over yet. With the announcement earlier this year that both of Wood’s ongoing series DMZ and Northlanders were coming to an end at DC and that his exclusive with the publisher, he’s opened new doors with a creator-owned series at Dark Horse and some upcoming work at Marvel which was teased in Toronto. The writer was speculated to be one of the new players brought in for DC”s New 52, but a last-minute change took Wood off writing Supergirl and out in the cold when it came to DC’s new era. The NYC-based writer is working on two licensed projects for DC, a Supernatural series and a short based on Lord of the Rings, but after six years as an exclusive part of DC”s line-up that time is over.

Although neither Wood nor Marvel would provide comment on the image released at FanExpo, there’s a lot to talk about with Brian Wood and that’s just what Newsarama did.

 

Newsarama
: This summer seems like a very transitional point for you, Brian. The reality is sinking in that both DMZ and Northlanders are coming to an end, and you’re also back to being a freelancer after five years exclusive to DC. What’s it like for you, with all these shifts happening in 2011?

Brian Wood: If you’ve been paying attention to my twitter since the start of the year, you can see several times I’ve posted about feeling low, or having a shitty year, etc etc and it’s true I took several significant hits in the first half of 2011. A lot of it is stuff I can’t really get into, whether it be financial or about projects covered under a non-disclosure agreement, but there were a few times I doubted I would be able to have the career I wanted, or even a career in comics. The economy sucks, the comics market sucks, ALL publishers are feeling the heat, and there I was, the guy who writes hard-to-sell books sans superheroes. It was a little hard there for a bit. The end result of that is me making the decision to take on a bunch of work for hire jobs. Honestly, that’s cool, that’s great. I feel ready for it, it seems like not only the pragmatic choice, but one I was genuinely and creatively interested in.

Nrama: Newsarama has talked with you since day one about DMZ, so what’s it like now writing the final installments of this 72-issue series?

Wood: Pretty much mostly good. I’m pretty deep into new projects already so it’s a trick to stay motivated and “in the now” with DMZ since it feels like I’m already done. The pressure to deliver on an ending that’s six years in the making has a way of focusing your attention, though.

Nrama: Have you finished the final script yet? What’s it like working on that? 

 

Wood
: Nah, I got a couple left to go. The reality of working on a monthly book for any sizeable amount of time is eventually, no matter what or who you are, you eventually eat up your lead time. So this last year of DMZ we’ve been getting the issues in just under the wire.

But the whole thing’s pretty well outlined, so I know what to do and how to do it.

Nrama: And Northlanders is ending in a very different way than DMZ, not by your own choosing but by the number-crunchers at DC. 2011 was already going to be a transitional year for you, but how did Vertigo’s news that you needed to turn out the lights sooner than you thought play into that?

Wood: In the end the cancellation affected very little. I think the one change I ended up having to do was to shorten the story “The Hunt” (#40) down to a single issue when I had it in mind to do two issues... the second where the same story is told from the perspective of the deer, as insane as that sounds. Maybe its for the best I didn’t do that one! Aside from that, we’ll end the series with the end of the “Icelandic Trilogy” arc, and call it a day. I’m left with about two years of Viking story still untold, but I’ll hold on to those for some point in the future.

Nrama: What are these final issues going to be about?

Wood: It’s funny, for a book that was originally billed as a “Viking crime series”, I’ve not done a straight-up crime story until right now. The Trilogy is a generational organized crime drama set in the very early years of Iceland’s history, covering the original settlement, to the conversion to Christianity, and then to the civil war that put its independence at peril. We follow one bloodline through about 300 years of strife.

It’s rough stuff... I’m written comics more violent than this before, but this is violent in a way that tweaks your emotional gut, at least for me.  

 

Nrama
: The next big project coming from you in this post-Vertigo era is a series for Dark Horse called The Massive. It’s going to begin life in Dark Horse Presents but with plans for standalone books down the road. What can you tell us about this series?

Wood: The Massive is a post-disaster series, a combo of action, politics, mystery and a dash of sci-fi. It starts where most disaster movies end, at the point of cataclysm. It’s about how mankind rebuilds, and in this case, how they rebuild the entire world, such was the scope of the disaster.

Our main cast are environmentalists, having failed the world in their mission, and now must not only pick up the pieces, but figure out how to adapt their core beliefs... what does it mean to be an environmentalist after the world’s already ended?

It’s set largely on ships in the open ocean, and as a contrast to DMZ, nothing about it is American – the cast, the locations... it all happens elsewhere.

Nrama: On your website you called The Massive a “Global” DMZ. Can you elaborate on that?

Wood: That’s reducing it down a bit, but yeah, it’s “global” in the sense that it’s world-building on a global scale. DMZ was world-building but even though I referenced things happening elsewhere, all the reader actually saw was events in New York City. In The Massive, just looking at what I’ve written so far, it involves Sri Lanka, coastal Norway, and the Arctic Circle. It’ll be, literally, all-around-the-world, world-building.

And it’s also like DMZ in the sense that it deals with a societal breakdown, has a lot of political themes, and deals in conflict. But only in the general sense... I’m not looking to recreate DMZ, but find a way to create something new that existing readers of DMZ will feel very comfortable picking up. 

 

Nrama
: What exactly is left of the world from a social standpoint?

Wood: That’s giving away too much, since that’s a question the cast of the book have to find out for themselves.

Nrama: This sounds like some big concepts, but you’re known for being just as focused on personal dynamics as these big ideas. Who are the players in this?

Wood: The primary cast is limited to a handful of people on a ship. The titular Massive, along with its sister ship the Kapital, comprise this environmental group – think Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd. The Massive is lost at sea... not sunk, but missing in action. The crew on the Kapital is our cast. It’s a small group, but the cool thing about this set-up is within the larger crew there are plenty of characters to pull out and use, as the story requires.

And you got it right – this is a story with some huge ideas but if there is any one thing that gets me excited these days, in terms of my own writing, it’s the humanist stuff in Northlanders. I may have said this already, but we have the world-building of DMZ and the human drama as seen in Northlanders.

Nrama: Another creator-owned book you’re working on is something called Anthem. Is this the musician comic you’ve spoken about in the past?

Wood: Anthem is rapidly threatening to become my white whale. I don’t want to leak too much about it, but it’s my music comic, structured in much the same way as Northlanders, and deals with several decades of guitar-based music and the eras in which they existed. Now, I will agree that’s a tough sell for anyone but one of the things that keeps me driving forward with this is how many times I’ve been told, by editors, that “music doesn’t work in comics.” Period. From editors who should know better and should be ashamed of themselves for saying otherwise. At the risk of sounding dramatic, can we all agree that comics can do ANYTHING? Isn’t that one of the great things about comics? I want to go to their office and slam a copy of Love And Rockets down on their desk.

Anyway, I am not Los Bros Hernandez so it has been a tough book to place at publisher. But I’m determined, and when I do you will know this is a publisher who agrees that the medium of comics can handle anything.

Nrama: You’ve also got a story coming up in Vertigo’s next anthology, Tales of the Unexpected, called “Americana.” Sounds like something out of DMZ – but what is it?

Wood: It is a hundred years of post-apocalypse told in 8 pages, but not at all in the way you might guess. I wrote it for Emily Carroll, whose work I really, really love.  

 

Nrama
: In addition to all of this, you’ve got two licensed comics in your future --- a miniseries based on the TV show Supernatural as well as a Lord of the Rings one-shot. I have to ask – how did these come about?

Wood: Those are more in my past than my future. I cranked out the Lord of the Rings job over a weekend a few months ago, and I’m past the halfway point on Supernatural. Both of those came from ex-WildStorm editor and beer guru Ben Abernathy, who is an unbelievably solid guy who is always offering me work, and I love him for it. And that’s pretty much all it took... I mean, anyone would jump at the chance to write a Lord of the Rings story, and Supernatural is a great show and the comic allows a great deal of freedom.

Nrama: This variety of work comes about just as your exclusivity period with DC ends after five years. With that behind you, a lot of people have been speculating that you might find work at Marvel – and Marvel egged that on with a teaser image released last weekend. Can you say anything about what you’re working on for the House of Ideas?

Wood: I think something might be announced in a couple days. Believe me, I have plenty I want to say about it!

Nrama: You’ve built up a healthy career of creator-owned work, so I presume you don’t need Marvel to pay your bills. So what’s the allure for you there?

Wood: Well.... that’s not 100% true, Chris. I think I do need work for hire to pay my bills. The comics market is down overall, and that not only affects the size of my royalty checks, Northlanders was cancelled because of it. Vertigo’s been scaled back, WildStorm is gone... the places where a writer like me can do creator-owned material for a page rate are virtually extinct. In a best-case scenario, I could do one series at Vertigo, now, I’m told. It’s true I was making a good living, but that was two monthly books that sold better than they do now, and a miniseries going on the side.

So doing some work for hire had to happen, and honestly, it’s cool. I felt ready for it, for creative reasons as well. I felt ready to jump in with two feet into a superhero universe, if one would have me. 

 

Nrama
: For most of your career you’ve avoided super-heroes with a few exceptions, and even then tended to recontextualize them like in DV8: Gods & Monsters and Demo. But after the word that you were almost in place to write Supergirl for DC’s “The New 52” and now some Marvel work in the future got me thinking. I pulled up an old interview where you called yourself “superhero illiterate,” but you’re not the Brian Wood of the early 2000s. What are your thoughts on superheroes, as a reader and as someone who could possibly write them in comics?

Wood: Being “superhero illiterate” just means it’s that much harder for me to land these books. I need a willing editor who can be patient and answer a lot of stupid questions while I get up to speed. But even with that, I’ll never be one of these top-tier superhero writers because my brain doesn’t work the same way as theirs. I don’t have a childhood emotional attachment to them. I come in as a 30-40 year old adult with a skeptical and, at times, cynical eye. So that’s why you get books like Demo and DV8.

More than a couple editors have dismissed my superhero writing as “too weird”. And our industry is such that you have to be as normal as possible; they won’t take a risk on “weird”.

Nrama: This Supergirl project was one of a number you had worked on at DC in pitches, proposals and whatnot. Getting rejections is part of a writer’s job, but I know in the past some of the unused story ideas from Generation X and NYX ended up fueling DEMO in a round-about way. Could you see some of those stories making their way into creator-owned projects down the road?

Wood: Maybe. I can’t imagine how, but never say never, I guess. What I pitched was so deep in continuity and involved very specific characters that I wouldn’t know how to break them out without it just seeming like some obvious analogue.

Nrama: Unlike some creators, you’re comfortable keeping your older work in focus and even returning to it from time to time. In your time before Vertigo, you did a number of series such as Channel Zero and The Couriers books, both of which is long out of print. Do you have any plans to revisit those, or reprint those, in the near future?

Wood: You might not know it, but The Couriers is in print, but AIT-PlanetLar is functionally out of business and rarely supplies Diamond with stock. Channel Zero has been out-of-print for a few years and that’s a deliberate move. I’ll reprint it early next year to some, hopefully, built-up demand. The only other book that’s out of print is Couscous Express... I don’t see a demand for that as a standalone book, so when I get the rights back to The Couriers I’ll include it in an omnibus.

And yeah, I like to say that there is nothing as useless as an out of print book, so warts and all, I’ll always strive to keep them available.

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