Return of the King (City): Talking with Brandon Graham

It’s rough being king. If you’re Brandon Graham’s King City, that comes as no surprise. But a King doesn’t take it lying down.

Originally published in 2007 by TOKYOPOP, its sequel and subsequent volumes was tied up in the publisher’s troubles and subsequent discontinuation of English-language manga. Despite an Eisner nomination for the book, the status of King City was up in the air so Graham went on, starting a new series at Oni called Multiple Warheads, while still putting in time on King City Vol. 2 with no publisher in sight.

But now with the kinks worked out, King City is now back on track with a reprinting of the out-of-print first volume as well as plans for more.  It is done in a unique partnership between TOKYOPOP and Image Comics, with the companies co-publishing the titles. It was recently announced that King City would return as a single-issue series of large-format comic books; first reprinting the original story from King City Vol. 1, then continuing with new never-before-seen pages as the series gets back on track.

Now with the series back on track, let’s get down to it. For those that haven’t read the sold-out first volume of King City, it follows a international spy with a partner who is part-cat, part-tool and all-cool. Joe is a “Catmaster”, and is joined by a cat named Earthing J. Catingsworth III. The cat has special abilities, one set off by injections of “Cat-Juice” – that can turn the cat into virtually any device – from a jetpack to periscope to science lab; think Doctor Gadget meets Garfield. The series focuses on the duo as they return to King City after a long absence – one they were hoping at being permanent. It’s mostly because of an ex-girlfriend who he still has a soft spot for, but he’s also left a bad memory with some of the underworld of King City. Nevertheless, he returns.

The style, both in art and story, is an eclectic mix of Moebius meets Big Trouble In Little China, and Brandon Graham has become one of the shining stars of independent comics. For more we talked to Graham by email.

Newsarama: After much ado, your series King City is returning via a unique joint effort by Tokyopop and Image. How’d this come about?

Brandon Graham: I think it was a lot of stubbornness and blind faith.

When Tokyopop was deciding to stop publishing their books by american creators I went on a mad dash to find what could be done to get it back on paper. My friend Joe Keatinge at Image gave me some great advice and put me in contact with Eric Stephenson, the top man at Image.

Image have always published books with the copyrights in the hands of the creators so that allowed King City to pass through their delicate hands with Tokyopop's interest in the book unmolested.

Joe and Eric were amazing in working out the deal with Tokyopop along with Troy Lewter and Mike Kiley at Tokyopop. Even though it was like nine months of nail biting, I felt like everyone had faith in the book and wanted it to come out.

NRAMA: The format is switched up – gone is the manga-size book, and in is a single-issue format. Can you tell us how this works?

BG: So much of what I'd originally wanted for King City, when I was young and naive to the hash realities of this comic book life, is happening with the Image issues. Years ago, before I'd ever talked to Tokyopop and was just drawing King City on my lunch breaks, I'd hoped to do it as issues. Luckily I kept drawing it 11 by 17 so it reduces good for the size we're doing it in.

NRAMA: Why do you prefer single issues over collections?

BG: I'm a big fan of issues, I find it a little frustrating how everything is geared towards collections. And so many of my favorite artists only put out one big book a year. When you hit the comic store every week, that can be frustrating. The reader doesn't get too much out of most single issues. Cerebus was great with Sim's great letter column and previews of books he liked. Something that you couldn't get just waiting for the collection. There are some plans to print King city in a French box set. Si vous plaits.

NRAMA: Why’d you decide to do this book in the larger “golden age” size similar to Ivan Brandon’s Viking?

BG: It's a great accident, because of the slightly shorter than standard comics size that King City had to be when it was manga size. And because of how well received Ivan's book has been. It works out well, since I try to throw a lot of hidden stuff in my back grounds, and now no one has to read it with a magnifying glass.

NRAMA: Will you have any extra features in the re-release of King City?

BG: Yeah, I'm trying to cram as much as I can into the issues. My lady, Marian Churchland (whose issues of Elephantmen are coming out now from Image) and one of my best pals David Linder (a Tokyo based graffitti artist) each designed new catmaster characters that appear in the main story. Also, they're each doing short stories to run as back ups, to show how there's all kinds of cat masters all over the world defending their own cities like Green Lanterns.

Plus I want to have a letters column (if anyone is interested it's and as many games, puzzles and new short comics as I can fit.

NRAMA: After the first King City book is reprinted as the first six issues, how much do you have already done for the new material?

BG: King City one is only about half of what I've got. So 6 issues of the first book and 6 of the new stuff.

NRAMA: I remember reading somewhere about you writing comics for other artists to draw. Will any of that be seeing the light of day?

BG: I did some short stuff with my friend James Stokoe, whose Wonton Soup 2 is about to come out. We did something awhile back in Ivan Brandon's 24Seven anthology. I'm so used to working alone. The only way I can see it working is in some crazy Eastman and Laird way of collaborating on both drawing and writing.

Honestly I always kind of fear becoming a writer/artist who just writes. Not that it hasn't been done well with other creators in the past but for me it would just take out so much of the struggle. I need to feel like I'm putting my all into comics. It's one thing for me to type something like "an air balloon full of crazed cyber whales crashes into the moon" but when you have to draw it too it kind of ups the ante. And I have a huge amount of respect for an artist like Frank Quitely who can take a script and convey as much emotion as if he'd written it. Maybe I'm just an 11 by 17 control freak.

NRAMA: Another series you have is Multiple Warheads over at Oni. The first issue is now out of print – do you plan to do more?

BG: I've already got 2 full color issues of the new Multiple Warheads series done. It should start coming out about half way through next year. At about the same time as the King City issues no one's seen before are being released. If it sells ok, and Oni is happy with it, I'll try to keep Multiple Warheads coming for the next year or 2.

Right now King City is two times as long as anything I've done previously. I'd really like to make Multiple Warheads twice as long as King City.

NRAMA: Is there anything else you’re working on now?

BG: I've got a lot of cool stuff on the way. This week I'm doing something for Kanye West and Malik Yusef's G.o.o.d project. It's something where they've got a bunch of visual artists drawing images for the songs on an album. Kevin Hanna (Clockwork Girl), Barnaby Ward (16 Miles To Merricks) are doing art direction. They've got Corey Lewis (Sharknife), D-pi (Sentences), Becky Cloonan (East Coast Rising), Vasilis Lolos (Last Call) and a bunch of other interesting artists on it.

I've also got a noir style comic called Rain Like Hammers I've been kicking around for the future. I wanted to force myself into something different, so it's got a much older guy as the main character and I'm not drawing any white people in it. It should be fun.

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