After almost two decades, Brandon Graham's Multiple Warheads is coming to an end with the Ghost Throne OGN. Taking place in the far future of an irradiated Russia, the serial tells the story of misfits assassin Nura, organ smuggler Sexica, and her werewolf lover, Nikoli.
Originally launched at Oni Press in 2017, Multiple Warheads flew to Image Comics in 2012 as the writer/artist began working on Prophet.
With Multiple Warheads: Ghost Throne due out February 21, Graham spoke with Newsarama about the finale, his inspirations along the way, and what lies ahead for his career.
Newsarama: So Brandon, let's start with the fact that you began the Multiple Warheads world almost 20 years ago, did you think when you started out that the journey would be this in depth?
Brandon Graham: Initially, my only plan was for it to be a short story in a porn anthology. I remember being really excited at the time with coming up with characters with solid blacks and whites in their designs. I remember a graffiti writer I knew telling me that if the design he started from was solid, then he could take more risks in how he executed the lines. That's what I was going for with stuff like Sexica's two-tone hair.
I ended up doing a follow-up story with the characters where I started playing around with the idea that when Nikoli became a werewolf he inherited the memories and baggage of the wolf whose organ he'd been given and that opened up a lot of the later alligator-wizard heist story in the final chapter.
Nrama: How do you think you yourself changed as a creator since starting this series?
Graham: I feel like I'm getting to a new place in my work, which was part of why I wanted to put Warheads in a good place to leave it. So much of King City and Warheads I think was based on my worldview in my 20's, the endless excitement of what might be just beyond the horizon. I've had a rough past couple of years dealing with a lot of personal stuff that I feel really urgent about wanting to process through the thing that I do.
The good news is that one thing about making comics that never seems to change is how much can be done with storytelling that combines words and pictures. I got to play around with some fun stuff in this last Warheads chapter - like how to show word balloons are magic and even a page that is meant to be read by holding it up to the light - (which only gives the full effect with the print version.)
Nrama: Can you talk about how Multiple Warheads sort of relaunched in Island?
Graham: I'm really proud of the amazing creators and the collections that came out (and a few more that will still come out) of me and Emma editing Island. But in retrospect, I wish we'd started with more planning. I guess the best you can hope to do is learn from things and move on.
But as far as Warheads in it, yeah, what will be the second collection of the series started in Island. Which might've been a weird decision to put a part two to a series as the opening to a new thing. It's really important to me to complete the things I start and I might be too tied to how I grew up reading comics --where I would find an issue of a series and if it was far into a storyline I wouldn't wait to read it, it would just give me even more possibilities to think about as I read it.
Nrama: How do you feel like that Sex and Nik have grown since the beginning to where they are now?
Graham: As many years as I've had Warheads around it's still only going to be two collected books in the end so keeping the characters acting like themselves was always a big goal for me.
My life changed around them much more I think than they did. If anything characters that I introduced later, like the delivery mole Moontoone and his dancer boyfriend Sunshine, I think represented much more where I was at.
Nrama: What's your process like for something like this? Did you sit down, make a bible and then construct from there or was it something more freeforming?
Graham: It's often very freeform with pauses for research. The Krab, who is the supreme leader whose face is printed all over everything and the history in Warheads got mostly based on my limited understanding of Mao Zedong's rise to power and the history of the Communist Party in China.
And as it is with comics you spend so much time on a page that it's easy to come up with more ideas than you are able to show, I like to keep myself busy thinking about what's going on behind every window I draw. I feel like it's the stories that make the drawing worth doing.
Nrama: Image put the complete Warheads story back in print a couple of years ago, did you feel like you grew a new audience from that?
Graham: I think some people found it yeah. The nice lady I live with these found it and got a tattoo on her wrist from it. Warheads is a weird one. I feel like King City or Prophet are much more entry books into the kind of things that I do. Where Warheads is something that for good or ill has been kind of an experiment that I've tried to push into holding together as a whole. I only hope it's a fun journey.
Nrama: You've said in the past that Moebius and Akira Toriyama were influenced when starting this, who else did you draw from later on as the story progressed?
Graham: I spent a lot of Warheads thinking about the never-released Rafael Grampa book Furry Water, there's something fun about thinking about what I'd be excited to read in other work and then trying to aim for that in my own stuff.
I spent a lot of time rewatching Marx Brothers movies, I like the rhythm of the jokes that they pull off. Paul Pope, Milo Manara, and Marian Churchland are big influences and I learned tons from knowing guys like [James] Stokoe or Simon Roy. I think the later stuff I got a lot from looking at how Rumiko Takahashi does comedy, sometimes I need to move away from just puns-- and how well my old pal Farel Dalrymple shows real emotion in his work.
Farel did this series called It Will All Hurt, that he just did almost like a sketchbook comic and it's so fun and open. It's really inspiring work. Oh, and Grim Wilkins who worked with me on Prophet, his recent color work he's doing has been really getting me thinking.
Then there are creators like Emma Rios or Jose Munoz who, I feel like, I'm still unpacking how to take what I get from their work into my own.
Nrama: What made you want to take that initial jump from Oni to Image back in the day?
Graham: It was mostly how much time and effort I saw Image's publisher Eric Stephenson put into helping me get my King City book over to Image. That coupled with Eric and Rob Liefeld giving me nothing but freedom on taking over Rob's Prophet series really made me feel like I wanted to throw in with them.
Nrama: So what's next for Brandon Graham? You seem to be a creator always on the go with something to be announced.
Graham: I feel like I'm staging a comeback as a writer/artist - after the last few years of editing or writing for other people, I've got an oversized hardcover artbook on the way and I'm just a few pages into drawing the new new series that I'll be announcing next.
I've been trying to draw a lot more diary comics since the new year - kind of as a way of both spending less time on the internet and getting back to the old idea that the more I draw, the more I draw. Which seems to only improve my days.