Newsarama Alum Matt Brady Returns to Comics with BUCK ROGERS

Matt Brady Returns with BUCK ROGERS

For 15 years — 10 at this very site — Matt Brady covered the comic book industry as a reporter/interviewer/writer/editor/convention coverage wrangler/so on. In 2009, he stepped down as editor of Newsarama to "move on to other arenas and challenges," and now at least one of those challenges is clear: he’s co-writing Dynamite’s Buck Rogers Annual #1, out in February. Keeping things in the family, his partner on that endeavor is Newsarama columnist Troy Brownfield.

It’s Brady’s debut on that side of the comic book industry, though Brownfield has credits including Tales from Wonderland: The White Knight from Zenescope under his belt. Carlos Rafael, who Brady interviewed back in March 2009 about Buck Rogers, illustrates the comic.

We interviewed both Brady and Brownfield over e-mail to discuss the issue, their future plans, anticipating reaction from Newsarama commenters and what Brady’s been up to since moving on from the site.

Newsarama: Matt, let's start with you (Troy, we'll get to you soon, don't worry). You stepped away from Newsarama — and essentially, the comic book industry — about a year and a half ago. To whatever extent you feel comfortable sharing, how have you been filling your days since giving up the considerable hustle and bustle of online comic book news?

Matt Brady: Let’s see — I left Newsarama right before SDCC ’09, and dodged that bullet of madness, and shortly thereafter, I joined the ranks of teachers. High school teachers, to be more precise. I came from a heavy science background, and had always — until Newsarama — planned to be a teacher, either college or high school. I had actually left a PhD program to go with Newsarama full-time, so college instruction wasn’t an option, but high school was. Since then, I’ve been teaching Physical Science — and getting the reputation of the teacher that will blow up stuff to make a point. I’m also the guy that starts the year with a Flash worksheet that’s all about figuring out velocities and accelerations in a battle between Flash and Professor Zoom.

I can still catch my students by surprise when they find out that I know just about as much as comics, animation and video games as they do. Oh yeah — I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Newsarama prepared me in so, so many ways for teaching. Some days, school can be just like moderating a message board — with detention.

I still want to find a plastic hammer of Thor and put it up in my room, though — which is a joke that only the long-time Newsarama readers will get…

Nrama: Was getting into writing comic books always part of the plan after your departure, or did this kind of develop along the way?

Brady: It was pretty much something I’d always wanted to do. I mean, doesn’t everyone have those scrawled out ideas and outlines from elementary school? I talked to a friend once, and between us, we figured that virtually everyone — including Bendis — has probably come up with the hero/villain called “Hypno.” And if Bendis hasn’t until this point, he’s going to be showing up soon… and most likely killed. Twice. 

Nrama: To be a little more specific: it's no secret that a lot of people out there who write about comics also have aspirations to write comic books themselves. But given how dedicated you were to covering the industry from a journalistic standpoint, you probably didn't have much time to think about pitches and all that (not to mention any possible conflicts of interest pursuing a writing career might present). How far back do your comic book writing aspirations run?

Brady: Aside from the aforementioned “Hypno”… and a little more seriously, I think I was getting into it heavy duty while I was in graduate school for my Master’s in the early ‘90s — back when things were exploding, and it seemed like every idea was being thrown against the wall. Including Thrown Against the Wall and See if He Sticks Man — little known Marvel hero from 1992. 

Anyway - early on, when I was just doing the article here and there, I was a lot more actively engaged in it - as Karl Kesel can attest – we had a terrific plan for moving Superboy into something pretty cool, as well as grabbing up as many of the “upper teen” DC heroes as we could find, and sending them to Ivy University where Ray Palmer would teach them…{sigh} “Ivy League”…you were a concept ahead of your time.

There were ideas with the Ray at DC and the Flash that almost saw the light of day. Had this great idea for Bishop at Marvel back in ’95 — he was a soldier. No one said he was a hero. I’ve got notebooks and notebooks of ideas, but you nailed it — as Newsarama got bigger and bigger, and especially for that period when I was running the whole works, there was no time, not to mention it would’ve been a huge conflict of interests to be trying to get into comics when I had, in some respects, control of any given writer, artist or editor’s visibility. 

That’s not to say the ideas stopped — they all just went into notebooks, with the idea that someday, I might have a chance to act on them. Shout out to Tho’, though. He was a collaborative effort that would be — will still be genius. Or slammed for being perhaps the most racist comic book since Luke Cage and Doctor Doom fought – one or the other.

Nrama: For both/either of you: how did the partnership on this project come about? Troy, you've been published before, were you on the assignment first, and then maybe Matt came along later? Or was this project always a package deal?

Troy Brownfield: As you know, contracts with Newsarama are signed with blood. Matt discovered a copy of mine in his box of office supplies after he left, and invoked the Eternal Service clause. I’m just kidding; Mike Doran still has the blood contract. Actually, after Matt left, he talked to me about working on a completely different project with him. We’ve done some development on that over time and that may yet be rolling. The main person that we talked to about that particular thing was Nick Barrucci at Dynamite, whom both Matt and I have known for quite a while. Buck Rogers turned out to be something that happened in the interim based on remarks made in April. I see that’s the next question; so I’ll save that for a few lines.

Brady: Yeah — that’s pretty much it. When I left, I transferred all the blood oaths, but about six months before I left, I had started mentioning this one project to Troy, and finally asked him if he wanted to work on it. Nick’s still mulling it over, and hopefully, it will get rolling there, but in the meantime… well… let’s talk about…

Nrama: Buck Rogers. It's a character that's been around forever, and the subject of a fair amount of recent comics from Dynamite. How big of fans are you both of the property — guessing maybe you were both originally introduced to it by the late '70s TV show? — and what led you to working on the character?

Brownfield: My dad is a big science-fiction fan. He introduced me to original Trek on TV in the ‘70s and likewise took me to see Star Wars, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Buck Rogers film that launched the series. Dad explained to me at the time that Buck Rogers had been a comic strip and serial character; I later caught some of the serial episodes on PBS when I was still young. So, there was that early awareness and a general fascination with science fiction on my part, but my real young fandom was rooted mainly in Star Wars and novels (H.G. Wells, etc.).

Brady: I was introduced to him by the ‘70s show, which did that weird thing, and debuted as a theatrical release before starting off as a television series. If you kinda remember it as a movie, do yourself a favor and go You Tube the film’s opening credits. Yeah, the one with Erin Gray and Pamela Hensley and other women rolling around on Buck’s name, while Gil Gerard…slept. What the hell? 

Cocaine was apparently a hell of a drug for title designers. I mean…can you imagine that discussion with Glen A. Larson? “Mr. Larson, we think the best way to convey the idea of the film in the title is to show barely dressed chicks humping Buck Rogers’ name.” 

And how out of character was it for Erin Gray? Wilma’s character in the movie was basically a dude! But Pamela Hensley…yowza. Er…anyway – back to Troy. 

Brownfield: Back in April at C2E2, Nick and I were sitting around, talking about what he and Dynamite were working on, and I commented that I had liked how Buck Rogers had launched with the company and that I was curious what they were doing since they’d already announced a cessation after issue 12. Nick noted that he’d like to do an annual, then followed it up with a suggestion that Matt and I (remember, we had already talked about something else by then) pitch him an idea. I was kind of thrown by it; I didn’t immediately have a Buck Rogers story on hand, y’know? But on the way to covering a panel, I had an idea and called Matt to fill him in.

Brady: And just like our Newsarama days, I threw Troy’s idea out and started on one of my own. Seriously though, Troy told me that we were being asked to pitch Buck, and I asked him how he ended up doing that when we were originally pitching something else. 

But, we ran with it, and came up with something. In a way, what we’ve got actually references the lyrics of the ’79 movie, and Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart.”

The ’79 lyric mention probably just cost us as many sales as the Zevon mention earned, didn’t it?

Nrama: As far as the actual plot goes — from the solicitation info, we know it's about an adventure that unfolds on Buck's birthday. How did you come about developing that idea, and what can you tell us about things like setting or tone?

Brownfield: The birthday angle entered the process fairly early on. It wasn’t part of the original idea, but it became a perfect answer to the question of “why this event in Buck’s life right now?” Remember, Buck is stranded five centuries in the future with almost no connection to the Earth he knows. Having something occur on that date activates Buck in a particular way. It’s also a story that we believed should be told. It’s hard to find those moments for established characters, but we honestly feel that this is an important step in the evolution of Buck Rogers.

Brady: Exactly. And honestly, we came up with it by the tried and true method of saying, “What would I be doing/feeling if this had happened or was happening to me?” After asking that, the story just fell into place. Scott Beatty had put Buck into a literal non-stop ride since issue #1, and we wanted to give him just a moment to catch his breath. 

Nrama: For the comic, what was the actual division of labor between the two of you?

Brownfield: It’s just like Newsarama was with him; I do everything and he gets handed Eisners by members of the Go-Gos. Seriously, Matt and I have a great process that goes back to Newsarama: We understand each other very well, I think, in terms of how the other will approach something. For this one, we plotted most of it over the phone, then broke it down to pages back-and-forth. I wrote the first draft of dialogue, and Matt did the next pass, etc. But that was all particular to this thing; the other things we’ve been working on all come out a little different. Except for my carrying his lame ass; that’s constant.

Brady: I have no dispute with what Troy said. Except for the ass-carrying. And that when Jane Wiedlin handed me the Eisner, she gave me a kiss and Troy has been jealous of me since then, which fuels his hate. It’s a strange, strange working relationship.

Nrama: What can you tell us about working with artist Carlos Rafael, and what's he's bringing to the issue?

Brownfield: Carlos established the current look of Buck’s world in the Dynamite continuity, so he’s enormously important. It’s a validation of our work that the “regular guy” is drawing it. Of course, it also helps that he’s just a rock-solid artist. 

Brady: A month or so back, Nick sent us a first look at the cover and some of the interior pages, and to see it through Carlos’ pencils was amazing. Jeez – even reading over those words, it just doesn’t convey it, and I know, because I used to edit words like this, and now I’m on the other side. I mean — our description of the bad guys in the issue was fairly off the wall, and Carlos nailed it. Just perfectly.

Nrama: Troy — what's it like co-writing with your former Newsarama boss?

Brownfield: I’ll quit joking for a minute. I don’t look at Matt as my “former boss”; Matt’s my friend, and we collaborate from that direction. Honestly, if you went into a working partnership with one of you being “The Boss” (unless you’re the E Street Band), then it’s probably already a little bit doomed. In terms of co-writing and collaborating, Matt’s a very strong presence. He’s got a deep bench of pop culture knowledge, he’s good at unraveling story issues, and he’s willing to hear other ideas. That’s all key to what we’re doing.

Nrama: So, is there a possibility of more from this team? More already in the works, perhaps?

Brownfield: Yes. And yes.

Brady: Yup. And Yup. Now Troy and I get to join the chorus of saying, “We’ve got a lot in the works, both as pitches and in development projects.” Buck Rogers is just the start. We’re hoping to keep a couple of fingers in the pot with Dynamite at all times – and hopefully with Buck - because they’ve got such an amazing collection of characters to work with, but we’ve also got pitches in with other publishers, both using their characters, and a couple of creator-owned ideas.

Nrama: Matt, any plans for perhaps going solo on a book in the future?

Brownfield: Great. The band just got together and already he’s Don Henley. Truthfully, if Matt had something that was really personal or something that he just wanted to fly solo with, I respect that. I’ve already done some things on my own and may have some follow up to at least one thing I did. However, Matt and I have both taken some ideas we’d been working on separately and began to collaborate; we think that we’re a strong team.

Brady: Yeah – that’s pretty much it. Troy and I both have some personal things we’ve been chasing down or working on for a while now, and probably will, but we’ve also decided to put a bunch of our ideas that we’ve had into one large pot and allow the other to pull out something and say, “You know what this needs to really make it pop?”

Plus – at least for me, teaching is – despite what Bill Gates and others may insist – a beyond full-time job. Working with a co-writer is perfect for me both with time and ideas. 

Until I sell out and move to Portland, that is.

Nrama: One last thing — both of you are intimately familiar with the often persnickety nature of online comic book fans. Are either of you at all concerned about the inevitable reaction of people saying that you are only getting published because of connections you've made covering comics? Or maybe worried that press focusing on your backgrounds will overshadow the content of the comic itself?

Brownfield: I’d say that the majority of fans online are perfectly nice, civil people. If you look at the actual traffic of Newsarama versus the number of posts, many more people read the site than discuss the articles there. Of those that do post, again, the majority are nice and civil; I don’t expect those people to say anything untoward. However, I do expect, and have already seen, some of that reaction that you’re suggesting. And I don’t care. Obviously we got a better crack at this because we’ve put in years working on things. Matt’s a known quantity. I worked for Fangoria Comics, had a book out at Zenescope this year, and so on. That makes sense, because we’ve done work, we know people, and that’s how business happens.

On the other hand, no one is going to give anyone work because somebody gave them a good review once. But you know, people will say what they want to say. Hell, I quit doing Best Shots reviews here six months ago in anticipation of this move, and I still saw a post somewhere with a person asking, “How will this affect Newsarama’s reviews?” There will be probably be some other readers or bloggers out there that will load up the snark, but that’s also to be expected. The fact is that Matt and I worked hard for a long time doing different things related to the field and that, after many years, enabled us to do something cool. I recognize the good fortune in that, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Brady: You got us Albert – this project is the start of Operation Newsarama Payback. For every 10 articles, a publisher owes me one comic writing gig. By the time this is all over, I’ll have more published at Marvel and DC than Geoff Johns and Brian Bendis combined!

But seriously – to say I’m not anticipating that response you mentioned would be lying on my part, but there are a couple of qualifiers. For one, I was involved in comics, actively and daily from ’94 to 2009. You do make friends. During that time, the industry virtually collapsed and shook off people who didn’t know what they were doing, or weren’t good at what they were doing. A lot of the people that I’m still friends with in the industry, I’m going to be friends with for the rest of my life, no matter what – there’s 
a survivor mentality with a lot of us.

But just being friends doesn’t cut it, especially in today’s market. Regardless of what good friends you are, just being pals with the publisher doesn’t automatically get them to take a several-thousand dollar gamble on publishing your story. 

At the end of the day, all I can do is hope that people pick up the Annual because they like Buck Rogers, and perhaps are a little curious to see what Troy and I can do when we cross the line to the other side of comics. We think we wrote a great story that looks at Buck from a different angle, and hopefully readers will too. 

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