Hippo Manchester
December 8, 2005

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Books: Q&A with Brian Wood

Comic creator extraordinaire

By Glenn Given

Black-and-white comics may not be the highest-profile medium around but indie author-illustrator Brian Wood has made a fine go of it. Woodís comics steep their characters in the grit and tenor of real cities and towns. They aggressively reflect the tensions and controversy of local and national politics and, in ways that few comics can, they call forth motive and feeling in their characters.

If Che Guevara was a punk rocker heíd be Jennie One from Channel Zero and if the X-Men were capable of honest emotions theyíd be in the pages of Demo. Wood, a NYC native, recently took a break from the Granite State Comicon this past weekend and spoke with the Hippo.

Did you read superhero comics as a kid?

No. Iím sure I did a couple of times but I never was a fan

So how did you get into comics?

When I was in art school I was aware of certain artists like Dave McKean and Ken Williams, not because of comics but because of the work in other mediums like CD covers and illustration in magazines. Somebody told me ďOh these guys also did comic covers.Ē So I went to a comic shop and found the Vertigo line and was like ďWow, this is cool art!Ē So I had to retroactively go back and read all the greats, like Dark Knight and Watchmen and get an entire education in comics in like a year.

Thatís neat that you came into it from a different angle.

Yeah, I think thatís why I do the kind of comics that I do. Because Iím not one of these writers or artists whoís like ďYeah, I loved X-Men when I was kid and I really want to contribute to that world.Ē That mindset means literally nothing to me. It isnít a bad thing, itís what they want to do and thatís fine, but I just really canít relate to that.

When you introduce people to comics, what do you use?

My books or any comic?

Any comic.

I stay away from the superhero greats like Watchmen, ícause I think if someone is not used to comics theyíre really weird. Weíre used to comics so theyíre great and seem very mainstream but theyíre actually really not. So I generally go for more indie stuff, some of the recent Fantagraphics books, maybe Black Hole. The Scott Pilgrim book Iíve done a couple of times. Stuff thatís very fringe in comics but that is actually incredibly mainstream.

So where did you go to art school?

I went to Parsons in New York.

You teamed up with Becky Cloonan for Demo, and she was a student at the time at the School of Visual Arts right?

She was a student at SVA when I met her. At some point she got a job in animation. So she took a year off school and I guess she never went back. [Laughs] I hope I didnít say something she wouldnít want me to say.

Being a former art student and having worked with art students before, do you feel that the profile of comics is larger in the minds of the students today?

I think there are schools that give comics a lot more respect. There are some where you go to where you can actually learn to do comics. My school was a very business-oriented design school. So they probably pooh-poohed a bit on the comics. If you go to a school like SVA or Savannah, there are comics courses you can take.

It seems like so many people come out of art school and go in radically different directions then what they end up doing.

Yeah. Most of the people that I went to school with have jobs at advertising agencies.

Are theyíre more chances and venues for creators today then when you started?

There are a lot more small-press companies that you can approach and can get your books to. They even pay better than they used to when I started, which wasnít that long ago. Itís still definitely a phenomenally difficult way to make a living. I donít wanna say that itís impossible. But I had to have a day job for like seven of the eight years Iíve been doing comics.

Yeah, you did the designs for Grand Theft Auto 3 at Rockstar Games.

Yeah, which isnít as cool as it sounds. I was basically just a cog in a giant machine.

Itís a pretty good giant machine.

It was O.K. Iím glad that itís on my resumť. That video game industry is a little bit ... cruel. I remember not having a single day off for like four months. Working seven days a week. It paid all of my bills and most of the comics I have in print were done on their dime.  Iím not gonna knock it too much but Iím not ever going back to it.

How long have you been in New York City?

I moved to New York in Ď92.

Obviously NYC is not just a locale for you. Itís a character and a reality for these people in your stories. Like you come down pretty hard on Giuliani in Channel Zero. The stuff youíre working on now,  Local and DMZ, do you find that those are motivated in the same way?

No definitely not, there are a lot of surface similarities between Channel Zero and DMZ. Itís very topical, set in New York, visually itís very hard. Similar, but with almost a decade of growth as a writer between the two, Iím approaching it from a completely different point of view; itís more nuanced. Channel Zero was really more like a baseball bat.

Do you have any kids?

No we have cats. Four cats.

What are their names?

Really? Spotty, Snowball, Choco and Little One. Only one was my cat so I only take credit for Choco.