Brian Wood is a graphic novel writer and illustrator. He is the creator and writer of such popular graphic novel series as Demo and DMZ. His most recent series is the great story of the Viking age, entitled Northlanders. The latest book in the series is Blood in the Snow.
Alex: When did you know you wanted to write and illustrate comic books?
Brian: At some point during my time in art school (Parsons School of Design) – probably junior year. This was when I was discovering comics in general and saw them as a unique blend of a lot of different disciplines. There’s really nothing like comics in that respect.
Alex: Did one skill develop first?
Brian: For a really long time I only wanted to draw comics. I was not a writer at all and the short comics I did write (and draw) for school projects were only out of necessity. Later on, I grew to appreciate writing.
Alex: Do you prefer to write or illustrate more?
Brian: These days, I’m a writer. I barely illustrate. I’ve been writing comics since 1997 and it’s been my main source of income from around 2003 onwards.
Alex: Do you remember the first strip you wrote?
Brian: It was a single page comic for a school assignment adapting the Dead Kennedy’s song “Don’t Lynch The Landlord”. I still have it, and really like it despite its massive flaws.
Alex: What was the first comic book you got published and how did it happen?
Brian: In school I self-published a comics anthology with some other people I knew who did comics. We each had 8-page segments and we published it solely for the purpose of getting “real” work – it was a printed sample.
The first book that was published by an actual publishing company was Channel Zero, the publisher Image Comics. It remains to this day the only book I both wrote and drew in its entirety.
Alex: Who are some of your influences?
Brian: Russell Banks novels, these days. I also read a lot of non-fiction, research for my ongoing projects, and in a technical sense those are my biggest influences. Early on, during school, I was really into Korean comics and that was easily the single biggest influence on my art at the time.
Alex: When starting a new comic project, how involved are you in choosing an artist?
Brian: Totally involved. I generally have the first and final word, although my editors are talking about it with me and we come to a consensus. It’s important – well, crucial – for me to know what artist I’m writing the scripts for from day one. Who the artist is dictates how I write the stories.
Alex: Where did the idea for DMZ come from and how did it get started?
Brian: I created DMZ while living in San Francisco (I tried it for a year, it didn’t take) and feeling very homesick. Combine that with current events and a familiarity with the city from my years as a bike messenger, and I got DMZ.
Alex: Do you still have a lot of story left to tell with DMZ?
Brian: It’s a massive concept, DMZ, and I could never tell all the stories I might want to, even if I had a decade. So, yes, but I’m planning on completing the series in a little less than two years time, which was always the plan. In the end, DMZ will be a six-year project, a 1600-page serialized graphic novel.
Alex: What made you want to write Northlanders?
Brian: A combination of being interested in the history and the format I was proposing the book take. This format – short stories within a larger framework – is the culmination of a lot of experimentation on my part and as a result I’ve never been as creatively energized as I am working in that format.
Alex: How much research did it take, and are you continuing to do research?
Brian: Research is an ongoing thing. It ebbs and flows but it’s safe to say that I’ve been researching since I first began to write the proposal for the book, back in 2006. Northlanders lives or dies on how carefully it handles history, so it requires a lot of work in that respect.
Alex: Can you recommend some further reading on the Vikings?
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. I think the best blend of ripping story and history is the Saga of the Icelanders, this big collection that Penguin puts out. Best to go right to the source.
Alex: Did you always intend to tell lots of different stories on the world of the Vikings or was it ever just going to be just about Sven?
Brian: From day one it was always my desire to cover as much ground as possible. Right now, I have stories that span from 760-1100 AD, from Russia to Greenland, from the perspective of men, women, and children, from the Vikings themselves to the people they conquered (or tried to). That breadth of story is what makes the book what it is.
Alex: Can you talk about some future storylines you intend to tell in Northlanders?
Brian: In the near future we’ll see a foot soldier’s take on the famous Siege of Paris, as well as something about the lost Greenland settlement. Coming up shortly, though, it’s a take on the “young lovers on the run” concept, seeped in what I like to call a Norse Mythological Fundamentalism. The story’s called “Metal”.
Alex: What other projects are you working on?
Brian: Demo, a miniseries at Vertigo with artist Becky Cloonan, and DV8, a superhero revival at Wildstorm, another DC Comics imprint.
Alex: When working on a project is it mainly just you writing the script, deciding on the layout, and giving some art direction and then letting the artist draw and color, or is it a group effort?
Brian: There’s always a lot of art direction in my scripts, but with the understanding that the artist or colorist has the leeway to adjust as needed. It all goes really smoothly, though, there’s never any conflicts or major disagreements.
Alex: Is there are a lot of back and forth with edits and changes?
Brian: Once a series is up and running and everyone is in the groove, there is really very little. Often none at all.
Alex: Apart from you, the writer, and the artists, are there other people involved in creating the finished product?
Brian: There are editors, usually a primary and an assistant, the colorist, the letterer, and the cover artist (if the interior artist is not also drawing the covers). There is a small army of production, marketing, and sales people working behind the scenes, of course.
Alex: Do you have a set schedule you keep to each day in writing and illustrating?
Brian: I try to keep normal office hours, an 8am to 5pm type of thing. There are many interruptions, though, so most nights and every weekend I am working like any weekday. I’ve found this is pretty common amongst my peers.
Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Brian: Whatever free time I have is spent with my daughter. My existence is very routine: writing, childcare, sleep, repeat.
Alex: What are some of your favorite current comics being published?
Brian: I read Scalped, Detroit Metal City, Vagabond, and, until recently, Young Liars.
Alex: Since you know quite a lot about the world of the Vikings, do you think there was an ideal place to live during these times?
Brian: I honestly don’t feel there was anything ideal about living in those times, to be honest. It was a rough, brutal time, with very short lifespans and high infant mortality rates. I live in New York City and enjoy all that provides me, and wouldn’t adapt well to subsistence farming on some rocky patch of land somewhere.