Brian Wood has been a name synonymous with Vertigo and DC Comics since 2005 when the first issues of his dystopian comic book series “DMZ” hit shelves. A visual designer by training, Wood first garnered mainstream attention in 2003 with “Demo,” his and Becky Cloonan’s independent comic series about teenagers with superpowers. A frequent collaborator of writer Warren Ellis, in 2006 Wood signed his first exclusive contract with DC Comics and proceeded to turn himself into a one-man creator-owned comics producing machine. Working almost exclusively under the Vertigo imprint, Wood’s DC work includes writing two YA graphic novels “The New York Four” and “The New York Five,” creating the Viking crime series “Northlanders,” writing a new “Demo” miniseries and the limited series “Fight For Tomorrow” as well as a reboot of “DV8” for Wildstorm, all in addition to his work the ongoing “DMZ.”
Despite overwhelming critical success, this year has been a bumpy one for Wood as Vertigo announced the end of multiple titles, including “DMZ” and “Northlanders.” Furthermore, while Wood was originally slated to write the new “Supergirl” as part of DC’s September relaunch, DC eventually announced the official writing team of Michael Green and Mike Johnson, leaving many fans to wonder whether the original Wood speculation was real or rumor.
With the cancellation of “Northlanders,” the conclusion of “DMZ” and the end of Wood’s exclusive contract with DC, CBR News felt now was the perfect time to talk to the writer about his work, his reasons for leaving the mainstream comic book publisher, and what the future holds for the New York native.
CBR News: We’re in the home stretch of “DMZ” with “The Five Nations Of New York” arc. How does it feel to be saying goodbye to Matty, Zee, and the “liberated” New York City?
Brian Wood: It’s really both good and bad. I don’t feel sad, exactly, about saying goodbye to this book but it has been a constant presence in my life since 2005, so I’m sure I’ll miss it.Â Part of me feels liberated to move on past a project that’s, again, been a constant presence for the last six or seven years.Â I’m proud of the work, I’m proud of seeing all the books on the shelf, and I’ll miss the team, my editors and collaborators. It represents a big chunk of all of our lives.Â How many creator-owned books get to seventy-two issues?
In this last issue, #67, we’ve got some secret wrinkle in the peace process involving Matty’s Dad. Is the interviewer in issue #67 right — is lasting peace in the “DMZ” like trying for peace in the Middle East?
That’s a really pessimistic thing for that person to ask, but a valid one.Â A question I’ve raised a few times over the life of the series is just that:Â “Can America put itself back together again, really?”Â How do you come back from this sort of war?Â Can you?Â Even if there’s peace, will there be a recognizable America there to enjoy it?
Matty’s right in the middle of this, in a really profound way.Â You can really make a case that HE ended the war, that his actions were what made it possible. Suppressing evidence for the greater good, cutting a deal to resolve the open issue of Parco Delgado and, as you mention, a hint to something in #67 — we’re this close to peace.
“DMZ” is one of Vertigo’s longest running series, and your first monthly comic book series. With the last issues out this year, do you feel like this is the end of an era for you?
Yes and no.Â It’s the end of one era, I suppose, where I was doing all this work for Vertigo and not only earning a living but having that as a career — being a Vertigo writer as a career. I think the condition of the comics market these days, combined with all the recent changes at DC, I don’t think that exists anymore as an option for anyone.Â Well, certainly not for me.Â Vertigo’s output, as publicly stated by DC, is to be reduced, and I cannot expect to be able to write two plus books for them.Â Which breaks my heart, no exaggeration.
On the other hand, it’s the start of an era. You noted that “DMZ” is the first ongoing book I’ve done, and that’s true.Â “Northlanders” is the second, and that book is ending as well. If you assume I have a lot more long-running series in my future — and I hope I do — “DMZ” and “Northlanders” is the starting point. I’m taking what I learned from them and building new and better books, more refined and matured stories.
Over the course of your time at DC the themes you play with in your work have really evolved, moving from the inner relationships of people with “Demo” and “The New York Four” to the geopolitical chaos of “DMZ” and “Northlanders.” Was this a conscious process of change and finding your voice?
I knew I was making a change when I wrote “Demo” and “Local.” I was actively trying to “level up” from what came before and challenge myself.Â When I started “DMZ” my primary concern was crafting a successful ongoing series.Â I wasn’t trying to be experimental in the way those other books were, I was really focusing on the craft of writing a monthly book in the traditional sense.Â “Northlanders” was conceived, in part, as a challenge to that same tradition, and I’ve had a lot of fun in challenging both myself and the reader with that series as time has gone on.
And I think all of it is about finding my voice, and I can see that pay off as I work on new projects.Â I can look at this element or that technique and say, oh yeah, that’s from “DMZ,” and this here is what I was doing in “Northlanders,” etc.Â Its kind of cool, to see it on display like that.Â I am not a big introspective person, I don’t self-analyze that much.Â A lot of what I do is about instinct, about following my gut.
Let’s touch on “Northlanders,” which surprised a lot of people when the cancellation was announced. When did you find out that the “Icelandic Trilogy” would be the end of the series?
Quite a while ago, maybe six months before the news broke on Bleeding Cool. It was pretty upsetting, since “Northlanders” is the title I think I most identify with personally, the one I’ve sort of made my signature project. DC gave me a lot of time to wrap it up, first giving me until #45, and then extending it to #50. Looking at all of this now, with some time to digest it and a little hindsight, it’s probably for the best.Â Fifty issues is a monster achievement for a book like this, a cerebral historical Viking crime book with no fixed creative team or story.Â And as I’ve said online before, there is absolutely nothing stopping me from starting up another Viking book. I certainly have plenty of stories left to tell.
How do you go about wrapping up a series that is so episodic in nature? Did the news of the cancellation change your plans at all for the “Icelandic Trilogy?”
I got the news when I was writing “The Siege Of Paris.” When the book was supposed to wrap up by #45 that really screwed up my plans.Â I had decided to dump “The Icelandic Trilogy” entirely and come up with a four-parter to end the book on. But when #50 became the end, I was able to return to “The Icelandic Trilogy” as planned and everything made so much more sense.
As far as how to wrap up the series, I guess that’s one of the inherent benefits of a series like this — it has no natural end. In theory it could run indefinitely. Or to put it another way, the end of any of the arcs could be the end of the series.
You’ve said before that while working on your Vertigo series you accumulated a lot of new material. Is this part of the reason you aren’t immediately rushing into a new contract with DC? You’d like to spread your creative wings a little more?
Yeah — sort of.Â For the reasons I stated above, a DC exclusive made no sense.Â If I was limited to, at most, a single Vertigo project I would have to take on a lot of DCU work, but there was no DCU work being offered to me.
I have to ask, there were rumors you were writing “Supergirl,” and a post on the DC New 52 website had you listed as the writer for “Supergirl” as well. Were there plans for you to take on “Supergirl” that you turned down to pursue new projects?
This is a little tricky since DC had me, and everyone else I’m assuming, sign a non-disclosure agreement in regards to any of that “new 52” work.Â I don’t really know what I can and can’t say about it, even now.Â But to answer at least part of your question, I did not turn down “Supergirl.” I would have loved to be the writer on “Supergirl.”Â I have over a year’s worth of “Supergirl” story outlines and several scripts sitting right here.
Not sure what else to say about it.
Let’s talk about the comics you are working on next, the foremost of which is the “Supernatural” miniseries. Working on a comic based on a TV show seems an unusual choice after all your original work. What drew you to this mini?
It’s a little funny, the timing of this.Â I signed on to this miniseries quite a while ago, long before the DC reboot was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, and the fact it’s being released in October sort of makes it seem like it’s all part of it.Â But no, my “DV8” editor Ben Abernathy sold me on the idea of writing this back when “DV8” was ending.Â It’s just taken some time to get moving and on the schedule.
I agree it seems unusual, but there’s a lot of freedom to be had on that title, and so far its been a lot of fun.Â One thing I’ve found with this project, with that “Lord Of The Rings” one-shot promo, and this un-announced book I’m working on as well, it can be really liberating working on licensed or company-owned books. I don’t have to be the captain of the ship — I can just write the story and enjoy that activity and not stress on every detail (like I do on my creator-owned work).Â It makes for a nice change of pace.
We also know you have a new comic in the works called “The Massive” at Dark Horse, which you discussed with CBR in July. As the world of “The Massive” also deals with societal breakdown, will the series be similar in theme and tone to “DMZ?”
Yeah, “The Massive” was designed to be a “replacement” for “DMZ.”Â I put that word in quotes to qualify it a bit — it’s meant to replace “DMZ” on the schedule and to give readers a book they can seamlessly transfer to.Â It’s not a sequel or anything like that, but it’s similar in tone and style.Â Actually, to be more specific, “The Massive” has the politics and the world building of “DMZ” with the humanity of “Northlanders.”
There’s a lot more news on “The Massive” to come.Â By NYCC the full scope of the project should be revealed.
Finally, what’s the goal for you as a creator post-DC exclusive? Is it more original creator-owned work? More work for hire?
More work for hire, yes.Â And more creator-owned work.Â As my two big Vertigo books come to an end, I feel like I accomplished something, that I proved something about being a creator-owned writer.Â If only to myself, and for myself, I proved that I could do it, I could build a career from scratch doing virtually only creator-owned work, support myself, my family, buy a house, etc, etc.Â And having done that I now feel like I can relax a bit and take on some work for hire projects and not feel that my identity as a creator-owned guy is compromised. During my exclusive time at DC I produced twenty-two volumes of creator-owned work, something to be proud of.
So by the time NYCC has come and gone, the full scope of my post-DC exclusive work will be revealed.Â Right now it seems roughly 50/50 between creator and company-owned work, and my intention is to never dip below 50% on the creator owned.Â Like I’ve said, I have a lot of projects to get to.
“Northlanders” #43, the second issue of the “Icelandic Trilogy,” hits stores August 24. “DMZ” #68, the second issue of “The Five Nations Of New York” is out August 17.