One of the most renowned comic creators at Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo was none other than writer Brian Wood, current writer of Dark Horse Comics’ ongoing “Star Wars” series, his creator owned series “The Massive,” “Conan The Barbarian” and Marvel Comics’ “X-Men” and “Ultimate Comics X-Men.” Moderated by Dark Horse Head of PR Jeremy Atkins, the panel covered everything from Wood’s love of “Star Wars” and his current Marvel work to his experiences in creator-owned.
To kick off the panel, Wood stated he’s getting to the point where he’s “possibly working on too many books,” which made everyone laugh. Atkins spoke about how wildly successful “Star Wars” has been so far, selling over 75,000 copies — more than triple the usual amount of issues other “Star Wars” comics regularly sell. Atkins talked about how daunting it is taking on a book as beloved as “Star Wars.”
“It turns out a lot of people have an opinion about Star Wars,” Atkins said. “We threw Brian into the wolves and he’s done a great job.”
Wood likes writing all the characters, but finds it most fun to write Han Solo. “It’s kind of fun writing him being a dick and with his sarcasm and banter back and forth with Chewbacca,” he said. When writing Han Solo, Wood said it’s easy to hear Harrison Ford’s voice in his head. He likes writing Princess Leia and putting her in a “front and center role” and making her defy reader expectation. While he’s gotten some negative feedback with choices he’s made in the book, Wood remains unphased.
When it comes to writing, Wood has a “very functional form of denial” that he’s also applied when writing the upcoming “X-Men” relaunch. “[I] write the scripts for the editor and it’s like a tunnel vision,” he told the audience. “I don’t think about anything else or the larger implications of writing a big book until about a week before the book comes out.”
Wood recounted his experience attending a Star Wars Celebration convention in which he called it “the best convention experience I’ve ever had,” to which Atkins responded in a voiceover tone: “Until now.” After the laughter died down, Wood corrected himself. “Until right now,” he said. “Being at a show where there is one focus and everyone there is totally in love with that one thing was a really positive vibe.”
Wood and Atkins also discussed Leia’s role in the book, given Wood’s talent for writing very strong female characters. In Wood’s ongoing series, Leia is still dealing with the loss of her home planet. “If there is any, really central theme to the story it’s everyone is literally dealing with some sort of loss or trauma after the events of the first film,” said Wood. “Han is sort of struggling with the fact that he’s not as anonymous as he might want to be. He now has a crosshair painted on his back. Wedge, who I really like, also lost all his friends and is the only survivor besides Luke of the battle, so he has a lot of survivor’s guilt. Even Vader has failed. Everyone is kind of going through some stuff and that’s something that has never been in any of the films. I also wondered why everybody seemed so happy at the end of the film, so I kind of dealt with that.”
Wood went on to detail some of his Marvel work, including “X-Men” — a relaunch of the title with an all female cast. He couldn’t elaborate much, but called the book “a pretty big deal” and said it’s not going to be what people expect.
Environmental and real world issues are prevalent Wood’s work, and the creator explained the original concept of his creator-owned “The Massive” was supposed to be a follow up to his Vertigo series “DMZ.” “It’s the kind of stuff I’d like to read and I wish there was more of,” Wood said of “The Massive,” going on to mention his enjoyment of doing the research and discussing his work with fans. “This is ultimately stuff I care about,” he said. “I have a lot of fun writing ‘Star Wars’ and ‘X-Men,’ but very little of that is actually coming from my soul. When I do these creator owned books, I want them to be important to me as well. I feel like that translates.”
“Basically if you take all these projections you hear about what’s going to happen in 20 years in terms of global warming or whatever, everything happens at once, all at the same time,” Wood said of the series’ concept. The cast includes “sea shepherd, Greenpeace type activists” who sail around the world dealing all types of threats caused by the environmental crash. At their core, the characters are essentially failed environmentalists. All of the characters have dark pasts and have to constantly deal with that. “The past kind of won’t leave them alone,” Wood said. “It’s a very complex book.”
According to Wood, “The Massive” isn’t a book to be read quickly, with a lot to take in and a myriad of layers. “The Massive” #13 contains a nod to his work in “DMZ” as he sets the story in Manhattan. “It’s obviously going to be another ruined city, but in a very different way then ‘DMZ.'” A future issue will be a nod to another of Wood’s Vertigo series, “Northlanders,” that involves whale hunters.
The discussion moved over to “Mara,” Wood’s latest creator-owned series at Image Comics with artist Ming Doyle. “Mara is basically a ‘Demo’ series,” he said. “It’s another one of these stories I like to write — very personal, very ground level stories about people with emerging superpowers.”
“Mara” features more of an action element then “Demo” but still has the core of the series. “[Mara]’s this uber-athlete in this future where sports and water rule everything,” Wood said. “[She develops] God like superpowers and [the series] is very much a comment on celebrity culture and how young women are viewed in culture and exploitation.” The final issue of the series, due out in May, will “flip everything on its head.”
Continuing Wood’s tradition of a strong female lead, “Mara” follows in the path of many Brian Wood-written series, starting with his very first book “Channel Zero.” “I just wanted to draw a cool looking girl,” he said. “Everybody wants to draw girls.” The writer observed a lack of stories with well-written, rounded female characters. “I feel like there should be a lot more of this, so I’m just doing my part.”
Moving on to Conan, Wood discussed his different approach to the traditional Conan the Barbarian that most readers remember from the Marvel series. “I have zero interest in the two-dimensional brute that walks into a room and kills everybody and gets the girl,” Wood said. “That’s fun to read, but not something I’d be interested in talking about in a job.” The writer wanted to tell this tragic story of Conan’s first love. It was something that was only really hinted at in a few lines in the original Robert E. Howard novel, giving Wood the opportunity to explore and develop it into a larger story.
As the floor opened for fan questions, Wood said there were instances where he did an “unhealthy amount of research” while writing “Northlanders” due to praise of his historical accuracy. Eventually he finally realized that he was reading way too much into things and was able to recognize the signs of reading too far into things. Thanks to previous experience, he was able to prevent the same thing happening again when writing “The Massive”.
Wood fielded a “Star Wars” question about his interpretation of characters from the original trilogy in his ongoing series, explaining the challenge of knowing much more than the characters than they do. “Luke and Leia obviously don’t know they are related yet, which makes from some deft line walking,” he said. “They are supposed to be attracted to each other and I don’t want to completely ignore that. [I have to] constantly remind myself of things — Han doesn’t know this, Vader doesn’t know anything really about Luke.” He just said he focuses on what happens in the first film and has to make sure he “doesn’t break anything.”
As for the crew of “The Massive,” things get better, despite the many terrible things that have happened to them. “In these first 12 issues, they are still reacting,” the writer said. “Issue 12 is sort of this turning point. … [The crew] find[s] an answer to that question, ‘What do they do now that they have failed to save the world.'” The first 12 issues are the first act of the story, while act two chronicles their attempt to continue the mission of saving the world as they originally intended. “It does get better,” Wood said.
A fan asked if he planned any more projects with “Local” artist Ryan Kelly with stories that take place in the real world. Wood mentioned a “half cooked” project the two have called “Anthem.” Both are very busy, and it’s a matter of lining up their schedules. Wood did say that Kelly is drawing issues #7-9 of “Star Wars” with more to possibly follow.