On Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, CBR News attended the spotlight on Brian Wood panel, which featured the writer and Vertigo editor Will Dennis (a man whom Wood quipped also edits him in everyday life). The focus of the panel was Wood’s forthcoming book “Northlanders.”
Wood and Dennis kicked off the panel by showing slides of some of the writer’s upcoming work, before opening it up to audience Q&A. The first slide was the cover to “DMZ” #24, which is to be the second of six one-shot issues.
Then they moved right into slides of “Northlanders,” Wood’s Viking epic which Dennis promises features “a lot of action, a lot of sex, a lot of the stuff you expect from Vertigo.” Neither panelist downplayed the amount of violence that’s featured in the book, but Wood assured the audience that it’s “not just a hack-and-slash book.”
While in some ways “Northlanders” is a departure for Wood, there were a number of reasons the writer said he decided to tackle a Viking story. First and foremost, it’s a period of history that’s always fascinated him. Secondly, doing something different from his other books was a conscious decision to keep the process interesting for him and to keep himself from being pigeonholed.
Even within the story itself, Wood has elected to break the mold, by making the main character of Sven mostly clean-shaven and sporting short hair. But Wood promised there was a “valid story reason” for this choice. The driving force behind “Northlanders” is Sven’s desire to return to his home in the north of Scotland to get hold of his inheritance.
The first story arc of “Northlanders” features art by Italian artist Davide Gianfelice and covers by his countryman, Massimo Carnevale (of “Y: The Last Man” fame). In an effort to convey the characters to Gianfelice, for whom English is his second language, Wood often employed reference photos. The look for the villain, Uncle Gorm, was patterned after Iggy Pop.
Wood has hit upon an interesting rhythm for the book. For some of the action scenes he envisioned, he pictured laying them out as a series of full-page spreads. It was Brian Azzarello who wisely cautioned the writer that for every full page spread, he has to include a page dense with panels.
The first issue of “Northlanders” drops in December.
It was at this point that the panelists opened up the floor to questions from the audience. The first question had to do with Wood’s choice of subject matter, and why he gravitates away from the superhero genre. “I like writing about characters who have a strong point to their life but are very flawed.” Wood recounted a story from his days writing Marvel’s “Generation X” where he pitched a story that ended with one of the main characters walking away from a character they might love. Wood said his editor was appalled, and said flatly, “We can’t have a book where our character isn’t a hero at the end.” Wood just finds it more interesting when his characters are “fucked up, do bad things, make mistakes.”
When asked whether “Northlanders” is an ongoing narrative like “DMZ” or more single-issue oriented like “DEMO,” Wood said that it was neither, or more accurately, a combination of both. “Northlanders” is being told in a series of unconnected story under a macro theme.
One fan asked which project Wood is most proud of.
“It changes a lot,” Wood said. “I think that when ‘Local’ ends, it’s gonna be the one I say I’m the most proud of.” Wood is still stunned that he’s up to issue 24 of “DMZ,” as his longest running title before this was his 13-issue arc on “Generation X.”
As to how historically accurate “Northlanders” is going to be, Wood says he’s going to make it as accurate as he can. It’s set in a specific year, but Wood doesn’t plan on having any real-life historical figures make appearances in the book.
One fan asked whether “DMZ” would go on indefinitely or if Wood had a definite ending in mind. Wood says he plans to end it when he runs out of topics to write about.
“So much of it comes from what’s happening in the world,” Wood said. “If I have material to go longer than 5 years, I will.
The panelists said that even though “DMZ” is topical, their stories are rarely ripped from the headlines.
When asked how he writes about topical issues without his characters coming off as political mouthpieces, Wood said he got that out of his way in first book. When he set out to write “DMZ,” he made a point to keep it from becoming a “crazy, leftist rant” like his first book.
“Balance was the name of the game.”
Wood explained that his writing style is very instinctual.
“A lot of writers are very technical,” Wood said. “They count out panels, count out beats, it’s so much about the craft and theory of writing.”
But that couldn’t be further from Wood’s approach. Dennis commented that Wood’s training as an artist probably contributed to his current writing style.
One question was about the possibility of Matt from “DMZ” going native, and how that affects the objectivity of his reporting.
“He’s there reporting, but he’s not trained in that,” Wood said. “He’s been breaking the unbiased rule, and contributing to things getting more screwed up.” Wood pointed out that so far Matty has been the readers’ eyes. “In the first year, nothing happened that he wasn’t witnessing.”
Another fan asked about Wood’s taste in movies, and the writer revealed that not only did he go through a phase of watching dozens of samurai movies on Criterion a few years back, those films were also a bit influence on the original concept for “DMZ.” But “DMZ” changed a lot from concept to execution, and a lot of those Japanese influences were lost.
For another example, Wood originally envisioned “DMZ” as a fictional, documentary style story, but it became more of an action book.
“Issue #12 is close to what I originally thought the book would be,” Wood said. Dennis revealed that the book’s original title had been “Life During Wartime.”
As to who Wood would like to see cast in a film version of “DMZ,” the writer said that for a time, Zach Braff was interested in the project.
“He’d make a great Matty,” Wood said.
Wood was asked how becoming a father has changed his writing process, and Wood said he still has a fulltime workload, but his fatherly duties only allow him to work part time.
“I don’t know how he does it. He might be a father, but he sure isn’t a dad,” Dennis quipped at his writer’s expense.
Wood spoke to the differences in editorial styles between Oni Press and Vertigo.
“I love Oni Press,” Wood prefaced, but for them, Wood writes the story, sends it in, and that’s it. Dennis, on the other hand, is much more hands on. As a result, “DMZ,” is the only book on which Wood feels like he has a kind of a safety net.
Wood was recently involved in the making of a short film, and one fan asked if he’d be returning to that medium anytime soon. Wood said the process of making a film is actually quite dull, and the fact that filmmaking is such a big-money enterprise, the level of interference from the higher ups is considerable, and Wood believes that kind of back and forth would end with him “eating a gun.”
Dennis chimed in and said that he always encourages comics writers to write comics for comics’ sake, not as a means to an end. And one of the things he’s always liked about Wood is that for him, the comic really is the be all and end all.