It’s been almost five years since the Eisner-nominated series “DEMO” concluded, leaving readers and reviewers alike astounded and slack-jawed. On February 3, writer Brian Wood and artist Becky Cloonan come back together for “DEMO Volume Two,” a six-issue miniseries in the same vein of their original influential indie. But, in discussing the new series with CBR News, Brian Wood promises that this time around will be slightly different.
“These stories have a lot more of a supernatural flair than anything else,” Wood said of the new miniseries. “It’s not so much superpowers, it’s supernatural. If you look at the original ‘DEMO,’ there’s a story about the zombie dog – stuff more like that.”
Wood was quick to say that you won’t be seeing any old, familiar faces in terms of characters from Volume One – he’s looking to create new stories. “They’re all original. That’s actually a line I don’t think I’ll ever really cross. I feel like that really undermines the integrity of not only the actual concept of ‘DEMO,’ but also the integrity of the old stories,” the writer told CBR News. “The first ‘DEMO’ #2, where Emmy runs away from home, the end of the story is that she runs away. I feel like if I then explain what happened after that, it somehow takes away the impact of the first. Becky and I tried it in the original issue #12 where there’s a story in the background with some of the original characters, but it wasn’t a continuation of the storyline.”
Coming back to “DEMO” is a unique experience for Wood, especially since Volume One is what initially made Vertigo sit up and take notice of both him and Cloonan. “‘DEMO’ was what first made Vertigo interested in Becky and me,” he said. “We came to work at Vertigo through different editors. When I signed my first exclusive at DC, they asked me if I had any of my other indie books that had rights reverting back to me. My deal with [original ‘DEMO’ publisher] AiT/PlanetLar was about to run its course and they said, ‘Oh, we’d definitely love to publish that.’ I was like, ‘Really? Great!’ It was awesome! As soon as Vertigo said they wanted to put the old book into print, they asked us what we thought about doing another run.”
While Wood was excited to see the original “DEMO” reach a wider audience through Vertigo’s reprinting in 2008, he was admittedly apprehensive about doing a follow-up. “As a personal philosophy I feel it’s better to move forward and create something new rather than doing a lot of sequels or revisiting stuff,” he said. “I feel like it’s best sometimes just to leave it alone. In this case, this opportunity arose – I never expected that Vertigo would want the book, much less ask us to do new stuff, but they did and Becky was super enthusiastic about that. I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll stop listening to the voices in my head and start listening to everybody else instead!’ [Laughs] Once I took that step, once I got over myself there, it was really exciting not only to work with Becky again but to see what its like to revisit a project not only after so many years have passed but also after the thousands of comic book pages both Becky and I have done in the meantime. Just to see how much better we could do it now, to see how “DEMO” has changed just from that experience both creative experience and life experience under our belts.”
Since “DEMO,” both Wood and Cloonan have gone their separate ways to many critically acclaimed projects from Vertigo including “DMZ” and “Northlanders” for Wood and “American Virgin” for Cloonan. Re-uniting for “DEMO Volume Two” meant that Wood would have to replicate the original unique process for creating the original volume.
“I never fully understood why ‘DEMO’ happened in the way it did,” Wood said, chuckling. “It was kind of Becky and I trying out a bunch of different stuff and seeing what happened. How do I replicate that if I don’t really understand how we did it in the first place? It’s not a formula that you can follow. Our process of making it as well as the actual stories themselves was very experimental. I went through it and realized what really made ‘DEMO’ was me plus Becky plus not feeling like we had any restrictions. We really didn’t. I remember I talked to my editor Will Dennis about that. I wanted to word it in a very diplomatic way because I wasn’t sure how it was going to sound, but Becky and I made ‘DEMO’ on our own and I don’t know if that was the key to it, but basically what I was saying was, ‘Can you leave us alone so we can do it the way we used to?'” [Laughs]
As it turns out, DC was incredibly understanding of Wood and Cloonan’s process. In fact, DC/Vertigo wend several steps beyond simply approving the creator process. “They’re not putting any ads into the book. It’s going to look exactly like the old series,” said Wood. “Black and white comics plus all the essays and extras we put into the old ones. If there are any ads, it’s just going to be ads for other books that Becky and I have done. They’re very understanding about that and very accommodating. Once I started writing these scripts, all my worries and fears evaporated. It’s just me and Becky doing our thing.”
In exploring the process of the original “DEMO,” Wood discovered quite a bit about how he and Cloonan both collaborated and created the original volume. “I’ve done so much work at DC and working in a very traditional comic script format and the original ‘DEMO’ scripts were basically just glorified E-mails to Becky,” the writer recalls. “We didn’t have an editor back then. I was writing the scripts for her only. It was very conversational, very loose in parts that gave Becky a lot of freedom to compose the page in ways that I don’t on my Vertigo books now because DC has an expectation of a certain level of polish in your scripts, which is good. In a way, I was writing ‘DEMO’ now trying to write it in that old style, which at the time wasn’t even a style – it was just the way that I did it back then. Now, it’s something that I’m deliberately attempting to recreate.”
With a whole creative team now behind “DEMO,” Wood finds the process of creating Volume Two markedly different. “I used to lay out all the issues of ‘DEMO’ myself in Quark, all the extras and stuff I did. Now, we have to hand in all the extras to somebody way, way in advance. It’s like being in a band and being able to record demos in your basement and then having to go into a professional recording studio. [Laughs] It’s like a major label debut.”
While the process of actually making the book may be different, Wood and Cloonan have fallen back into their old habits in terms of collaboration. “It feels like the same as it always does,” said Wood. “I e-mail her a script just like I always did. We’ve always worked very well together by staying out of each other’s way. Pretty early on, we recognized that one of the reasons we like working with each other is that I don’t mess with what she does and she doesn’t mess with what I do. I give her a script, she doesn’t comment, we don’t brainstorm or kick ideas back and forth. She draws it and unless there’s a storytelling mistake in the art, I’m not going to micromanage her art. I really feel like that was the key to making good work and staying friends throughout the process.”
At the end of the day, keeping on his toes is what makes Wood excited about coming back to projects like “DEMO.” “It’s that format where each month I can do something different,” he says. “It’s taxing on the brain because it’s like you’re starting the book over each month. You can’t build on concepts or ideas or storylines from past issues, it all has to be brand new. That’s hard but simultaneously very creatively freeing because you can just be 100% inventive each time. I’ve come to really value that and I think that’s why I like writing Northlanders as much as I do. I never get bored, I never get tired, and I never get complacent. I’m forced to always be on my toes and bring my A-game every single month.”