Brian Wood (“Local,” “DMZ,” “Demo,” “Northlanders”) has a huge body of comic book work. As a matter of fact, it’s completely justified to call it “Massive” — which also happens to be the name of his creator-owned Dark Horse series debuting this June. And yet, despite all this, superhero fans of the “big two” publishers may be less-than-familiar with his name. Well, that is changing quickly as Wood has added the current “Wolverine & the X-Men: Alpha and Omega” to his bibliography and will be taking over “X-Men” and “Ultimate Comics X-Men” at Marvel Comics this June.
As previously mentioned (and is readily apparent), the scribe writes a lot. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he has a loyal following. His fans attending the Emerald City Comicon on Friday had the good fortune of chatting with Wood at his “Spotlight” panel, which provided an intimate setting for the writer to share details on his experiences, his plans for the future, and answer questions about the fun to come in “The Massive.”
Since Wood has written several series for DC’s Vertigo line, he began by talking about the differences of working on creator-owned material there versus a company like Dark Horse. He noted that both experiences are similar, but mentioned a few areas of distinction.
At Vertigo, Wood said you work hard on the pitch to get it in a specific form. “Vertigo has a formula which you don’t deviate from — ever.” However, he said once a series is up and running, you’re off to the races.
With Dark Horse and “The Massive,” he said he is now experiencing an editor who is questioning his work — for better or worse. Wood explained, “I have all these writerly tics — all these things I’ve always done — and [Editor Sierra Haun] will ask me about those. She makes me justify my choices. It think it’s good — I think it will result in a better book — but it is a bit like I’m in boot camp. It’s a first.”
Wood is definitely enjoying working with the publisher, though. “I feel like I get all the benefits of working at a big company but with a lot of the flexibility you get at a smaller one.”
One other notable difference for Wood is that he gets twenty-two pages to tell his story at Dark Horse versus twenty at Vertigo. “It’s nice to have that again,” he said.
Next, the creator asked the fans in attendance who bought his books monthly and who waited for the trade paperback. To his surprise, the number was almost even (with trades leading slightly). He told the room, “The big problem with creator-owned books is getting sales on the single issues — especially on a company that’s not DC and can’t afford to pile a bunch of money into a series and wait for trade sales to back it up.”
In light of this, Wood said he will be doing a few things to ensure “The Massive” will demand readers’ attentions month-to-month and give them “the biggest bang for their buck.” He said, “I’m basically taking what would be a six-issue arc on my other books and turning into three issues. Each story is really dense. I’m really putting [artist Kristian Donaldson] through his paces.”
Another incentive Wood is offering in single issues is extra content that won’t be found anywhere else — not in the trades or digital. He explained this in the form of an apology: “I’m sorry, but it really is a necessity. It’s kind of what I did with ‘Demo’ where there’s all this back matter stuff that never appeared anywhere else.”
“I’m very supportive of the digital format and I recognize that most of my sales over time are trades, but that’s not enough [to get a series off the ground],” Wood said. “And I personally like reading comics in print.”
The writer also clarified that this extra matter won’t just be “traditional stuff like sketches or letter pages, it’s actually going to be story content.” He promised four extra pages for readers of the single issues. As to where he’ll find the inspiration for this material, Wood said, “A lot of these extras came from regrets I had about ‘DMZ,’ which was a very big story with a big, complex world that I really only managed to tell part of.
“Similarly, the Massive is even a bigger world — it literally is the entire world that’s affected in this story. It’s massive…”
At this point, he smiled and admitted the possibilities for puns with his title are endless. Then he continued his previous explanation by saying, “In any given issue, there’s the story, and then you might find backgrounds on characters, or world-building history of a location that was in that issue, or a different character’s perspective on events you just read, or mocked-up photos — as if someone in the story documented the event you just read. It’s like each issue has a Wikipedia page in it.”
Moving on to another topic, Wood was asked about the political bent which seems to appear in most of his works. The person asking the question wanted to know if it was intentional or if it just happens naturally.
“It does happen naturally,” Wood responded. “I feel like that’s how I began my career — and it just kind of comes up whether I want it to or not. I have to police it a bit though, because I never want anything to come off as obvious or preachy. That was always a fine-line I walked with ‘DMZ.'”
“With ‘The Massive,’ there’s some pretty inescapable environmental thoughts and opinions in there, but I think that by setting the story after everything has gone to hell, I’m past the politics.”
In light of Wood’s comments about various formats, a fan next asked him what he would create if he didn’t have to worry about serialization. The creator confessed that he has been thinking about that topic a lot recently, as he and his longtime partner (illustrator) Ryan Kelly have a project like this. Wood said they have an idea that most publishers would find uncommercial, and he’s pretty sure the two of them would have to conform it to a more typical mold to sell it. As such, they’re considering self-publishing the project digitally. “We have to let the work define what it is,” he said; however, the partners are still early in the process.
Speaking of all the works out there to peruse, an audience member asked Wood which comics he reads. He confessed that he unfortunately reads “hardly anything” as he is so busy. The writer said he his friends’ projects, such as “Warren Ellis, Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen, and anything Becky Cloonan draws.” And he likes the “dense feeling” of manga, including “Gantz” and “Detroit Metal City.” Wood said he noticed that the longer he makes comics, the less he reads. “It’s like once you know how the hot dog is made, you can’t enjoy it for what it is.”
One of the things keeping him too busy to read comics is all the reading he does for research. However, Wood did surprisingly say he is trying not to do too much of this for “The Massive.”
“I’m trying to dial it back. On ‘Northlanders,’ I overdid [the research] and went crazy with it,” he told fans. But for “The Massive,” he’s primarily sticking with “light reading” concerning environmental issues, politics, and piracy. He also added that there is a lot in the book about the mechanics of ships, but said, “I’m very lucky that my letterer, Jared Fletcher, sails boats so he can act as my last line of defense [on that topic].”
A fan of “Northlanders” asked if Wood would be doing any more Vikings soon — and if he could — in light of the series ceasing at Vertigo. The writer said he still has lots of ideas for stories, but he can’t use the title “Northlanders” or any of the characters from those books. He has written a spec script for a Viking TV show, but he doesn’t know what kind of luck his agent will have with it. Wood added that this may turn into a comic one day too.
“DMZ” readers had their turn next, asking if Wood might someday do a story on the rising of the free states. Wood replied, “Something I look back on as a big mistake with ‘DMZ’ is that I didn’t address it early. I did address it later in many ways, but it didn’t have the same impact.” He said he’s making sure not to repeat this mistake with “The Massive.” With regards to another “DMZ” story, however, Wood said that he started the series in 2003 and can’t see going back. He prefers to “look forward.”
In looking forward, an audience member asked the creator about his “Mara” project which was announced at the Image Comics Expo. Wood described it thusly: “It’s about a Pro/Olympic-level athlete that comes into superpowers and — in this futuristic world where physical achievement is the best thing you can do — she’s now considered a cheater and her world crumbles down.” He stated that he and artist Ming Doyle are still in the early stages, but they hope to have it out by the end of the year.
As this opened the door to superhero talk, Wood closed his panel by answering a question about the members of his “X-Men” team. He said Jubilee was removed from his group by editorial as she was needed elsewhere. Wood admitted he had Warpath taken off because “I couldn’t get a handle on him — and I was vaguely turned off by his weird ’80s look.”
He then confessed that the addition of Pixie to his team comes from a bit of a selfish need. Wood explained that he has a five-year-old daughter who doesn’t quite understand the work her daddy does. Unfortunately, Wood hasn’t produced any books that he can show her at this age. She does have a ton of “Disney princess-fairy crap” though, so Wood thought it would be great to have Pixie on the team so he could have a comic to show his daughter that she might enjoy. And before any X-Men fans panic, Wood assured everyone that Pixie has a specific purpose for being on the team (aside from his own reasons for including her).
With that, fans of Wood gave him an enthusiastic round of applause as they headed out to the con floor to possibly pick up books from the writer’s massive list of works.
Stay tuned to CBR for more news out of Emerald City Comicon all weekend!