For an artist who’s been working in comics for a long time, Brandon Graham has become something of a breakout talent over the past few years. The cartoonist behind epics “King City” and “Multiple Warheads” and writer of the acclaimed Image Comics/Extreme title “Prophet,” Graham has established himself as the lead voice in a flowering of American indie comics makers influenced by European sci-fi.
This May, readers will get a deeper look into the artist’s output with “Walrus” — a 112-page softcover art book from PictureBox, Inc. Showcasing drawings, sketches and personal comics from 2009 through to the present, “Walrus” serves less as a behind-the-scenes look at Graham’s most popular works and more an insight into his style, influences and passions as an artist.
In advance of the book’s release, CBR News spoke with Graham and got an exclusive inside look at some of the art “Walrus” has to offer. Below, the artist explains how he views the collection as an extension of his art-driven blog, why you’ll see more original work and fewer familiar characters and what exactly a creature of blubber has to do with his art.
CBR News: Let’s start with the most basic question for a project like this: why “Walrus”? Was there something about a two-ton, subarctic marine mammal that seemed an apt metaphor for what you were putting together in this book?
Brandon Graham: I think it might’ve been tied to how much I like [Katsuhiro] Otomo’s art book “Kaba” — which means “Hippo” in Japanese. Maybe that’s appropriate for a book with so much riffing off of other work and fan art to have some of that in the title.
I mention in the book that this is kind of the blubber and whiskers of my work, if stuff like “Prophet” or “King City” is the bone and muscle.
I’ll admit that when I heard about the book, the first association I made was to your blog — particularly the original, winding LiveJournal iteration. That always seemed less like a promotional tool or even a personal blog and more of snapshot of whatever cool junkstore detritus found its way to your drawing board. How has that presentation informed your approached to a more permanent object, and in what ways does making the book with editor Dan Nadel and company allow you to present yourself in a new light?
Yeah, I’m aiming in a lot of ways to make it a physical object version of a lot of what I’ve posted on the internet. I tend to type about what I’m excited about at the time. I’m not really into promotion. I’d much rather have a community to be part of than customers.
Working with Dan on the book has been great, and my pal Robin [McConnell] who does the inkstuds radio show has been a huge help too. A lot of it is just the high quality that PictureBox puts out with all the books they do makes me want to make it especially good — the paper on the book is really nice. But also I’ve been trying to keep it pretty lose in content. A lot of it is pencil drawings.
I know a lot of what we’ll see in the book is sketchbook material. I’ve gotten the impression that you let your mind wander a lot in sketch form or just let your warm-ups develop conceptually much farther than standard pinups. The “Rom Spaceknight” piece you did comes to mind. What have you been adding to this package to place all that material in context?
I try to have as much fun as I can when drawing. It can be a lot of work to have fun — as crazy as that sounds. I wish I’d gotten the Rom drawing into “Walrus.” It’ll have to be in the next book when I put out something with the covers and more finished work I’ve done.
I’ve got some pages of text in the book that explain what I was thinking with some of the drawings. I ended up writing a fair amount about my feelings about Moebius — since there’s a lot of work in there influenced by his work.
In terms of your overall process, I’d guess that you draft and redraft a lot of stories before they see the final, intensely detailed form we’re used to with your comics. Are you using “Walrus” to dig into that process some?
So much of my process is too ugly for print. I aimed more with “Walrus” to show what I draw for fun when I’m not thinking about the reader as much. It’s a book of more of the inside of my head hopefully. I have some stuff in there about process but more in the sense of where I’d like to go with my work than how I work.
What kinds of material appears here that some of your Image readers may identify? Are we going to be seeing any pieces from “King City,” “Prophet” and “Multiple Warheads,” or has that material been pretty well traveled at this point?
There’s a couple “Warheads” drawings that didn’t make it intro the issues. Lots of drawings of ladies with no pants on. Hmm. Who knows what that’s about.
When putting this together I was trying to steer away from things that could go into collected books of my comics. There’s some comics about myself and some unfinished comics.
Overall, what was your main goal in taking on a project like this? And how do you think you’ve accomplished that here at the end of the production process?
I think my main plan was to make something that felt like the better part of what you’d see if you dug through my desk and sketchbooks. I even got some work by my missus, Marian Churchland, and my pals James Stokoe and Emily Carroll in there. I also scanned one of Stokoe’s grocery lists he made for his wife, because I thought it was funny. He didn’t name anything — it’s like fizzy stuff and crunchy stuff.
“Walrus” ships this May from PictureBox, Inc.