With “The Massive” #4, Kristian Donaldson steps out and artist Garry Brown steps in as the new ongoing artist on the series. A Scot who went to the Kubert School in New Jersey and now lives in California, he’s put in time at 2000AD, IDW, BOOM! and now at Dark Horse, where he’s drawn “Mass Effect” and “Dark Matter.”
I wanted to give him a proper introduction and show off some of his incredible work on the book. He really had to hit the ground running with “The Massive,” not only in terms of working on a tight schedule, but the detail and complexity of the world, all the ships and locations. He’s amazing, and as we move past these first few issues he’s drawn and onwards through the life of the series, I can’t wait to see how he makes his mark, and how his skills evolve.
Brian Wood: Hey, Garry. So you and I first “met” in early 2011 — you emailed me with some samples, and an interest in maybe drawing some “Northlanders.” I couldn’t make that happen in the time that was remaining on the series, I regret. But your work was solid, really nice — reminds me of artists Jock or JP Leon, or the bastard child of the two. Tell me about your career up to that point, when we started chatting. I know you went to the Kubert School.Â New Jersey is just like Scotland, right?
Garry Brown: Yeah, at that point I was out of school for a year or so. I’d done small 8-10 page stories for DC and Marvel, but nothing substantial. I was doing covers for BOOM! and IDW, but I wasn’t getting much narrative work. I’d been a fan of “Demo,” “DMZ” and “Northlanders,” so I took a risky shot and emailed you some samples, preparing myself for theÂ distinctÂ possibility of getting told to f@ck off. [Laughs] As it turned out, you had some kind words for the pages I sent, which at that point in my career was greatlyÂ appreciated. From then on, I just kept bugging you every month or so with new pages, which worked out great for me!
And yeah, NJ was pretty different than Scotland, until winter came. Then I wasÂ perfectlyÂ at home.
It’s not that risky a thing, really. I’ve found more than a few collaborators by them dropping me a line.
Be honest, what did you think of “The Massive” when I first asked you about it? How did I present it, exactly? Did you realize what hell you’d have to draw — flooded slums of Mogadishu, huge container ships, all that water, all that weather? Thank you for taking this job, by the way.
I’d seen the teaser images that had been online, with the oil rig and the guy diving and thought it looked great. I was only 80% pissed I wasn’t doing it. [Laughs] So I was aware and already interested in it when you emailed me. I can’tÂ remember exactlyÂ how you described it, it seems like so long ago now, but I think you emphasized the scale and epic nature of the book. This is exactly what I was looking for. I had just come off a few full sci-fi books in a row, so drawing gritty reality was something I wanted to get back to, albeit with sci-fi overtones. I love sci-fi, but I missed drawing people in regular clothes.
I remember [editor] Sierra [Hahn] telling me that there were going to be a lot of ships and a lot of water. A lot.Â I think it’s great; I get to draw almost everything inÂ existence. It’s never boring and I enjoy the challenge of it. Plus, artistically,Â every timeÂ I draw something new, it gets added to the collection in my mind for future reference.
Do I drive you nuts, constantly giving you notes to “zoom out! zoom out!” I’m ruined — I spent too long writing “Northlanders” where I had so much open landscape to work with. I’m addicted to the long shot.
It helped me get into the right mindset for the book. Now I’m constantly looking for the really insane long shot on every page now. You’ve infected me.
I have huge amounts of guilt, writing scenes like that. I think I took it a little easy with #4, which is your first issue. I mean, the story already wasn’t as intense as others, but I did make it a little more character-heavy and less action oriented, so you could get used to the characters. I love that issue. You nailed it, even the satellite shots of Somalia.
Yeah, that’s what I first noticed when I read issue #4. It was like a really cool, tense character episode with a Michael Mann vibe. I love that. The teashop scene wasÂ fantastic. I remember gettingÂ nervous when we talked about theÂ satelliteÂ aerial shot of Somalia, but it came out okay. I nearly went blind drawing it.
I made you watch “Whale Wars” in preparation for the job. The early seasons of that show were a big influence on the development of parts of “The Massive,” but the most recent season, set in the Faeroe Islands, kinda turned me off of the organization. What do you make of it, overall? The episodes are great visual reference for this series, but what I mean is the idea of environmentalists, the direct action type?
I startedÂ streamingÂ it online that day, I think. I’d heard of it but had never seen it. I don’t know why but I thought it was like “Deadliest Catch,” which is funny as it’s pretty much the exact opposite.Â
I’mÂ definitelyÂ for direct action; I think it’s the only way humans take notice. At the end of the day, you can talk and document these things all you want, but nobody seems to care. The world is blind to a lot of things that way.
What about worldbuilding? It’s crucial to the series. How do you approach that? I realize it’s very much an ongoing process —
I pretty muchÂ referenceÂ the shit out of everything I can. I think it’s really important when creating a different reality. You need something for people toÂ recognize.
I took that same approach with “DMZ,” so I agree. I’d call them anchor points in the scripts, locations or items or establishing scenes to re-focus the reader in real-life reality before taking off again.
What’s your typical workday like? Tell me, allow me to live vicariously through you, a young guy with no kids yelling and screaming for his attention.
I wake up, have breakfast with my wife, and then go to work. That’s pretty much it. I’ll keep working until I get my quota for the day. It bothers me if I leave something hanging until the next day, so I’ll try and get it done. I also have a habit of tricking myself in to working some more.
I’ll have an audio book on or be on Skype with buddies while working. It keeps the crazy off me.
How do you work, what tools do you use. You don’t work digitally, right?
I actually do work digitally. I do all layouts and pencils on my Cintiq then print it out blueline and ink onÂ theÂ Dark Horse board. Doing the pencils and underdrawings digitally has sped my work up a lot. I would never go back to penciling traditionally. I used to go through aÂ ton of tracing paper while penciling. I killed many trees. This way, everybody wins.
For inks, I switch between a no3 and a no2 brush. I’ve got a Japanese nib pen that I don’t know the name of. That’s good for small details. And then I use a lot of whiteout.
Let’s talk about “The Massive” #4. It’s not out yet, so we’ll talk generally so we don’t give too much away. Callum Israel is a conflicted guy, a guy with a long past and a history of violence. What do you think about him?
I’m always drawn to characters like that, I think most people are. The horrors from their past have forged them into the characters they are today. I’m interested to see how he develops in the story. I’m curious to see, when his back’s to the wall, which way he’s going to go.
Which’ll happen sooner than later. I established him immediately as a pacifist, and then just as immediately starting stacking up challenges to that. There is no black/white in this world (or any world, really), so he’s gotta navigate all those moral shades of gray.
“The Massive” is so deeply rooted in history. The recent past, I mean. We have events anchoring it in time, from the birth years of the characters to references to 9/11 and other real events. Yet, this book is, in many ways, pretty heavily sci-fi. Have you thought of ways, visually speaking, to handle that? To make all that work together?
I think again it’s all to do with theÂ attentionÂ to details and reference. I think the fantastical nature of it fits in behind the details.
“The Massive” #5. Set in Antarctica. Is it true all artists love stories set in winter since all the snow means less drawing? I can appreciate that. I love a lot of negative space.
Ha, yeah. I was looking forward to drawing Antarctica. Not just because of no backgrounds for the first 5 pages, but the challenge of making that look interesting. Essentially, we had two charactersÂ walkingÂ in a void, so it was good fun coming up with angles and when to have the open panels, etc..
“The Massive” #6. Possibly my favorite script to date, with #4 as a close second. You’re drawing that one as we speak, so at this point you have a good handle on the three major characters. Do you have a favorite?Â Any thoughts about the others?
I’m really enjoying the scripts. It’s a new environment and character each time, so far. All three of the main characters are interesting to me. I think Mag is a cool character. He’s got his own way of doing things and ideas about how things should be done. He’s not scared of getting a little bloody along the way. You never really know which way he’s going to go in a situation.
John Paul Leon on covers. Dave Stewart on colors. Do you know our letterer Jared Fletcher? He went to the Kubert School, too. You’ve worked with Dark Horse already. How’s it all working out?Â
I’m pretty muchÂ theÂ odd man out inÂ theÂ lineup. Hopefully I can rise to the occasion. It’s been pretty great seeing the pages comeÂ togetherÂ with the colors and lettering. Plus, having JP on the covers is amazing. I’ve been a fan for a long time, so I couldn’t be more excited.
I’ve beenÂ workingÂ forÂ Dark Horse for over a year solid, now. It’s been great. I’ve been really fortunate to be at the right place atÂ theÂ right time. The editorial staff is fantastic. I have no complaints.
Last question: with all the research I’ve done for this series, I’ve become terrified of the ocean. I used to love it, and I still do deep down, but I just know now about all the many ways it can kill me. Have you gotten to that point yet? If so, I apologize.
Actually, I was way ahead of you. I’ve feared the oceanÂ sinceÂ I was a kid. It probably has something to do with almost drowning twice.
Garry Brown takes over as artist on Brian Wood’s “The Massive” with issue #4, on sale in September.