Dynamite Entertainment‘s “Warlord of Mars” #0, out in July, is only Matt Brady‘s third published work as a comic book writer. But he’s far from a newcomer to the industry, having worked in a high-professional position as a comic book journalist for 15 years before stepping down as editor of Newsarama — where the author of this article worked with him as a freelancer — in 2009.
His first two efforts as a comic book writer both came in 2011 — a “Buck Rogers” annual for Dynamite, and a short in that year’s “Batman 80-Page Giant.” Both of those stories were co-written by another Newsarama alum, Troy Brownfield. For “Warlord of Mars” #0, he’s writing solo, joined by veteran artist Jack Jadson in a one-short story poised to ask (likely more metaphorically than literally), “Who is John Carter?”
CBR News spoke with Brady about “Warlord of Mars” #0, his current thoughts on the comic book world, his new science journalism venture and moving past John Carter’s “White Savior” history.
CBR News: Matt, the last time we did one of these, it was before the “Buck Rogers Annual,” which was three years ago. So that makes this both your first comic book work in a while, and your first that’s not co-written with Troy Brownfield. How is your outlook different for this issue? How do you see your evolution as a comic book writer from then to now?
Matt Brady: First question last — my evolution? Slow. But that’s fine by me. I’ve got the day job of teaching, and I let the idea of being any kind of “major” writer in comics go a while back. As for going it on my own with this issue — that was a bit of a jump. One of the things that made it easier for me to tackle writing with teaching was that I had Troy at my back. Anything I couldn’t get done on time, or anything I was having problems with, I could beg off, or ask for his help on. This one? No net. Which, I guess goes back to the evolution part. I think I’ve got to the point where I’m more comfortable doing the whole thing on my own. With both “Buck Rogers” and our Batman story, I was the noob at writing. But now, I guess I was ready for it.
As someone who obviously spent a lot of time paying very close attention to the comic book industry but is still a relative newcomer to this end of the business, what are you looking towards for guidance?
I think my answer’s going to be as trite as anyone else’s, newcomer or veteran — I look at the comics I like. I try to figure out why I liked them, and see if I can put together a story that pushes the same buttons for me.
I also go back to my years on the journalism side of things — always asking writers the varieties of, “What makes for a good story?” over the course of 15-plus years did kind of act like a subtle master class on telling a good story. In that sense, I always find myself going back to things Mark Waid told me in interviews about his process — Mark’s one of the smartest guys in the business when it comes to writing, and when you’re trying to put a story together, you can do a lot worse than following his adviceâ€¨
What are your big inspirations, then — either within comics or outside of it?
I think I just gushed about one of my biggest in comics — but I also look at folks who just know the craft inside and out — in terms of genre stuff, I always hunt for Jeff Parker, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Steve Seagle, Greg Rucka, James Robinson, Brian Bendis and a few others. A lot of guys who cut their industry teeth in the late ’90s/early 2000s. I see that crowd as kind of that last wave of “writer” writers to come to the industry before the entertainment-industrial complex took over and commoditized all the IPs of the industry and really reduced the amount of risk and experimentation that was allowed by the upper floors.
â€¨Those folks can tread in both worlds, but man — when they’re “on” in the comics side of things, they’re on.
Given all of that, as someone who has now been removed from being entrenched over the past five years, what’s your take on the current state of the comics industry?
The current state — is weird. At least in terms of the mainstream and even some of the smaller publishers, I’ve been trying to figure out as the years roll by, if we’re going through one of those “generational shifts” that comics tend to go through, where if you’re a lifelong fan, you realize that you’ve seen a lot — and I mean a lot — of this stuff before. I kind of feel like it is. It’s sad in a way when you see mediocre stories from the ’80s and ’90s revered and polished up like they were some apex of literature.
I still feel that the vast majority of mainstream comics are written for a white, 30-something male, American audience, which is creepy and so amazingly regressive.
As a lifelong comics fan, I love the fact that I can watch “S.H.I.E.L.D.” on television, and that show ties in to the second (!) Captain America movie, Marvel’s street heroes are coming on Netflix, and this fall I’ll be able to watch a friggin’ “Flash” television show. â€¨â€¨And buy all the ancillary merchandise at Target. â€¨â€¨But — and I don’t think I’m saying anything new here — I feel that’s all come with a cost. Again, with the mainstream, there are certain types of stories and projects that we’re never going to see again, because they don’t “fit” in the larger mission for the IP, or they won’t make enough money. There’s never been much time for titles or ideas to “find their audience” that would support them, and there seems to be even less time now.
Oh, and not being as “inside baseball” as I used to be, I get confused by variant covers. And I hold on and read entire storylines, rather than issue by issue. I think I’ve become everything that annoyed me about fans when I was at Newsarama.
Do you still find plenty of stuff to get excited about?
It sounds like I don’t, but I do. In regards to superheroes, I love when, within the strict boundaries that the major publishers have, someone like Jonathan Hickman just throws every-freaking-thing against the wall in the “Avengers” titles. I love when a creator digs in and clearly loves what they’re doing — Jason Aaron on “Thor,” for instance. Fraction on “Hawkeye.”
And being away from the daily news grind allows me to be surprised a whole heck of a lot more than I used to. I love being able to find an issue on the shelves and falling in love with the idea, or being totally blown away at an OGN that just looks good on a flip through.
“Buck Rogers” and “Warlord of Mars” are both pulp era characters. Do you have a special affection for that territory?
I’m going to sound older than I am, but yeah — I really do like the pulp characters. It took me a little while to get a taste for them again, after liking them as a kid, but I’ve really dug into them and pretty much monthly deluge [Dynamite publisher] Nick Barrucci and [Dynamite editor] Joe Rybandt with ideas about what to do with this character or that character.
The characters still resonate, even without any kind of PC fixes that sometimes creators feel like they need to address. John Carter will always speak to courage, leadership, friends, unity and home — but it will always have a hint of White Savior to it as well. The original Buck Rogers was about an optimistic future, adventure and being a stranger in a strange land, among other things — but it also suffered from a healthy dose of Yellow Peril. I’m not saying that you have to tell updated Yellow Peril or White Savior stories, but you can’t ignore it. That’s what makes the characters so rich. They’ve got baggage, but at the core, these are terrific adventure heroes.
How do you approach writing a character like John Carter, who has many decades of history? Do you see much room to put your own spin on things? And do you see John Carter as more or less flexible than the many iconic superheroes who also have been around for decades?
It’s not like we’ve even come close to telling all the John Carter stories that are out there. Sure, we know the landmarks, but those are just the guideposts. There’s so much room in between, and sometimes you can even make room where there might not have been any room. The history of John Carter isn’t any kind of hindrance. You’re getting this character with this amazing past that you can refer to in an almost offhand way, and it just adds to the story.
That said, I think that the pulp heroes are a little more flexible than say, mainstream heroes. Sure, you have to check to make sure the broad strokes of continuity work, but the pulp characters don’t lend themselves to the minute-by-minute, person-by-person continuity of say, Batman or the X-Men. It’s not to say that no one’s checking or no one cares, but I feel there’s more latitude given, and that’s a little more freeing.
Writing an issue #0 when you’re not the regular series writer seems like it could be a somewhat narrow target to hit — did you find a good deal of creative room there?
The thing with a #0 issue, especially when I’m not writing the ongoing series, is that you have to figure out what this issue is and could be. It’s just a single, done-in-one story that has to get in and get out with no muss or fuss. I didn’t want to be all precious and presumptuous and try to create any kind of “enemy for the ages,” or try to go down some hitherto unknown, large area of the John Carter mythos. I only had 22 pages — in and out. â€¨
Also — keeping an eye on what this issue could be — this could be an impulse buy, something that someone picks up because of Gabriel Hardman‘s cover, or my name, or Jack’s name, of they always wanted to learn more about John Carter. For those people, and for the people who are getting this issue because they’re completists and have all of Dynamite’s other John Carter issues, this story had to be John Carter in a nutshell — who he is, what he’s about, what’s important to him, and what kind of adventures he has.
It’s kind of a tall order, but it has its creative advantages — it can’t be exposition heavy. I can jump right into a day in John Carter’s life, use the dialogue to imply the relationships he has with Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas, how he’s seen by the other Martians, and also express what’s important to him in what I think is a pretty unique way.
I wish I could show the first page, but it would give away a large, large portion of the story. All I can say is that it has a Frazetta homage, and a sign that reads, “This is John Carter, King of Mars.” And a deeply, deeply troubled John Carter.
â€¨The issue is drawn by Jack Jadson, who’s got plenty of experience at Dynamite and elsewhere — what’s the dynamic been like for you, collaborating with him?
Jack’s in Brazil, so the active “collaboration” has been a little on the light side, but I knew that going in, so I made sure to be as vivid as I could in my descriptions of locations, people and monsters. I had first spotted Jack’s work back at DC Comics during my Newsarama days, and was thrilled when Joe told me that’s who I was going to be paired with. Given his previous work, I knew his styles and I think, his inspirations, so I shot for some common ground in regards to visuals — iconic, easy to understand references — Frazetta, del Toro, Westerns. Looking at the issue — he nailed it.
Oh, and we’re Facebook pals now.
As mentioned, you’re a science teacher, and have launched a new site “The Science Of.” It looks like a fairly ambitious project at the outset — what can you share about the creation of the site, and your plans for it?
TheScienceOf.org is something my wife and I have started, and it’s still moving a little slower than we’d hoped, but the idea there is to take what we do in school (she teaches middle school science) — use pop culture examples of science, from comics to movies, to anything we can find that it hitting in culture — and use it as a springboard for real world science. Along with the information and explanation, we’re going to be offering up educational materials that we’re using or would work with the respective topic.
With summer, we’ll get things moving a little faster, and get it to the point of being fairly self-sustaining. I’ll be adding more content regularly, such as interviews with creators who use a firm base of science for their stories, scientists who’ve ventured into pop culture in order to explain their work, more articles about the science behind things, and cool ideas for lessons from companies that are producing great stuff or from us.
And yeah — there are a lot of places that do this kind of stuff out there, and they are doing terrific jobs of it — a couple of folks write about science at The Nerdist, Popular Science just had a piece about the science of this summer’s movies in their July issue, and there are others. What we want to do with TheScienceOf.org is really aim it towards education. Pull back a little on the level, and aim for an audience that’s still fertile when it comes to science.
That and a full-time teaching job has to keep you plenty busy. But I’ll ask: Any more comics work in motion?
Oh yeah — I’ll have a creator-owned miniseries coming up later this year where I’ll be working with a co-writer whose last name isn’t Brownfield, that will probably surprise some people, but will make like people like you and [CBR Executive Producer] Jonah [Weiland] smile.
“Warlord of Mars” #0 is scheduled for release on July 9.