Brandon Graham Creates a Shared Sci-Fi Universe in Image's "8House"

Brandon Graham is known for both his skills as the Eisner Award-winning cartoonist behind "King City" and "Multiple Warheads," and his readiness to speak his mind -- no less of a source than Rob Liefeld said last fall, "No one talks trash like Brandon Graham."

So it was a safe bet he'd step on stage earlier this month at Image Expo in San Francisco with something bold. At the event, Graham announced "8House," a series of sci-fi/fantasy miniseries set in a shared universe, with multiple creative teams contributing and a story involving projecting minds into dead bodies and monsters, in a world unified by eight magical ruling houses.

The first series, launching later this year, is titled "8House: Kiem," written by Graham and illustrated by Xurxo Penalta. "8House: Arclight" follows, also written by Graham and illustrated by Marian Churchland, who released the acclaimed graphic novel "Beast" in 2009. "Pretty Deadly" artist Emma Rios moves into the writer slot with third miniseries "8House: Mirror," illustrated by Hwei Lim -- Graham says each creator will own what they contribute under the "8House" banner.

CBR News spoke with Graham -- whose revival of "Prophet" is slated to reach its end this April with issue #45 -- backstage at Image Expo to discuss his "risky" new endeavor.

CBR News: Brandon, based on what's been announced -- three separate miniseries from three different creative teams -- "8House" -- scale, scope-wise, sounds like an ambitious thing. How did it develop and how did it go from being an idea to this fully realized, multi-series project?

Brandon Graham: I feel like it's trying to perfect, almost, the idea of what "Prophet" was turning into. Where "Prophet" was me writing with different art styles, showing different characters' views, this one is different entire creative teams trying to breathe life into a whole universe.

Hopefully, it's kind of risky. I'm doing the first eight issues, and after that, other creative teams are going to look at what I did and do their own takes on the universe. Emma Rios and Hwei Lim, they're going to do the last four issues of the year. It's them riffing off of what we've done already. They haven't been announced yet, but there's going to be other monthly series that are going to be set in the same universe.

COMMENTARY TRACK: Brandon Graham on "Prophet"

It seems like the type of project where there's the room to do more as time goes on.

I think that's what's important to do when you have freedom. If we can do anything, then what's kind of scary to do? I'm pretty confident that the first year will be fun. I have a lot of faith in the people I'm working with, obviously, but it's scary. That's important.

So are you thinking pretty long-term with it at this point?

I think so, yeah. I really like how the big superhero companies have these massive universes that people can play in -- make something like that, but where creators can come in and own everything they do. That's a big thing, too.

That's something I was curious about -- it seems like potentially a complex thing to maneuver, with different creators working within and adding to the larger framework you're establishing.

Yeah. The idea is, the universe almost has to be public domain. It's a lot of people giving some things up, where it's like, if you come up with ideas, you're kind of allowing people to say, "Oh, I like those, I want to put those into this," and back-and-forth ideas. Everyone that I've been working on it so far is really excited about that concept.

You're working with multiple different creators on this, and a few that most comic book fans aren't going to be familiar with. How did you go about finding your collaborators? Of course, one of them is your wife, Marian Churchland.

That makes it easier. I run into her all the time.

It's something I'm really excited about. Even working with Emma -- Emma's just working as a writer on this. I talk to her a lot, and in conversations with her, I was really interested in what she wanted to do as a creator. We're doing another thing later on that hasn't been announced, but she's writing and drawing everything.

Brandon Graham Detonates "Multiple Warheads"

I think she's incredible. She did a back-up for "Prophet," and she showed me some of her own stories she did in Spain. She's so talented. I was talking to ["Pretty Deadly" writer] Kelly Sue [DeConnick] about this earlier -- just people seeing her as an illustrator of someone else's stories I think is selling her short. I think she's a very well-rounded cartoonist, and I'm excited for people to see her as that. It's fun to collaborate, but I feel like everybody who makes comics on any front usually has to be a storyteller, so it's cool to see people express other sides of that.

The other thing with bringing in people, like Xurxo or Hwei, I think it's worth a lot to find creators who are outside the comic book sphere, and be like, "I'm excited about your work, come in to the party." I don't like the "breaking in" thing in comics. I wish it was kind of more open. Unfortunately, it's so run off nepotism. It [would be] nice if it was just about the work.

Even something like this -- you look at the stage of the creators here, and it's a bunch of heterosexual white people. That's not the audience, necessarily. I don't mean that in an accusatory way, but I think it's important to address, at least.

So what's it like working with your wife on a comic book project for the first time?

We back and forth [with] a lot of ideas already. As dumb as it sounds, I took it as an incredibly flattering thing that she wanted to work with me. She's working as a novelist right now -- this is like her side thing. She was working in video games, and I think she just saw that I was having so much fun with it that she was like, "Oh, I want to go back and do comics, too." That she asked me to write something for her was awesome, because she has very high standards.

There's obviously a certain amount of things you give up when you're working with someone else's story, and I think that can be fun, too. I'm working on a comic with Adam Warren right now, where he wrote it -- an "Empowered" one-shot. It's just a blast, where someone else is coming up with fun ideas, and you're like, "Oh, I just have to make this look cool!" It's kind of freeing.

Can you share a little bit more about the premise of "8House?"

The first two stories are all based around this war, which you don't see much of. I was thinking of it like a cold war -- it's not being fought on the planet, but the soldiers for it live on the planet. They project their minds into other creatures' bodies, on this comet which is made out of a giant creature, whose brain has been removed, and the brain is on Earth. One of the groups that has the brain is trying to get the body back for it, so they're projecting themselves into monster bodies. Then another group has shot dead bodies up there, and are projecting themselves into dead bodies, and fighting far away. The people coming back are getting PTSD and all of these weird things they have to deal with, even though they've never physically been in the war themselves; it's just all mental.

The first story is about a soldier from that, whose death is faked, so she can help one of her higher-ups defect. She ends up having to figure out if she even wants to help them out. There's lots of projecting your brain into other things -- to travel across these huge differences, she has to project her brain into a giant's body, which she is a descendant of -- it's like her great-grandfather or something. She was raised in an orphanage -- it all sounds crazy when I [describe it]. [Laughs]

The second book, that Marian's drawing, it's a woman who's a higher-up in one of the houses, whose brain has been stuck in one of the monster bodies on the comet. Because they're a blood magic-based house, the physical form is really important to them, so it's a big scandal that this important person is stuck in a monster body, and no longer has her own blood. She's living in the outskirts of this kingdom, and there's this Lancelot/knight character named Arclight who's given up his high position to help her out, and they're doing these jobs together. Then they learn that the creature living in her body has taken on her old life, and is pretending to be her, then they have to go and investigate that. I think it'll be fun, or interesting.

Constructing the New "King City"

It certainly sounds like a project that is very involved -- were these ideas that grew over time, or did it come together more quickly than that?

It was interesting. I think it's kind of written out of necessity for the universe. "Prophet" kind of grew organically into what we're doing now. To look at "Prophet," and be like, "What's the next step after this?" Part of it, for me, I don't think I want to do a monthly right now, where I have to write or draw every issue. The idea of doing four issues a year for a series seems much more appealing to me, and ways to work that in.

You're working in the capacity of writer right now for "8House," but do you have any plans to draw projects in this world down the line?
Maybe, yeah. There's so much stuff to do. I wish I had more time. I'm really excited about all of these projects -- it's a weird thing to be getting attention with your art, it's almost too much exciting stuff to do to even appreciate. It's really weird. I just got flown to Amsterdam to do an art show -- it was just like this frantic, "I'm in Amsterdam, and I'm drawing these giant pictures, and now I'm back home." The time I get to think about it is when I'm on the airplane. But it's good problems to have. I can't complain.

"8House" arrives at Image Comics in 2014.

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