Brunswick & McDaid on "Jersey Gods"

CBR News brought first word of Glen Brunswick and Dan McDaid's new Image Comics monthly "Jersey Gods," last September, and since then the series that combines cosmic god action and Jersey suburbanite romance has been popping up all over the comics map, most notably as a six-page backup story in Robert Kirkman's hit "Invincible."

The tale of space god of war Barock, who lands in New Jersey from his home planet of Nebulon only to fall head over heels for fashion smart local girl Zoe, "Jersey Gods" holds a similar story of lucky fate in uniting its creative team. Screenwriter Brunswick already worked his way into the minds of fans crafting scripts for John Romita, Jr.'s creator-owned "The Gray Area" as well as "Killing Girl" for acclaimed artist Frank Espinoza, but the scribe had never attempted an ongoing serial before. London native McDaid came to notice as a contestant in CBR's own COMIC BOOK IDOL talent competition, but has seen little comics work hit shops before now.

While both creators are stepping into the big time with their new ongoing series, a talk with both of them reveals that work in sarcastic stride like... well, like a married couple from New Jersey. Read on for the pair's take on the origin of "Jersey Girls," the influence of Jack Kirby, their all-star lineup of cover artists and the mast plan that will take Barock, Zoe and the rest of the gods through 2009.

CBR: Glen, tell us a little about the secret origin of "Jersey Gods." Did you sit down with some of the guys at Image and say, "I want an artist who can do X, Y and Z" or did they read your pitch and bring Dan to you or what exactly?

Glen Brunswick: Basically, I had been working on the outline for this for a bit, and I had just come off working with Frank Espinoza on "Killing Girl." The thing about Frank is that I had been really inspired by his comic "Rocketo" which was this fun, adventurous book, and I wanted "Jersey Gods" to have that same energy and joyous excitement. So I guess you could say I was looking for what was a cross between Espinoza and Darwyn Cooke - someone who could draw anything and had a huge arsenal of imagination but never at the expense of telling a good story in those small human moments. Kirby had that too, and that's exactly what I found in Dan, to be honest.

Dan really falls somewhere in between Espinoza and Darwyn Cooke. Darwyn's been a huge influence in Dan's life I know, so it just sort of worked out. When I saw his stuff I was blown away. Dan has exceeded my expectations of what I thought it was going to be. Don't tell Dan that.

I actually brought Dan to Image after I saw his work on CBR's COMIC BOOK IDOL contest, and I thought it was incredible. He had this one Fathom sample that had an old '50s car and a very pretty girl with some stylized action, and those pages has a special quality that took me to another place, and I immediately felt that he could handle those large god moments in "Jersey Gods" and the architecture of Nebulon. Then when we started working together, I realized that he had not just this huge talent but also an incredible passion for this Kirby-esque grand style of epic. It was really fortunate for both of us as it was clearly material I was passionate about, and we both felt this way. Dan's really become a true partner in the collaboration, and we share the same vision now.

Dan McDaid: We're not friends, though. We don't like each other. We're just collaborators. We tolerate each other's existence.

GB: I've really come to rely on Dan's instincts when it comes to script revisions. It's not just that I write the stuff down. Dan has a lot of terrific ideas and is a professional storyteller, even though...you know...

DM: I'm going to shut you down right now! This interview is over. I'm finished.

Dan, to give you a moment's rebuttal, you came into this gig because of COMIC BOOK IDOL, but were you doing art professionally before, or were you just working in a butcher shop dreaming of comics?

DM: Well, actually I have some art background. I've done concept art for a game company for four years so art's always been a part of what I do and my life, but I didn't start getting seriously into comic book art and creating my own comics work until late 2006, I suppose. And then, it was just in my spare time creating my own comic strip. I think a lot of professionals before they get into the mainstream end up doing a lot of work off their own backs in self publishing. That's what it was with me.

With blogs and things you can just update each week with a new page of work. So I got slowly into it, and then in early 2007 I decided I wanted to be doing it for a living and getting paid for it. Unfortunately, that hasn't panned out, but that was the initial plan. So my first foray into that was to send samples to the UK "Doctor Who" magazine. They liked what they saw, but it was a very slow process. I submitted in February '07 and my first published thing was around November. But when CBI came along, that occupied every waking hour for about six weeks, and as a result of that Glen noticed me. He never actually voted for me, which I noticed, but that's fine.

GB: I feel badly about not voting for you. [laughs] But let me explain why I didn't vote for him! I thought his stuff was so good that I contacted him before the CBI contest was over, and then he didn't respond to me. It was like, "Who does this guy think he is?!?!"

DM: [laughs] I was waiting for Marvel Comics and the big guns, thinking, "This is going to propel me!" I'd heard all these amazing stories about how people were propelled into the upper echelons of comicdom, and thought "Any day now, Stan Lee himself is going to phone my London flat and say, 'Dan, I want to make you the offer of a lifetime.'" And then this guy, who wrote "Frequency" or something, gets in touch and says, "Hey, I've got this idea," and I'm like, "Yeah, whatever. I'll get back to you."

GB: But I think you could understand how you wouldn't have voted for me in those circumstances. He was voted off in the very final round just before he contacted me. Then he was looking for work.

DM: Yeah, I wish I could say that wasn't true, but it is true.

Well, what was it when you caught up on your in box and read Glen's pitch that appealed to you about "Jersey Gods" and made you want to dedicate your time to it?

DM: It was the kind of perfect combination of real high concept superheroics and a very small, focused, kind of intimate story about two people. CBI, I can't overstate this enough, was an incredible learning curve for me in terms of sticking to a schedule. Glen may now laugh. But also it taught me how to try a lot of different things. I really enjoyed the Fathom thing. I enjoyed the Legion of Super-Heroes, but I really, really enjoyed doing C.B. Cebulski's "Wonderlost" story. A lot of the comments on that part were people going, "Dan, you didn't get the era right. It looks too much like the '50s." I gave one of the kids a real MC Hammer flat top, but no one noticed that. But I really enjoyed those moments of just a boy answering the door to meet a girl. And what Glen depicted to me was the idea of the girl going to open the door, and the guy on the other end is a god. He fills the doorway. He's huge. That sort of tension between the other-worldly and the every day is what turned me on. I thought that was cool.

GB: And interestingly enough, Dan took a lot of time in developing our main character Zoe, who works on a fashion supplement for a newspaper and gets really involved in the fashion world with designers and pageants. Dan really excels at drawing those kinds of moments, which in a superhero book are generally few and far between. He seems to get a kick out of those moments equally as much as the action.

DM: I don't see it as a side of myself that's feminine, but there's definitely a feminine side to superhero storytelling that you don't really get that much. The nearest comparison I can think of is Dan Slott's "She-Hulk" - that combination of domestic woes and career problems with superhero stuff. It's played sort of broadly for laughs but with an emotional undercurrent. That's where it connects with me.

Speaking on the big action side, let's talk about the Jack Kirby influence on "Jersey Gods," as his cosmic work plays a strong role in the nuts and bolts of this kind of comic book. How much does that influence help you tell your story, and how hard can it make it for you to prove to people that you're not just doing a Kirby pastiche?

GB: I think it's obvious that Dan and I both love Kirby and that he's the ignition switch that fired up out imagination for this story. But I literally think that's where it ends. Once we get going, we don't think about Kirby anymore. It's become its own thing, and I think the idea of making our protagonist Zoe a girl with no powers is something that Kirby never did in any of the stories I've read of his. The expected move would be to make the hero with powers the lead, and we've reversed that.

Also, this is the first time in my life where I'm actually writing something from my own experience in terms of the relationship of the god with Zoe, in that they live in a suburban household and have the kinds of problems suburbanites have with chores and housework and the in-laws dropping in. So all the nutty domesticity of a sitcom that I've experienced in my own life, I thought, "I need an outlet for this." This was an opportunity to mind moments I thought were hysterically nutty and funny in my own life but place them in their own fantastical setting. And then Dan jumped in and added his own crazy, creative, wonderful ideas so we just springboard off each other. So it feels very fresh to me regardless of the fact that Kirby did this gods-on-the-earth kind of thing. Hopefully, readers will feel the same way.

DM: From an artistic standpoint, because even though I've always been a Kirby fan - this is going to sound like sacrilege or madness - I didn't actually read any of the Fourth World stuff until very, very recently. We're talking about this year. Aside from that, my only connection to characters like Darkseid, Lightray and Metron would be when they interacted with the JLA or the greater DC Universe. So I don't have much background with that Kirby stuff, and now that I'm catching up, it's fun to see how we've gone off in a different direction away from Kirby in a weird way.

GB: Part of it is that our story is this love story - a small tale between two people and their life together. At the same time, we have this grand setting and this 10,000-year-old war between gods and planets who are invading this love story and setting it on its ear. It's almost like it takes inspiration from that type of Kirby-esque thing but is its own small, sweet story as well. I think that makes it its own thing.

When it came to designing the gods who appear in "Jersey Gods," did Glen have a lot of visual notes and ideas or just the basic character types for Dan to dream up whole cloth?

GB: Mostly, I had verbal notes that we discussed and Dan took it from there. Everything Dan came up with I really, really dug. Again, I feel like we've been on the same page the whole time. What's neat about the shorthand we have is that I feel in minimal words we're able to convey what we want from each other. When I first looked at his designs, I think the one note I had is that he had the gods more furry and savage like barbarian gods while I wanted a more high tech sort of a thing. So I drew a space helmet for Barock that I thought was pretty cool based on what I would think it should look like. And then Dan actually forgot to put it into the first issue.

DM: [laughs]

GB: And the funny thing is that I didn't even miss it! It was better the way he did it, so now I'm embarrassed by my little space helmet.

DM: I printed it out, and whenever my spirit is low, I look at that little drawing and it picks me right back up again.

That's really how it worked: Glen would give me ideas, I'd drawn them up, he'd give me notes and we'd refine them. It went quite quickly. There wasn't an awful lot of brainstorming because I think we both had quite clear ideas of what the characters looked like, and both of our ideas were quite similar. Except that some of my early designs were accidentally perhaps a little too close to the Kirby archetype. I know I did an early version of Helius called "Sunspark" or something, and I look at it now and hang my head in shame because it looks so much like Lightray. I didn't even think about it! I was just, "This character is going to knock Glen on his ass! It's so beautiful! Look at that hair!" Then Glen asked me why I'd just drawn Lightray, and I was like, "Shut up, you! You're blind! I'm the artist!!" So then I made him black, and that was okay. [laughs]

GB: Once I suggest he make him look like Sidney Poitier, we no longer had those problems.

DM: The one thing I do regret very, very, very slightly -- and it's not our fault; we were caught up with this -- was Barock's name. It was originally Barac, and then as time went by we started to hear about this guy Barack Obama who was becoming a bigger and bigger deal. At the time, it was pretty clear that Hilary Clinton was going to be in charge, and then suddenly Obama came out of nowhere to win, so we thought, "We have to change the name." So we changed it very slightly, but the downside is that Americans will say it exactly the same way. It's a cool name, and we're not changing it.

GB: I'm actually waiting to get that phone call from Obama saying, "Okay, you guys win. I'm changing my name."

DM: But he's changing his name to Helius, so we're really screwed.

You released promotional comics as part of Image's "PopGun" anthology as well as in a backup to a recent issue of "Invincible" that focused on some short, fun scenes with the "Jersey Gods" cast, but once the book gets going are you going to keep the short story format or building longer arcs?

GB: The promo shorts that we did serve a different purpose than the actual book. We created those as a window into our main characters and some of the problems they face, but the actual "Jersey Gods" book has many planned story arcs of dramatic action. The first one is about five issues, and each of them will be about four or five issues in length that fits into a much more epic, grand tale. We've talked about it, and I've plotted the book out for at least three years already. There are a lot of unexpected and dramatic twists that will come to a head in the third year of the series, but what we've shown already are just the fun. The adventure is yet to come.

We're very excited about having the book come out. I think it will surprise people because they're seeing this sticomy promotion that will take you into the heart of the characters. And they'll come for that sitcom and those characters, but they'll stay for the adventure.


DM: I think the initial arc of the book is taking us to that point where the sitcom situations stuff starts to unfold. They're not married yet, so we're building up their relationship and brining them together. That's how the story will begin.

You've got quite a line-up of cover artists helping out with the initial issues of the series including Darwyn Cooke, Mike Allred and Eric Larsen. How did that come about? Did Image send out previews to folks and they caught interest in it?

GB: It's funny. The professional community has been incredibly supportive of "Jersey Gods" right from the beginning, and I think a lot of it has to do with Dan's artwork because I was at Wizard World last year and had about 15 pages of artwork to show around, and I met Darwyn Cooke, who I'm a big fan of as is Dan. We just started chatting, and I showed him the pages. He said, "This is great stuff" so me being the opportunist that I am, I was like, "You could draw a cover if you'd like?" Literally, within minutes of looking at Dan's work, Darwyn was on board to draw a cover for us.

It's been that easy in terms of showing the art. [Image Comics PR & Marketing Coordinator] Joe Keatinge hooked me up with Mike Allred, who I consider one of the great comic book artists of our time. He's doing our first issue's cover, but he's so incredibly sweet. When he read the first issue, he referred to himself as "Jersey Gods'" #1 fan, and when he said that I nearly fainted. And again with Paul Pope, Joe Keatinge sent materials to Paul, and he was one board and then Erik Larsen and a few others.

It's really heartening to get that enthusiastic reaction to the book. Kurt Busiek read the first issue as did Mark Waid - two guys who are two of my favorite writers - and they're squarely behind the book. That's heady stuff for me, and it gives me hope that they book will find an audience. I know that in this market or any market, it's hard to get attention and find an audience, but if the professional community is behind it than maybe Dan and I will have a chance to tell this incredible "Jersey Gods" saga that we have planned. We really have had such a great time crafting this thing and the hard part now is waiting for the first issue to ship. Hopefully these pros are right and...

DM: And we're as awesome as they say we are.

"Jersey Gods" #1 ships in February from Image Comics. Glen Brunswick and Dan McDaid will be on hand at the New York Comic-Con to debut the series with a con-exclusive variant cover.

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