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Conversing on Comics with Ivan Brandon

Drifter, with artist Nic Klein, debuted this week, and Brandon is in the middle of a four-city signing tour that finds him at Leed's Thought Bubble this weekend and London's Orbital Comics on Wednesday. It's a familiar territory, launching a series, but he views the landscape of creator-owned comics differently today that he did when he started more than a decade ago.

(Full disclosure: I worked with Brandon on a story for his 2006 anthology 24Seven.)

Chris Arrant: Ivan, what are you working on today?

Ivan Brandon: I'm in a hotel in Baltimore, headed to the first of four cities I'm signing in for the launch of Drifter. I'll be doing another in Manhattan tonight, then flying to the United Kingdom tomorrow. In the moments between those things I'm writing another creator-owned book that hasn't been announced yet and working on the second arc of Drifter.

You’ve been working in comics since 2003, but have avoided doing any long runs on books – be it your own or something company-owned. Is that by design, or just how things have played out?

A little of both, depending on the situation. I like variety, first and foremost, I tend to like to get into different characters and genres, and I like to surprise myself. Sometimes the realities of the market at the time meant the project didn't go as far as we wanted it to.

Are there series you've done in the past that you still have ideas for, and you'd like to return to?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. My two Nemesis projects at DC were always supposed to lead to a third, for example. Machine Man [from Marvel Comics Presents] is another one I always hoped to go back to. I've got a drawer full of stuff like that.

This week your new series Drifter launches -- it looks like sci-fi but feels like a Western. Your book Viking felt like a crime book, and NYC Mech was a book with robots about human feelings. Can you talk about that meshing of settings, genre and themes?

I tend not to think as much about genre in and of itself ... which is to say, I love a lot of genres but I don't really care about the established tropes except where they're completely essential. When I get attracted to an idea my brain will often take a weird route to trying to bond with it. Likewise, when trying to get inside a character's head I'm looking for really basic human connections that are hopefully recognizable to anyone regardless of where or when they grew up. The more I read about Vikings, the more they felt to me like gangsters. For Drifter the part of the future we're envisioning carries a lot of similarities with frontier expansion. So it's all organic to the way my brain works.

So for inspiration or just interest, what kinds of things did you read/watch/listen to when creating Drifter?

Weird random stuff, the movie Giant. The Nick Cave and Warren Ellis soundtrack to The Proposition. Lots of random science content.

Drifter is the latest in a long line of collaborations with Nic Klein, second only to Andy MacDonald. You seem to engender close relationships with your collaborators, so what’s the working relationship like with Nic?

Nic and I have, from the beginning, been almost like weird siblings, we gravitate towards the same things in slightly different ways, and I think that brings ... I dunno, a depth or a texture to the stuff we work on ... sort of like we're simultaneously shining different lights on things. Nic is obsessive about detail and a reality that he can believe. He will dig into something until it makes sense to him, no matter how long it takes him or how much his girlfriend wants to murder him. Working with Nic is both very intense and extremely simple. We understand each other to a fault. Our communication is a shorthand.

The last thing the two of you did was Viking, then spent five years working on other books. Was Drifter always in the mix there somewhere, or what was it that ignited the idea to work together again?

We've been trying to work together on a new creator-owned thing for about three years now, and the timing wouldn't work out. We kept overlapping by a couple weeks to where one or the other was wrapping something up just as the other was immersed in getting something off the ground. For over a year we've known we were going to work on Drifter and had been discussing it and crafting it slowly while the stars aligned for us to officially start making it our main gig. Once Nic finished Captain America and I finished my commitment to a movie I'd been working on, we dove into it head first.

Movie? What's this movie career? Can you tell us about what you do outside of comics?

I write here and there for all kinds of stuff, usually all fiction. The last year I spent a good chunk working on a movie that I can't name and for a video game. Beyond that I did over 500 pages of comics that haven't been released yet. And lots of tweets.

Previous to this, the big project you were working on was Offset Comics, announced in 2012. Where does that stand now, two years after its announcement?

Well, it was never formally announced. I'd show some artwork and stuff to people at shows and I guess that led to some folks in the press showing interest in it, and that led to me talking more publicly about those things. We are very slowly working on three launch projects and on getting the right mechanism into place for expansion beyond that for some other stuff we have in mind to do. A lot of comics stuff ends up being seat of the pants and that can work creatively but not operationally. So we're moving slowly to get strong legs underneath us before we pull those curtains. We have a lot of content ready go and we'll have a lot more by the time we launch.

Any estimated date of when that launch will be? Are we talking months or years?

Months, but not like two months. Next year sometime.

In another interview, you said you got into comics through books from your older brother in the early 1980s. Given your friendships in the industry now, was comics reading for you back then just something you talked with with your brother, or did you have friends who were also interested?

Oh, my older brother didn't want to talk comics with me. I was his annoying kid brother digging through his stuff; he wanted me out of his room. I'd find people with passing interests over the years but mostly not til I was much older. The Internet helped with this, and I think that's a lot of the charm of being a professional ... you finally are surrounded with people who share your weird secret interests. It's why comics creators tend to run in packs, I think.

So who would you say your "pack" is in comics?

Depends where I am, I have my local friends in New York, but I've been doing this for so long that it's sort of a roving pack, I guess. When I travel people plug in and out like specialists on a mission.

You also said you took classes from David Mazzucchelli, and even did your first comic at age 10 under his tutelage. How’d that experience happen – where was he teaching that you attended?

David has taught for a living for a long time now, but I was in the first small group he taught in private classes in Hoboken, New Jersey. He'd just finished Batman: Year One and would bring the pages for us to flip through. It was an incredible experience. He taught me a lot about trying to bring emotion into the work, to think outside of just a pretty drawing. And he taught me to ink with a nib, which was terrifying. I think my first comic was about mice running the White House.

Bringing this around full circle, let me ask: You’ve done creator-owned comics on several occasions, but it seems things have changed a lot in that regard ... especially at Image. What’s it like doing creator-owned comics now versus 2004 with NYC Mech or your last outing, 2010’s Viking?

On the creative side, not much is different. I'm older now so I approach things with older eyes, but I think to a large degree it's much the same way I'd approach them when I was younger in that I tend to work on things that I'm excited about, even if they're weird. Image over 11 years, on the other hand ... My main relationship in that time has always been with Eric Stephenson on all my projects, but the mechanism around him has changed pretty drastically. They were a few dudes in an office back then, now they're the No. 1 independent publisher with all the appropriate pieces in place to support that. So on a personal level it feels pretty great to be able to do the kind of weird stuff I want to do knowing there's a structure to properly support it and even maybe an audience to enjoy it. It's an extremely exciting time to be making comics.

Does the industry/audience seem more supportive now of creator-owned books than they were when you first started doing them with NYC Mech in 2004?

Oh, God, a billion percent more supportive. I could never have done Drifter in 2003 when we first pitched NYC Mech. I think most of what Image is publishing, even the most successful books would have been duds 10 years ago. It's a completely different era now. It's an amazing time.

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