WonderCon: Spotlight on Brian Wood

At WonderCon in San Francisco, Brian Wood, acclaimed author of the on-going DC Comics/Vertigo series "DMZ," answered questions from a panel audience about wrapping up one 12-issue miniseries, inaugurating a new book about Vikings for Vertigo and creating a quartet of young-adult characters for the Minx line.

Wood spoke of the forthcoming final issues of "Local," the miniseries of stand-alone stories set in cities across the country, illustrated by Ryan Kelly and published by Oni Press.

"Issues 11 and 12 are scheduled to be out in April and May," he said. "I think Ryan is just finishing up Issue 12 now. The plan is to have the collection out in September.

"I really apologize for it being late," Wood continued. "I tell people that if you could think of anything to make the book late, it happened. Good things like both Ryan and I having kids and me getting married. And bad things like me going blind for a month and Ryan being in the hospital getting his kidneys operated on."

Wood claimed that "Local" is his favorite book. "I've not ever rushed it or taken half steps. Hopefully, in the end, everyone will have forgotten that it was ever late when there's finally a collection."

"It's personal in a lot of ways," Wood continued. "It's not like [recurring character] Megan is meant to be me at any point in the stories. But the book is grounded in reality and takes place in cities where I've lived. I have an emotional attachment to it that I don't have to these other books."

As for the finale, Wood said, "The last issue really kills. I don't mean to pat myself on the back. But Issue 12 of 'Local' recasts the whole book and brings everything full circle. I invented this person and gave you a decade of her life. In the end, I think it's pretty moving. The book turned out better than I ever hoped it would."

Asked about his relationships with the writers who illustrate his scripts, Wood said, "Up until Vertigo I've always found the artist myself. At Vertigo, I probably do have the final say, but there's a lot of other input from the editors. In the case of 'DMZ' and 'Northlanders,' there was literally a stack of portfolios in (editor) Will Dennis's office of every artist he's met. So I sat in his office and flipped through portfolios until I found Riccardo Burchielli and Davide Gianfelice."

Wood said that, when giving direction to an artist, he operates between the extremities of Alan Moore's wordiness and Brian Azzarello's terseness. "I definitely write as much as I feel I have to. It can get tricky writing for Riccardo and Davide, whose first language isn't English. They can read English pretty well, but I found out early on that there's a lot that can be lost if I'm not careful. Those scripts take longer to write than they would otherwise."

Especially with "Northlanders," set in Europe circa the first millennium, Wood is careful to supply plenty of photo reference and historical details. He said, "Every script came with a 20-meg PDF of reference. It takes me all of ten seconds to write: The port of Constantinople, one thousand years ago. But Davide's the guy who has to figure out what that looks like and draw it."

According to Wood, the current story arc of "Northlanders" ends at Issue 8. Issues 9 and 10 will be illustrated by Dean Ormstrom from "The Books of Magic." "The next arc goes back in time a couple hundred years," said Wood. "Each arc is going to skip around like that. The two-parter is about the first Viking raid on England, the first time anyone had seen them in action."

Wood said that he envisions "Northlanders" as a collection of separate miniseries. "There really is no planned ending to 'Northlanders.' I hope it runs for years and years, and then I can end it whenever I want to."

As for the near-future war comic "DMZ," however, Wood said, "Sixty issues is my general target, though I haven't announced anything definite. I think I picked that number because a lot of Vertigo books are around that length. I know that, as much as I love that book, my attention span is such that I couldn't write it indefinitely."

He insisted that there is no grand scheme for "DMZ." "I don't plan 'DMZ' out beyond an arc. It's a book very much influenced by things that interest me in the news. I want to keep my options flexible."

Wood said that Matty Roth, the protagonist of "DMZ," was designed not to be an impartial observer. "Part of what's so much fun for me is writing about him fucking up. The arc that's going to start next issue, on Page 3 you see what a colossal hole he's dug himself into, in terms of blurring the lines and getting emotionally involved when he's supposed to be objective. I don't think it would be much fun to read about a detached journalist."

In June, DC's Minx line will publish "The New York Four," illustrated by Ryan Kelly. Wood said, "I hope no one here dismisses it because it's for 'little girls.'

"It's about these four girls who have their first year of college in New York. One's so shy to the point that she prefers to communicate with the world just through texting. One is an alarmingly scary stalker/voyeur. One really likes to date older men. And one really likes to fuck with guys' heads. I think that's the kind of story that a young adult wants to read."

One option Wood is unlikely to explore any time soon is returning to illustrating his own work. He said, "I don't draw fast. I'm really not convinced that the comics industry wants me as an artist. I did these 'Global Frequency' covers and got Eisner nominations for them, but couldn't get cover work to save my life. A lot of editors tell me my art is weird."

Later this year, Vertigo will begin republishing Wood's "Demo," illustrated by Becky Cloonan. Wood talked about the book he had originally written for smaller publisher AiT/Planet Lar. "There was this point in 2004 when I was finishing 'Demo' and I wanted to 'level up' in terms of my reach into the direct market by selling more books. And they were very fair and up-front about it, saying 'We're a very small company with a staff of two, and this is as much as we can do for you.' At that point it was very clear that I wanted a career, and I wasn't even paying my phone bill with my AiT royalties."

Wood said that, through Vertigo, he has a readership that's ten times what he had with AiT. "'Demo' is a book that's very, very close to me. I just want a lot of people reading it. I feel that it has a broader appeal than what it's sold so far. Vertigo has given me that chance to get it out there more."

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