It’s been an eventful few months for Brian Wood. Whether it’s his current ongoing Dark Horse series “The Massive” heading toward its conclusion by the end of the year, some of his older work set to find a new audience with “New York Four” and “Demo” reprints, or his recent run on Marvel’s “Moon Knight,” the writer has a lot on his plate — not to mention the recent news of him taking on “Spawn” for Image Comics next year.
CBR News spoke with Wood about bringing the long-running “The Massive” to a close, his upcoming series “Rebels” and getting back into the swing of heavy research, and the challenge of bringing “New York Four” and “Demo” back for a modern audience. He also looks back at the work that helped him launch his career in comics and discusses the challenge of taking up the “Moon Knight” mantle from his good friend Warren Ellis.
CBR News: Brian, “The Massive” #30 is set to hit by the end of the year, closing the book on two and a half years of story. You always mentioned it had a beginning, middle and end — was bringing the book to a close a bigger challenge than you initially thought?
Brian Wood: Yes and no. It was a little different — I’m always comparing “The Massive” to “DMZ.” The reason why “The Massive” is only half as long and why I wanted it to end at that point was that I felt like a six-year book is too long for me to write. I began to get antsy, I began to think of other books I wanted to do, I felt like possibly the old saying [applied]: “It’s better to get off the stage early than too late.” When I pitched “The Massive,” I had a very specific ending in mind and I assigned it issue #30. We always had that clear target from day one to aim for. In that sense, it was easy. I could just plan accordingly and wrap it up with plenty of time to lay all the groundwork.
What’s hard about it, all that being said, is that I wish we could do more. [Laughs] It’s so much fun working with [artist] Garry [Brown] — but like I said, it’s better to end on a high note than to go six months too far.
Readers still have three issues left to experience, but — spoiler alert — The Massive has actually been found, although that’s not the end of the story and certainly not the end of the mystery. As more about the Crash gets revealed in the final issues, what can readers expect from the characters they’ve grown familiar with over the last two-plus years?
That’s sort of the thing — the series has always had a big twist ending that I’m still surprised that nobody blew up until this point, knock on wood. Like, I didn’t let it slip in an interview, someone didn’t forward an email with the ending in it — we’ve been able to keep it under wraps. It really does turn everything on its head, and the ending of the story is what defines this entire series. It is going to be “The Massive,” once this ending comes. It puts the entire story, all the events of the entire story in a completely different light. There’s not a whole lot I can say without spoiling it.
What I will say, we leave everything in a manner where it would be extremely easy to do another series. You can call it a sequel, you can call it something else. In a way, there’s always hope that if anybody really wanted to get the band back together, we could. The world doesn’t blow up like the Death Star at the end of it.
Your comic projects are always exhaustively researched, and it’s something we’ve talked about extensively in the past. When developing something like the Crash, have changes in the world over the last two years ever made you reconsider your approach?
It’s been pretty locked in. I will say that in the case of “The Massive,” I’ve allowed myself a bit more leeway when it comes to that research. You’re right — I’ve exhaustively researched for “DMZ” and for “Northlanders,” and when I was starting this up, I thought, “This is a whole new thing. This is the science of weather and geology. Do I really want to start down this road? I don’t know!” [Laughs] I didn’t know if I wanted to commit to that and possibly fall short.
At the end of it, I said, “This book is labeled sci-fi, I’m going to give myself a break and I’m going to allow myself to fudge things and treat things with more of a sci-fi or comic-booky way. I’m not going to be so hardcore or tough on myself about getting everything right.” So, it’s been light. I’ve done research, I’ve read a lot of books, but it’s mostly been to get me into the vibe, or it’s been on a lighter level. It’s been about locations. I have a lot of maps, and I get detailed there. But when it comes to things like ocean currents and weather and lives of sharks, I let it go a bit. I learned a tough lesson with “Northlanders” — that there is such a thing as too much research.
I remember speaking to you about “Northlanders” way, way back and you mentioning that you had shelves upon shelves of research material.
Yeah! I’ve been selling it off. I would box up books and put on Twitter, “Does anybody want a box of books about vikings?” I had so much of it, and that’s after I picked out what I was going to keep. I went really overboard with that.
Speaking of research, your next big project at Dark Horse is “Rebels,” which takes place during the Revolutionary War era in America. That’s another time period that has the potential to get over-researched. How did you combat that, or did you just go back to over-researching again?
Well, now I’m jumping back in. I gave myself that break on “The Massive” and now I’m back in it again. What’s different about this and what makes the research harder or tougher on me is that unlike the vikings, this time period is recent history — relatively speaking. I think a lot of Americans, a lot of people, know about it. With the vikings, I could take a guess that perhaps most of my audience isn’t super well-versed in viking history. I didn’t feel like I was going to have thousands of readers fact-checking my story. But the American Revolution they teach in school. There’s a lot more stuff out there — there’s a lot of books, there are TV shows, there are movies. I think it’s something that’s a lot more known to readers. Now I’ve really got to step up my game on the research side.
On the other hand, it’s easy for me because like I said, I learned it in school. I grew up in New England. I’m setting the story in my home state of Vermont. This is stuff that I already know and love, and so far, it’s working out.
Tell me a bit about the impetus to bring “New York Four,” “New York Five” and “Demo” back into the wild.
Well, bluntly put, they’d fallen out of print at DC. So, that’s the obvious reason. But “New York Four” was a part of that Minx line that DC tried. Despite their efforts, that imprint didn’t succeed. I was always bummed about it because I really liked that project. I thought it was a really good book. Ryan Kelly did it with me, and he’s a longtime collaborator and friend. So it just seemed like a shame. When I was able to get the rights back, I jumped at it. We put some thought into what the best thing was to do, so obviously, we’re packaging it — both the “New York Four” and “New York Five” — into a single book at Dark Horse. I just think it’s a really fun book and it represents a good time that Ryan and I had.
With “Demo,” it’s kind of the same thing. DC was letting it lapse, so I got it back and Becky [Cloonan] and I are putting all 18 issues of “Demo” together into one giant book, also at Dark Horse.
It must be really exciting for you to go back into these books — with “Demo” especially — that helped bring you into prominence in comics. What has it been like for you going back and re-exploring some of your early work?
It’s fun. “Demo” especially is what put both Becky and I on the map. It’s what got us our separate jobs at Vertigo. I went over there to do “DMZ” and she did that “American Virgin” book with Steve Seagle based on the “Demo” work. I always call it my foundation, even though I had done books prior to “Demo,” I felt it was “Demo” that really got everything moving.
What’s the most fun about both these things is that we’re able to include all these extras, and Dark Horse seems willing to not give us any page count limit. We have 40 or 50 pages of extras — [Laughs] which is a lot! It’s like the back fifth of the book. Ryan especially has done all these beautiful color paintings as commissions of “New York Four” characters, so we’re running those in color; all the design stuff we did early on that nobody’s ever seen.
Same thing with “Demo” as well. Any other collection that’s come of “Demo” before was very lean. It was just the story — it was always done on the cheap. There was a bare-bones copy when it was at AIT, and DC really did it on the cheap. It was thin and kind of crappy. This is really heavy thick bright paper — because Becky’s art is so dense in black and white that it always bled through. This time, I wanted paper that you’re not going to see the next pages of artwork coming through. The end result is really nice. It’s a very beautiful edition, and it has all this stuff that no one’s seen.
Creatively, it’s very satisfying to be able to have the space and the means to curate the work and present it in the best way we can.
It seems like this is a much bigger undertaking for you, Becky and Ryan in terms of going back over old work. How involved was that process? How deep did you have to get in order to get this ready for reprint?
I think Becky and Ryan probably put a bit more time into it because they wrote commentary for all those extras. I wrote an intro for “New York Four,” but then Ryan went in and wrote blurbs for the entire back matter. It’s interesting to be able to look back with some hindsight, with some perspective, to put it into context of our careers and comment on Minx as an experiment with some hindsight. Obviously, the editors at Dark Horse — it was a lot of design work, a lot of layout. I got this disc of the digital files from DC and it was gigabytes of all this stuff that someone had to go through and organize and plan it out and lay out and everything. I feel like I got off easiest in terms of a lot of work needing to be done. It’s pretty cool, though.
Getting “Demo” and “New York Four” into the hands of new readers seems like it would give you the chance to maybe revisit these worlds someday. Is that something you have a desire to do?
Yeah, we talked about it for these books here — Becky and I were like, “Should we do more ‘Demo’ just to get some attention going?” She was busy — she’s working on all these cool books at DC. We felt like we were unsure of the timing and we didn’t want to rush it or do it for some commercial reason. We ended up not doing anything new.
Honestly, “Demo” sort of feels done to me. It was of a certain time in both our careers and in comics. It just seems like we’ve both moved on too far to go back again.
The “New York Four” and “New York Five” really have not seen — I don’t think it’s even come close to finding its audience yet. “Demo’s” been around longer, but “New York Four” and “New York Five” was not marketed how it should have been. The Minx line had a real focus on a market outside of comics. The “New York Five,” which was put out through Vertigo, was weird. It was like a YA book put out through a mature label imprint. That was an odd publishing move. I really feel like those have not gotten their time in the sun. I think there’s a market out there ready for it without us having to do anything else.
When it was first announced that these reprints were coming, editors at Dark Horse said they were looking to break in to the YA market. Is that a genre you’re interested in working a bit more now that these will be out there?
It’s a genre that I’ve always liked — this is actually the topic of the intro I wrote for the “New York Four” collection — despite all my grown-up political comics I’ve done, I’ve always had this soft spot or interest for YA books, which goes back to my own childhood. It’s one of the reasons I was so happy to be a part of Minx; to do books that had YA themes to it, like “Demo” or “Local.” Dark Horse does have some — not an imprint — but they are doing a huge push in that direction. I’m talking to them a bit. Nothing’s set in stone, but I think I’ll take another shot at a YA book soon. We’re talking about some ideas.
You also recently took over “Moon Knight” at Marvel, following up Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey. You worked with Warren back during your “Generation X” days, did you talk to him at all before you got this “Moon Knight” gig?
No, I didn’t really! It’s sort of funny — Warren was my first friend in comics, my first creator friend, way way back before “Generation X.” I’ve known him for a long time. We worked on “Generation X,” I did covers for “Global Frequency.” I’ve been in contact with him off and on over the last 15 years. So, when Nick Lowe at Marvel was like, “Do you want to pick up after Warren?” it just sort of made sense.
Then, it dawned on me: everybody loves this “Moon Knight” book. It’s perfect. It really is. I read the first several issues that were out, and they’re a perfect concept and perfect execution. I actually had to follow that! When the news broke, people were upset that Warren was leaving, saying they were going to drop the book — there was a lot of pressure. I could be the best writer I could possibly be and I would never touch Warren. There’s no way I could do that, no way I could execute at that level. He’s the master.
There was a lot of anxiety once I realized what I was getting myself into. I tried really hard. I didn’t want to — like I said, the book was great. I felt no need to change anything, just put my stamp on it. I agreed with him on the form that done-in-one format and the tone was good. We have [colorist] Jordie [Bellaire] and [original series artist] Declan [Shalvey] staying on a bit. My goal is, “I don’t want to mess it up.” I don’t want to copy Warren, I want it to be my story, but I want to honor and keep it in the same spirt, the same style. That’s my number one mandate I’ve given myself, is not mess it up. It’s one of the more nerve-wracking jobs I’ve taken. I feel like I’m more stressed about this than when I re-launched “X-Men” or “Star Wars.” [Laughs]
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