Friday afternoon's Q&A panel with Brian Wood at Wizard World Chicago produced two major announcements. First, Wood and Vertigo editor Will Dennis revealed that the "DMZ" writer's next project will be a Viking saga titled "Northlanders," and near the end of the panel Dennis said that Wood had reached a two-year exclusive agreement with DC Comics.
The panel opened with Wood describing his background, and revealing that he did not start reading comics until college, when he discovered that artists such as Dave McKean, whom he'd seen in other media, had worked in comics. "I was a high and mighty art student," Wood said, "and that was when I saw, 'oh my God, this is art.'" He then talked briefly about his initial project, "Channel Zero," and his days working for Rockstar Games before he decided to quit his job to create comics full-time. Wood said he then created "tons and tons" of graphic novels, and listed a few by name, including "Fight for Tomorrow" at Vertigo. Dennis joked that "We don't talk about 'Fight for Tomorrow,'" to which Wood replied that "No one else wants to talk about 'Fight for Tomorrow,' but I'll talk about it."
Wood also joked that he had pitched "Supermarket," his successful miniseries currently published by IDW, to Dennis, and that the editor had turned it down. This led to a discussion about "Supermarket" artist Kristian's upcoming issue of "DMZ," which will answer questions about daily life in the world of "DMZ."
The pair then opened the floor to questions, and the first came from a fan asking for commentary on "DMZ's" familiar setting of New York blended with life most people only witness in the media. Wood said that "DMZ" is primarily a New York book, and is heavily influenced by the "insane shit" he saw while working as a bike messenger. He said the war aspect of the story "underscore the uniqueness" of the city, and that the analysis of war culture is somewhat secondary. Wood also noted that, unlike most war stories, "DMZ" is told from a citizen's point of view.
Another fan asked how Wood researched the settings for "Local," particularly since the stories are set in a particular place in time and many neighborhoods change significantly in only a few years. The fan used Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood as an example, since it will be featured in an upcoming issue. Wood said much of his research involves "calling comic book shops saying, 'help, I need to know what's going on in your city.'" When asked how he chooses cities, Wood said that he picked Minneapolis because artist Ryan Kelly wanted to draw his home town. He also said he tried to choose places that could have "really, really good comic stories," and where local shops could have an event to coincide with the issue's release.
Wood said that he did not know the names of all the political and military factions in "DMX," other than the major forces of the US and the Free States. He said he thought towns would have their own militias for protection, but that he did not believe it was necessary to chart out all the separate divisions. Wood related the situation to real-world wars, such as the conflicts in the Middle East, in which combatants don't necessarily know how to win but they "just need to not lose."
When asked what artists he would like to work with, Wood named Jock, John Paul Leon, Becky Cloonan, and Carla Speed McNeill. Dennis said they had also discussed Ross Campbell and Faryl Dalrimple as some of Wood's top choices.
Several questions followed regarding "DMZ's" real-life influences, the first asking if Wood ever saw something on the news that he knew he could use in a book. He mentioned the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, and indicated that the idea of "a bunch of people trapped in a situation" is very strong in the comic. Dennis related an anecdote about early art for the series including lots of attractive, fashionable people, but that in reality those trapped would most likely be the poor. "The Upper East Side would be a fucking ghost town," Dennis said, noting that the "trust fund kids" would flee at the first sign of trouble. A later question asked what was on the 9/11 site in "DMZ's" universe, and Wood said that would be addressed in issue thirteen. "It's this place that no one goes, like a sacred site."
The announcement of "Northlanders" met with a good deal of laughter, and Wood explained that, though he had never been interested in superheroes, Vikings were always close to his heart. There is no artist attached to the project yet, and because of the rather impromptu way the news came out, Dennis said he'd be "up shit's creek for announcing it here." Wood elaborated that this would not be a "typical Viking book with half-naked men... it's not 'Conan.'" He also said it would be written in modern English, without the conventional "thees" and "thous."
Wood said he has one more "Couriers" story, if he can coordinate with artist Rob G.
Asked about Vertigo's approval process, Dennis praised Karen Berger for giving the imprint a defining voice and maintaining strong control over what stories would be published. He said his own process for approving new projects was hard to define, but was largely "I know it when I see it." Dennis also said if "Northlanders" was the first project Wood had brought him, he would have turned it down as too big of a risk, but noted that Wood's fan base allows them to experiment in the unproven genre.
Wood said he hoped he would never have to take a project he didn't like, but that he'd received many unusual offers. "It's soul-sucking. This person talking to me, it's what they think I should do. I got a call from a guy wanting me to do 'Thundercats.'"
"DMZ" is not consciously inspired by John Carpenter's "Escape from New York," according to Wood, though he admits that it would be impossible not to have that film play a role. He mentioned a book called "Hidden War" as a more direct influence.
The session ended with the announcement of Wood's two-year exclusive contract. Dennis pointed out that this will not affect Wood's other current projects, and he will be able to finish Local and a book for Top Shelf now in development.