Brian Wood: Politically Charged and Socially Conscious
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
I remember picking up the fist trade of "DMZ" a few years ago, I didn't know who Brian Wood was yet, after reading it I instantly became a Brian Wood fan. I have followed his work ever since. From "Northlanders" to Rebels and now more recently, "Sword Daughter". His writing absolutely captivates me, it has a way of transporting me in to his stories and really developing an emotion connection to his characters. Matty Roth, from "DMZ", will forever be one of my favorite characters. Not only does he write, he's an artist as well, his work on Channel Zero is some of his best work, as well as his visceral and thought provoking covers for DMZ. Brian's new book, "Sword Daughter" has become another book of his that has grabbed my attention, while it's only 3 issues in, I really love the characters and world he's building.
Comic Lounge: I was first introduced to your work when I read DMZ, it's one of my favorite series. I think that book really resonates with the way our country is today. Where did the idea for that story come from?
Brian Wood: Like a lot of things, it percolates in the head and grows over time, sometimes for years. In the case of DMZ, it came out of my desire to write and draw a book again (the last time I had done that was my debut series CHANNEL ZERO). So DMZ started off very "CHANNEL ZERO" in approach - dystopia NYC, lots of politics, lots of media - and developed from there. Obviously this was post 9/11 and leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and that was on everyone's mind.
So I wrote a pitch for an early version of DMZ, called WARTIME back then, and then rewrote it, and
rewrote it, and gradually carved away at it until I had a story. A five-issue miniseries at the time. It wasn't until I pitched it to Vertigo, and they refused to take a chance on my art, that I expanded it out into an ongoing. We changed the name for legal reasons.
Comic Lounge: Your books tend to be socio-political, which is one of the things I love about your writing. Why do you feel you lean towards those kinds of stories?
Brian: I gotta go back t
o CHANNEL ZERO again, which is super political, as much a zine as a comic, and so early on that became my identity. Channel Zero is over 20 years old but it got a lot of attention at the time and for a lot of the readers I meet, its the book they most identify me with. So the comics I followed it up with also carried socially-conscious themes, political themes, and by the time I got to DMZ, it was cemented in.
And I like that, I like the fact I discovered my niche early on and that its something I can grow with and mature with and stay relevant with. And it means something to people, it goes a little deeper than normal. It keeps me on my toes, it challenges me as a writer.
Comic Lounge: You've also written series set in historical periods, such as Rebels and Northlanders. What do you like best about writing stories set in the past?
Brian: History has always been my not-so-secret weapon. If I need story ideas, I just steal from history. And sometimes in the course of research or just reading for pleasure I come across something from history that leaps out because its a perfect mirror to today. Like a lot of the American Revolution history - obviously that is now and has stayed pretty relevant over the decades and centuries. Viking perhaps less so, but I was able to create relevance for the reader by tying in modern themes of culture war and religious conversion. Plus, I'm just a nerd for certain things and this is one of them.
Comic Lounge: Not only are you a writer, but your an artist as well. Do you feel like your artistic "eye" helps you when writing scripts?
Brian: I'm not much of an artist these days, but I was trained in it. I still carry the student loan debt from the high-end art education I got at Parsons here in NYC. And yes, I feel like it helps me in a couple ways: empathy for the artist - I know what it means to draw pages of a comic, I know certain things can be a colossal pain the ass or a time suck, so I try and write in a way that takes the artist's time into consideration. And also having a decent knowledge of composition and sequential storytelling, I can write in a simpatico manner that helps the artist deliver the best work they can.
Comic Lounge: You recently launched a new series, Sword Daughter. Can you talk a little bit about that book and where the idea for it came from?
Brian: It came about from talking to Mack Chater, the artist, about influences and references we share, Turns out we could find some common ground between viking history and Lone Wolf & Cub and Samurai cinema. We found common ground as parents, and a desire to create an "art comic", a Criterion comic, for lack of a better terms. So we have Sword Daughter, a revenge story set in Norse times that deal with a father and his estranged daughter hunting down the murderous tribe that massacred their village.
Comic Lounge: The majority of your work has been creator owned, do you see yourself ever working on characters for the big two again?
Brian: Honestly, I prefer the big media characters, like Star Wars, Aliens, Conan, Terminator... I connect emotionally more with stuff than that than the comic stuff, and I think I can write it better. There's a LOT of internal drama and politics at the big two that I just cannot navigate as well as some of my peers can.
Comic Lounge: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Brian: I have a lot of advice I would give, and its too much to list here. If we're talking specifically about writing for comics, I would suggest avoiding the popularity trap, staying true to your self even if it means your career moves more slowly. Be patient, write constantly, understand that nothing is owed to you, know your value, and stay humble. Hold on to your copyrights and media rights.
Comic Lounge: What comic book series are you currently reading?
Brian: I'm sorry to say that I read very little comics. It's the dirty secret amongst a LOT of people that work in comics - sometimes when you know how the sausage is made, comics lose some appeal. I read books constantly - lots of thrillers (Jack Reacher, Bosch, Nick Petrie, Meg Gardiner), music biographies, histories, and hard sci-fi. Right now I'm into Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton and I'm halfway through the Bosch library.