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The Excellence of Brandon Thomas

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Brandon Thomas wasn't even on my radar, when I discovered EXCELLENCE. But after one issue, he had me hooked. Along with artist Khary Randolph, Thomas created one of my favorite books of 2019. With an interesting premise and insane art, this book was not to be missed.I knew I had to hear more about how this book came to be, so I reached out to Brandon to learn more. Hope you guys enjoy this inside look at this awesome new book.

Also check out my review of Vol. 1 here

COMIC LOUNGE: Since the series started, the reception has been insane. Everyone has been loving the book. What was your initial reaction when you heard how well the book was doing?

BT: It was pretty overwhelming, and still is really, cause it comes back with every single issue. You have a feeling sometimes when you’re working on something, that if you can just get it right, do your best job on it, that it’ll respond to people. Even with that, it’s been amazing and overwhelming and more than anything else, gratifying. We knew in our bones that EXCELLENCE was one of the things comics needed right now, and looks like we were right. And with the trade out now, we feel we can expose every single audience to it, so it’s exciting.

This is the best received project that I’ve done in a long, winding road in comics (16 years!), and it’s already opened up some exciting opportunities that you’ll be hearing more about this year and beyond.

COMIC LOUNGE: The journey that Spencer is going through is both familiar and fresh at the same time. How personal of a story is this to you?

BT: Well, it’s the most personal story I’ve ever told, and in many respects, Spencer’s relationship with his father mirrors my own. Having to combat and harness those feelings of being denied something you feel you more than deserved, is probably the main emotional theme of EXCELLENCE, and is something that I think a lot of people have felt throughout their own lives. I definitely have, and I’m pouring as much of that pain and confusion and frustration into every relationship in this book, and I hope it continues to come through.

Based on the responses, I think these feelings are even more elemental than I’d originally thought, and that authenticity is probably what is shining through. The world and the relationships feel very “lived in” and sometimes it feels like more “channeling” than writing. It’s all right there, I just have to get it down in the right, most dramatic way.

COMIC LOUNGE: The anger that flows through Spencer has made it hard for him to live up to his father's expectations. I love that he's kind of going on his own path and no longer seeks to please his father. What can we expect for Spencer moving forward?

BT: His biggest journey is gonna be taking that anger and doing something constructive with it, instead of allowing it to eat him alive. There’s always going to be an interesting push and pull to their relationship, and just because one of them gets a little further away from the other, it still doesn’t resolve the core issue, so it’s gonna be a problem for them both if they can’t get it together. Like it or not, they still need each other, and for a lot more than they think.

COMIC LOUNGE: The relationship between Spencer and Aaron is at the center of the book as well. With a new dynamic between them at the end of #6, how will their relationship progress going forward?

BT: Oh yeah, I really love this relationship, because like we keep saying, they should’ve always been brothers, but Raymond kinda set them in opposition to each other from the start, which ruined things. They’re not there yet, but you should get the feeling they’ve come to some kind of understanding, and realize finally they’re not adversaries. The question of how close they are now, and if this new paradigm can survive some dangerous challenges, will be explored in future arcs. But we were definitely leading to that moment of catharsis for them since the beginning, and now that they’ve reached it, only gets more interesting from here.

COMIC LOUNGE: Will future issues dive more into the Aegis and their history?

BT: Oh, absolutely. Not only that, but you’ll see how that history intersects with some key members of the cast, and one thing about this book that makes it so creatively rewarding is that nothing is as it appears. The relationships and perspectives are always shifting and changing, due to people learning things they didn’t know before, and it’s safe to say that Spencer is destined to learn the hard way that no one really knows their parents. Big, big surprises coming, and a history lesson from an extremely unexpected source.

COMIC LOUNGE: In issue #4, you broke an important rule of the Aegis by showing Spencer's mom using magic??? What does this mean for the rules?

BT: This is another one that I’ll have to vaguely tease out, but know that since the book started I’ve been waiting to both break “the fourth wall,” and to explore the ramifications (or not) of that. We’ve appreciated people being patient with us on that front, and we always wanted for The Four Walls and their pronouncements to be provocative, but hoped that once we got to that big moment where a woman uses magic in the book for the first time, it would be worth the wait. And throw open a ton of narrative doors for us to now walk through.

COMIC LOUNGE: Myself and fellow Comic Lounge writer, Dylan, feel a strong influence of hip-hop in the book. So we were wondering what you guys listen to when writing or drawing?

BT: I can’t actually script to music anymore, the lyrics kinda get in the way, but I listen to a lot of music leading up to it, while I’m working up outlines, plotting, etc. Right now, I’m ALL about Jamla---Rapsody’s newest album Eve is on another level. Everything she puts out is better than the last, and it’s amazing to see the rest of the world discovering her greatness.

COMIC LOUNGE: What are your long term plans for the book?

BT: To make sure every issue is better than the one that came before it. Feeling like I’ve made the absolute most of every moment and scene is always a feeling I’m chasing. Like I said, this is the most well-received thing I’ve done in comics, and I want it to be one of those books that defines my time in comics.

COMIC LOUNGE: If you could convey one message from this book what would it be?

BT: So many things, but I’ll say that a big element of EXCELLENCE is the insistence that black and brown people be regarded as full, functioning, vital human beings at all times, with everything that entails. We should be allowed to be great, to fail tragically, to be blindingly angry, to love deeply, to appreciate our successes in full view, and to do so without the additional burden our status as “others” sometimes places upon us. Shedding the weight of always being an example, even if we’ve accepted it. Proving that “excellence is real” and that it will not be denied, disrespected or disregarded...not forever.

We’ll be back in the spring with volume 2, which is an escalation in every sense of the word. And wanted to thank the many folks, including you of course, that included this book on their “Best of 2019” lists. Was an honor, and hope we raise the stakes even higher going forward.

EXCELLENCE returns April 15, 2020

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