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Interview with DMZ and Northlanders writer/creator, Brian Wood

Kevin Fukunaga (Scripts & Scribes):  Can you talk a little about your background and how you got involved in the comic book industry?

Brian Wood:  My background is in art – I went to art school to be a painter, and for many years after graduation I was a professional communications designer.  But at some point in there I discovered comics, specifically mature readers, Vertigo-style comics that appealed to me, so I start to make my own at nights and on weekends, and gradually it turned into a full time job for me.

Kevin:  What is your typical writing day like?  Where do you write most often?  Do you listen to music or prefer quiet?

Brian:  I work at home and am the primary caregiver for two little kids, so I’m forced to find time to write any time I can – an hour here or there, usually a full day on the weekend, lots of evenings, and so on.  It’s far from ideal, but its my life.  And I can listen to music when I write, but only instrumentals.

Kevin:  You are primarily a writer, but have done quite a bit of art and design work in the psat as well.  Do you write scripts differently for comics that you are going to draw yourself as opposed to those you knew you’d be working with a different artist on?  If so, how were the scripts different?

Brian:  I’ve only ever written and drawn one book in my career, and it was my first book way back in 1996.  Honestly, I forget how I wrote that… no scripts survived the years.  Who knows, I may not even have had a formal script.  Back then, it was all about the art for me.

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Kevin:  You’ve received quite a few Eisner nominations for your work.  Which of your works are you most proud of and why?

Brian:  Have I?  It’s sort of a running joke with me and my collaborators that I’m cursed – even in my best years I never get any awards or nominatons.  But looking back, I think I’ve gotten three over the last 15 years.  Could be worse!

I’m most proud of Northlanders – my absolute best writing – and Local, which was just a great partnership with Ryan Kelly, and I think the book looks gorgeous.

Kevin:  What is one comic book character or property that you haven’t written for that you think would be really fun to?

Brian:  I can’t think of one.  I don’t really seek out work like that… given the opportunity, I’ll always prefer to create something new.

Kevin:  Which other comic book writers/creators would you say influenced you the most?

Brian:  Really early on, in the 90’s, I studied Frank Miller, and a little later on, Warren Ellis.  But I try and find inspiration outside of comics these days, reading history and other non-fiction.

Kevin:  When you are developing a new creator owned series and take it to a publisher like Image, Dark Horse or Vertigo, what goes into that?  How much work has to be done before you are ready to pitch to editors?  What do you need to show them before they will consider publishing your title?

Brian:  There is no one way, and generally after you’ve established yourself with a publisher, subsequent pitches can be looser, less formal.  But looking back, I almost always have an idea sitting in my head for months or years before I actually start a pitch, and then when I do, it’s a 5-10 page treatment that has as much of the complete story in it as possible (including the end), notes on format, design, and sometimes even marketing ideas.

But it varies, project to projects.  One of comics’ blessings and a curse is that there is no standard for ANYTHING.

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Kevin:  What was the inspiration behind your brilliant and highly acclaimed series, DMZ and would you like to return to that world in some capacity in the future?

Brian:  There’s no one inspiration. There’s probably a dozen at least, and one day I woke up and just had the idea in my head, randomly.  I wrote it down, and maybe 2-3 drafts later I had a final proposal.  I wish it was always that easy and direct.

Kevin:  What sort of research did you do for Northlanders?  How historically accurate did you try to be with the Viking history and lore?  With the recent success of History Channel’s Vikings, do you feel you were a little ahead of your time?

Brian:  I read probably 30 books, no exaggeration.  One of the defining traits of the series was that it was historically accurate to a large degree, and the internet and fandom being what it is, I was constantly challenged on that point.  So I had to do my homework.

When I created Northlanders, depictions of Vikings in comics were limited to two types: heavily mythical and more fantasy than anything else, and Marvel’s Thor.  There was nothing like Northlanders, and after Northlanders I can think of three other comics that took the realistic, grounded approach with the genre.  And then there’s that TV show.  I think Northlanders is a benchmark for this stuff.

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Kevin:  A lot of comic book writers have attempted to make the jump to screenwriting, with varying degrees of success.  Is that something that interests you at all?

Brian:  Somewhat.  It’s a frightening thing to consider.

Kevin:  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Brian:  I exercise as much as I can… I do yoga and CrossFit.  I spend time with my kids.  I read a little.  That’s about all I have time for, honestly.

Kevin:  Do you have any words of advice or final thoughts to share with aspiring comic book writers/creators?

Brian:  Just to do the work.  Making comics means making comics, it doesn’t mean hanging out or drinking or schmoozing or trying to be popular on twitter or tumblr.  There is no secret to making it in comics other than putting in the actual work and waiting for your time to come.

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Kevin:  More a fan of:  Beach Boy Brian Wilson, director Brian De Palma or actor Brian Dennehy?
Brian:  Brian Wilson

Kevin:  What is your favorite kind of wood:  Oak, cedar, mahogany or balsa?
Brian:  If it’s a guitar, mahogany.  If not, pine.

Kevin:  Best Pizza in NYC?
Brian:  Di Fara’s, in Brooklyn


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