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War Torn: Brian Wood's DMZ and Supermarket

This story originally appeared in PW Comics Week on October 3, 2006 Sign up now!

by Chris Arrant, PW Comics Week -- Publishers Weekly, 10/3/2006

Looking over the course of Brian Wood's career so far, one word springs to mind: focused. The 34-year-old New Yorker came into comics from a career in graphic design and has become one of comics' preeminent figures. Known as a triple threat for his writing, illustrating and graphic design abilities, Wood has risen through the ranks while concentrating on his creator-owned work. And it's paid off.

With the recent announcement of his exclusive agreement with DC/Vertigo, Wood is poised to become one of the most prominent comics creators who still works primarily on creator-owned work. Debuting in 1997 with the miniseries Channel Zero, Wood's first work showed a raw talent uncompromised by the comics styles pervasive at the time. Although he briefly wrote for a title in Marvel's X-Men franchise, it was with the creator-owned Demo miniseries and The Couriers trilogy that Wood gained a substantial foothold in the comics industry. Whether illustrating his own stories or working with other artists, Wood has quickly gathered a following, with 10 creator-owned graphic novels currently in print.

The first volume of his DC/Vertigo ongoing series DMZ is in stores now, and the recent miniseries Supermarket is scheduled for an October collection from IDW. PW Comics Week tracked down Wood to discuss his recent work and what he has in store.

PW Comics Week: DMZ is almost to the one-year mark; you just finished writing and illustrating the 12th issue yourself. Could you tell us how the lead character, Matty, has acclimated to his surroundings in the DMZ-ed New York City?

Brian Wood: Matty Roth came in a total rookie, a college student looking for an internship. Quite against his will, he was put into the situation that stranded him in the DMZ, so at the start he was uncooperative, naive and bigoted. In the year that's passed, he's come to feel like a true resident. He's bonded with the city on an emotional level. I know in real life a year of residence hardly qualifies a person for the label "New Yorker." I'm making an exception in this case!

PWCW: So Matty's in a war-torn metropolitan city that serves as a no-man's-land between the United States and a rebel government. Can you give us a brief rundown of how it came to this, and why New York City?

BW: Midwestern militia groups revolt against their local governments in protest of rampant U.S. adventurism overseas and, in the absence of the National Guard, are able to gain far more ground than they thought possible. Small insurgent groups pop up in towns and cities across the country, and a sizable force, the Free States Army, pushes toward Manhattan. The city proves too big for them to take, and also for the U.S. Army to defend. The war stalls there, a stalemate, neither side being able to shift things.

PWCW: Why hasn't the U.S. government taken back New York City?

BW: Not for lack of trying. The war in DMZ's been going on for years and years already, and we've seen two major attempts fail in the first two story arcs. The nature of fighting insurgents, it seems. If they can't prevail over small towns in Iraq and Afghanistan, why would they be able to in a place like Manhattan?

PWCW: DMZ is one of the most politically aware books out there, even though it takes place in an alternate time line. How have today's the real-world politics affected the direction you take with DMZ, especially as the series continues to find its own divergent path?

BW: Real-world politics are a big factor in this book, in a very direct but limited way. As you said, it's like an alternate time line, but we try and keep it as current and real as possible. Typically I'll find myself inspired by a certain bit of real-world events, such as military contracting or kidnapped journalists. I'll then apply that to the DMZ scenario and see where it takes me.

PWCW: As a longtime New York City resident, you've gone to extensive measures to make the city more than just a backdrop but a part of the story. Why did you choose New York, and how has your own time in the city affected the way you portray it?

BW: It never occurred to me to set this anywhere else. It has less to do with New York City being the site of 9/11 as it has to do with it being a world city, a massive place teeming with every sort of person imaginable. Even with the DMZ stories relating to real-world events, it's a book about people first and foremost, people living in a war zone.

PWCW: The miniseries Supermarket seems more of a tongue-in-cheek work in comparison with DMZ. In a way it harks back to your work with the Couriers trilogy. What were you aiming for with Supermarket?

BW: Exactly that, a tongue-in-cheek action series. It's coming from a very different part of my brain than where DMZ comes from. I wanted a fun story, one that had the reader smiling as much as possible, starring one of my favorite character types: the sarcastic, somewhat hypocritical young person who gets schooled. I get a lot of pleasure out of writing that.

In addition to that, I wanted a larger-than-life action story, with great cartoonish villains like the Porno Swedes, chase sequences, improbable escapes, wisecracks, you name it.

PWCW: Those Porno Swedes are just one half of the lead character, Pella's, heritage.

BW: Pella's the child of two ex-gangsters currently living in witness protection. Her dad's ex-yakuza, her mother a retired adult entertainment actress affiliated with the Porno Swede cartel. Pella knows none of this, and it's quite a shock when she finds out. These two legacies she is unknowingly a part of are what drive the story forward.

PWCW: What were you thinking when dreaming up the world of Supermarket, and how did it get the name?

BW: It came out of the word black market, the idea of a black market that extends to all areas of a city, a city completely dominated by commerce, both legit and not. An amped-up take on what we already see in some places, but moving into the realm of sci-fi, which is somewhat of a departure for me.

PWCW: Prior to your career writing comics, you were a graphic designer. You spent several years working in the video game industry for Grand Theft Auto's Rockstar Games. How did your time there influence the writing and illustrating you're doing today?

BW: Aside from instilling in me a pretty severe work ethic (that place was like boot camp), I also was able to witness the mighty Rockstar marketing machine at work, up close and personal, for over three years. That had a big impact on how I approached my own marketing and self-promotion.

PWCW: Despite a relatively short time in the comics industry, you've amassed a wealth of releases and for the most part you have been able to do it with your own characters and creations. Has this all been according to plan or is it just a lucky turn of events?

BW: All according to plan. The company-owned projects I have done are the ones no one remembers, so I feel that I've gotten to where I am via my own creations. I've deliberately chosen that path, opting to publish indie books for little or no money in the hopes that someday it would pay off in a meaningful way. It took a pretty long time, but with projects like DMZ, Local and Supermarket, that payoff is happening. 2005 was a defining year for me in that respect.

As early as 2001 I was getting serious offers to write company-owned books, superheroes, and I've always maintained that if it was the right book, if it appealed to me in a creative way, I would probably do it. I've made a few tough choices in the past, turning down some pretty big name properties, but I'm happy I did. I wouldn't have wanted anything to have somehow prevented me from getting around to Demo or DMZ or [the upcoming] Northlanders.

I feel blessed because I can say with complete honesty that my career right now is exactly the way I want it to be.

PWCW: And what do you see yourself doing in the near future?

BW: Working steadily. I've been going like a bat out of hell all this time, producing roughly 10 graphic novels and about 50 single-issue comics in eight years, most of that done in addition to a day job. I'm looking to ease off myself a bit and focus more on the work and less on the endless hustle to land the next deal. My output will probably roughly be the same, but I'll be happier and continue to develop as a writer and an artist.

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