From the Apocalypse to the Revolutionary War
Brian Wood is a writer and illustrator currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Nominated for multiple Eisner Awards, Wood had worked in the comic and graphic novel industries since 1997; in the decades that followed, he created many different series, including the long-running and critically-acclaimed DMZ, and he even did some artistic design work for Rockstar Games. Now, he finds himself wrapping up his popular ongoing series called The Massive and gearing up to launch a new one called Rebels. We sat down with Brian to discuss both works.
TSSZ: Brian, thank you for joining us today.
Wood: Thank you!
TSSZ: For our readers who aren’t necessarily familiar with The Massive, would you mind describing it in your own words? What is The Massive, and why should people read it?
Wood: The Massive is an end-of-the-world story that focuses on this boat crew of environmentalists that have to come to grips with the fact that the world is crumbling around them and that they failed in their mission to save it. When I say “crumbling,” it’s this thing called The Crash, which is this unprecedented, baffling failure of the entire ecosystem. So obviously, there’s a mystery there.
It’s as if every environmental warning came true all at once. Seas died, air turned poisonous, everything fails. So, there’s this crew that are sort of in a unique spot to try and unravel the mystery, deal with a lot of their own shit, and sort of document the death of the world…which is a very grim thing to say. “The death of the world.” The world doesn’t blow up like the Death Star, but there is this Earth-changing event.
Obviously, it’s a sci-fi story. Obviously, everything is exaggerated, but it does have a lot of very strong environmentalist themes that are not preachy or biased in any one way, which is why I think it’s relevant.
TSSZ: It’s a rather interesting take on the post-apocalyptic narrative, which we’ve seen a lot of in media fairly recently. How does working with that narrative compare to the work you’ve done in the past, and how has it posed any interesting or new challenges for you to overcome, if any?
Wood: I’ve done a lot of dystopian and near-future tragedy stories. For this, while that environmentalist stuff is right there, the real story is in the characters themselves. I thought it was interesting; you have these guys that are all older, in their 40’s and 50’s, and they’ve dedicated their lives to this one cause. So what do you do when that’s blown away, you know?
There’s a lot of flashbacks to their pasts. They all also have pasts that are rooted in violence. They’re ex-mercenaries, they’re child soldiers, they’re corporate security-types. They find that history of violence rising up. They find themselves lapsing back into those old roles despite their commitment to a peaceful future. So it’s a heavy character story at its core with that environmental Earth stuff at the backdrop. Usually, I do it the other way where the world is the focal point, so this is different in that sense.
TSSZ: The Massive has been running for a couple years now. You’re rapidly coming up on issue number 30, which is where you planned to stop. So, assuming that’s still the plan, why stop at 30, and have you considered going beyond that at any point?
Wood: That’s been the hard and fast end. Without giving anything away, the ending of The Massive is really the story. The ending is a surprising one that will then retroactively define the series as a whole. It just puts everything into focus. So that ending was fully planned out at the beginning, and I knew I had to hit it just right. It’s been this target I’ve been aiming at for the entire time, so pushing it back was never an option, you know?
Also, I should say that DMZ ran for twice as long, and that was way too long. I found myself kind of getting antsy, like I wanted to start new projects, and so that was the other reason why I capped this one. I was like, “You know, I’m just going to set a date, and it’ll be done, and that’ll be good.” Better to leave a bit early.
TSSZ: Leave ’em wanting more, right?
TSSZ: Let’s quickly turn to Rebels. The Revolutionary War is something that’s been ingrained in our culture since its occurrence, and rightfully so; it was a true turning point in world history. As a result, we’ve seen a lot of media created about that as well: movies, documentaries, games like Assassin’s Creed III. With this war so well-trodden, why make that the focus of your next project?
Wood: A couple of reasons. For one, I just know it really well. This is the history I grew up with; I grew up in New England. Because of that, because I have a personal affection for it, more so than pretty much anything else history-wise, I get really burned when I see it mistreated by the politicians of the day who take it and warp it around to support whatever view they’re pushing.
So I just wanted to tell it straight. I’m going to show it all, but I’m going to try and be as honest as possible, almost as a counterpoint. Almost just for myself, because I do care; I’m a patriot at heart. All my other books aside, I love history and I’m proud of it. I just want to tell it well. I want to have some counterpoint out there to all those weird political YouTube ads where there are guys dressed up in their coats with their muskets.
TSSZ: Last question. Rebels is set to be released in April of next year. How far along are you on it currently, and is there anything that you’re finding yourself struggling with in terms of brining the whole thing to life?
Wood: I’ve written three of the issues. I find myself constantly going back and changing dialogue because it’s been a bit of a discovery, both in terms of research and also my own feelings about things. I’ll do research, I’ll write, I’ll be thinking about it. I’ll be like, “You know what? Maybe my long-held belief about this is different.” I grew up with it as a kid, but I’m in my 40’s now, so I have to reconcile that. I have to adjust my childhood reactions to certain things to how I feel now. So I’m glad that we have this long lead time because it is getting tweaked a lot, which is great. It’ll be a much stronger book because we’ve had that much time to work on it.