“Brian Wood Month” has come to DC Comics, and it’s about time, since the Brooklyn writer is one of the most thoughtful and innovative in the industry these days. Wood, who’s known for carving out niches for himself and pushing boundaries with his creator-owned work, has a host of good stuff on the Vertigo imprint out in February. DMZ, Wood’s look at an embedded journalist on the frontlines of a second U.S. civil war, releases its special 50th issue Wednesday. His Viking epic Northlanders celebrates 25 issues come Feb. 24 (the third collected volume of what he considers his finest work arrives in March). And for those who loved his fantastic and youth-oriented 2003-05 short-story series Demo — with art by fellow New Yorker Becky Cloonan — the first issue of the second volume is now in stores with a great tale of a sleep-deprived woman dreamily led to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. (For fun, take a gander at Wood’s original Demo pitch dating back to 2002.) In addition, Wood, who wrote Generation X back in the day, returns to superheroes by taking on a DV8 miniseries for Wildstorm in April, a relaunch of the late 1990s title. The busy Wood took some time out to talk about his variety of books this week, so read below for his thoughts on returning to Demo, his plan for DV8 and what real Northlanders think of Northlanders.
Art courtesy of DC Comics
What led to getting the band back together for a second round of Demo?
That’s been in the works for a couple years, although schedules being what they are, it’s taken a while and finally seeing the light of day six years after the last Demo No. 1 [Laughs] I was actually curious to see how Demo was going to be different, or not be different despite the fact that we have thousands and thousands of pages of comics done and under our belts since then. It’s different but it’s the same. I even re-used a couple of rejected storylines from the early days. I freshened them up a lot, but a lot of them were things I came up with years ago.
What’s been the biggest difference with how you and Becky work from then till now?
As far as I’m concerned, it’s having to unlearn a lot of the stuff I’ve learned in the past. [Laughs] I’ve been writing monthly books — DMZ and Northlanders, among other things — and that’s a certain way of working, and Demo is not like that. It’s like the comic-book equivalent of a short film. It’s not part of a three-act story or a traditionally structured thing. It’s very loose and free form and very open in its endings at times. I haven’t been writing like that — I’ve been writing the “correct” way ever since. [Laughs] What’s hard about this is letting go of six years of more structured writing and remembering how it was when I wrote Demo, which is very much ignoring all the rules.
Do you feel the original Demo was the watershed moment of your career?
Yeah, I use the video-game term for it: I say that was when I “leveled up.” I don’t know if I was really aware of it at the time. I just had this vague sense of, “Alright, all these action-y comics I’ve been writing up until now, I can do better than that. I can make it a little bit smarter than that. There is more to me than that.” At the time, I was getting a lot of influence through friends. I was watching a lot of short films, and expanding what I was watching and listening to. It was a huge creative leap of faith, and it was a leap of faith on Becky’s part to sign on to something that wasn’t particularly very planned out at the time. That was where I really turned a corner and the first time I really challenged myself in a major, major way. I stepped off of the branch. That’s the point where everything changed.
You have a talent for looking at the power of youth, both literally and figuratively. What’s your secret?
A recurring theme through a lot of what I do is a sense of identity, and that goes really well with these young stories. Every so often I get vaguely aware that I’m pushing 40, so I don’t really know how many of these kinds of stories I really should write. [Laughs] This second round of Demo is skewed older and reflects that. Every so often, Demo gets tagged as a “teen” book, and I understand why someone refers to it as that, but it makes me sort of uncomfortable because it is only in part. It’s nice that I appear to do it well. When I think about that, and when people say I write female characters well, I just always feel that everybody’s kind of the same on a fundamental level.
Other than skewing a older, what else is different in the second volume of Demo?
It’s a little bit more supernatural than super-powered. There were supernatural ones in the first one, too — this seems to be mostly that. And it’s a little bit darker. We have a cannibal story in there that’s pretty grim. [Laughs] That was actually the first one we did, and I was like, “Yeah, man this is gonna be my No. 1. If they think they know what Demo’s gonna be, this’ll really blow them away!” And after we did the second one, which is what’s now No. 1, everybody agreed that it was a better way to intro. So we’re gonna hit them with the cannibalism in No. 2. [Laughs] There was one, issue 3, which is such a classic original Demo story in its tone. This could have been in the first volume and no one would have known, so we called that one “Volume One Love Story.” There’s also a water-breathing story — you think it might be like Aquaman or something superpower-y, but it’s a little bit more Twilight Zone-ish.
Demo was embraced by a lot of people, but so has DMZ, Northlanders and the Demo-esque Local. What tricks have you learned doing those?
Local kind of paved the path for the very heavily researched books like DMZ and Northlanders. I’ve learned that very, very well: detailed writing without seeming to be really overpowering. With Northlanders, you never actually see the research in a dominant way. I always try to make it feel like a background thing. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m quoting Wikipedia at the audience or anything. I try to be as subtle as I can, but I do try to put a lot of detail into that book.
Without getting the Viking people in a huff, of course.
Exactly. I went to Norway and I was really, really worried. I signed books and some guy came up to me who knew zero English, and he was holding open Northlanders to a page. I was like, “Uh oh, here we go. You’ve got something to comment on.” He points to a few pieces of clothing and weapons on this page, and he’s like, “Sax,” which I know is the name for like a short sword. He seemed to approve — he was very gruff about it, but he was sort of nodding. I guess I did OK. The big thing they all say is, “We don’t talk this much. We are a people of very few words.” And I’m like, “I have to make people talk in a comic. I can’t have them be the mostly strong silent types.” The other thing Northlanders has taught me is to again break out of my comfort zone. In a lot of ways, it’s like a macro version of Demo in the sense that they’re all self-contained stories that are longer than a single issue, but when they’re done, they’re done.
And DV8 is your grand return to the superhero world.
It’s a book I’ve wanted to write since the beginning. That original Warren Ellis DV8 was hugely influential. I pitched it off and on over the years and for the longest time it didn’t seem like they envisioned the book ever coming back. I’m really excited about it, more so than my friends really understand. They don’t really get it. I’m like, “Man, you don’t know!” It’s been like my white whale, this weird obscure book that no one can understand what I see in it.
Will you take some liberties with it or will it have the same Ellis spirit?
Warren Ellis’ run on the book is the only one that’s still in print. There was a lot more after that, but they never put it into trades. I read it all, because I bought them all off eBay, and a lot of stuff happens. I didn’t want to base anything off these unfinished stories because no one can read it. I can’t expect everybody out there to go on eBay and buy these just to understand what I’m doing. You’ll see some Demo in there, and you’ll see some Northlanders. I try to make it accessible to everybody, including readers of my creator-owned work that think I’m crazy for writing this book. If they open it up, they’ll get it.