She Has No Head! – Interview With The Man Who Would Resurrect DV8 (aka Brian Wood)
I’ve talked pretty openly about my love for Brian Wood’s new DV8 mini-series Gods & Monsters, from the fact that I think it feels both modern and also somehow like a throwback to really good superhero character pieces, but it’s also been one of the inspirations for why I’ve been talking so frequently about how much I’d like to see more independent creators given a chance to show what they can do on more mainstream characters. Not that DV8 was ever totally mainstream, but there’s no reason why DV8 can’t emerge as a powerhouse of a title from Wildstorm, if done right. And with able assists from Fiona Staples on covers and Carrie Strachan delivering beautiful colors, Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs are doing it SO right. The way I feel a lot more indie creators could if given the chance to run wild on a title the way Wood and Isaacs have cut loose on Gods & Monsters.
Brian Wood is a goliath in this industry so it feels strange to call him independent, but if you look at his body of work, that’s exactly what it is. Wildly independent. It’s honed to his own vision and his own personal standards, which as far as I’m concerned, are well above that of most comics out there. Brian Wood puts out awesome book after awesome book ranging from ongoings like the epic Northlanders and DMZ to totally alternative superhero-ish tales in the excellent Demo; to literary short fiction made into comics in the form of Local; to now breathing new life into some 1990’s anti-heroes almost forgotten in DV8’s Gods & Monsters mini-series.
It’s all exceptional stuff. Brian Wood, for my money, is one of the great comic creators and writers of our time, so I was pretty excited when he agreed to talk to me about DV8, a comic that I really hope will pave the way (eventually) for a new direction for superheroes.
KELLY: So I read that you pitched DV8 to DC/Wildstorm a few times – they finally bit huh?
BRIAN WOOD: To be fair, this was probably the first pitch I gave them for DV8 that was any good.
KELLY: Were you pitching the Gods & Monsters mini-series every time and they were just waiting for the right timing? Or did you pitch different ideas and G&M was the one that they decided to let you run with?
BRIAN WOOD: Yeah, the latter. Its been many years but as I recall all my previous ideas for bringing DV8 back probably were too much like Warren Ellis’ version. A heavy emphasis on the “bad” aspect of their personalities. Warren can do that so much better than I can.
KELLY: As I mentioned in my article about DV8 I find your take on these characters – and more broadly on superheroes in general – really fresh and modern. For me, someone that loves superheroes, but is a bit tired of all the “same old stuff” and whose interests skew pretty independent, DV8 kind of feels like the perfect superhero book. It’s superheroes explored in a less traditional way. Was this something you did consciously or did it just happen naturally?
BRIAN WOOD: It must have happened naturally. I read so, so few superhero books. In the backwater essay for the most recent issue of Demo, I call myself “superhero illiterate”. I just don’t have the knowledge to approach superhero material in a deliberately traditional way, much less non-traditional. I just went with my gut, treated it as if it were a Demo story.
KELLY: I know you’re a big fan of the original Warren Ellis DV8 series – and one of the great success of Gods & Monsters is that new readers and old fans alike can really jump on with ease. Were you concerned with this? And how did you go about solving it?
BRIAN WOOD: I was really concerned. I’ve said this a few times in interviews, but it was walking a really fine line, not alienating existing readers and making something that a new reader could jump in on. The biggest decision towards that end, and the one that got me in some trouble with hardcore fans, was to consciously ignore the existing DV8 story that is not currently in print. I just couldn’t see a way around referencing past story that virtually no new reader could access. I’d be shooting myself in the foot and making a bad book in the process. I did the best I could, and I say that as a true fan of DV8.
KELLY: One of the big stumbling blocks for me with the old series was the kind of hyper objectification of the characters – especially the female leads – and while it made sense to a degree for the story that Ellis was telling – it did still get in my way as a reader – but the revamped character designs you and Rebekah Isaacs came up with were fantastic and really eliminated that issue for me while still feeling respectful of the original characters and designs. You shared your notes and sketches recently on the Wildstorm Blog The Bleed – can you talk a little bit here about your thoughts on doing the redesign?
BRIAN WOOD: For the most part it was pulling the characters out of the mid-90’s. That was the goal. I love the old Wildstorm stuff but time’s passed a lot of it by and I knew a lot of the heavily sexualized clothing wouldn’t mesh well with my story. And I really wanted to get rid of as much exposed midriff as I possibly could!
KELLY: Did you have concerns about downplaying some of the really overt objectification or were you more just interested in modernizing them for 2010?
BRIAN WOOD: I knew I was running the risk of making the costumes seem less like comic book superheroes and possibly too “every day” but at the same time this is what I do, this is the sort of book I write. I made a massive effort to make the changes make sense, to find reasons within the character’s personalities for the choices they make in terms of what they wear… and perhaps that’s a big part of it, too, imagining these characters making their own choices for costume, without restriction.
KELLY: Honestly? That’s all I ask for in a superhero comic – that it makes sense – from a specific personality and practicality standpoint – so for me at least, you nailed it. Did you and Rebekah have any disagreements on any specific characters? If so, who won?
BRIAN WOOD: I don’t think we had disagreements, but that’s possibly because she was too polite about it all! I remember a lot of back and forth, including our editor, with how wolf-like Evo should be, if he should completely change into a wolf (a la Twilight) or just get a little wolfy while still being obviously human (Teen Wolf). Not a great choice there, when you look at the film references! My first preference is what made it on the page, but I think we all came around and agreed on it.
KELLY: Not to drag poor Wonder Woman into this, but there’s been so much talk and even controversy over her costume update – it really shines a light on how critical re-design is, and how difficult it is to create something new and fresh while still holding onto what used to work and what is iconic and lasting about the original. Were you concerned about that in your redesign?
BRIAN WOOD: I wasn’t that concerned. DV8 is not a top shelf property, I knew there would be no uproar or major issues with fans online. I felt a little twinge, personally, knowing that I was jettisoning the design work of a fellow comics professional, the ones that created DV8 in the first place, but I would just say that everything, at some point, needs updating.
KELLY: Agreed. Speaking of artists – you have a kind of crazy history of working with insanely talented up and coming artists that have gone on to be pretty big stars – Brett Weldele on Cous Cous Express; Becky Cloonan on Jennie One and then Demo; Ryan Kelly on Local; and now I predict much of the same for Rebekah Isaacs and Fiona Staples on DV8 and Northlanders - what’s the deal? You have some kind of deal with the devil? Maybe you make sacrificial offerings to the art gods? Give up the secret Wood!
BRIAN WOOD: There’s absolutely no secret. I just ask. Sometimes I get very lucky and work with an artist who, to me, is clearly about to go places. Becky is a good example of that. I could see how talented she was and I was just lucky to find her when I did. Same with Rebekah, I figure. Others, like Ryan Kelly, are these workhorses who, for whatever reason, hadn’t done their big showcase book yet. In those cases, and really in all cases, I try and give them good stories to draw and then get the hell out of the way.
KELLY: Do you have very collaborative relationships with these artists? The redesign you did with Isaacs for example seemed very hands on for the both of you – an almost symbiotic give and take to get to a shared vision. Do you think being an artist and graphic designer yourself helps you in those relationships?
BRIAN WOOD: I think it helps. Rebekah in particular says it helps. I’ve been doing this, writing comics, long enough that whatever art awareness I am bringing into the writing is fully automatic and so I am not aware of it as I go, but another artist I work with told me that unlike most of the other writer’s he worked with, I keep my panels simple and clear and not try to write too much going on, or too many characters in a given panel, and so he appreciates that and it makes it easier for him to compose the page. I take that as a great compliment. Like I said, I like to get out of the way so the artist can do what they’re best at. But in general, I am not a collaborative writer. You’ll never catch me and an artist kicking story ideas back and forth. It’s an unspoken deal I make with my artists: I stay out of your hair and you stay out of mine. I firmly believe this is one of the secrets to the success of my books.
KELLY: You made a great comment in another interview that the DV8 characters’ powers are really well suited to the personality of teenage characters and kind of the angst of that time in someone’s life. It hadn’t occurred to me until you said it, but it’s quite true. DV8’s powers are mostly about manipulation – manipulation of emotions and will, manipulation of energy and power, manipulation of minds and bodies. And that feels like youth to me, it’s a time when you’re a victim of much manipulation but also learning to manipulate both yourself and others to get what you want. Can you talk a little more about that?
BRIAN WOOD: I described their powers as “primal”, and yeah, a lot of those involve manipulation. I don’t know exactly who created the specific powers – DV8 is credited to three people – but they are genius. None of them have props like rings or hammers or anything like that. It’s all emotion and raw power and sex. Exactly the story of stuff that teenagers have in abundance but lack the emotional maturity to control. It’s the single biggest draw for me, in terms of wanting to write this book. And I think its something that sets this team of teenage superheroes above all others. Including the X-men. Wildstorm’s sitting on a goldmine with DV8, as far as I’m concerned, and that’s why I often say that I hope other creative teams use them in the future.
KELLY: I love that in Gods & Monsters we’re really seeing the different philosophies and thought processes of the characters being revealed. It’s like once you stripped away everything else we could really see who they are and where they’re coming from as people. So far we’ve only seen half the story – Bliss of course wants to be a Goddess and conquer everyone, but Powerhaus is coming from an almost green standpoint where he wants to live as low impact as possible, to affect these people and their natural development as little as possible. Freestyle wants to help them advance their technologies while Frostbite and Copycat, maybe always the closest thing the team had to a heart and moral center, want to get the team together and solve a way home. One of the most interesting things about DV8 has always been the strong personalities – nobody was willing to just sit back and shut up and be a team player – they all had their own ideas and agendas and we’re seeing that played out on a much larger scale here and it’s very interesting. Can you talk a little bit about how you came up with this…and where you’re taking it?
BRIAN WOOD: Yeah…I gotta be careful and not give anything away. I finished the writing months ago and even though in the first few issues the story may feel very segmented – Bliss’ issue, Hector’s story, Matthew’s, etc., its all part of a whole and everything comes crashing together in short order. One of the things I love about the Powerhaus story is the notion of guilt… he’s doing what he’s doing, numbing himself down, to deny himself his power and the psychic damage he can’t help but suffer while inflicting pain on others. It’s a loop he can’t escape. Except by doping himself into semi-consciousness. This series explores each character’s personality and power in this way… in a very “Demo” sort of way, really, which is me, a superhero-illiterate writer, peeling back the surface and talking about what about it all I find most interesting. Typically that’s the tragic side of things, and “Gods And Monsters” is no exception. That’s about as much as I can talk about future stories!
KELLY: You mentioned in another interview that Gods & Monsters is partially inspired by Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King (great story and film by the way) – which now that you’ve said it is totally obvious (and wonderful). We know some of our characters have at least survived not unlike Peachey since the bulk of the story is being told in flashback via Gem Antonelli…but are some characters also going to meet Daniel’s fate?
BRIAN WOOD: It’s the film I meant specifically, yeah. That’s exactly the sort of tragedy I mean, the sort that leaves someone alive to live with it afterwards. I’m not saying the ending of that story is in any way the same as the ending of mine… in fact I think they are radically different in most ways, but there are some parallels, yeah.
KELLY: And on that note…any chance you’ll do more work with DV8? An ongoing perhaps? You’ve been wanting to write these characters for a long time now…you’re not just going to walk away, right?
BRIAN WOOD: Can this industry support a DV8 ongoing? Probably not, but I hope someone figures something out.
Well, thanks for doing this Brian and for bringing me so many great books – up to and including – despite your superhero illiterate protests – a nearly perfect superhero book!
BRIAN WOOD: Thanks for having me.
KELLY: Anytime – I hope you’ll come back!
Here’s a peek at a few pages from DV8 #4:
DV8: Gods & Monsters #4 (of 8 ) released July 21st and is in stores now. DV8: Gods & Monsters #1 – 3 are also available at comic book stores everywhere.