DMZ #50: Brian Wood on Writing 50 Issues in a War Zone
It’s unusual for a war to becomes more popular the longer it rages on, but then again, Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s “DMZ” has always been a little different. As the Vertigo series celebrates its fiftieth single issue this week, “DMZ” #50 hits stands bearing an expanded page count and the same solid storytelling and art that have kept it going strong since 2005.
The anniversary issue comes as no surprise to the book’s devoted fanbase, which includes the readers who meticulously mark the locations from the series’ fictional New York City on Google Maps and even stars like Felicia Day, who credits the series for warming her to the entire sequential art medium.
But despite fan demand, a labor of love for even the most prolific creators is still a labor. We talked with Wood about his thoughts on the series’ success thus far and learned a little more about what goes into maintaining a “DMZ.”
ComicsAlliance: First of all, congrats on hitting 50 issues on “DMZ.” Can you give us some insight into how you’ve maintained your passion for the series for over six years?
Brian Wood: It’s sometimes a difficult thing to do… I imagine anyone who’s written a monthly book for several years feels this way. You have ups and downs, days when it’s the greatest thrill in the world and others where the fact that this is, in reality, your JOB whether you’re in the mood for it or not is felt rather keenly. I think the fact that “DMZ” is creator-owned helps tremendously… I couldn’t imagine working this hard everyday for years and years on someone else’s idea. Actually, I can imagine that. That’s what I did at Rockstar Games before I wised up and quit to do comics full time.
So even though it’s a struggle at times, the desire to keep nurturing our baby and watching over it overrides everything else. The book is a success all over the world – some of the foreign editions, French and Spanish specifically, must be doing well as they’ve been putting the collections out at a good clip, almost catching up to where we’re at with the monthlies. So it’s an obligation, the good kind of obligation, to the readers, and to us, but the book as well. I still can’t believe we’ve hit 50 issues, and the book will run its course as originally planned. This is an extremely rare thing for a creator-owned book these days.CA: While most comis celebrate landmark issues at least superficially, “DMZ” #50 marks the occasion in a pretty significant way. How important was it for you to make this issue stand out rather than simply proceed as if it were just another installment of the story?
BW: Well, #50 happened to come at a natural break in the story arc… We [were] finishing up an arc with #49, so it just made sense to take a break from the main storyline… which, as monthly readers know, has been pretty grim, and have a month where we celebrate the book. My editor, Will Dennis, suggested a few names of guest artists we could get, and taking a cue from those old “Transmetropolitan” specials, I decided I wanted a collection of “notes from the field” — “DMZ” stories in the “classic” sense, that exist separate from the main story. Little story bits I always wanted to use but never found the space or the opportunity.
I keep coming back to the word “celebration”. These stories, with one possible exception, are upbeat, positive things.
CA: When “DMZ” began, its premise seemed pretty entrenched in the political/social/military events of the time period. What kind of book do you think it would be if you’d started the series more recently, specifically in the past year or so? Would it even exist?
BW: It might not exist. I dunno, it’s really hard to say. It might have existed, but I think I can say for a certainty that it probably wouldn’t have succeeded commercially. In its first 2-3 years, “DMZ” got phenomenal real world press, mostly due to its topical nature. I don’t think we’d get the same reception now. I think the world’s moved on in terms of what’s on the front page of newspapers, in terms of what people cite as the most pressing issues of the day. And, to my continued surprise, our two semi-legal wars don’t rate. Granted, if I was coming up with “DMZ” now, it might be a different sort of book altogether.
CA: In attempt to keep this interview spoiler free, I’ll try to sidestep the events of issue #49 that lead into issue #50, but needless to say Matty’s facing some serious introspection after making some tough choices. How much of your own way of thinking feeds into Matty’s character?
BW: Matty was never my voice. Matty was, originally, meant to literally be the eyes and ears of the reader. I’ve deviated a bit from this as time went on, but certainly in the first couple years, nothing happened in the book that Matty wasn’t physically present for. He was the reader’s guide to the story, at least in part.
He’s a very specific sort of guy, someone I never was, but I compiled him from a few different people I used to know, so its been fairly easy to figure out what to have him do, how to have him react. But there is a barrier between him and I, much more so than some of my other characters. Which is good, because he is a total moron a good 30% of the time. I don’t have a problem with putting myself into any of my stories, and of my characters. But I’m always only a piece of it… I never want to be so recognizable. That’s a personal preference, because I really love reading a lot of autobiographical comics.
CA: As your longest-running series, “DMZ” has generated a pretty passionate core fanbase. What’s your relationship with fans of “DMZ” like compared to readers who follow some of your other work? Do you find that there’s a difference, or do find you’ve attracted more “Brian Wood fans” than die-hards of one specific series?
BW: I think my core readership tends to read everything I’ve written, yeah. God bless them. And I’ve worked at that. I spend a lot of time thinking and crafting my career in terms of what sort of books I should be writing. I want each one to sort of fit in with everything else. This is, in part, why you don’t see me running off and doing random fill-ins on company books. I try and make sure that whatever I do will be something that at the very least won’t alienate my existing readership.
“DV8″ is a good example of this. Might sound like an odd choice for me, but once you see it, you’ll get it. Same with “Northlanders.” There’s a book that, despite what you see on the surface, is as much a “Brian Wood” book as anything else. “DMZ” is my most popular book, in terms of sales. Other books of mine – and I base this solely on what I see when I sit at tables at conventions, so this is not very scientific – have more hardcore “fans”, like “Demo,” “Local,” and “Channel Zero.” I think the emotional content of the first two accounts for that. Readers relate to those, on a personal level, more than anything else I’ve written. And “Channel Zero” is such a special case, and has been around the longest.
CA: What will be the future bring for “DMZ?” Are you still interested in expanding the series through minis/one-shots or the novel you’ve mentioned in other spots on the Web?
BW: Probably not. As things stand right now, there are about two years left on “DMZ.” I would have loved to write numerous side projects and specials, but time is always so tight, and I came to the realization that something had to give. I have a huge backlog of books I want to write, and I can spend time developing those, or write some “DMZ” miniseries. So I’m choosing to look forward and plan what’s going to come after “DMZ.”