Artist August: Brandon Graham [Interview]

By | August 29th, 2012
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

To close our trio of “Prophet” interviews for Artist August, we have a chat with the frontman of the team: Brandon Graham. You may know, and hopefully love, Graham for his work on “King City” and the upcoming “Multiple Warheads,” and he’s brought that inventiveness and assured storytelling with him to “Prophet.” No one is more responsible for making this title what it is, and it is one of the many reasons why he is one of the most exciting creators in comics.

Join us as we talk to Brandon about his first year of “Prophet,” what it’s like working on a book with so many great artists, breaking into the industry, and much, much more.

When we last talked, it was before the launch of Prophet. Since then, the book started off with towering praise and has kept it up with a range of inventive stories filled with stellar art from yourself, Giannis Milonogiannis, Simon Roy and Farel Dalrymple. How did you recruit those guys for this book, and what was it that you thought fit so well about their art for each of their stories?

Well thanks. Initially it was just going to be drawn by Simon but then Image asked us to do 12 issues a year so we brought in the other guys and figured out a way we could have fun with it and make it work.

I knew everyone from before, me and Farel from way back when we both were in the comic gang, Meathaus in NYC. I’ve been hanging out with Simon since I first saw his Jan’s Atomic heart book, which was published by Ed who letters Prophet. I met Giannis through Simon, they were Internet pen pals. And I knew the colorist, Joseph through the same friends I’d met Ed through.

A lot of it was who I knew that had an interest in the kind of Sci fi that I wanted Prophet to be. The first ideas I had about it were’t so much about what I would do with Prophet as much as just what I would want to read in a monthly book.

Also working with Simon on the first issues I think I was aiming at something that felt more like a Simon comic while he was adding things that he thought I would do.

There’s a lot of that, when I work with Farel I think of the Prophets he draws as less harsh than Simon’s. It’s almost a sadder world and Giannis does work that makes me want to write like it’s from a manga I grew up on.

I’ve talked before about trying to write with each artist like their style was a view to how the characters they’re drawing see the universe.

A page of Graham's art from Prophet #26

Could you see adding anyone else to your art rotation on Prophet going forward, or are you pretty set with your team at this point? I know you tweeted about Fil Barlow creating a cover for an issue.

I want to bring in lots of new artists on covers and back ups each issue. There’s so many amazing creators out there I want to involve on the periphery of the book but I think as the main story goes I think it’ll read best if we narrow the focus to the Prophets that Simon and Giannis are drawing (with some more shorter stuff by me and Farel).

I’m really into trying to build the book into something else past the initial series of Conan in space one shots.

As far as the story of Prophet is concerned, as you said there were the initial Conan in space one-shots, but past that, it feels like it is building to something bigger in a subtle way on the periphery. What’s the Prophet story you’re looking to tell, and do you have a general idea on how long it will take you to tell that story?

I’ve got an ending planned.Simon Roy was in town this past week and we hammered out a lot of new ideas for it. We’ve got a lot more ongoing characters that’ll be introduced and different factions of Prophet’s and different tribes of humanity. Right now I’m thinking the whole thing might be 20-25 issues. I like stories to have endings.

Continued below

One aspect I like a lot on it is just looking at the old Youngblood and Prophet comics and trying to figure out what happens to these guys and this whole way of going about things after 10 thousand years.

I want to talk about what freedom is about. Also we’re talking about changing the structure with shorter chapters with both Simon and Giannis on a lot of the same issues. It always sounds all over the map when I’m working on something. I have to go into these things with really high goals and hope that most of them get hit.

When you’re working on a Prophet script, does the way you write change at all if you’re working on an issue you know you’re going to draw versus something that say, Farel would be working on?

Yeah, When I’m drawing pages myself I have hours on each one to think about it. I rework ideas and change things a lot as I go. If someone else is drawing it we’ve got to hammer out a pretty clear idea from the start.

It’s nice when a thinking artist ads to an idea and then I try to add to what they’ve done in the final text. I have so much faith in all the guys on Prophet that if I say something is a crazy space brain ball thing that they can make it into something cool.

I like having to work by the seat of our pants. on a recent issue Giannis draw a character carrying another and to make it work in the art the carried character was drawn smaller than he was earlier in the book– so I wrote about him having spongy cellulose flesh that contracted. I like to think it added something.

A page of Graham's art from Prophet #26

I’ve never heard the phrase “thinking artist” before, but it makes sense in my mind as an artist who takes the script they receive and adds to it from a storytelling and design standpoint if it could add a little something to it. I’m curious: what do you think the state of the “thinking artist” is today? Do you feel like comic art is at a strong point with skilled, unique storytellers, or something less so?

I see a lot of amazing work being done in the art form but I’m still fairly disappointed in the majority of what I see on comic shelves.

I’m really impressed by books like Finder and Empowered and what guys like Michael Deforge or Angie Wang are doing. Seeing my pal Stokoe’s work on his upcoming Godzilla has motivated me a lot.

BPRD is really solid. But as far as most of the more mainstream stuff, it seems like a flawed system to me.

I worry that too many of the guys who are writers in comics aren’t so much writers as they are guys who just can’t draw.

So even if you have a thinking artist on a book like that there’s a limit to what they can do off a mediocre script.

I see stuff like E.K. Weaver’s TJ and Amal or the French artist Boulet and that’s the kind of stuff that gets me excited about the medium and the kind of stuff I would spend money on if they were in comic shops.

I’m trying to be more reasonable about the industry than I have in the past. I feel like things are moving in a good direction.

Just at Image, I’m really happy that I’m being published along side creators like Emma Rios and Howard Chaykin.

So yeah, it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times — but maybe it always seems like that.

Each issue features a back up story by a different creator typically, with a lot of notable ones but the Emma Rios one really standing out for me. Why did you decide to include those stories after the initial Prophet story? Was it a value add for those who are buying the comic, or a way to highlight creators that you yourself enjoy but can’t fit into the book itself, or some combination of both?

Continued below

Man, that Emma Rios story was fantastic. I’m really happy to be printing the back ups in the book.

The back ups started because we’re doing 20 or 21 page issues in a 28 page book and I wanted to have less ads in it. Plus it’s a fantastic excuse to show off creators whose work I’m really excited about.

With guys like Fil Barlow and Frank Teran it’s me getting the chance to put work in the book by guys who I grew up reading, who got me excited to make comics and then with creators like Lin Visel, Malachi Ward or Matt Sheean It’s my way to just get more eyes on these amazing cartoonists.

With Prophet it’s just minor little back up but hopefully it’s something. I feel like comics needs more inroads for new creators. It’s kind of crazy what a fight it can be to get your work seen and new creators with new ways of doing things are the life’s blood of the art form. I certainly work better when I’m getting challenged by seeing new ways to do things.

You brought up the recent Image announcements, and one of them was a book of your own: Multiple Warheads. When we last spoke, it was going to be released at Oni. How and why did that book find a new home over at Image?

When I did the first Warheads book it was before King City had come out through Image. Over the last couple years the head of Image, Eric Stephenson has really gone out of his way to help me out. Both with just giving me so much freedom and support on Prophet and with King City.

Back when King City looked like it was going to die on the vine I contacted everyone whose email I had in comics. Joe Keatinge, who was working as Image’s marketing guy who I’d met like once at a pizza place put me in touch with Stephenson. And the both of them were like –“we like your book, we’ll help you out.”

I think Oni is a great company but I feel like I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without the guys at Image so I’d feel weird taking the work that’s most important to me somewhere else.

When you look at a book like Prophet, you have four artists working with distinctly different looks, none of which you would call “typical.” Yet, it is a book that regularly sells out and has a passionate fan base. With that and the general direction of the industry in mind, do you feel like the acceptance and overall appreciation of different looks and styles in art in mainstream comics has changed over the past few years?

When I was first getting work in comics it was the 90’s when the mainstream were very limited in what they’d put out. It’s defiantly more diverse than it was then.

I’d suspect that a lot of readers would be into an even larger range of books than are offered to them by mainstream comics now.

It’s cool to see how well creators like Kate Beaton or Craig Thompson do with work that feels mainstream in the way of it being more universal as opposed to mainstream meaning backed by DC or Marvel.

With the way that Image is really stepping up the last few years and the advent of new avenues for creators to release books – like the way Chris Roberson has laid out Monkeybrain Comics or Mark Waid has rolled out Thrillbent – do you feel like creators have more inroads than before? Or do you feel like many of the same problems that hampered them before exist, even with the catch all solution of digital?

The internet is fantastic for leveling the playing field. You can get your work out there without a company backing you. But yeah, I’d like to see a lot more books that I’m excited about actually making it to store shelves.

There might be a lot of exceptions I’m unaware of but it seems like the places you listed are mostly publishing work that’s done by fairly established creators.

Continued below

They all seem like really good places for comics. Image certainly seems to be opening up as more of a place for mainstream guys to do work with an amazing amount of creative freedom and it was defiantly an inroad for me to get more notice. It certainly seems like working creators are getting more options to put their stuff out.

I don’t mean to sound like a stick in the mud. Exciting stuff is happening in comics and I’m in an unbelievable position to get away with so much but I still think we can do better, I mean, I want to do better too.

I think about the work that made me ache that I wasn’t part of comics. I want an environment where a trip to the comic store is a daunting exciting experience where you need to rush home afterwards to draw and write.

One thing I love about your work and your WordPress blog is it becomes quickly apparent that you love drawing and creating art. Like, that it is your lifeblood and it’s something that you’re actually compelled to do. This is an outrageously difficult question, but what does art mean to you? Could you envision a version of yourself that wasn’t actively creating art, both in-print work and things that you create and doodle on a whim?

Making art is pretty tied to my identity. I really can’t imagine what I’d be like without it. it’s like when marvel put out that 9-11 comic where Doctor Doom and Magneto are at ground zero of the world trade center disaster.

If you have these publicly known villains with super armor and magic powers you have to rethink everything from the start. 911 doesn’t mean the same thing if Galactus exists– it’s like that.

When I was living in New York there was awhile where I thought I was really close to breaking into comics.

I was doing porn comics for a living and going up to Vertigo with pitches every week, I even had a Ghost Rider comic I was asked to draw.

But all of it fell through and I was at a kind of a rock bottom moment where I had to reassess what was important to me.

I was so angry that I’d run out of options after feeling like I was so close and spending so much of my life and moving across the country just to do comics.

It was anger directed at people who maybe didn’t deserve it. Not everyone has the same interests of values –and that’s fine. but I think it was really important to me to build a mote around my own work– stake out a claim and say “this is mine” That gave me a lot of freedom to really look at what was important to me, ignore all the bullshit and focus on just making the work I wanted to make without trying to impress everyone.

So making art is like my diary and my entertainment and about trying to create something that could connect with someone the way Moebius or Shirow or Fil Barlow’s work connected with me. And sometimes it’s about just making it without worrying that anyone else will ever see it. I like drawing and coming up with stories and jokes. I like how many options art allows, I’ll never have enough time in my life to explore it all. I feel like the only thing I have to worry about is remembering that.

You’re obviously someone who likes to stay busy. You’ve got Prophet monthly, Multiple Warheads is coming together, and in-between you have smaller stories like The Speaker that appeared in Dark Horse Presents. Do you have any other comic related plans coming down the path? While you’re at it, when we last spoke you said Marian was actively working on another book…do you have any clue when we might see that?

I’ve got a couple things I’m messing with. I’ve got an idea for another Dark horse presents short, I’ve been talking to my pal Marley Zarcone about writing something for her.

And I’ve got a sketchbook collection I’m putting together in the next few months.

Marian’s main book she’s working on is called The Crossing, it’s a fantasy thing about a world that heroes have to pass through to become gods after they’ve died. She wrote a little about it on her site last year. It’s a pretty big story, and she’s drawing it on giant Paul Pope, Kirby sized paper. I think she’s aiming to give it the time it needs before even thinking about when it’ll go to print.

I know I’m all married to her and biased as hell but goddamn! Her work kills me.

//TAGS | Artist August

David Harper

David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).


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