One of our favorite books here at Multiversity is Brian Wood’s post-“DMZ” creator-owned ongoing, “the Massive,” which Garry Brown joined with issue #4. Exploring a post-Crash world, this book has been firing all cylinders since it launched, a challenging and entertaining read. And as the third arc ends, which promises to be a big change for the crew followed up by a pseudo-“event,” we sat down with the book’s creative team to discuss the creative process and see what the future has in store.
Read on as we chat with Garry Brown and Brian Wood about all things “Massive.”
So, Garry, you came in with issue #4 of “The Massive.” How is the working relationship between you two so far now that you’ve got quite a few issues in the can?
Garry Brown: I guess it’s more streamlined. Brian doesn’t have to keep telling me to pull out the camera now.
Brian Wood: [Laughter] That’s my thing. That’s really my thing, yeah. It’s not just Garry.
GB: But it helps, though, because now I do it instinctively.
BW: I’ll just give you context on that. That was something I started on “Northlanders.” I wanted a lot of real epic background scenes, these huge landscapes with distance and everything. It was kind of the story vibe I was working with. I’ve since gotten really addicted to that, you know? So I’m telling every artist, pull back. I’m doing it on “Conan” too, I’ll say, “Bigger, bigger, bigger! I want to see a mile of ocean in this panel!” And I feel like that must be a really uncommon thing for a writer to want in a script? Every time it’s like the first time anyone has asked an artist to do that, so I feel really guilty every single time I say further back. I write “waaaayyy back” in the script now. [Laughter]Continued below
GB: It’s good though, because as you’re saying it adds a whole different scope to it, a new look to it, because no one really does it anymore.
BW: Yeah, I mean, so much of these stories, and especially “The Massive,” it’s as much about the world as it is the characters, you know? So I just want to show it and have these big wide panels, these big widescreen wide angle lens type shots.
Beyond the widescreen shots, is there anything that has changed in between issue #4 and now with your process?
BW: Well, I’ll just say, Garry is such a different artist than Kristian is. Radically so. And so, the book changed just out of necessity because of that, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s good. I feel what “The Massive” has become, what Garry has brought to it is a lot more emphasis on the characters. Its become a lot more of a character-driven story, where I feel like Kristian’s strengths were a lot of detail, a lot of tactical stuff. I feel like if he’d have stayed on, we would have had a book that was a bit colder, a bit more about the mechanics of the world than it is about these characters dramas and past lives and stuff like that. All the background stuff, all the flashbacks to everybody’s early lives, that was never planned from the start. That’s something I was inspired to do now that I have Garry as the artist.
GB: Wow, I had no idea.
BW: That’s how it’s supposed to be! The writer is supposed to write to the artist’s strengths, you’re supposed to take that into account.
And Garry, aside from character traits, was there anything about the previous artwork in the book that really informed you when you were coming into the series?
GB: Yeah, like Brian was saying, lots of detail. My stuff isn’t anywhere near as detailed as Kristian’s, but I try and add some detail whenever possible if its needed. I definitely tried to keep that in mind when I was laying out pages, trying to get the big shots. We do the three issue arc on the oil rig, and there’s that big downshot — well, I don’t know how much I can say, but Brian knows what I’m talking about.
One of the aspects that I really like about “the Massive,” and I suppose it’s known but it’s not something really talked about enough (at least not from my perspective), is the amount of research that you guys must have to put in for doing this book. In terms of what materials you’re using, what you’re looking at for inspiration here, what are your chief libraries for research?
BW: Well, I’ve really made a conscious effort not to do as much research here as I have in the past, which is sort of my personal OCD “down the rabbit hole” weakness. I can get way too involved and spend too much money on books. On “Northlanders” it really took over, almost in a negative way. Here, honestly I use Wikipedia the most for anything, and I read a couple of books at the beginning that sort of got my brain engine running about hypothetical scenarios.
Really, I just start off thinking — I use a lot of common sense thinking, thinking of the events of the Crash. I just break it down as methodically as I can. “Well, if there are undersea earthquakes, what does that effect? It effects oil rigs, it effects coastlines. How?” And then I walk myself through it like that, taking a lot of notes and then going to Wikipedia to see how oil rigs are fashioned to the ocean floor. Once I know that, then I can write something about what can happen there.
So it’s a lot of real boring stuff, walking myself through these imagined situations. I’ve gotten fast at it, and once I find links that seem helpful I’ll just put them into the script. “Garry, draw some version of this.” That’s kind of all I do, I’m trying not to go too deep into reading books like I used to. My sister-in-law is a federal agent that works for NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and she busts people who illegally traffic in the wrong kind of fish or sharks, and I haven’t even bothered talking to her because I feel like that’s a whole other level of research that I’m not sure I’m ready to walk down the road of yet. I just won’t write, I’ll spend all my time doing that.
So, really, it’s my own brain, Wikipedia, a lot of looking up details for how things are constructed.
And Garry, how about for you? Because obviously with things like the recently featured oil rig, that’s pretty heavily detailed and already has an architectural structure to it.
GB: I tried to find a bunch of websites about constructing oil rigs, just so I could see. I find it easier to draw when I know what things are for. If there’s a box and a pipe coming out of the side of an oil rig and I don’t know what that is, then for some reason, if I know what it does, I’ll draw it in better. So I looked a lot of that. I actually watched a video about building an oil rig for half an hour, which I clearly didn’t need to but I got some cool screencaps from for the underside of rigs and stuff.
That’s really cool. Do you find that understanding the structures helps with everything in the book? Did you ever do that for the ships as well?
GB: Yeah, I tried to find a bunch of references on a specific ship, just to see where things would be in that ship. That way if I have to draw it, I can know what type of rooms it needs. Just the little details. Then I keep a folder of maybe a thousand shots of an oil rig or something, and I just look at that and make a composite in my mind of where I need to put a pipe, or I’ll see how that’s joined to an oil rig, stuff like that.
With this latest arc that centers around the Moksha Station, we’ve got this huge, beautiful splash page in the opening of issue #7 that shows the whole thing. Brian, I know you’re into design as well, so when you were putting that together and the way the rig reflects in the water, was this all Garry coming at it and building it up, how it would look in this world? Did you talk back and forth?
BW: All of the drawing is all Garry. Again, this is one of those examples where I’ll say, “Pull back! Pull back!” I think I might’ve just mocked up something. I forget. I might’ve mocked up some simple layout just to show where I wanted the horizon line and how far back, but all the drawing of it – the construction of it? That’s all Garry.
GB: If Brian has something real specific in his mind then he’ll mock up a layout, and then I’ll pretty much stick to that with some minor flourishes. It gets the page done quicker because it’s less thinking, because it’s there.
Are you working as a digital artist, or with regular pen and paper and ink
GB: Both, actually. I do layouts in pencils on my Cintiq and then print the pages out on blue line and ink them traditionally.
That’s interesting. Do you find that using the digital aspect of this, especially when working on something like that splash page, does that make it a lot smoother?
GB: Yeah, I can select something and shrink it, pull it back or move it to the left or rotate it, it just takes seconds. As opposed to before, where I’d have to draw the elements separately and then lightbox onto the board. It just makes it so much easier for me.
Definitely. So, I’m not sure if this has been discussed before, but with Moksha Station – is this particularly based on anything in particular, both in terms of the structure of the particular rig itself and thematically for the idea of this arc?
BW: I guess on some basic level… The Principality of Sealand – I don’t know who or when or why, but there’s some old WW2 gun platform in international waters and it’s now a nation. It has a flag and everything. I heard about that a long time ago, its been around for something like forty years, and that’s cool. So I think that’s probably where the idea for Moksha came from, but in a very general sense, in the sense of an international water outpost. Everything else is just, you know, it just came out of my head, really. That was, I think, my only influence.
Part of it was my general idea of how that part of the world may have reacted to the Crash. In a catastrophe like that, there are going to be some people who just want to get the hell out of there, so I’m sure that’s how it began. I think the science is pretty fuzzy. There are such things as mobile oil rigs. I have no idea if you can coordinate several as I have them in the script and park them together like that. That’s where I just allowed myself to go with it and not research it to death, to give myself the freedom to write something that’s impossible in this case which is a sign of my growth as a human being I think. [Laughter] Before I would not have allowed that. I think it’s at least kind of possible.
GB: I actually did a bunch of searches for, as Brian was saying, a collection of oil rigs. I found movable oil rigs and stuff like that, but I didn’t really find anything like what was described. I know there are several types of oil rigs there, but I couldn’t tell you what they are. They all basically do the same but they’re set up differently, and this is from that video I actually can’t remember too well anymore.
BW: I should also give props to John Paul Leon, because I think he’s the one who first drew this on a cover. I remember having a long conversation with him explaining kind of what I wanted in terms of these rigs. The cover only had a small section of it and Garry did conceive the entire station, but Jean Paul put in his chops on that rig.
GB: Yeah, I remember that cover.
That actually leads into my next question, which was that obviously the cover of any book in general plays a huge role, but you have such consistant art with John Paul Leon on the covers for “The Massive.” Is there any interaction between you and John Paul?
GB: Not really. I get the covers attached to the end of the script, just to give me an idea of what the cover is like, but I haven’t had much direct contact with him, no.
So these are done much in advance, then?
BW: Yeah, they’re usually done at least, like, three or four months before the book appears. Dark Horse also tends to work a lot further in advance than, say, DC or Marvel does, so the covers are done way, way in advance. I think Jean Paul and I were actually just talking about issue #15 now, so that’s where he’s at.
In looking at this whole arc, the idea of this arc, I find it really interesting that the Kapital and Moksha Station have this really diverse and cultural backgrounds with the people that populate it, which is something that has obviously been prevalent in this arc. The question that I have is, in this post-Crash world, how important are these factors?
BW: That’s a pretty good question. My original reason for writing the book that way is, well, part of it was in reaction to having just finished DMZ and having spent six years writing about an American place with American politics and an American point of view. I thought, that’s the last thing in the world I want to do with “The Massive.” I wanted a break, I wanted to set it everywhere else in the world. So that was kind of like my personal wish, and every book and every bit of research I’d done on ships, whether they be activist ships or fishing boats or cargo ships, is: people on the ships come from everywhere. Literally, the diversity of the sailor for hire is extreme. They come from all over the world, so that was part of it. I’ve just kind of gone with it.
It’s obviously an intentional thing, but I’m trying not to comment on it, I’m trying to make it as normal-seeming as possible. Sure, of course there’ll be twenty nationalities represented on this boat. Why not? All the better to have a rich back story. I’ve kind of really enjoyed telling these stories, and I don’t think you’ve seen the issue yet with Georgia’s back story but I had a lot of fun with that. That satisfying to me creatively, figuring out what some Chechnyan mercenaries history would be.
Pulling back a bit, I wanted to bring up what is my favorite issue of the series so far, #5, which I think had this really great and vivid connection for both of you in terms of the story and the setting and the way the writing flows towards the art. This issue’s a strong example, but for both of you as creators, do you find that the line isn’t necessarily easily drawn in a book like “The Massive,” that’s so specific and needs to have a good deal of written information alongside the artwork sometimes?
BW: Do you mean in terms the back and forth between the present and the flashbacks?
Well, this is the type of book where certain scenes need more information than others I think, so there will be these huge shots like the opening to #7, but it’ll have one caption in the top left corner, versus other scenes where characters will need to talk a lot more, more back and forth, to give clues about the world they live in. What’s the dynamic like for doing both, and is it hard to find that line?
BW: Well, it’s… overall, I knew I was going to make this a dense book. That’s a common — well, I don’t want to call it an argument, but it’s a discussion I have my editor often, where there’s possibly too much information or I’m writing in a way that assumes the reader is fully up to speed with what I’m talking about. I wanted this to be a dense book and often a challenging book to read. It’s a bit arrogant on my part, but it seemed kind of like a national progression from how I’ve been writing creator-owned books recently.
I’m looking at a couple of things when I’m figuring this out. I’m looking at how I want to control the speed of the reading, when I want to slow the reader down and give him a denser scene with a lot of captions. Right now I’m looking at issue #5 that you mentioned, and there’s a scene in the middle where there’s a lot of third person narration and I can see why I put it on the scene I placed it on, where it’s a quieter scene. It’s sort of basic, common comic writing where I’m trying to balance it out, actions with narration. Then following that, there’s this tense action scene with almost no text at all happening there.
It’s a hard thing to explain how you do or how the decisions get made, because at this point I’ve been doing this a long time and a lot of it is purely instinctual. Just knowing when to speed up or slow down, when to give or when to let the reader fill in the blanks, for lack of a better term. That’s the writer point of view on that.
GB: I enjoy that as well. There are dialogue heavy and description heavy panel, and then you’ll have maybe a run of three or four pages that have no dialogue or descriptions at all, so that makes it feel more… not jarring. What’s a positive way of saying jarring? It just shakes you up a bit.
BW: Part of it is also a desire to write this dense story without just having twenty-two pages of denseness. I experimented on this a lot with “Northlanders” where I was going for density by using a lot of panels, but obviously I’m not going to torture the artist by having a nine-page grid throughout the entire thing. To have several dense pages of seven, eight or nine panels, then give them a break and have a double-page spread or a couple of spreads, a two-panel page or something, then you still have that denseness and are committing a lot of information but not with an overpowering feeling. You get breaks, there’s a chance for everything to breathe, and you can let moments land and have space for the reader to absorb it.
And Garry, in terms of world building since obviously a huge part of “The Massive” is the actual post-Crash world this takes place in, looking still at #5 as a good example, we have this whole opening scene in the snow with this great structure where the snow really comes to life in contrast with others that feature border-less panels where it’s all white and you can still get the snowy feeling. For you, what are the tricks or tools that you use when structuring the panels in a comic that is so influenced by its setting?
GB: I think actually the idea for having no snow or very limited snow was in the script. Brian wanted nothing but the characters there, really, so when adding the opened panels to it, it just made sense since its all going to be pretty much white anyway. I figured the opened panels on the page would give it even more space while I play with how isolated they were in the middle of the Arctic.
BW: That’s a constant battle I have with colorists. [Laughter] Every time I write snow, I just want white. I don’t want the color white, I just want it to be the paper showing. And they’re like, you can not do that, Brian, it looks like crap. You don’t really know what kind of paper it’s going to be, you don’t always know how it’s going to react, what’s going to leak through. They’re obviously right, that’s their job! They know a hundred times more about coloring than me, but I’m always trying to do it still. I always try to sneak it in.
In this case, I actually really liked that it is so white and open in this early scene, and then as we go, every time there’s an outdoor scene it’s a lot more defined and colored in. I sort of feel like at the beginning, the reader and also the characters don’t necessarily know where they are yet. They’re just kind of wandering through an expanse of white. Once we get establish, ok, we’re at this science base, so we all know where we are now in the context of everything. That’s where the backgrounds come in, the horizons line come in, which I think makes a lot of sense.
Looking back at the first three arcs of the book so far, what would you say that it is that draws you to the book, at least in terms of the content that you might not necessarily find in other books? What itch does “The Massive” scratch for you?
BW: That’s going to be tricky to answer without sounding like I’m bragging or something, or implying a deficiency with other books. [Laughter]
I’ll just say, the reason why I wanted to write this is, I like stories that put people into really difficult environments. I kind of got into that with my Vertigo books, which were two very different books. One was a very urban warzone environment, one was weather and cold and exposure as the hardship. I just wanted to do it again and challenge myself to amp it up, to literally use the entire world as the setting. When all is said and done, I am going to have written stories in every section of the world. You can’t really see it yet, but each trade is kind of grouped together geographically. Once you’re done, it’ll be clear that each quadrant of the world is represented.
So it was a personal challenge for me. I didn’t make this book because I saw a hole in the market or anything like that, I wasn’t trying to do a certain book better than I’d seen it done before. It was just a personal creative challenge. It’s just all the stuff I like. I like boats and the ocean and old weird Russian machinery.
GB: “The Massive” is the kind of book that I read in comics. I like all the character work and the fact that I don’t really, even though I kind of know where it’s going, I don’t really know where it’s going in the meantime. Plus with what Brian was saying, the scope of it, it’s definitely just one of the books I would read. But now I can’t read it because I draw it and I just can’t look at my own art.
BW: You just read it very slowly as you draw it.
GB: Yeah, I’m completely immersed in it. I do enjoy reading the scripts, though. Then you just play the scenes in your head instead of seeing it on a comic page.
That actually leads really well into a thought I had. A lot of people, when “The Massive” first started, the first inclination was to compare it to “DMZ” for thematic and other sort of obvious connections. But I thought it was also pretty interesting to look at “Dark Matter” alongside “The Massive,” because they both have these science fiction aspects yet remain intensely character driven stories. Beyond the setting and the scope of the two book, do you find that there are any connections for you, perhaps in term of process or how you look at these ideas together?
GB: Definitely process. I think in “Dark Matter” I was still learning a lot of things, mostly just technique and trying to develop a more streamlined and faster technique that still looks passable.
Thematically, yeah, it was about several characters out by themselves in a spaceship as opposed to a boat. I never really noticed before, but yeah, now that you bring that up. [Laughter]
Looking forward to the future a bit, and I don’t know how much you can talk about this yet, this next big arc on “The Massive” is being called an event of sorts. Brian, can you talk about the decision to label this story as an event, given that for comic readers most “events” are typically these big budget superhero blockbuster stories, where this seems more like sort of a black swan of an event?
BW: Kind of. I think I’m the one who first used the word “event,” and I think I might’ve put it in quotes actually, if I recall. It’s the start of the second year and it’s special in the sense that it has added resonance. I’m being really really vague, and I’m sorry about, but it’s special in a way that kind of relates more to me as the writer than it does to anything else. If you’re someone that follows my books, this is going to mean something to you.
That’s why on one hand it’s special. There’s a lot of character stuff that you’re going to see in that issue, #9, and… I’m totally going to back up and ask you what issues you are talking about when you say it’s an event? Are you talking about #10 through #12, or #13 and up?
Yes, although I do have a question about #13 and up!
BW: Oh ok, then forget everything I just said for now. [Laughter]
#10 through #12 — and this is what happens when you write too many books a month, I’m completely confused — are one-shots that are thematically tied in. We have guest artists coming in to give Garry a break, so they’re one-shots in the way that I used to do a run of one-shots in “DMZ,” where I’d have guest artists come in. In this case, they are self-contained stories but Callum, the main character, has sort a personal crisis that lasts throughout all three issues. That crisis you’ll first learn about in issue #9, which I won’t say in case someone hasn’t read it yet. It’s sort of his low point. Matty Roth had his low point in “DMZ” and this is his, where he hits the bottom for various reasons and that kind of brings us into the second year of the series, where he figures his way out of it in this newly energized mission, for lack of a better term.
So it’s an event in that sense, in that we have these guest artists coming in. We are sort of… there’s a media tie-in that I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about or if it’s fully in place yet, but there’s going to be some mainstream media-type thing in the same way that Fraction had the “Hawkeye” Hurricane Sandy Issue with the Red Cross benefit. There’s something sort of like that happening here. But I don’t think the T’s are crossed or the I’s are dotted yet.
So after the “event,” and looking more towards what’s coming in the second year of the book, what do you guys have planned? At least in the department of teasing us.
BW: I don’t even think Garry really even knows. [Laughter]
GB: A bit, yeah.
BW: “The Massive” is sort of a special case because I have such a specific ending planned. It’s like I’m zooming along in a car and I have to hit the breaks and stop on a piece of tape on the ground. Like, the ending is so specific and I have to plan everything so that we land at exactly the right point in time, to end it the right way, so I’ve gone back and forth with Dark Horse in trying to pin down exactly how many issues I can have so I know when to end it and I know when to start building up to the ending.
A lot of the second year has been a bit in flux as we figure it out, but really, if the first year is about how we’re seeing what the Crash is, what happened with the Crash and who our character’s are and how they’ve gotten to this point their lives, the second year is, well, ok, now what are they going to do about? We had this tagline early on, “What do you when you’re an environmentalist but the worlds already ended?” So the second year answers that. This is what they do. They have to completely change their entire mission and their outlook to adapt to this new world.
That’s basically what’s going to happen in the second year, and there’s a couple things I can sort of tease out. We’ll see Arkady come back, who’s Cal’s big nemesis in issue #4, and of course I’m going to bring that guy back. There’s stuff that you’re going to see in issue #9 that’s going to be a persistent threat that will play out throughout the second year.
They’ve been reacting all this time. Now they’re going to be proactive. That’s the second year, generally.
Well I have one last question here to wrap us up, and it is a complete curve ball.
BW: Uh oh.
If you were to see “The Massive” on any kind of screen – television, movie, etc – what would the soundtrack for “The Massive” be like? I will say that you can include what you like to listen to while working on the book as the answer.
BW: I’m going to let Garry answer that because I don’t listen to music when I work.
GB: Well, I listen to audio books when I work, so…
BW: So that bondage thing, Fifty Shades of Grey? Is that what you listen to?
GB: [Laughter] Yes.
On the plus side, it does have a classical soundtrack out now.
BW: It does? Well I wouldn’t know about that kind of stuff.
GB: Yeah, I was going to say… [Laughter] When I do listen to music, though, it’s usually the Black Keys or something. They have a lot of albums and I can just let that run. There’s nothing really specific when I think of “The Massive” when I put it on, though.