Multiversity Comics Presents: Brahm Revel

By | March 19th, 2010
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

Today on Multiversity Comics Presents we have an interview with Brahm Revel, creator of Guerillas. This exceptional title saw its initial issue released back in August of 2008, and has since released a total of four issues. These were all brilliant issues, beautifully illustrated in black and white and telling an alternately touching tale of being a young man in war AND an action packed war story (with chimps!).

However, delays and a lack of a press have made it slip away from the collective consciousness of the comic book world. Revel has since moved the title from Image Comics to Oni Press, where he believes the title has found a place that best reflects the spirit of the title.

See after the jump for our talk with Brahm Revel, and if you can check out this book. It’s a damn good book that needs a lot more love. You can read the first two issues here.

Note: This interview took place over two different times. That’s why the questions may seem disjointed.

Let’s start with an easy one…why comics?

Brahm Revel: I’ve always drawn, but comics were the things that really made me want to draw. Like many comic book artists, it was the art that first drew me to comics, but I think the thing that made me stay was the way that comics can create these complete worlds that are so easy to get lost in. You have the intimacy of a book mixed with the accessibility of a cartoon and the only limits are your imagination. I think it’s a very natural storytelling medium, and I think that as society gets more and more visually oriented, comics will continue to have a broader appeal.

I also love that all you need to make comics is some paper and some ink. I love that I can control every aspect of the production and that I don’t have to rely on other people’s labor to finish a project (as in film and animation). Although companies like Marvel and DC are known for the assembly line style of production, I think that comics can truly be an auteur’s medium.

How did you get your start in the comic world?

BR: I feel like my real first start in the comic book world came with the release of GUERILLAS. And that came from just making the first issue and sending it out to Image. But before that I did have some semi-professional work get published by a few different publishers that flew pretty far under the radar.

Out of college I got hired by an independent filmmaker named Larry Fessenden to do an 86-page adaptation of the movie he was directing, “The Wendigo”. It got published and can probably still be found floating around ebay or 25¢ bins. The Wendigo comic led to other work with Fessenden including storyboards and other film related illustrations, but it also led to a few other comic projects. We made a free comic for the ’04 elections called “What are you voting for?” and I did another adaptation for Fessenden’s most recent film, “The Last Winter.”

Working for Fessenden was essential in my growth as an artist. It allowed me to learn my craft and still eek out a meager living while I did so. I will always be eternally grateful to him for that.

What has your experience been like working with Image Comics? They seem like the perfect place for your title to have ended up.

BR: Some time has passed from when I was first given these interview questions and it has very recently been announced that GUERILLAS will be switching publishers and moving to Oni Press.

So, let me first start off by saying that I think Image is a great resource for both aspiring comic book professionals and established ones. They are progressive in their views that creators should own their own creations and their catalogue of books span all genres and styles. They are a top rate independent company and I also thought that GUERILLAS would be a perfect fit at Image.

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Unfortunately as you may know, it’s been hard for me to get my book out in a timely manner, and it’s primarily because I’m not making money from GUERILLAS. As a result I have to spend the majority of my time doing freelance work to pay the bills. Because Image doesn’t share ownership in any of their titles, they don’t have the same obligation to promote every one of their books like other companies do, and some of the smaller titles are left to fend for themselves. As a result, it can be hard on longer series or on going titles. If you already have a name in the industry it can be a little easier because fans already know what to expect and are more likely to pick up books from a creator they’ve enjoyed in the past. For newer creators, it’s probably safer to do one-shots, shorter mini series, or completed graphic novels. I just happened to start with a nine issue, 450 page magnum opus as my first creator owned work.

I want to reiterate that I still think Image is a wonderful and progressive company and I wouldn’t hesitate to bring new projects there in the future. But as a newcomer to the industry, GUERILLAS might have been better served and developed by another company that had more stake in its property.

As for GUERILLAS’ future, Oni will be publishing it as three graphic novels, which are due to be released over the next 2 years. The first book will be roughly 150 pages and will collect the first three issues of the Image series. It’s due to hit shelves this October to coincide with the New York Comic Con.

How did the decision to move Guerillas from Image to Oni come about?

BR: A few retailers had told me that the first and second issues were no longer available at Diamond and the big question was whether or not we had any plans for reprints or mini collections. I was nervous that if we did partial collections we might lose some readers who would skip the individual issues and wait for the collections. So I devised a plan to print smaller format collections, with 3 issues per book, on lower quality paper so that there would be a cheap option for new readers to catch up with, but the slick individual issues would still be enticing as the bigger, slicker “prestige” format.

I presented the idea to Image and was told that we’d worry about collections when I finished the series. At the time the 4th issue was just breaking even and I thought that if there was no possibility to gain new readers the title was destined to a slow death due to dwindling sales. It was then that I started to think about switching publishers. I figured if I had a publisher that had some stake in GUERILLAS, they would be more inclined to keep it on the shelves, market it, and they’d try to make as much money on it as possible.

So I started testing the waters…

The series is going from extra size issues to graphic novel collections…why the decision to switch to that format?

BR: The main reason for switching companies was to get the early issues back in circulation, so even before I started shopping GUERILLAS around I was beginning to think about how these reprints would take form. As I mentioned above, I had already conceived of these mini collections that would collect three issues at a time and which broke up the story evenly into 3 parts. The divisions between books also happened at very convenient times and separated the story neatly into three acts.

I had also gotten a little more realistic about making my living solely off of GUERILLAS, and there’s a little more lee-way given to how often graphic novels come out. I figured it would be much easier to do freelance work and still meet my deadlines working in this format. Also, graphic novels tend to have a much longer shelf life than the pamphlet style comic. Individual issues are on the shelves for a month at most before being hidden away in some back room or long box. A graphic novel can sit on the shelf and slowly get sold over a matter of months and can still be considered a success.

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The more I thought about it the more I liked the graphic novel format. So when I shopped it around, that’s how I pitched it, as three 150 page graphic novels. As a result, Oni Press quickly became one of the front-runners on my list of potential publishers. Most of their catalogue is printed both in black and white and in the graphic novel format. So when they showed interest in picking up GUERILLAS, the decision was already made.

What influences, in comics and outside of comics, have affected you most when it comes to Guerillas? Everything from the settings to the relationships between soldiers (even the ape/human ones) feels authentic, which grounds the story very well.

BR: That’s a hard question to answer because when it comes to storytelling/writing influences, they can come from almost anywhere and can often be very unconscious. I will say that, surprisingly, Tarzan was not a big influence, and if you can believe it, I didn’t even make the connection until mid-way through writing GUERILLAS. But after I realized the blatant similarities, I did add a few homages to Burrough’s famous work. I still haven’t read it though.

In terms of comic influences, the picture of the girl Clayton carries around with him is a nod to Gwen Stacy; only because she has a very iconic 60’s look to me. And the Goliath/Adolf relationship is half Cain and Abel and half Wolverine and Sabretooth. You can bet when they finally meet up there will be an epic fight that will rival some of the Claremont battles of the 80’s.

In terms of the Vietnam parts of the story, all the obvious movies apply. I’m much too young to actually have been in Vietnam, so I tried to do a lot of research to get the look and feel right. In addition to the movies, I watched documentaries and read novels and memoirs and I bought as many photo books as I could to use as reference.

I knew that I could never tell a story about Vietnam the way Oliver Stone or someone who’d been there could, but if I could present a believable, or at least plausible, “Vietnam” as a backdrop to GUERILLAS I could tell a story that takes place there. I don’t really think of GUERILLAS as a story about Vietnam, but rather a story about the relationship between Clayton and the chimps…

And an excuse for some chimptastic action sequences!

On the same path, who are your artistic influences? I’ve seen some suggest Charles Burns when looking at your art, but I’m intrigued to see your answer.

BR: I’ve seen the Charles Burns reference too. I love his work and I think he’s an amazing artist and storyteller, but I was a little surprised to hear someone see his influence on my work. But I’ll take it!

My top shelf favorites go a little something like this:

I love Mike Mignola’s work through and through, from his use of black and white to his compositions and storytelling. It’s all genius.

I love Alex Toth because he is an insanely good draughtsman and is also great in black and white. Anyone who knows Toth’s work knows you don’t have to have a reason to love him. He’s the artist’s artist. I also love that Toth preaches simplicity. It’s true in all fields!

I love Jaime Hernandez, because his characters are so well rounded and his stories are both melodramatic and yet completely real.

Katsuhiro Otomo gave us one of the most amazing comic stories of all time and his storytelling skills are unmatched. He can describe in pictures the most minute aspects of a story, from a knowing glance to the most intricate of action sequences.

I love David Mazzucchelli’s work, both old and new. I love that he was able to transcend working for the big two and was successful both as a self-publisher and an avant-garde cartoonist. Both bodies of work are equally excellent.

I’ve also really been loving Jorge Zaffino’s work lately. He hadn’t done a huge amount of work in the U.S. and has sadly passed away, but he was a tremendous draughtsman whose brushwork was remarkably alive.

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There have been plenty of other’s that I’ve loved, but those are the one on my top shelf right now…

How did you come up with the concept for Guerillas? Better yet, how did you approach it to make it work so well without seeming ridiculous (as it very easily could have been)?

BR: I was watching a war movie and it just struck me how similar a platoon of soldiers marching though a field looked to a troop of chimps doing the same. The visual connection was enough. The seed of the idea was there, monkeys at war.

The initial idea was loose and was probably more likely to become a wild ridiculous kind of story. I was going to have them fighting Nazis and the whole thing would have been much more pulpy and unrealistic. But as I continued to refine the story a few details helped shape it into the story that it is today.

First I changed the setting to Vietnam. Vietnam was a desperate war in which the U.S. would seemingly do anything to win. It was also in the jungle. Both of which made the possibility of chimp soldiers a little more plausible. Second, I added the lone human soldier as both the outsider and the character the readers could identify with. He gave me a voice to comment on what was happening in the story, which allowed me to keep the chimps from talking themselves. I think these changes allowed for enough plausibility to sustain the reader’s suspension of disbelief.

Any story worth its salt will try to make itself believable no matter how fantastic it is. If the readers will buy in to the story and the characters act believably I think you can have the ridiculous happen with out the story becoming ridiculous. At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

In specific, how did you develop Clayton as your lead? He reminds me of a slightly less weakly version of Jeremy Davies character Upham from Saving Private Ryan.

BR: Jeremy Davies character was definitely an influence. Good eye…

The basic idea was the classic, “A guy goes to war a kid and comes home a man.” Except this kid becomes a man through his interactions with a platoon full of chimps. So to start off, he had to be fairly meek and a bit of a weakling to contrast the inevitable transformation. I also thought that it was important that he applied for the army himself. I didn’t want him to be drafted. I wanted him get to Vietnam and realize the mistake that he had made based on his own decisions. He would eventually have to take responsibility for his own actions.

So the question was how to get a weakling to join the army? The time period played a big part in Clayton’s development. The suburbs have created many aimless baby boomers and a child seeking approval from a father of “the greatest generation” seemed like motivation enough. The contrast between father and son also helped establish the stark differences between WWII and Vietnam and began to set the stage for the possibility of something out of the ordinary, like chimp soldiers.

After that I just had Clayton react to what was happening. He’s not a man of action (at least not yet), so he’s mostly reacting to what’s going on around him. He’s also working through a lot of his misconceptions that he’s learned in his small suburban world. Whether they’re notions on what war is like or what it means to be human.

It’s all pretty classic stuff, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m drawing on stories that have been told before, but that’s what makes them classic. They’re archetypes…It’s kinda hard to avoid.

When you developed this comic, how did you come to the decision to go with black and white and the oversized format? I love these decisions, but it’s definitely different than most fans are used to.

BR: As you may have noticed in my art influences, many of my favorite artists work primarily in black and white, so I had no reservations about doing so myself. I also thought that the black and white art went well with the subject matter. But the real reason that I went black, white and gray was because it wasn’t feasible to do a full color book all on my own; especially because I was doing a longer format book.

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The decision to make each issue longer than the average sized comic was a decision that really made itself. I wanted to tell a story that had lots of visual storytelling (especially with the chimps not speaking) as well as passages with extended action sequences, and that all meant more pages. When I started to break the story up into chapters, they very naturally broke up into 48-50 page chunks. So that’s how I pitched the comic and that’s how we printed it. There was never any discussion to do it otherwise.

Now I know this is probably not your favorite topic and you’ve covered this within the issues themselves, but do you have any updates on the delays? When do you expect issue five to be coming out? Did you ever consider releasing this as one original graphic novel in the beginning?

BR: I’m currently working on what would have been issue five, and which will now be the second chapter of the second book. As I mentioned, the first Oni book is due to come out this October to coincide with the New York Comic Con and will reprint the first 3 issues. Unfortunately, for readers who have been following the series from the beginning, there won’t be any new content until the second book comes out some time in mid 2011.

I know this sucks for the loyal fans who have stuck with GUERILLAS all these months hoping for issue 5, but I hope they will take solace in the fact that GUERILLAS is with a new company that intends to expand it’s audience and bring closure to the series.

I appreciate all my fans and I hope that you will all stick around ‘til the very end. Thanks!

How is it working on storyboarding for Venture Bros.? Here at Multiversity we have a lot of fans, so we’re definitely curious to see what it’s like to work on such a hilarious and bizarre show.

BR: First off, I think Venture Bros is the best cartoon on TV and it was an honor to get to work there as a storyboard artist. That being said, it was also one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had. The hours were long, the deadlines were short and the sheer amount of drawings that had to be produced every month was phenomenal. I spent my share of late nights and weekends at World Leaders Entertainment trying to play catch up and although I’m glad I’m finished, I’d go back in a second if asked.

It’s like a drawing boot camp and I definitely think my work has improved as a result of my time there. From staying on model, to perspective and composition, from character acting to storytelling and pacing, if you want to learn how to draw, the animation industry is the place to do it.

I worked on 5 episodes for the second half of the 4th season, which I think, will hit the air waves sometime this fall or winter. So keep an eye out for my name in the credits!

What’s next for you?

BR: Besides GUERILLAS, I’m working on a 24-page comic for the previously mentioned Larry Fessenden. It’s a riff on his movie The Wendigo and will be geared towards a younger audience, but should be enjoyable for all ages. I’ll be posting more images on my website as I get further into the project.

We recently completed a Best of Decade list at Multiversity. What in comics over the past decade has stood out to you?

BR: My two favorite comic happenings of the last ten years was first, the increased availability of foreign material, particularly from Japan, and second, the increase of reprint collections.

As I already mentioned, Otomo is a big influence on me and when the Dark Horse AKIRA collections finally came out, they were already long over due. At over 2000 pages, it’s an amazing achievement and a high water mark for the comic book medium. I also have been enjoying the more recent TEKKONKINKREET, and the collections of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work that Drawn and Quarterly has put out. But more important than these individual books, I think that the influx of Manga in general has brought a new market of younger girls to the medium, which will help strengthen and diversify the comics community in the years to come.

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As far as reprints go, I’ve loved the Essential line that Marvel has been putting out. They’re cheap and I actually like that they’re in black and white. I caught up on the Kirby Thor’s and Fantastic Four’s and Colan’s Howard the Duck. I also tracked down the cheap reprints of the New Gods books that DC put out.

In non-superhero books, I’ve really enjoyed the Noel Sickels Scorchy Smith collection and Milt Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates reprints. And there are a bunch that I haven’t even had a chance to pick up yet, like Popeye and Modesty Blaise. Everything old is new again!

For individual brilliance, BLACK HOLE by Charles Burns is a definite stand out. I’m not sure when he started it, but he finished it this decade and it’s brilliant. Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson was another excellent book, and it was a debut! It just isn’t fair when someone comes out of the gates with their first book and it’s that accomplished. What hope is there for the rest of us?

I also really appreciated that Guy Davis has really started to get his due. His run on BPRD has been great and I really loved The Marquis. He’s a great storyteller and a very underrated talent.

Ten years is a long time and there’s probably tons more things I’m not thinking of, but that’ll have to suffice for now…

Comic fans have a tendency to be on the odd side. What is the strange thing anyone has ever asked you to draw at a convention? Better yet…did you actually draw it?

BR: I actually still haven’t gotten a table at a convention yet. I might share one this summer at the MOCCA festival in NY and I’ll probably have a signing at the Oni booth this fall at the NYCC, but so far I haven’t.

I did do a couple of commissions over the holidays for some people, but the requests weren’t too strange. One was of Billy Quiz Boy and Sgt. Hatred from the Venture Bros and one was of the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Not too crazy… but if anyone out there does have any stranger requests, feel free to contact me at my website… Thanks!

David Harper