Emma Peel Sessions 62 – Brandon Graham Interview

Emma Peel by Graham

At a time when comics has been stratified into all kinds of classifications and genres, Brandon Graham‘s work is joyfully impossible to nail down. There’s no easy box to put Brandon’s books into. King City and the upcoming Multiple Warheads aren’t  really any specific genre, other than being great comics. Graham is candid about how he works, comics as an art-form, and about his relationship to it. His comics are exceedingly human, full of characters that behave and interact rather than fill roles, in worlds that have real life to them. The visual and verbal play in Graham’s books shows that there are endless areas of the medium that are under- or un-explored. He is willing to go places in his stories that no one else would dare to, without ever feeling inorganic or intentionally scattered. King City has, over its storied production history, managed to feel more of the moment upon reprinting rather than less. By the time the first new-content Image issue hit the stands, King City had created a pretty complex language that legitimately stepped forward from the first Tokyopop volume and progressed from there with each issue. The ongoing Multiple Warheads series takes King City’s stylistic and narrative daring and doubles down on it, while never becoming “formalist” comics.  These are great stories first, and that is why they are special.

My favorite of Graham’s work is the short story IOU, in the Escalator collection. A ten page autobio piece where he manages to bypass the many pitfalls of autobio becoming masturbatory. Instead it is in turns lyrical, personal, funny, and betrays how much Graham really cares about comics as an art form. He discusses a transition in his life, seemingly towards comics. He says  “It’s about getting my life together between the pages so I can work on the pages”, which is about as succinct a comics lifer statement as you’re ever going to get.

Brandon was incredibly generous with his time, and we spoke at length about everything from science fiction to collaborating with other cartoonists, but mostly we talked about storytelling.

Brandon Graham at work

Part I – Olympus Mons

Sean Witzke: So to start off I wanted to ask you about something you mentioned in a recent blog post. About talking to Brian Stelfreeze and him saying that there’s a point where craft plateaus but storytelling doesn’t. Which I think could be a great way to see how you view your work. In the broadest sense, where do you think your comics are in terms of storytelling? And where is the ideal destination point? Like… clarity of communication? Control of exactly how the page is read? Something else?

Brandon Graham:  I’m really into the idea of conveying a story clearly enough for the reader to get all the basics while at the same time having enough information going on where you don’t necessarily get it all or even miss something on the first read through.
I think it’s something that came from me reading a lot of European and Japanese comics growing up and just not always getting everything, culturally or just because of weird translations.

I like that nice mystery.

And there’s the idea that when a story doesn’t give you everything it forces the reader to think a little more. Turns them from being a passive reader to an active one.
I think that would be my ideal destination, some kind of clear and simple with a background of complexity.

SW: Are you consciously doing that on a lot of levels, not just the narrative but with settings and dialog as well? For example I never really caught on how much personality you gave Earthling was until my latest reread of King City, he’s a separate figure outside from Joe with his own thing going on. Some of the best moments in the whole thing are his reactions. Are there story elements that you’re downplaying for the reader to make them participate?

BG: Thanks. I feel like the only way I can get through drawing everything is by entertaining myself thinking about what’s going on with everything I’m drawing. –It all needs a story. A lot of that doesn’t get conveyed when it’s just background stuff. It gets harder to rein it in when it’s a bigger part of the story.

Like in KC issue 12 when they go to rescue Max at the Mercy clinic and there’s a stone baby all the chalk addicts are hooked up to. I had to figure out that they were using the chalk to make a kind of Chalkenstein monster and It was kind of hard not to be all –”Look what I did here!” and not just let the reader get as much as Joe gets out of the scene.

And sometimes it’s not even something I spend all that much time figuring out. Like in this short I did called Under where the guy has a drink named after the girl in his bed that used to be named after another girl. Sometimes I’m only figure out as much as I put on the page.

SW: You spend a lot of time humanizing your characters. I’ve seen you mention before that you like to have characters eat and use the toilet in stories. In the scene from Under it works as the quick shorthand so you don’t have to spend a lot of time endearing the character to the reader in an obvious way. Do you think that those kind of scenes are important as a story element or is it just a subconscious effect on the reader?

BG: BG: Yeah, I think they can be the main event sometimes. I’ve been reading a lot of Murakami the past few months and that dude can write a scene where all I care about is a character sitting in a bar with a cucumber sandwich and a beer. It’s comforting and relate-able. But also the same kind of thing can work as just a subconscious trick. the cool thing about doing that sort of thing in comics is that it not only shows the character as more human but it also gives you an excuse to draw them doing something in a scene when something else less visual is going on.

The Blade of the Immortal guy has this thing he does where he’ll set up scenes with all these props around the characters. One of them will be smoking a pipe while another is basket weaving or whatever.

And then he can draw a long scene in the same spot with the characters just talking and rather than redrawing the same room over and over he focuses’ on everything a character could do with a pipe or the basket being weaved.

SW: Do you have any specific rules for each kind of scene as you’re working? Say, for an action scene, are there certain things you’re trying to do or avoid? There’s a scene in KC #10 where Joe is breaking into Greenest Grass, and he drops the gargoyle on the guards leg; it reminded me of something Shane Black said about how violence needs to be awkward to be really effective.

BG: BG: I hadn’t though about violence needing to be awkward, I like that.
I guess In an action scene I’d only want to do if I could think of a joke or a fun way to show it. Violence needs to be violent.

When I was drawing porn comics I used to think about how to make it work you had to have things happen that the reader couldn’t get out of a video or photos.

Stuff like a guy ejaculating a fish or a girls tongue turning into a penis–circus stuff– I think there’s some of that mentality when I try to do action.

SW: Did working on porn change the way you make comics? How do you feel about that stuff a few years on? You can see a progression when you read the first Multiple Warheads story on, from there the way you’re approaching sex scenes as just a scene involving the characters instead of the most important part of the show.

BG: I think it changed my work in both in good and bad ways. Porn along with doing the graffiti stuff helped me get used to just fucking around and having fun while I draw.  Recently I think I’ve started to work some of the porn out of my system. I’m trying to learn to not always draw girls like they’re on the page to jerk off to. Not that I don’t still like drawing that stuff but I think it can be limiting.

Looking back I don’t feel like I was able to pull off what I was aiming at with porn. With Perverts of the Unknown I had to give up on it ever being what I wanted. I was doing a lot of messy detail then and drawing the pages smaller than I prefer. (10 by 14) I resigned myself to the idea that I’d try to make it a comic you’d want to find in a gas station bathroom.

And with Pillow Fight I just couldn’t get the characters past generic porn personalities.
Although I did have fun with the jokes in it.

SW: When you’re developing a series/story/etc are you starting with characters or do you start world-building first and develop the characters out of that? KC seems a lot more freestyle with the world development, but with Warheads and a lot of the stories in Escalator it feels comprehensively built from the ground up as sci-fi worlds. In general, how much do you think you’ve been effected by reading sci-fi? I know that seeing you draw Neuromancer characters a few times has been pretty illuminating to what you can accentuate in a character design, maybe more than just you drawing comics characters.

William Gibson's Neuromancer drawn by Brandon Graham

BG: I seem to start with the characters. Like you said King City being freestyle, it was just me treating the setting like it like it was in modern-day and fucking around with it. I had some rules where I tried to only mention real cultural references that I thought wouldn’t date it too much. I tried to avoid mentioning America or any police or government. –Although the Xombie war has an army. I don’t think I got too into it but the world in that is all policed by gangs, so maybe the army is just another gang.

Warheads is lots more work, I’ve been trying to go at it based loosely off what little I understand of Chinese and Russian history mixed with some fantasy stuff. Also idea that England and Spain don’t exist and America was never colonized (but heavy metal music was still invented). So everything’s passed through that filter. I had to figure out what was going on all over the world. Like America (or whatever I’ll call it) has giant Totem pole robots. And Japan is a big outer space empire ran by a dragon. And none of this is even talked about in the pages I’ve drawn so far but I kind of needed it to just know where the characters are coming from.

My mom writes science fiction so I grew up pretty immersed in the stuff. I think I was pretty affected by stuff like the Oz books where there’s just a ton of crazy shit going on at once.
My mom would read a lot to me as a kid. I feel like sf is at the base of my interest and understanding of writing. It’s like I’m a planet and my atmosphere is made of science fiction and any new ideas that enter or leave have to pass through that.

And thanks– the Neuromancer pin up was fun to draw. I was into the idea of trying to show it without any of the stuff The Matrix ganked from it.
I’m really into finding drawings of the characters in books I enjoy, With some stuff like Heinlein’s Friday there’s a book cover that I think fits perfect.

But as influential as Neuromancer is, I can’t get into any of the covers of it I’ve seen.
Even Snow Crash, that I regard as an off-brand Neuromancer, has these amazing japanese covers that look like FLCL art.

King City Image series covers

SW: I remember buying the US edition of Snow Crash and having to explain to the person I was with that it wasn’t the horrible fantasy novel the cover made it look like. All the cyberpunk books – none of them really have covers that wow, I guess. Do you think that your covers have to carry as much weight as a novel cover? The best give you a really good idea of tone and scope if nothing else, maybe what the main character looks like. And comics covers are normally either super-specific to what’s going on in the issue or it’s a completely unrelated shot of the main character, and once in a while there’s the Criterion-style ultra-designed covers. Do you think that, say the KC photo cover or the game pieces cover, are good indicators at what the book is like? Or are they just trying to stand out against a lot of the same-ness, and be more playful with design and color?

And following that, when you’re working on a page or a sequence, do you make a conscious effort to not just do regular no-frills storytelling? Because there are things like the board game in KC, and the connect the dots page. Those are kind of the big examples, but there’s a lot of little things you do to be more playful with the artform — Earthling slicing a word balloon in half, stuff like that. Do you think that there’s been a lack of innovation with what you can do in comics (for the most part) recently? I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about the lack of thought balloons in comics anymore, because it’s cutting off a tool of the vocabulary, but that’s a drop in the bucket for the potential tricks that could possibly be used.

BG: I think there’s a lot of weight put on novel covers being the one and only image you get to represent a whole story.
For the King City covers I was mostly just trying to keep myself interested. I’d be fine putting out a book with a blank cover. But they can be an excuse to try out some fun stuff.

Sometimes I make a conscious effort to just do more basic storytelling and go into every page thinking it needs a trick. If I come up with one for fun I keep it but I don’t want to feel like I have to be doing tricks all the time.
It’s like reminding myself that it supposed to be fun. It’s hard some days.

Didn’t Marvel get rid of smoking? Maybe the thought balloons got cleared out with all the tobacco smoke. Mostly I try to ignore the dumb shit, I’m seeing a ton of recent artists really pushing what’s possible. I just got Theo Ellsworth‘s Capacity. Just how it starts out with a knock at the door and the narration reads ” If you want to answer the door turn the page. If you don’t want to answer the door close the book, sorry this isn’t a choose your own adventure.” that shit gets me excited to make comics.
The frustrating thing for me is so many of these new creators are putting out books outside the comic book issues that I love. And a lot of that seems to be the companies not digging for new talent.

King City

SW:  So your livejournal (and now wordpress) seems to fill this really interesting place in comics, because it’s a really accurate extension of you as a creator; its kind of one part your work process, one part promotion for your friends and peers, and one part an exploration of all kinds of comics that never get talked about. English language comics are generally discussed online as either superheroes or indie/art comics (or translated manga/eurocomics) and you generally discuss a lot of things that don’t fit into either of those categories. Do you think that having an active interest in comics, where you’re still looking for old Bilal book covers or John Workman short stories, is important to how you work? Do you think of it as research or just trying to stay interested in comics outside of what you’re drawing yourself?

With promoting other cartoonists – is it just to get your friends’ work out there or do you think creating a kind of community in comics is important? I know I wouldn’t have heard about cats like Simon Roy or Milogiannis without Royalboiler. You’ve lived in real life artist collectives with Yosh! and Dicecat so do you see your blog as just the online extension of that? Do you think having a scene is important?

Graham and Farel Darymple.

BG: Part of it for me is just to remind myself just how big the art form is, and talk about stuff like Appleseed and Moebius that got me excited enough about comics to devote my life to this. Looking at other people’s work is a big part of how I work.

Right now I’ve pulled out all the books I have that’ve some kind of storytelling tricks in them, stuff like maps as part of the story or choose your own adventure comics, comics that you can fold into mobius strips etc. . Looking through that stuff I’m trying to come up with things that I haven’t seen done. It’s both entertainment and research.

Talking about other artists comes from a similar place as all that and it’s also about pushing the kind of work I want to see more of. I think as readers and creators we all have a lot of power in the kind of scene we’re part of. I think a scene is so important that isn’t all tied up in the industry side of comics, this is so much bigger than just making a living. This is our own culture.

One important aspect of a real scene is rewarding the good work but also having standards you want to live up to. People you trust to call bullshit and keep you on your toes.

SW:  So it seems like there’s a pretty strong undercurrent of autobio in a lot of your books, do you think that you have to incorporate that into your work to keep it honest or is it just something that you find yourself doing as you are writing? How do you feel about the “write what you know” maxim when everything you’re doing is almost always in some kind of genre?

Multiple Warheads

BG: I’m always trying to write from my own experiences even if it gets layered under the all the sci-fi/fantasy stuff. It’s a really conscious attempt to put real feelings into what I’m talking about. Sometimes it ends up with me putting how I feel about fictional things or just trying to think about how It would feel to be in whatever situation but I really want some stink of truth in there.

When I was younger I used to always argue that if you can draw anything in comics why not use fantastic visuals to show everyday feelings. It’s a little bit of that still but also I think that those are just the terms i think in now. I think I’m into “write what you know” but in a flexible way.  I’m into writing what you know to write about what you don’t know. You know?

SW:  I was just looking at that 24Seven story you wrote for James Stokoe, and it was the only instance I could find where you were writing for someone else, and the Madame Xanadu story is the only one where you were working from someone else’s script. I know in general you tend to work as a solo act but how did you feel about collaborating on those short pieces? How do you feel about the writer/artist/whatever divide as a person who does all that stuff on his own?

BG: I feel like those might both be bad examples of collaboration. For the 24seven story I just sat  in a bean bag chair and yelled out what would happen in the story and then when Stokoe would ask what he was going to draw I wouldn’t remember and have to come up with something else. I think I had so much faith in James that it felt like trying to tell someone how to eat or walk “you know how to do this right?” In retrospect I should have gone about it differently.

The DC job was just an art job, I wasn’t really able to make storytelling decisions. I mean not to shit talk too much, I enjoyed drawing it and I like how the art came out but I wouldn’t buy the thing.

My ideas about collaboration have changed a lot in the last few years with seeing the stuff Urasawa does with a team of assistants or how the BPRD guys work with a couple different writers and make something that feels more like a group effort. It’s opened me up to the idea of collaboration as a good thing. At the same time in my work where I write and draw everything I’ve become less willing to collaborate. I don’t have any interest in ever working with letterers or colorists on something I draw again. Not that it was awful, it was just less my own.

I’m working on a comic now with my pal Simon Roy doing the drawing. I’m trying to approach it more as 2 brains on one book rather than one artist one writer. I’m more co-writing it and I have faith in him to push the story in places I wouldn’t. I don’t think I could work with an artists who I didn’t have faith in as a writer.

SW: Writing for Simon Roy, do you think of that as just something you haven’t tried before and you want to collaborate with Simon, or is it a conscious attempt to branch out from what you are doing? How much do you think about the thing you are working on at the moment as it fits into your body of work as a whole?

Maybe a wider question – do you think when you’re working on your books do you have like a central theme you’ve been consciously focusing on in everything you do? Or do you think that having something like that when you’re going into a story is a bad idea?

BG:  The thing with Simon started out as a money job for Image but I’m getting really into working on it. As much as I have to pay rent I’m hoping to not have to do it by putting out bad comics ever (again) Sometimes the kind of comics I’m doing are more about what’s being thrown at me than what I would do in a vacuum. I like that,  it forces change and hopefully growth.

I imagine King City would have ended differently If stuff with TP had gone differently. One of the main reasons I don’t show the final big fight was that i had a set amount of issues and I wanted to focus more on what I would miss when they were done.

I only think of my body of work in terms of not wanting to get too repetitive, most of the stuff I do is going to have a lot of similar stuff but hopefully I’m not just doing the same story over and over. And working with Simon should result in new kinds of comics for me– so that’ll be nice.

I could see central themes being a good thing even you allow the story to become something else, but it’s good to remember what the idea was when you started something.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot in writing is the unspoken deal with the reader— ” if you get into this I’ll try not to fuck with you.”

But I also want to use reality more as a guide to what to do rather than just other fiction. I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in a ton of story bullshit that doesn’t actually relate to how things work in real real life. It’s ok to not have closure and maybe even preferred if it makes the reader mull it over after reading it.

King City #12, interior cover

SW: Do you feel like that unspoken relationship with the reader is something you’ve got to cultivate with each new thing? Or are you moving forward with it as you go? I was listening to a Ridley Scott commentary the other day and he said that as he gets deeper into a story he can take more liberties because he’s earned it with the audience. And I thought that’s kind of a dangerous idea but also a powerful one for an artist to run with.

BG: I like the idea of knowing you have the trust of the readers, I was just talking to my misses about how I don’t think I’ve got the nerve yet to entirely pull away from the things that I know work. But I’m taking baby steps, like I’ve been working on more serious stuff without the King City type comedy. I feel like the important thing is that the same amount of effort goes into the work.

I love that I’ve spent my whole life drawing comics and I still run into that feeling like–holy shit can I get away with this? recently I did a MW page where I scanned photos into it to use in a panel. And I think it worked (I hope) in a kind of early Tank Girl way, but it could have gone bad bad.

Most of the relationship with the readers for me is getting people to know that I’m going to try to not put out books that I wouldn’t want to buy. Like the thing with Simon, I was joking that the ads would say “do you trust me?”

Because I do think it’s a cop out a lot of times when writer/artists work as just writers. It’s real easy to get all –page 7 –more fights. that’s why if I’m working with someone I need them to be able to call me on shit and carry some of the writing weight as well. I was so happy when I sent Simon my first page breakdown and he sent it back with changes.

Multiple Warheads

SW: When you talk about the idea of comics that haven’t been done – that’s kind of hard to actually achieve. Branching out of the moves you know work , and the idea that everything has been done – is it possible to actually make something new in comics? Not just in the “webcomics are the future” way, but just in paper comics – from page layouts to subject matter – is it possible to keep finding new ground?

BG: I can’t say with certainty what has and hasn’t been done since there’s so much unseen out there but there’s a hell of a lot that I’ve never seen tried in comics.

Emily Carrol just put out a set of zines with each one showing one page moments from a different member of a family’s life leading up to a big fire. and you get different sides and different clues deepening on which zine you read.  Or there’s that Pat McEwan short in the back of Weasle #1 where each panel is a room and you don’t read left to right — you follow individual characters. I think that idea could be pushed even farther. — you could combine both those ideas and have choose your own adventures that read what direction the reader chooses to look and have it jump books or have pages fold out like posters in it.

I had this idea for a book that starts as a Scott McCloud how to draw comics or how to do perspective or draw manga book– hosted by a guy and his beautiful assistant.  3 chapters in to a standard how book to the assistant is found dead and then the learning comics part gets dropped and it switches to a murder mystery.

Or like, I’ve never seen a serious comic showing the life cycle of a fungus

Even if stories come from the old roots I think doing them in new ways creates something bigger than just the root idea. plus as a reader or an artist I feel like you have to have hope for undiscovered country. You can’t be an explorer that already expects every mountain to have a flag planted on it– there are still mountains on mars.

Part II -  (Comics Creator) Melee Mode

found via Brandon's blog, inspired the next round

Here are Brandon’s reactions to a list of creator names I sent him, kind of lightning-round style.

Herge

Herge
I read a lot of Tintin as a kid. I like how he can have murder and opium dens and it’ll still feel charming and for kids. I like the swirly lines he draws when someone is running or drunk.

Osamu Tezuka
I remember being a teenager and hearing that he died. I was really bummed out about it, and I’d only seen the tip of what he’d done. I like the idea that he was a dude that was so inspired by what Disney was doing that he took that and ran farther with it than Disney ever could.  He’s another dude who you can tell just has so much fun drawing.

Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby
I didn’t read much Kirby until i was in my 20′s. When I did It was like –”oh that’s where everything came from”. I like how much fun he was having, His take for 2001 is great where he takes the movie as the basis and then goes completely off the rails. I like that he made collages on his pages and had celebrity guests. Just a guy having great fun.

Every once in a while I’ll pick up a new Fantastic 4 issue and really enjoy it and then I’ll go back and read a Kirby issue and it’ll ruin the new stuff for me.

Matt Howarth
I feel like Howarth in the 80′s really pushed what could be done with the medium just about more than anyone. When he was doing time travel comics that folded into mobius strips and the page out of his WRAB Pirate TV where you hold it up to the light to see the subliminals printed backwards on the other side of the page. 

Moebius

Moebius
I heard Michael Kaluta once say that Moebius is the kind of artists that teaches you how to draw just by looking at his work. I think that’s true.

It seems like he’s just an amazingly talented guy who was reigned in drawing cowboy comics for 10 years and then discovered the freedom of the american underground and ran with it. I feel like his work just opens up the possibilities and at the same time makes it seem easier to get there. I’m afraid to ever meet this dude, I’d kiss him on the mouth.

Kenichi Sonada
I really like that clean 80′s manga style he does. and I like that he’s a dude that will draw porn comics of cartoons other people hired him design characters for (along with other people’s cartoons). And apparently he’s hired assistants that he found doing porn parodies of his work.

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
I think of him as like the pinnacle of artists who work with writers. He manages to get so much personality, style and craft into his pages. His Cinder and Ashe book is amazing.

OTOMO

Katsuhiro Otomo
When I have to really get serious on an illustration I open up his Kaba art book to remind me how good it can get.

When I was a teenager I was so into his Akira, it’s so teenage boy in all the best ways but only recently have I been able to track down his work he did before Akira and see how much he was pushing it. Like a book he did that shows a war start to finish and how it affects characters all around the world. Or his sci-fi parody called Hair where a bunch of future hippies try to bring back the common cold.

Carla Speed McNeil
I feel like her work shows how big comics can be. She does such a great example of what I was talking about earlier with clear enough storytelling over dense complex backgrounds.

Recently I got to do a panel with her at a con and took her calling me babe the way other dudes would take home an Eisner.

Enki Bilal

Enki Bilal
I love The Woman Trap. I love his way of dealing with color and storytelling. Bright blue or red hair with white skin and pipes running with rust.  I like how much he gets into a 48 page book full of 3 panel pages.

Akira Toriyama
Early Dragon Ball was some of the first manga I ever got. My brother brought home a 1985 phonebook sized Shonen Jump. It was a story of Goku and a winged bat dude fighting on the out stretched tongues of 2 statues that were sitting on toilets. He even drew a stone toilet paper roll.

I’m always amazed by the ideas he put into early DB and Dr Slump. That stuff is a good argument for how well kids comics can work if you don’t shy away from genital and poop jokes.

Masamune Shirow

Masamune Shirow
I’m so fucking impressed by what he did in the 80′s. There’s still parts of Appleseed that I don’t understand but I keep going back to it and finding new things to be impressed by. It’s so dense and the tricks he does with story telling are amazing. I’ve read his books hundreds of times now and I’m still finding new stuff.

I always feel like one of the best and worst things about Appleseed is that it’s about future cops in a cyborg city because it makes it’s not where comic book scholars would look for amazing storytelling but also in that sense it’s there for kids that want a cyborg cop comic. And then they can spend the rest of their lives freaking out about how fucking impressive it is.

Paul Pope
His work in the 90′s got me so excited about comics. When he was putting out his giant Buzz Buzz-sized books there was such a cool air to his comics.
I love that inky coffee fur coat cool.

When I moved to NYC Pope’s Heavy Liquid was coming out. It made the city a much more exciting place for me to find the real places he used as settings in the book.
I remember seeing Grand central and thinking “Oh shit it’s that thing from Heavy Liquid and the Michael Golden picture!”

Katsuya Terada
I saw him at a San Diego con years ago I was really impressed watching him draw pictures for people. Each one was dramatically different, in one he drew a baby and then the next a guy with a guitar and then motorcycle. He just seems like a dude who loves drawing. He’s like a sketchbook king.

Vaughn Bode

Vaughn Bode
I think a lot about how much guys like Bode and George Herriman for how much great story they could get on one page. And also how much personality Bode put in his work.
I feel like I got to know the guy long after he died through his pages.

John Buscema
I love Conan comics and I don’t think I’d care half as much about them if not for Buscema.
In my comic book brain I imagine him to be just like the Cimmerian he drew.

Naoki Urasawa
Reading his stuff changed my mind on assistants and plots.
He seems to have found a way to direct comics and even if he doesn’t draw every line you can tell how invested he is in the work. It’s a new kind of comics for me to read.

Adam Warren

Adam Warren
Sometimes I feel like Warren is a dude who never caught onto how damn good his own work is. It broke my heart to see him just writing for Gen13 comics– I felt like after Dirty Pair he should have been doing Neuromancer-level sci-fi of his own.
I’m thrilled he’s making Empowered now. That’s one of the rare comics I will set my alarm to go to the comic store on the morning of the day it’s out. It’s like x mas.

Fil Barlow
Zooniverse is 6 issues that changed my whole idea about the art form. I feel like there are more ideas in his Zooniverse than 50 issues of most comics. And that coupled with how little notice the book got really ruined my faith in popular comics opinion.

I’ve been talking to Barlow recently, and it’s been so rewarding to learn that this guy who influenced me so much is still just a cool guy who is excited to make art

Kyle Baker

Kyle Baker
I feel like he’s another dude who just doesn’t even know how brilliant he is. Or maybe he’s just over it. It kind of breaks my heart to think that the Why I Hate Saturn dude is working on Deadpool and not even writing it himself.

I love what he did with Why I Hate Saturn and Cowboy Wally, I don’t know if anything exists with more wit.

Frank Miller
I always like how in the Dark Knight he has all these little panels on a page so when he gives you a full page drawing its seems fucking HUGE. Such great pulp ninja comics.

I just reread Ronin, It’s great to see him so excited about French and Japansese comics and getting that into his own work. It’s always funny for me to see anything from an era where you had to explain what a samurai is.

Graham and Quitely

Frank Quitely
I’m really impressed with the way Quitley shows movement and space. Before I’d read his Morrison Superman book I would had said that there was nothing that would interest me about that character.

Mike Wieringo
When I first moved to NYC I would go visit Rob Stull who was inking Wieringo’s Tellos book. And I got to see Wieringo’s pencils being worked on. It all seemed like a part of comics that was far from where I was.

Then later he contacted me and drew fanart for King City. I really admired how much he was interested in what was going on and still had his eyes open for new work. I would have liked to meet him in person.

Dave Sim
I like what Sim did with self publishing and just making his own world outside of the comics industry.  I love that there was someone with his wit and drawing ability to be a 3rd part in the 2 sided Fantagraphics and mainstream of the time. Plus how much he pushed other people’s small press comics was amazing.

I can’t speak too much on his reputation as a misogynist because I still have yet to read the stuff he’d written that pissed everyone off. The whole thing does feel pretty glass house in this misogynist industry.

Eastman/Laird

Eastman/Laird
The Raphael one shot with the black and red cover was one of the first comics I remember buying for myself. I didn’t even know how much they were playing off of Miller’s DD stuff.
And in the end it seems like they created something new. Plus whether or not it all worked out, I think they used their powers for good once they got the loot.

Hugo Pratt
I’ve only read about 3 issues of his Corto Maltese, it’s fun adventure comics.
He’s a dude who I’ve built up some respect for by just seeing how many artists I respect love him. But I haven’t delved deep enough myself yet.

Dylan Horrocks
I think about Hicksville a lot, I feel like it exists in how many great comics are out there that I have yet to see.

There’s a great Inkstuds interview he did that I bring up as why sane people shouldn’t work in super hero comics. A bunch of writers had to plot how some fictional teenager was going to be killed. He talks about being creeped out by being in a room full of grown men all talking about murdering a little girl.

Jose Munoz

Jose Munoz
There’s this trick I do that I got from Munoz where mid comic conversation he’ll show a far away shot with its own story going on. His use of blacks is so cool. I love Sinner.

Ralph Bakshi
Wizards was like my gateway drug into Vaughn Bode. Years ago some of the Meathaus dudes took me to meet him when they were taking his class at SVA.

He walked in the room and said “I just threw my back out in the crapper” Like he just stepped out of one of his own cartoons.

Wendy Pini
Elfquest was huge to me growing up. I read the collected books backwards 4-3-2-1 It worked nicely like that. Like TMNT It seems like they took the Conan magazine stuff and ran with it to new places.

Milo Manara

Milo Manara
He’s another dude I feel like the early work that he’s less known for is the stuff that has blown my mind the most. I love his Bergman books where he’s really pushing the medium. Like where he shows the teenage girl narrator and have her talk about how the reader would think of her different if she was just drawn slightly different. plus just his ability to use such simple pretty lines on everything.

Jamie Hewlett
Like Pope, he’s another guy that makes comics that are cooler than Rock & roll.
I like how he would just throw photos onto Tank Girl pages or just have British celebrities I’d never heard of show up. When I was a kid I assumed, like Zooniverse, that he was Australian and it made that place seem like the best comic spot on earth.

KRS (and Rakim on right) by Graham

KRS-ONE
His whole attitude about how to treat your art has taught me so much. I’m into longevity and making the community you’re in the best it can be.

I always think about his “Health, Wealth, Self” song. Where he talks about 3 lessons to longevity, (1) “if it ain’t fun, you’re done” (2) make sure you got a dope crew.  And (3) have other ways of gettin’ money so your longevity isn’t based on sales and so you don’t have to choose what work you do based on how much they pay.

- – -

(all photographs via Graham’s blogs)

- Brandon Graham, Sean Witzke, July 2011

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This entry was posted in Emma Peel Sessions, interview, PSYCHIC WARFARE and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Emma Peel Sessions 62 – Brandon Graham Interview

  1. Ellie says:

    Soooooo interesting. Thanks for posting.

  2. carniemagic says:

    Really enjoyed this

  3. rev'd '76 says:

    Ho-ree ship. That first photo of Graham at work? The bridge-y bit of Paul Pope art to the left. That’s a copy of BUZZ BUZZ, turned to SMOKE NAVIGATOR. Just dug that one out today…

  4. mmmmmike says:

    “Dave Sim
    I like what Sim did with self publishing and just making his own world outside of the comics industry. I love that there was someone with his wit and drawing ability to be a 3rd part in the 2 sided Fantagraphics and mainstream of the time. Plus how much he pushed other people’s small press comics was amazing.

    I can’t speak too much on his reputation as a misogynist because I still have yet to read the stuff he’d written that pissed everyone off. The whole thing does feel pretty glass house in this misogynist industry.”

    dude, don’t even have to touch the tip of the iceberg to see that shit from here. granted, i read an odd one about jeff smith offering to take it outside b/c dave insulted his wife, so i don’t doubt his misogynism, but still.

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  9. Bob Fries III says:

    Great interview. I really enjoyed it.

  10. Shannon says:

    Awesome interview!

  11. mike shea says:

    awesome interview. big fan of brandon’s work and these are all great questions. A+

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