By David Dissanayake
I sat down with Brandon Graham at Image Expo to talk about race and gender in comics, his new book 8House, a new unannounced project, Prophet, Multiple Warheads, and more. Brandon was exceptionally kind and gave a great interview.
It's funny that it turned out we were having this conversation about diversity in comics at the exact same time that people online were noting Image Expo's lack of diversity.
David Dissanayake: So tell us about your new project, 8House and its structure. I'm not quite clear on how all of these creators and arcs all fit together…
Brandon Graham: It's a little confusing. It's going to be a series of miniseries, initially. The first one is me writing with art by Xurxo Penalta. 8House is actually the launch of a whole line of books. These three books- there are five books but they haven't announced the other two yet- start off as a series of miniseries. The first is me and Xurxo, the second is me and my wife Marian Churchland, with me writing and her drawing. The third series is by Emma Rios who is going to be writing with art by her friend Hwei Lim who is fantastic.
I'm not going to be involved in Emma's four issues, but the fun part about it is that I'm going to come back for the four issues after that and play off of what they've done. They're all separate stories but they are set in the same world.
It's called 8House because there are eight separate magical houses. A lot of them are at war and we're going to explore the history of it. It's setting up a universe. I always liked that Marvel and DC had these whole universes to explore and people can just show up and say, "what would the space program be like for the X-Men," or whatever. I want to create a world like that where creators can come in and own what they do but still build off of each other's work. I think there is some potential in that but it's a little risky because you don't know if someone is going to come in and do something you're not going to like, but I think it'll be fun.
That is just the first year. The other two [unannounced] books will be monthlies. We're just going to keep it going and then hand it off. It's a more refined version of what I was trying with Prophet. While Prophet was playing with different parts of the universe with different art styles, 8House will play with a universe with both different art and writing styles. Also, Simon Roy might show up and do some co-writing, just because he's very close to me and we hang out a lot.
DD: So now since we've brought up Prophet and you've got Prophet: Earth War coming up. This be the end of Prophet, right? Also, why end it in a different series?
BG: Well we've actually got another project which I don't think we've actually announced yet. We'll be doing two issues of a Prophet: Who's Who series. It'll be like the old Marvel comics where you show different worlds and different aliens and characters. I'm interested in if we can pull it off. It feels kind of weird because I've never done a comic-that-isn't-a-comic before. The thing we are doing that I'm excited about is that we're showing aliens and worlds that we never show in Prophet because we're implying in the series that the universe is even bigger than we show.
After that Prophet ends at issue 45 and then we'll do Prophet: Earth War, which is six issues that is a separate story line but it provides the emotional closure of the first story line. Prophet is one of those things where the success of it will completely rest on where we go with it next. It's similar to my other book Multiple Warheads, where if I don't give people at least an emotionally satisfying conclusion for things then so much of the work the other guys and I have put in will be a waste. There is that relationship between creators and readers where they want to trust that you know what you're doing and you're not just fucking with them.
DD: Will we see more Multiple Warheads?
BG: Yeah, definitely. I have an issue and a bit drawn already. I'm doing an Empowered story right now but as soon as that's done I'm going to go right into Multiple Warheads again and bang out another three issues. I'm really excited to start working on it again because it feels like it's really coming together. I had a plan for the first four issues that ended up meandering a bit more than I thought it would but it's really coming together in a way I'm much more excited about.
[At this point I mentioned that I had wanted to buy the Multiple Warheads book at the Expo but the Image vendors had sold out. Brandon, like a total G, reached into his backpack and gave me his copy of the book. Brandon, thank you again.]
DD: I wanted to talk with you about the famous conversation you had on twitter about gender and diversity in comics. Is this new project with Marian and Emma a reflection of what you brought up in that conversation about having more female voices in comics?
No it wasn't, but the weird thing for me is that so many of the creators that I'm around a lot are women and that's why it's such a bizarre thing that what I see in my personal life isn't reflected on comic book shelves. I certainly don't ever want to make it feel like I'm doing some kind of thing where I'm putting creators in a position just because they are women. I'm obviously very biased, but my wife and Emma Rios are two of my favorite artists out there.
I think that part of this is that when you get creators from different backgrounds who do obviously different types of work than creators who all come from the same background.
At this Image panel they were talking about diversity, and there is a lot of diverse work but it's an entire lineup, with the exception of two women, of straight white guys. That's fine, but it makes you wonder why that is because it's not a reflection of the audience.
DD: Yeah, it's a complicated question too, because is it a matter of editors not picking content from women or people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds, or is it a matter of editors not receiving pitches from different demographics, or something completely different?
BG: Yeah, I think it's the whole culture of what people are comfortable around. It's interesting to me when you get a room full of the same type of people behind closed doors, their conversations are different than they would if different people were with them. It's not any surprise that people make their tribe and a lot of time people do that with people who look like them, and that's fine, but you don't want to be exclusionary of anybody.
I can't think of an art form besides comics that would work better for being inclusionary because it's about what's on the paper. You'd think you'd want to read things from people with different backgrounds than you. For me I want to get inside the brain of someone who doesn't think like me. There is something great about finding a work where you find someone who does think like you too, of course. But, for example I've noticed lately that there is a lot of transgender cartoonists, and it's very different from my basically hetero-normative thought process, and theirs is so alien to me and I'm fascinated by it and I definitely want to read more things like that.
DD: Well said. So what are your thoughts about race in comics right now, then? As you said, all the creators here are white.
BG: Yeah, race in comics is another huge issue. I am really happy that Image hired David Brothers recently, who is a black writer in comics, and I think he's in editorial now. He's a friend of mine who has very strong feelings about race in comics and he is really interested in bringing in more diverse creators.
It's one of those things where it's frustrating that white guys have to have conversations about these things without other voices represented. It's weird because people get defensive when you have these conversations, and I think that in order for change to happen, it needs to be something that is not accusatory. Let's have real conversations about what's actually happening. After that we can see if there is some way to fix this, but not by just saying "everyone is racist" because that just gets everyone defensive.
DD: I also remember in that long twitter conversation you mentioned that it ended up with you having a long talk with Eric Stephenson [Image Comics' Publisher] about diversity in comics. What came of that?
BG: Initially what happened is that we started talking about it and I think that he's very much coming from a different background in comics than I am. He was saying that Image has had women working for them in the past that he pointed out to me and we were going back and forth about it. And this is something that I really like about working with Eric is that I don't worry that I can't argue with him and can't say that I disagree.
During that twitter conversation I said that women artists always writing for men means that they aren't having their own voice to talk with in their own comics, and some people took that as me shitting on female creators that work with male writers, but I didn't mean it as that. I was just saying that we also need women who are telling their own stories. We were over in England and Eric told me that he took it that I was just throwing people under the bus and I had to tell him that really didn't mean it that way.
DD: That conversation became pretty famous and reverberated all around, and people are still talking about it months later.
BG: Yeah it was amazing, I went to England and people were talking about it. It's kind of disappointing because a lot of people latched on to the Brian Wood thing, and I am kind of a dick to that guy, but it's not just about him. There is a bigger thing here. It's hard because it is fun to pick at him and say, "haha, this guy's a dick," but that makes it hard to be vaguely mature about this, but that's what I'm trying do. This is an attempt, at least.
DD: Have you thought about taking all these ideas about diversity and maybe curating some kind of anthology for Image?
Well, I am actually doing that right now but it hasn't been announced yet. I've been hinting about it a little bit, but there it is.
And there you have it.
David Dissanayake is Senior Washington, DC correspond for Bleeding Cool. Give him a shout @dwdissanayake on twitter.