With so many new comics, TV shows, and films out there; it’s easy for even the most open readers to fall down a jaded hipster hole of “meh” when something comes along that tells a bold tale. Dark Horse Comics is set to launch a new crime drama series in August sure to grab even the most cynical of audiences. Briggs Land, (from Brian Wood and artist Mack Chater) tells the story of a separatist land in America ruled by a mafia style family. When Grace Briggs usurps her husband’s hold over this sovereign nation, she’ll find her self in the line of fire from a government set on bringing their illicit activities to justice and even the other members of her family looking to control Briggs Land.
We spoke with creator Brian Wood about the launch of this new series and his involvement with the Briggs Land television series in development at AMC.
COMICS BEAT: Briggs Land’s first issue is one of the best opening issues you’ve penned in your career and that’s saying a lot. What’s special about this story for you or really separates it from other projects You’ve done?
BRIAN WOOD: I consider this to be a logical project for me to take on, coming after a few of my previous projects like Channel Zero, DMZ, and Rebels that dealt in ideas and themes of the darker underbelly of American culture, socio-politically speaking. It was doing research for DMZ and Rebels when I started to collect links and books on the subject of extremism and militia groups, filing them away for later.
It’s a really hot issue right now, and by hot I mean sensitive and volatile. I think it might raise some eyebrows that I chose to base a series around a family of anti-government secessionists – pure villains, a lot of people would think. And many of the Briggs are just that. But think about the Sopranos, which was condemned at the time for glorifying negative stereotypes, but we all love that series because it was about a family first, and it was relatable in that respect. The Briggs family may be organized criminals, but the story of family comes first. I find it fascinating to get into their heads. I think its valuable to see where our lives and theirs might intersect.
CB: You recently wrote to retailers about Briggs Land where you talked about “taking the safeties off.” What exactly does that mean for you in terms of your creative process?
BW: It means a bunch of things, first of which is I’m energized and excited and overflowing with material and I’m committing to the long haul. It also refers to the fact that I’m not avoiding the ugly, uncomfortable side of this culture, and that means extremism, domestic terrorism, white supremacism, and so on. I’m usually not afraid to show my characters at their worst, and this is no exception.
CB: The story is taglined “An American Family Under Siege”, can the Briggs family still be considered American if they’re fighting to be independent from the government?
BW: I think what’s key is that they believe it’s the government that’s not American. The Briggs are looking to live life on their own terms in a nation that’s supposed to allow them that freedom. A nation that’s supposed to protect their rights to do that.
I just want to add, since it may not be clear, that we have two aspects at work on Briggs Land itself. The ideal, as I just stated in the previous paragraph, and then the criminal corruption and extremism I mentioned further above. The ideal’s been corrupted by the criminal element over the years, and it’s what Grace Briggs, the central character, is committed to facing head-on.
COMICS BEAT: You’re one of the most meticulous, bordering on overzealous, researchers in comics. This first chapter of Briggs Land looks like you’re continuing that trend in this series. While researching for this story; what was one of the most interesting things you learned about secession/separatists’ rights or people who’ve attempted it throughout history?
BRIAN WOOD: It’s a wild ride, doing research for this. I was trading emails recently with my producers trying to pin down what a plausible fictional domestic terrorism event might be, as backstory for one of the Briggs characters. It was an email talking about bombings, explosives, about the GOP and DNC delegate conventions as possible targets, and so on, and after a few back and forths I realized to what extent we must be setting off alarms in the Echelon system. So far I’ve not been visited by the FBI.
CB: As long as you stay off TOR and the deep web I think they’ll just put you in the strange but harmless pile.
BW: A few things in particular had an impact on me: reading the story of the Weaver family and Ruby Ridge, which is a bonafide American tragedy. The other was an extensive account of Timothy McVeigh, from his time leaving the military on through the Oklahoma City bombing, which not only showed how someone can live on the margins and slip through the cracks of law enforcement, but also become so radicalized as a supposedly privileged white male American. Both these books formed the backbone of my research.
I think it’s a natural to want to lump all these anti-government types together into a single category, which isn’t accurate. There are cultures and sub-cultures and sub-sub-cultures, from the legit type of secessionists movements in Vermont, Texas, and Alaska, all the way down to the random conspiracy theorists who talk about Rothschild-backed evil dentists and Jade Helm and FEMA re-education camps.
CB: There’s such a hardass toughness to Grace Briggs which makes her fascinating to see on the page. Some of the best characters in your books are composites of historical figures or people in real life. Is there a composite for Grace and if so who makes it up?
BW: Oh, no, she came out of my head. And it’s interesting you describe her as a hardass, which I’m not sure I would do. Maybe it’s because I’ve written many issues ahead and a full character bible and a television pilot. Toughness is definitely an aspect of her personality, but overall she’s pretty nuanced and multi-faceted.
If I’m pulling from anything real-life when writing Grace, it’s my own mother. She was a minister, not political, but she lived a rough life and often had to make difficult decisions and suppress her own needs in favor of us kids. When I need to write Grace and find the right turn of phrase or a specific emotional reaction, I’ll conjure up memories of my mother and see if there’s anything there I can draw from.
CB: She really jumps off the page when you consider what the Briggs family is and the staring down her husband dead in the eye in a prison to take his empire from him no less is a badass way to introduce a character. But let’s talk about the show.
You’re in the midst of developing Briggs Land for television in partnership with AMC. How did that come about?
BW: Maybe 7 years ago I was contacted by AMC who wanted to turn DMZ into a show. Despite our best efforts, Time Warner wouldn’t go for it. But I kept in touch with my contact there, who became a friend I would have coffee with from time to time and slip copies of my comic book pitches to, in hopes they’d find something else of mine they liked. It took a while, but Briggs Land was that thing.
In a break from how these things typically go, AMC bought Briggs Land based on the pitch – I hadn’t even shown it to Dark Horse yet, or talked to an artist, or anything. So now I’m in this situation where I’m writing the adaptation and the source material at the same time, which is a little bit confusing at times and a true creative challenge, but one I’m embracing.
In the last few years I’ve written two television pilots, as well as the screenplay for 1979 Revolution, the recent video game about the Iranian revolution. After twenty years in comics I’m finding fresh inspiration in these new things. My agent would always tell me that I’m not a comic book writer, I’m a writer, period, and I shouldn’t limit myself. Which is of course true, and I’m taking advantage, as much as I can, in what these new opportunities can teach me.
COMICS BEAT: Getting the show deal before the comic even comes out is a Kirkman level move, congrats.
Briggs Land feels like material for a true watercooler television crime drama we haven’t seen in a couple of years. I can’t wait to see what it’ll be like on screen. That being said, ideally, how will the comic and show co-exist? Two different parts of a whole experience or does one adapt from the other?
BRIAN WOOD: I don’t know. None of us know… when I get on the phone with my producers at A24 and my bosses at AMC, we’re always acknowledging that this is uncharted waters for everyone involved. But the pilot episode is an adaptation of the first three issues of the comic, but a fairly liberal one. Which to me is great! I got to tell the same story twice and in different ways, which was a really interesting experience and a great exercise in paring back the ego. The instinct is to go for as literal an adaptation as possible, to “stay true” to the comic. And I did that… for the first draft. Once that was out of the way, I could move on to making the necessary decisions to take full advantage of the TV format and also cut away the stuff that really only works in the comic format. I cut out a lot, and created some brand new material for the show.
So at the end of the day, I think the show and the comic will be complimentary more than anything else. The two, put together, creating a richer world and fuller characters.
CB: I’ve found that works best when you’re working with people who truly understand both the television and film language. It’s been a good road for Walking Dead, a bumpy one for Preacher lately, so I’m curious to see how this will work with a property that no many have had a chance to read yet.
Okay before I let you go; I have to ask…I know it’s early to talk about casting but who would be your ideal Grace Briggs?
BW: The short answer is: I don’t know, and there’s no point in getting my heart set on any one person since, well, who knows what will happen. That said, I usually drop celebrity photos into my pitches as a sort of shorthand to let the artist know that it’s this TYPE of person I’m thinking about. It’s a place to start. And for Grace we had photos of Julianne Moore, Kim Dickens, Donna Murphy, Mira Sorvino, etc. Grace Briggs is fifty years old, so if there’s any one mission I will assign myself if/when we get to the casting process, it’s that the actor playing her is at least that same age.
CB: If I could play casting director for a moment I’d like to suggest Juliette Lewis. She can display the strong front yet have a vulnerability to her, while also having that sliver of balls crazy a woman in this situation would need.
While Brian ponders his fantasy cast, we can all read Briggs Land the comic when it debuts in stores and online August 17th with interior art from Mack Chater, colors by the incredible Lee Loughridge, and gorgeous cover work by Tula Lotay.