Brandon Graham is a maverick. He is most famous for his work on 2009’s King City, but has worked in comics since the 1990s, getting his start in sequential porn before moving into work for Dark Horse, Oni Press, and Image Comics. Known for his clever wit, graffiti-inspired illustration style, and fascination with butts, Graham has carved a niche for himself in the industry that he uses as a platform to explore artistic styles and subjects rarely seen in mainstream American comics. He is currently finishing a run on Rob Liefeld’s Prophet and is about to launch two new Image series. 8House is a fantasy series that features a different creative team in each issue telling short stories that combine to form a cohesive universe. Island is an anthology series that is being curated by Brandon and is designed to reintroduce audiences to the dying art of the comics Zine.
The Beat recently sat down to talk to Brandon about his influences, his work, and what he hopes to accomplish in the years to come.
Alex Lu: King City was one of the first books I read when I was getting into comics. My favorite thing about it was the inordinate number of puns in the story. Do you keep a journal full of them?
Brandon Graham: Oh yeah, it’s obscene how many bad puns made it into that book. I do keep a journal full of jokes and things that make it into the comic, but it’s not necessarily planned. I used to work very hard at making sure I had enough jokes per page, but it wasn’t the most fun way to work so I toned it down.
I used to have a system for making jokes and making puns. More recently, I was trying to find different ways to do humor. I would study Rumiko Takahashi comics, see how she structures her humor, and then try to emulate that. That influence played into the Multiple Warheads series. In doing these non-pun based humor, sometimes the puns would just come in naturally, whereas in King City I’d make lists of possible jokes I could make. I did that a lot, but I didn’t want to keep doing it in everything I did.
Lu: How’s it been working on Prophet, simply being the writer as opposed to playing the role of the artist as well?
Graham: It’s a very different experience. The humor there is much more subtle, as it’s not meant to be a humorous book. That makes it faster to write, and it’s been a really good learning process to collaborate with different people and collaborate on a monthly comic.
Lu: How did you script Prophet?
Graham: A lot of the stuff is just me thumbnailing it– just doing a rough version of the comic, handing them a copy, and letting them do their own versions of the pages. The back of some of the volumes have those rough thumbnails in them. Sometimes I’d even do them in full color.
Lu: Did you find your collaborators sticking to your roughs or deviating from them dramatically?
Graham: It depends on the artist. When I work with my wife, Marian, she doesn’t like me to do layouts. She just likes me to tell her what happens on the page. However, a lot of the guys on Prophet preferred that I did the layouts so they could come in and not have to think about a page too much. They’d just rework it if they had a better idea.
Lu: When Prophet wraps, do you plan on doing more work that’s strictly based in writing, or will you transition back to doing art as well?
Graham: I’m working on doing more illustration. I’m currently doing a magazine, Island, which is an excuse for me to do a lot more short story work and a lot more drawing without a specific sense of place. If I want to do a series of illustrations, now that I have Island I don’t have to worry about finding a home for it. I’m going to be writing five or six issues for the 8House shared fantasy universe each year as well.
Lu: I saw the cover work for 8House. It’s beautiful. How long has that series been in production?
Graham: Quite a while. It’s changed dramatically, but it started as a way to do stuff with some of the Top Cow books. I was going to be doing Pitt, and another team was going to be doing Witchblade. That didn’t work out, but it turned into a new version of itself.
Lu: What’s the basic premise of 8House?
Graham: It basically takes a bunch of creative teams, have them set stories in the same world, and then have them riff off one another. It’ll be interesting to see how teams are influenced by one another, similar to how Marvel and DC have these random books that weren’t originally meant to be part of a shared universe, but have been patched together to form one that people accept.
Prophet was very strict about how the universe worked but 8House is more open. Different stories can be told from different perspectives and they’ll almost feel like they’re in different worlds. It’ll be more like how Fantastic Four and New Gods are in the same universe but feel very different from one another.
Lu: Awesome. And what’s the premise for Island?
Graham: It’s going to be a monthly title put out by Image, 150 pages per issue. It’ll be distributed through comic stores. It’s about an inch larger in width and height from a standard comic. A lot of the production process involved me thinking about what I wanted to read in an anthology as well as why I didn’t often read anthologies.
A part of it was making sure it felt like a bundle of comics than an anthology. None of the stories are shorter than 20 pages, and some are up to 50 or 60 pages. You pay for this $8.00 book and you get 3 or 4 entire comics, so it’s slightly cheaper than just buying individual issues.
It’s also carefully curated, so if you like one or two artists in the issue you’ll like the other two as well. There’s nothing in there I wouldn’t buy myself, and I’ve been very particular about not playing politics and picking people specifically for their names. I go after quality work.
Lu: So how do you pick the group that ends up in each issue?
Graham: I’m always digging up artists whose work I am excited about, and there’s a huge amount of work that doesn’t get the exposure it deserves. A lot of people stick to specific publishers or genres, and that’s true even in places like Image. I come from a different background from a lot of their creators, so I wanted to bring in creators that I feel more in tune with.
I’m even putting some lesser known older work into Island. There’s a 1986 six issue comic published by Eclipse called Zooniverse that I fell in love with when I was eleven. That’s getting reprinted in Island. There’s also a British small press comic by an artist named Lando called Island 3 that’s only been printed in small press zine format in England that we’ll be printing and bringing to a mass audience.
Lu: It’s pretty unique to have a zine in the modern American comic book industry nowadays, isn’t it?
Graham: Well, you have stuff like Dark Horse Presents… but those stories often feel like they’re intended for different audiences. I’m not trying to do this specifically, but I am trying out untested people. There are new creators in Island, but there are also creators like Emma Ríos (Pretty Deadly) who are coming in and doing their own writing.
Most of the work is single creator– written, drawn, and colored by them. If a writer is in Island, I’ll have them do prose or write an essay. Kelly Sue DeConnick wrote an article in the first issue about a poet who deeply influences her. It’s stuff you wouldn’t see in a normal comic book.
Lu: What’s your hope for Island?
Graham: Well, I hope people are just as excited for it as I am. One of the great things about comics right now is that people that are being given the freedom to do whatever they want at publishers have the opportunity to shape how the industry grows, not only in their work but in the work of people they bring into the industry. If you have a fanbase and people who trust your work, you can tell them to check out the work of someone you admire and help grow the community in that way.
Lu: What specifically has influenced you?
Graham: I used to be strongly influenced by graffiti, but I also did porn comics and it’s all bleeding into my system and becoming something that’s hopefully new. I read a lot, and I’ve been trying to read more novels in order to remind myself that there’s a world outside of comics.
Lu: What are you reading right now?
Graham: I’m reading a Charles Stross book called Saturn’s Children, which is about a sex robot that activates after humanity goes extinct. There’s also Haruki Murakami’s Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which is my favorite book ever. I remember reading that and thinking that this is just a better version of everything I’m trying to do.
Lu: How do you feel about having a distinctive style that’s strongly influenced the development about several other artists?
Graham: It’s always really exciting to see that. I wear my influences on my sleeve so much that I hope it’s a gateway to people tracking down the work of people I’m influenced by like Moebius or Adam Warren. It’s also a little daunting when you see what you can see what you’ve done in something someone has devoted their life to, but ultimately it’s very exciting.
8House: Arclight #1 releases on June 24th, 2015. Island #1 hits stands on July 15th, 2015.