Conducted by Chris Allen
Ivan Brandon has quickly risen through the ranks of young comics talent, studying art early on under David Mazzucchelli and then putting his European travel to good use by forging friendships with talents like Goran Parlov, Eduardo Risso and others. He’s eschewed naval-gazing alt-comics in favor of genre entertainment, but brings to the work thoughtful characterization to go with the slam-bang. He’s currently writing GENE-FUSION and the two-book TERMINATOR 3: BEFORE THE RISE miniseries—the latter seen by more readers than probably any other comic on the stands today—and he gave us his time to talk about these comics and other things.
Chris Allen: Let me preface this trite question with the theory that even the crap we’re exposed to as kids holds a tremendous influence for us as adults, even if what we create is a reaction against it. So, that said, what comics did you read as a kid?
Ivan Brandon: Honestly, while I had a pretty violent reaction to later stuff, my first times reading comics were pretty strong. I read early 80’s marvel stuff as a kid; DAREDEVIL, SPIDER-MAN…most of what I read was passed on by (stolen from) my older brother and a lot of it depended on what he was into. There was a period where we read just about all the Marvel stuff, my mom got us these marvel subscriptions that would show up all mangled…anyway, we read a lot of X-MEN, IRON MAN (who back then was a state of the art sex machine), and every single incarnation of SECRET WARS. Somewhere along the way someone slipped GRENDEL in there, and I became aware of different types of work.
CA: What was the first story you remember really having an emotional impact on you?
IB: Well, back when I was heavy into drawing, Sienkiewicz’s run on the NEW MUTANTS really smacked me around. Those covers are still my favorites. I had no idea anything like that was even possible in a comic book. The storytelling was still clear, which a lot of the guys who followed have missed. Sienkiewicz did his own thing, but he always made sure you could understand it.
In terms of writing, the early Miller DAREDEVIL, definitely. The Elektra stuff, of course, (SPOILERS: ELEKTRA DIES) but even moreso the reaction to the Elektra stuff…Murdock’s mourning and anger and violent reactions to the outside world and his day to day… none of the comics I’d read up til then had really dealt with consequences and that run really put the reader into that frame of mind.
CA: When did you first feel you wanted to pursue a career in comics, and did you have any idea of how hard it can be?
IB: I took some schooling as a young zombie with David Mazzucchelli, and I made my first comics with him at about age 10. He still says they were good, but what else can he say? Who wants to shatter a poor kid’s childhood memory? He’s no monster. David was the guy who taught me there were emotions in comics, and character acting. He’d tell me to forget about Wolverine’s bicep and worry about the character’s anger or his confusion or whatever he was going through in the panel I was drawing. I got the understanding that I had to make all the characters move and act believably, which sounds simple when you’re not 10 years old. Now when I script, I try to really focus on that with the artist, getting him/her to connect more personally with whatever the character has going on.
CA: How did you get hooked up with Jeff Amano and the folks at Beckett? Did you have something prepared for them?
IB: I hooked up with Jeff pretty informally. We were with a bunch of mutual friends talking about story and pacing and what have you, and the two of us were pretty much saying the same things.
It was pretty surprising, we both have sort of an atypical approach to the mainstream in our writing, but we’re very similar to each other in our goals. It was great to find a kindred set of eyes, and we pretty much ran with it from that first meeting.
CA: Amano must have had great faith in an unproven writer as yourself, to give you the reins of his own creation, GENE-FUSION. Did you pitch him the idea for the revamp? Was it his idea he asked you to execute? How did it come about?
IB: Jeff asked me about GENE-FUSION, and I put some ideas together. He had the characters all set, and they have a history with the TV scripts, so while I created the stories from scratch, I made sure not to step on any toes.
CA: It’s not quite an all-ages book, but certainly fine for those nine or ten and up. Have you had any difficulties in writing for a younger age group?
IB: I tried to get it to where anyone could read it, which to me meant not offending anyone, but also meant not talking down. When I was younger, I didn’t want to read a book some adult deemed “kid-friendly”, so I tried to think in terms of what I’d be into at that age.
CA: Okay, let’s talk T3. This is rather a huge gig for a new writer. How did this one come about?
IB: Jeff and I talked about some ideas I had for the book and he asked me to get them on paper for the studio to read. They sent me the contracts and I started scripting.
CA: This is a prequel to the new film, correct? I haven’t seen the movie yet, but assume it works independently of the comic. Where did your story come from?
IB: It’s a prequel to the film, but you don’t have to see the film to know what’s going on. Jeff gave me a loose idea of the goal of the story, and obviously as a prequel I have to be consistent with the film’s vision. Beyond that I have no idea where my stories come from. Indigestion.
CA: How involved was the studio with story input? Did it go through several drafts?
IB: The studio is involved pretty much step by step, giving input, making suggestions and so on. It’s actually a very cool process. I went through drafts, like I do in all of my work. I’m the kind of guy that changes tiny things all the way to the printer. It’s one of my favorite parts of the process, noticing tiny things that will make a whole page at the last minute.
CA: You’ve got another issue to go, but what struck me about the story was that you kept the action level high, but also brought a human, romantic story into focus, rather than the high-tech sci-fi plotline. I see that as a plus, but was it met with any resistance?
IB: Thanks. The studio and the publisher were very supportive of the kind of feel I wanted to get across, and they let me get to it. We wanted something that was very different from what the reader would guess it would be. The movies have all been set in present day and there’s this backstory in each one that’s intriguing as hell, but we never get to delve into it. The idea was to finally get to spend time in that environment, but still have the characters living their lives to whatever level you would in any time. Most of the period pieces I’ve seen, the characters seem so unbelievably superimposed, as if they’re excited that they’re all in the future or in the past. There’s this air of “look at this gadget I’m holding, isn’t it shiny!?”
It isn’t their future, it’s just their everyday thing. I just try to focus on that.
CA: I know you’ve brought friends with you like Goran Parlov, who has really adapted well to a more action-heavy comic. It’s refreshing that a comics tie-in looks like someone spent money to make it look as good as the film. How did he become involved?
IB: Goran I knew through some friends out in Zagreb, who put us in touch. I showed his stuff to Beckett and they brought him on board. There was a certain depth of environment that I’d seen in his work that I thought was really needed in setting up the field for the story. He puts so much story into every image; tiny details like pictures on the wall that I’ll write in there but also things I would never have thought of. More so even in the 2nd GN, everything is there, it’s amazing. His characters are so real that if they’re in a bad way you really feel it.
CA: Any more plans for work with Goran?
IB: Nothing specific yet, but we’ll think of something. We’re both working on assorted other things but we’ll definitely get together again.
CA: Congratulations to you for reaching more of an audience than most comics, since your story was first seen in one of Beckett’s T3 movie magazines in grocery stores, Blockbusters, etc. And what does the future hold? I know there was a creator-owned series for Beckett in the works called RUULE?
IB: Thanks. It’s a very strange feeling. The response the book has gotten in the mainstream has been great, but I’m totally caught off guard by it. The comic itself is actually being sold at Blockbuster, etc… they’re distributed to most of the places that carry the magazine. I’ve gotten e-mail from people who picked it up at the most unlikely places, and it freaks me out a little (I’m not complaining). It’s a weird feeling walking into Tower Records to buy a CD at and seeing my work there.
I’m finishing a couple more freelance projects, including RUULE, which is enormous; 250 pages with Mike Hawthorne and Rick Remender. I’m also working on a bunch of creator-owned original ideas ; I have a supernatural crime thing with Mike (POWERS) Oeming called THE CROSS BRONX, another project with Miles Gunter and Andy MacDonald called NYC MECH, and SELF TITLED, a big story with tons of art by Becky Cloonan, Andy Lee, Jasen Lex and everyone else in comics.
For more information on T3 and GENE FUSION, check out BeckettComics.com, and check out Ivan Brandon's recently launched Web site for updates about all his projects, as well as a message board forum frequented by many of the creators mentioned above. Chris Allen's weekly comics reviews and commentary column BREAKDOWNS runs every Thursday at the Poop Shoot. If you're at the SD Comic Con, both Chris and Ivan will be roaming around at their respective booths.
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