Part 1: Introductory Interview
|Brian, for this introductory installment
I have a few general questions for you before we address specific
volumes. Let’s start at the top – what was the genesis for
This is probably the most-asked question, in interviews, at
conventions and signings, and you might think by now that
if I hadn’t thought up a genuine answer that I would have
at least invented a fake one... but no. I don’t know where
it came from exactly. Well, a big part of it has to be the
point of time in history... this was 2003, post-9/11, post-invasion
of Iraq, and I was packing up my life to leave NYC for San
Francisco. So I had war, politics, and my home city very much
on my mind.
But how it all came together the way it did? Not sure. Once
I was in SF, I did a bunch of artwork for WARTIME,
which is what DMZ was originally called, as well as a map
image that was an early
draft of what became DMZ #1, page 1, panel 1. I had it in my mind that WARTIME
was going to be a b/w, five-issue mini-series in much the same
way that Paul Pope’s Vertigo projects were, although I was
not in contact with Vertigo at that point. But I knew this
was an “important” project for me, a return to a CHANNEL ZERO-esque
point of view, and I kept slowly molding it during my time
I hated living in San Francisco, I’ll add. I loved visiting
it, I had a lot of friends there, and I really believed that
I would be happy living there. I’m sure there were many reasons
why I only lasted 18 months, but a big part of it was just
not being ready to have left NYC after all, and I think that
homesick feeling fueled both DMZ and LOCAL.
The reference to LOCAL and the homesick aspect is
interesting; part of me always felt like DMZ had spun out
of a lost issue of LOCAL featuring Matty or Zee in New York
City, something you realized had more potential than a single.
Do you recall how exactly you pitched it?
I do. I kept all the old drafts. It had nothing to do with
LOCAL... that book had everything to do with DEMO and as such
was more of a format experiment/refinement in its origins
than anything else. I’m pretty sure DMZ came first. The basic
idea for DMZ came even before DEMO started shipping in late
LOCAL and DMZ are miles apart in terms of the parts of my
brain they occupy. Polar opposite books and polar opposite
in how I approached writing them. With DMZ, I wasn’t trying
to innovate anything... I was trying to write what I always
felt was a pretty commercial monthly comic. LOCAL, in pitch
form, looked like the perfect example of a totally non-commercial
comic book series.
You did a great Vertigo blog post about titling a
Northlanders arc called “The Plague Widow.” Was there a similar
process for this series or was it always going to be called
WARTIME became DMZ simply because around the same time Vertigo
had published a BOOKS OF MAGIC miniseries subtitled “Life During
Wartime,” and no one involved, myself included, wanted to use the same phrase.
So I was tasked with coming up with a new title.
I just dug back into my sent emails from 2005 and found this,
which I sent to my editor Will Dennis. We immediately decided
DMZ was the one:
-EMBEDDED - you mentioned
this once. I think it’s a powerful word, and a word that has
come to mean something in everyone's mind, so I think in that
way it’s a good choice. Downsides: already several books with
that name about the Iraq war, and Matty isn't technically
embedded (although pretty close to it)
-DMZ - also a word that immediately plants images
in your head. I like short titles with impact. DMZ - huge
letters across the top. I tried to make it tie in with New
York a little bit, like DMZ NYC, DMZ, NY, but nothing seems
to work. Haha, how about DMZ, 10012? (yeah, that’s a joke)
-NO MAN’S LAND - also the name of an award-winning
foreign film a couple years ago about the Serb-Croat war.
-THE WAR FOR NEW YORK
-THE NEW YORK WAR
-ON THE GROUND
-ROOKIE - too much like that baseball film, but something
suggesting that Matty's new at this.
-THE AMERICAN WAR
-MY THREE YEARS OF WAR - something suggesting the time
Matty is on the ground. Might be bad lest the series run less
than 3 years. :)
-LOST IN MANHATTAN
-WARZONE - too close to Wartime?
-WITNESS TO WAR
You’re a meticulous career planner, was DMZ part of
a larger strategy in your career portfolio?
Thanks for noting my career planning! I do that, at times
to the annoyance of others, like editors, but I defend it
because so far, knock on wood, I’ve made the right choices.
Anyway, working for Vertigo was a career choice since day
one, literally back in college in 1995 when I decided making
comics was for me. But DMZ wasn’t what I first pitched. I
was holding on to that idea for myself... I was afraid to
give it over to the DC Comics “machine,” whatever that might
have meant to me at the time. A loss of control, maybe. So
I pitched him (Will Dennis) THE TOURIST and SUPERMARKET and
a few other things but nothing was working for them. Finally
I wised up and emailed in DMZ and that was that.
It was a good lesson learned, which is to always present your
best idea, to never hold the best back.
I’m curious how much of Brian Wood exists in lead
character Matty Roth?
Ugh, not too much, I hope. Matty is pretty fictional overall,
but there are aspects to his appearance, his back story, and
his general loser vibe that I did filch from a guy I worked
with once, and that’s about all I’ll say about that so I don’t
out that person.
I think there is something to Matty’s journey of sort of figuring
himself out that I can relate to. Moving to the city as a
young guy, bouncing around from influence to influence, not
really knowing who you are. Screwing up. I did that. But so
did everyone else, though, which is why he’s a character that
a lot of people loathe. They see their own fuck-ups in him.
Same with Megan in LOCAL.
I think that’s more where I was going with that question.
It probably was more subconscious, but it always seemed to
me that as Matty was being dropped into the unfamiliar world
of the DMZ, there was some parity with you being dropped into
your first ongoing series at Vertigo, both fleshing out an
evolving identity. Matty and Brian, both 5 letters, Roth and
Wood, both 4 letters, am I reaching with this last bit? Haha!
Probably! Roth was literally picked at random in a pinch...
I remember needing a last name and scanning the bookshelves
lining my office walls, finally resting on a copy of “Goodbye,
Columbus” by Philip Roth.
As far as being dropped into an ongoing series, yeah, there
may be something there. That was a pretty intimidating thing,
especially since I went in with all the intention in the world
of doing a little mini-series and staying out of the way of
the big boys. Suddenly I’m being asked to plan my series out
to the three and four year mark, and just trusting in myself
and my editor that I’d be able to pull it off as I went. And
no, that doesn’t make my editor a stand-in for Zee!
Warren Ellis once referred to DMZ as “political sci-fi.”
Is that accurate?
I wouldn’t have used the word “sci-fi,” but I know what Warren
means and I find that flattering. I’ve used that term a few
times myself. I’ve also called it a war drama and a political
action-adventure. Depends on the context. Any story that runs
for six years and some 1500 pages is bound to fit into several
I know you don’t do a lot of self-analysis, but do
you consider DMZ dystopian or post-apocalyptic? How do you
describe it in genre terms?
I’d call it “war” before I would use either of those terms.
I called CHANNEL ZERO dystopian so the same might apply to
DMZ, but there’s a problem with all of this that largely exists
in my own head, which is, to me, DMZ is not set in the future.
I mean, technically it is and most readers would say it is,
but one of the “tricks” I use in writing it is to pretend
like it’s not, to never write anything that couldn’t happen
or exist right now (with the exception of a few bits of military
technology). I never want to lose the relevancy of the story
by making it too “future.”
An example of that is I tend to give Matty an older model
film camera, rather than some cutting edge digital thing or
the DMZ version of Spider Jerusalem’s camera-glasses.
Tell us how 9/11 impacted you and the creation of
I find this a funny question... not funny ha-ha, but funny
weird, since it’s true that 9/11 affected the creation of
DMZ absolutely, that the book could not have existed without
the event and what kind of world we're living in as a result,
but whatever thought processes that are involved with that
must have happened almost entirely in my subconscious. At
no point did I sit down and say, okay, now is the time I craft
my response to 9/11 in comics form, or anything like that,
and early on I would try to downplay the connection to avoid
the book being mis-categorized as a reaction piece or merely
an anti-war rant. But yeah, there’s an obvious and undeniable
How did Riccardo become involved with the series?
It was as simple and as boring a thing as finding his work
in a stack of portfolios in [editor] Will Dennis' office.
Will had made, and still makes, trips overseas to conventions
and collects samples from artists for that very reason. This
is also how I "found" Davide Gianfelice for Northlanders
too. I liked the look of Riccardo's work, which was European
in tone but would occasionally blend in other stuff like manga
speed lines. But what clinched it, in the end, was that he
drew a couple "fake" DMZ pages, some unscripted
pages he made up based on, I assume, a description of what
the series was about. Check them out, here and here.
I think a combination of the strength of the work and the
initiative of doing that without being asked made him the
You’re not known as a big “co-writer” type, so how
collaborative is it, how much input does Riccardo provide
into the design and direction of the series?
Story-wise, the direction is purely mine. It's true that I
am not a co-writer type. I have zero interest in brainstorming
with anyone on my work, be it another writer, an artist, an
editor... unless it was deliberately planned from the start
(I've said in recent interviews I had this idea to work on
a book with David Lapham as a co-writer). But DMZ is so specifically
me in concept, and developed by me in detail before we even
started looking at artists; it's stayed that way.
BUT, this is not the same as me giving the artist freedom,
or leeway, or leaving the design work up to them. Riccardo
designed all the characters in the book. I had done a couple little
drawings of Matty, but Riccardo designed him the way he wanted.
And in the same way that I like to be left alone to write,
I try and leave the artist alone to do their thing. I try
to limit my changes to the art to one instance per issue (usually
a zoom or an angle change). So as we've progressed with the
series, Riccardo's really put his visual stamp on the book
in a huge way. The book is co-copyright him in the legal sense,
and he's the co-owner in a very tangible sense as well. I
love the guy, he's given 6 years of his life to this project,
a real leap of faith for a guy who had never worked for on
something this long before.
You provided cover art for the first 34 issues; what
can you share regarding your cover process?
I flew by the seat of my pants most of the time. I’m an illustrator
in the sense that that’s what I went to school for, but since
I wrapped up CHANNEL ZERO in 1998, I barely drew anything.
Maybe a dozen pieces a year, and I am not very fast or very
versatile. The DMZ covers are what I do best, and I did them
the only way I knew how.
I say all that because an illustrator needs to be able to
adjust and adapt and take notes and revise the work to fit
the criteria of the job – all things I don’t do well. So at
times when my covers would be rejected by people at DC, for
whatever reason, it was always a real struggle for me to accommodate
what they wanted. I was really ready to be done by #34, and
I think the book is much stronger with JP Leon taking over
that role. I do enjoy making the covers for the trades, though.
How was the transition to John Paul Leon for issue
35 and beyond?
It was fine. He’s incredibly talented, and like I said, it
made the book better overall. I think I remember him telling
me he felt awkward at first, stepping into a job where he
had to follow 34 covers that, for better or worse, were very
unique in their execution... but I asked for JP to take over
for JP’s style, not for a version of what I do.
You also did some of the interior art for those early
I did a few pages in each of the first five issues, and then
I did all of #12. It was a cool experiment but never really
gelled the way I think everyone thought it would. Time was
also a factor for me... I was starting to pitch NORTHLANDERS,
LOCAL was struggling schedule-wise, and I decided it was better
for me to spend my time on the writing and let Riccardo have
those couple pages instead.
You crafted the DMZ title logo, what can you share
about that piece of the business?
From 1999-2003, I worked as a designer for Rockstar Games,
and in that role I created dozens of logos and hundreds or
possibly thousands of logo variations, and for me this was
easy. I whipped up a sheet of DMZ logos for Will Dennis in
what was probably an hour and sent it over. We picked one,
easy, much like picking the title “DMZ” (by contrast, the
NORTHLANDERS logo was a huge, drawn out struggle).
What’s the reception been like for the series from
More than anyone expected. I talk about this with my editor
from time to time. No offense intended to anyone, but who
would have thought it would have lasted six years? Or even
two years? That it would be translated into seven-plus languages
and I’d be flown around the world to talk about it? (There
was a brief minute some years back when a massive Japanese
publisher wanted to host Riccardo and me for a few months
while we produced new, original DMZ for that audience.) So
on one hand it’s humbling and confusing and as hard as everyone’s
worked, there have been many other Vertigo books where everyone
worked just as hard and their books didn’t survive. So, yeah,
humbling and very gratifying.
One reaction I thought we would get more of and barely got
any was from people accusing me of being anti-American or
something like that. I thought for sure someone from the other
end of the political spectrum would have some comments for
me, but ...nothing. Not sure if I’m happy about that or disappointed,
to be honest.
Yeah, this was actually one of my follow up questions,
no attacks from the Right Wing? I swear I remember reading
a review that used the terms “liberal fantasy” around the
first time we meet Soames and The Ghosts of Central Park,
but I couldn’t find it again to cite it. Do you think it’s
just not on the radar screen of the people “from the other
end of the political spectrum?” Should I send the first trade
to Glenn Beck so we can get some real controversy going? Ha!
My theory about this comes simply down to the timing of the
book’s release. It was pitched and accepted during the pretty
intense first year of the Iraq invasion, and I grimly remember
joking with my editor that, man, we better get this book going
quick, in case the war ends before we solicit in Previews.
This was early 2004. The book arrived in stores in November
of 2005 and I really feel that public opinion had shifted
to the point where most people had stopped being so rah-rah
pro-war and any anti-war messages in the book were falling
on receptive ears.
Or maybe it’s just not that controversial? It got full page
write-ups in The New York Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, The
Independent, etc., so clearly it passed in front of a lot
of people’s eyeballs, so if there is to be any drama it would
have happened already. The worst I get is snarky stuff like
“liberal fantasy” like you said, from the comic book reader-reviewer
end part 1
linked images and early logo mockups for DMZ,
courtesy Brian Wood.
Giampaoli has written and published several mini-comics, including
The Mercy Killing, Silicon Valley Blues, and Blood Orange, but is
primarily known as a critic. He’s written reviews for award-winning
retailer Hijinx Comics, was a Contributing Writer at Savant Magazine,
and hosted a Southern California Newspaper column called Sequential
Essentials. Currently, he reviews mini-comics and small press titles
as the Senior Reviewer at Poopsheet Foundation and blogs frequently
about more mainstream offerings at his own 13 Minutes. Live From
The DMZ is the “official unofficial” site dedicated to DMZ through
the final year of publication and beyond.
Leon, cover artist
J Hill, Amelia
is © Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli.
All rights reserved.
Vertigo Comics, all related characters, their distinctive likenesses
and related indicia are trademarks of DC Comics. The stories, incidents,
and characters depicted within these pages are entirely fictional.
All original website content is © Justin Giampaoli