Brandon Graham initially made a name for himself in the black and white comics scene with such revered classics as Pillow Fight, Perverts of the Unknown, Universe So Big, October Yen, Escalator, Multiple Warheadz and most recently the Eisnernominated series published by TokyoPop/Image Comics, KING CITY. Next year Graham takes the leap into his first full-color ongoing series when he relaunches Rob Liefeld’s, PROPHET, as part of 2012’s Extreme line. We spoke to him regarding handling someone else’s creations for the first time, plans for Extreme’s future and why his version of PROPHET doesn’t wield a gun.
IMAGE: You have a very sizable audience, but at the same time I feel the Extreme line will expose your work to a lot of people who haven’t seen it before. You’ve done original work like KING CITY and Multiple Warheadz, but is this the first time you’ve work with someone else’s characters?
BRANDON GRAHAM: I’ve done a lot of pitches and short stories with other people’s characters, but nothing with this crazy level of handing something to me and letting me go crazy.
IMAGE: So you’re being afforded a lot of freedom with PROPHET?
BG: Yeah, it’s nice. I have been thinking about how crazy it is Rob’s turning me over his baby and trusting me not to mess it up.
IMAGE: It’s interesting to me to see how different your PROPHET is from the original title and yet how much Rob Liefeld loves your stuff. What was your background on the character and what inspired your unique take?
BG: We took the original material and boiled it down to something I could more relate to including the Buscema Conan run. I think the original Extreme was rooted in how targeted to teenage boys it was, so I tried to find my inner-Prophet fan and Conan was it.
IMAGE: What was it about the relationship between the Buscema Conan and PROPHET that made you think it was a good fit?
BG: Well, the characters look similar, but also the idea of this dude who’s this traveling warrior. I was happy to look at the original PROPHET comics and see the connection.
IMAGE: At the same time it seems like you’re trying to open up the book to an entirely new reader, even if they don’t know either series.
BG: Oh, yeah. For instance, I saw this comment online from this guy who didn’t understand why I didn’t have guns in PROPHET yet and it turned into a whole thing where I had to explain to him I didn’t have to have a gun in any comic I do, because everyone else already does.
The thing is, PROPHET takes place 10,000 years in the future and doesn’t even feature the original guy. So, I had to step away from the original comics a bit without being a disservice to the original readers. For instance, with Grant Morrison’s NEW X-MEN starting off with Cyclops and Wolverine complaining about superhero outfits. They didn’t complain for the last twenty years! He immediately alienated me a little bit. I’m not a guy who’s going to fight for the rights of superhero comics, but if you can’t convince me Wolverine’s a guy who would wear a superhero costume, you’ve lost it.
IMAGE: Do you see PROPHET interacting with the rest of the Extreme line since it is so far removed?
BG: I have a couple ideas to show a couple of far future things, but I feel it shrinks the universe the more it connects with other stuff. However, one of the fun things about doing a line like this is having a group like this is to do a collective thing. I’d like to have a big crossover. Maybe I should ask Rob to let me use Badrock for an issue!
IMAGE: You know, one of the ways I really connected to the 1990s Extreme line was the excitement of it all. It was really well hyped. In your eyes, what differentiates this Extreme line from other companies’ recent relaunches?
BG: For me the major difference is I like Image. (laughs)
Everyone I’ve dealt with at Image treats me really well. It feels cool to be able to give back to that. I don’t feel any alignment to Marvel or DC. It’s outside of the work and more about people backing it.
IMAGE: Is it more about the company than the character for you? Maybe a little bit of both?
BG: Oh, yeah, definitely. There is the thing about PROPHET specifically where I didn’t have to do a straight up superhero-fighting-crime thing so it was more possible. Years ago Stokoe and I were kicking around the idea of doing a superhero line at Image, but the most we could come up with were super-villains. It was gonna be about a lodge of super-villains trying to out villain each other.
Back to your other question about Extreme characters, I was thinking about it being interesting to take one of Extreme’s immortals and have them completely changed. Like having Glory show up and look like Ben Grimm’s The Thing where she’s been alive so long she’s unrecognizable. Maybe she’s turned into a star. That might be pushing it. I’m amazed I haven’t gotten a phone call asking me, ‘what the hell are you doing’? Did I tell you Prophet gets a tail in issue four?
IMAGE: No. (laughs)
BG: Yeah, he’s got a tail now and he flies in a gigantic space baby. It’s made out of jelly.
IMAGE: The first three issues are with artist Simon Roy, right?
IMAGE: And you handpicked Simon?
BG: It might have been Joe Keatinge that brought Simon up. We were at a bar with (Image Comics Publisher and Extreme Editor) Eric Stephenson and Joe suggested I work on PROPHET. I said I couldn’t do it, so he said, “Well, what if you get Simon to draw it?” So I said, “Cool!”
What was it about Simon that immediately convinced you he was the guy for it?
BG: The thing with Simon is how young he is. I didn’t know what direction PROPHET was going to take. It’s so far off from the comics I normally do.ar I called Simon up – he normally works at a butcher shop during the summer – and I said, “Hey, instead of working at a butcher shop, why don’t you draw this comic about bad ass dudes cutting open zebras?”
When I was Simon’s age, I remember going to DC Comics with drawings of Batman and being all, “Please give me a job so I don’t have to unload boxes of Chinese weight loss soap off of trucks.” It was a horrible job. I think of how fun it would be to instead do comics and have that pay your bills. Unfortunately, Simon’s in school so it makes things a little harder.
IMAGE: After Simon is Farel Dalrymple. Why him?
BG: Keeping with the Conan theme, I’ve been thinking about artists who could handle Conan. I think it’s one of the hardest comics to do accurately. Wolverine’s a character just about anybody could do. He comes with very simple rules. Have ninjas show up, fight him, he says he’s the best at what he does, then his claws comes out and kills them. Everybody’s happy.
But with Conan, it takes some complexity. It sounds ridiculous, but anyone who reads Buscema’s stuff and enjoys it as much as I do will see there’s a “je ne said quoin” to it. There’s not many artists working today who could do it.
One of the things I used to tell Farel when we both lived in New York was if he had took a time machine to the 1950s, 30s or even a hundred years ago his style would be universal enough where if he ended up anywhere and work as an artist. He could work at Eisner/Iger’s studio. His style is timeless.
If I’m taking Prophet out of anything modern day, you don’t want styles to get in the way. You don’t want a comic that’s trying to convince you it takes place 10,000 years in the future and recognize InuYasha-inspired styles. Simon and Farel are hard artists to follow up.
IMAGE: Do you have any dream artists in mind to follow them?
BG: I’m hoping to get Marian (Churchland) involved. She did the first cover, plus I have this dream for her to do Conan. To take a moment to psychoanalyze myself –here’s the pretty girl I married, I want her to draw Conan! I did get her to draw some Dirty Pair, which is the sickest thing ever.
There’s actually a bunch of artists I think could handle it well, like my friend Emily Carroll or Giannis Milonogiannis. It’s kind of like that Doctor Who analogy of different artists and how they handle PROPHET. Doctor Who has that thing where if, say, Matt Smith does something that Tom Baker wouldn’t, they don’t throw their burritos on the ground. There’s some fluidity there. It’s the same guy, with some of the same stuff going on, but with PROPHET there’s hopefully going to be even more freedom than that. I’m setting some stuff up with the characters becoming different people, so it will be cool to see how they change and interact as things move forward.
IMAGE: Seems like PROPHET’s a series you could write for a while.
BG: Yeah, it’s all based on this reemergence of humanity after they’ve been virtually extinct for a really long time. I actually have this idea of mapping out the entire war and bringing in a bunch of people and let them show where it was at this point and that point and it might be cool to take creative teams and separate them like X-Men Gold and Blue.
PROPHET has a huge intergalactic scope.
IMAGE: Wow! I didn’t realize the scope was going to be so massive. What would you say is the quick pitch to get a lapsed reader or someone totally unfamiliar with the character into the book?
BG: “Conan in Space.” One of the things I did with KING CITY that I’m trying to do with this is if someone went into the comic store and picked it up they haven’t read a comic in twenty years, they could read it on the bus and enjoy it. They wouldn’t necessarily have to go back and get another issue. In PROPHET, there’s some stuff that will get totally finished off in one issue like if you read a 1985 issue of Amazing Spider-Man and got a complete story. I hate decompressed storytelling in a monthly format, unless it’s something like Cerebus where you’ll definitely follow it up.
You get people writing these decompressed stories and then the artist changes! There’s so many Marvel and DC books where you don’t get a whole comic! For instance, with New X-Men, I didn’t finish it because Quitely stopped drawing it. Whereas on All-Star Superman it reads better because you have the same two guys doing the whole thing together.
IMAGE: To bring things full circle, since this is your first time working on someone else’s character, are you interested in doing that with anyone else in or out of the the Extreme universe? If so, which characters?
BG: I would be amazed if anyone outside of Extreme gave me this insane level of freedom. I actually think it would be cool to do a Badrock comic with absolutely no other superhero stuff. It would be fun, even though it would be a departure from what I do. I don’t think other people’s characters will be the majority of my output, but I think it’s stretching my artistic limbs to write books like PROPHET.