9.13.2010

THE BRIAN WOOD PROJECT (Part 1)


INTRODUCTION & OUTLINE OF WHAT’S TO COME

I remember exactly where I was the first time I bought a Brian Wood book.

The year was 1999 and I was in Spacecat Comics in San Jose, California. The book was called CHANNEL ZERO. My friend Tim Goodyear was managing the store at the time and would frequently make solid recommendations. Though it had been released two years prior, he had a few copies on a small display near the center of the store. It’s a quick digression, but for a few years Spacecat was an exciting hotbed of comic book activity within my social circle. Tim was working as an Editor/Contributor to a self-published anthology called GARISH ZOW COMICS, went on to be the artist of my first mini-comic, THE MERCY KILLING, and now runs with Dylan Williams and the Sparkplug Comics crew up in Portland. With all of the great retailing available in the San Francisco Bay Area (Lee’s Comics, Hijinx Comics, Comic Relief, Comix Experience, Isotope, etc.), my friend Jason Crowe and I frequented Spacecat for a couple years because Tim gave us insane privileges (something like a 30% discount on new books, full credit for returns, free swag, etc.). Jason and I both went on to write for Savant Magazine, which was a cultural touchstone at a very precise moment in the history of online comics writing, and was home to a (then) little known aspiring writer named Matt Fraction. Spacecat was a hub for a loose conglomeration of friends and acquaintances that included San Jose locals like Ryan Sook, Mick Gray, and Dan Shahin, who now owns the award winning retail establishment Hijinx Comics. Anyway, Tim physically put CHANNEL ZERO in my hands and I thumbed through it that day. The writing felt edgy and daring. It was subversive and I was in a subversive kind of mood. I closed it and looked at the cover. It didn’t look like anything else coming out at the time. My best friend and college roommate, Sean Zimmerman, is a graphic designer and I’d learned a lot from him just by osmosis. I could spot strong graphic design elements when I saw them. I read it. I liked it. Brian Wood. The name was mentally noted.

Fast forward a few years and a few books later; COUSCOUS EXPRESS (2001), THE COURIERS (2003), and POUNDED (2003) were casually consumed and stick in my memory as books I read when they debuted. After some miscellaneous writing gigs and shortly after moving to San Diego in 2005, I started 13 Minutes. It was slow going at first, but soon some sort of palpable tipping point had been reached, and I started getting consistent feedback from a handful of creators. Brian Wood was in that first wave of online relationships that started to form, which included people like David Mack, Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, Matt Kindt, Jamie McKelvie, Joe Nozemack at Oni Press, and Joe Illidge (then Senior Editor at Archaia Studios Press). I didn’t necessarily consider myself a true Brian Wood fan just yet, but did pick up his work when I noticed it. I was excited in 2005, when DMZ launched at Vertigo, and LOCAL launched at Oni Press. Hanging in my office at the museum is a small promo poster for DMZ from SDCC that is signed by Brian Wood. I doubt he’d remember it, but I stumbled through the Vertigo end of the DC booth where he was signing, just handing these out casually to passersby. Nobody was bothering him. I doubt he could do that today. I fell in love with both DMZ and LOCAL; those are the books that he sold me on and made me a true fan with. Suddenly, the name “Brian Wood” had become synonymous with “quality comics.” DMZ was the ultimate high concept, about a post-9/11 Civil War in America, while LOCAL seemed to avoid the lure of high concept and returned to a more human focused drama, both tickling opposite but equally malnourished ends of my brain. These were the books that turned me into a Brian Wood completist and catalyzed the effort to track down everything I’d missed, from FIGHT FOR TOMORROW back to his early GENERATION X work with Warren Ellis.

By the time NORTHLANDERS debuted in 2007, I started to notice recurring themes in Wood’s body of work; identity seemed to be a strong and consistent one. Let me clarify that it wasn’t repetitiously boring in nature or any authorial wrongdoing, but more of a subtle connective tissue that seemed to join the works in spirit. I was starting to recognize Brian Wood’s voice, regardless of character, genre, or company. I began to view his body of work as one big piece of responsorial social commentary. I joked online that I wanted to “write a book about Brian Wood” and examine his output on a more macro level than the micro monthly reviews seemed to be allowing. I’d done conversational talks about LOCAL and extended write-ups annually for “My 13 Favorite Things of 200X” posts, but I wasn’t satisfied. I still felt I had something to say about Brian Wood as a writer. As these thoughts continued to coalesce, he continued amassing this impressive body of work, which offered even more tantalizing data to analyze. For me, there was no better year to launch this project than 2010; Brian Wood’s first book, CHANNEL ZERO, had debuted in 1997, which was 13 years ago. Yes, 13 Minutes would examine 13 Years of Brian Wood. After some encouragement from Ryan Claytor at Elephant Eater Comics, I finally felt ready to officially begin. I remember the day it happened; it was the day before my daughter’s birthday. I received a package from Ryan and the personalized sketch and note he included with a gifted book made me suddenly feel a rush of energy. Within 20 minutes, I sat down and banged out a two page outline that organized many of the threads swirling around my brain regarding what “a Brian Wood book” would contain. As it turned out, it’s not a book; it’s this series of posts.

The way I’ve broken this project up is… wait, back up, let’s talk about that. I ended up calling the extended essay THE BRIAN WOOD PROJECT. That was originally just a simple self-explanatory working title that Ryan and I used casually without any thought whatsoever. As in, “hey man, I have this idea for a Brian Wood project,” or “dude, maybe this will help you with that Brian Wood project you mentioned.” I toyed with other titles that I won’t embarrass myself by mentioning, but they all seemed too precise and too exacting. They felt clinical and acute, when I wanted to invoke a broader sense of this powerful creative force. It’s no “Theories & Defenses,” but THE BRIAN WOOD PROJECT just rolled off the tongue and sounded like a band to me, for what that’s worth. I was always drawn to the music of THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP. My cousin had a jazz band in San Francisco called THE JEMAL RAMIREZ QUARTET. Something about the beautiful simplicity stuck with me. I got very comfortable with THE BRIAN WOOD PROJECT and nothing I could conjure ever seemed to be able to supplant its purity. The way I organized this 17,000 word essay ended up being five discernible sections, but for sanity’s sake (I’m talking about reader fatigue with some long entries) it’s broken up into nine different posts. From an outline perspective, here’s what you can expect to see in this survey of his work;

PART 1 – INTRODUCTION & OUTLINE OF WHAT’S TO COME: What You’re Reading Now

PART 2 – THE UNIFYING THEME OF IDENTITY: Testing The Hypothesis.

PART 3 – TRACING IDENTITY THROUGH THE CHRONOLOGY OF WORKS – THE EARLY YEARS (PART 1): Probably Sounds Fancier Than It Actually Is. I Read All of Brian Wood’s Books Again.

PART 4 – TRACING IDENTITY THROUGH THE CHRONOLOGY OF WORKS – THE EARLY YEARS (PART 2): Probably Sounds Fancier Than It Actually Is. I Read All of Brian Wood’s Books Again.

PART 5 – TRACING IDENTITY THROUGH THE CHRONOLOGY OF WORKS – THE MODERN PERIOD (PART 1): Probably Sounds Fancier Than It Actually Is. I Read All of Brian Wood’s Books Again.

PART 6 – TRACING IDENTITY THROUGH THE CHRONOLOGY OF WORKS – THE MODERN PERIOD (PART 2): Probably Sounds Fancier Than It Actually Is. I Read All of Brian Wood’s Books Again.

PART 7 – TRACING IDENTITY THROUGH THE CHRONOLOGY OF WORKS – THE POST-MODERN PERIOD: Probably Sounds Fancier Than It Actually Is. I Read All of Brian Wood’s Books Again.

PART 8 – RESTATING THE PRIMARY THEME & CATALOGUING SECONDARY TRAITS: Completely Superfluous to Main Objective, But Hopefully Interesting Nonetheless.

PART 9 – DEFENDING THE NEW POSITION: Why Brian Wood Is The Voice of Our Generation.

I’ll be posting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from (today) Monday 9/13 until Friday 10/1. See you in two days…

4 Comments:

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Damn, this is gonna be killer. Can't wait to see how it unfolds. Huge congrats for tackling this PROJECT! (Diggin' the reasoning behind the name.) :)

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics
www.ElephantEater.com

 
At 3:03 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks Ryan! I'm really excited to have gotten this rolling, itching to post more already!

 
At 4:45 AM, Blogger Matt C said...

Excellent. Looking forward to reading this.

 
At 8:51 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Hey Matt, thanks for chiming in. Things will really get going with Friday's post, once all of the intro business is out of the way!

 

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