Words with Brandon Graham

Brandon Graham is the mastermind of the 2001 version of "Prophet," one of my favorite comic series ever. In a fit of strange enthusiasm, I emailed him and asked if I could interview him. He got back to me surprisingly fast, and agreed. It was awesome to be treated nicely by someone who I thought would be too busy to reply to my email.

I think of Brandon Graham as some kind of mysterious force in the comic world with a variety of influences, and broad work history. Both his art and his writing show he's a student as well as a master. It's safe to say I'm a huge fan of Brandon Graham's artistic sensibilities.

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Let's be clear, I don't endorse all of Graham's work, but that doesn't mean I dislike him at all. I'm a Christian, and Graham's work making pornographic comics is not something I support. That being said, from interviews I've read and our brief email interactions, Graham strikes me as a nice guy.

I think it's okay in life to disagree. All people are valuable and should have a voice. Just because I don't like a persons opinions doesn't mean I should write them off and devalue them by ignoring them.

So here's the interview. It's the first time I've interviewed someone. As soon as I got the answers back I wish I'd asked more detailed questions or different ones, but at least I can learn something from it. Enjoy.

I know you always wanted to be a comic book artist since forever, but do you ever think about what you might do if you didn't do comics?

Ideally I'd be working on drawing and writing, or at least have enough time to be doing that in my free time. Comics seem to be the thing that uses those best in a way I'm most excited about.

It's certainly fun to mess around in other media though. I liked working on the Adventure Time episode I did (Jermaine) and I really enjoy when I help out on my pal Robin's Inkstuds radio show. Interviewing people and talking about art and storytelling is always fun.

Is there any sequence of panels, or covers, or splashes, that still destroy you because they're so good? That you feel like "yes that's it, that's perfect and it obliterates me?" Or have comics lost any of their wonder for you over the years?

There are too many. If I wasn't still blown away by what is possible I don't think I would want to make comics.

Some of what I find so fascinating is work that I don't understand why it works so well. A lot of Masamune Shirow's work from the 80's and 90's has kept me returning to it because it works so well in some ways that I just don't understand why he did what he did.I have a slide show I do a talk with at shows sometimes which is talking about this.

A lot of it is showing music or sound in comics. Atsushi Kamijo's does an amazing job with this in their TO-Y manga. Whenever the main character is performing music they show him doing some impressive physical feat. He'll do a backflip and kick his shoe at the people watching him in the recording studio, or get on stage at a club by throwing an ash tray at the performer on stage's face and then clotheslining him and grabbing the mike as it hits.

I love that comics never gets easy for me and that there will always be new ways to show things.

Your earlier work like Pillow Fight has a lot of manga influence. How did you end up with more than a surface level love for manga? I feel like most American comic fans only end up reading famous manga artists like Tezuka or Keiji Nakazawa but you seem more well versed.

I was lucky in that I was exposed to Japanese, European and american underground stuff really early on. My older brother, Keith is an artist and he would bring home all kinds of interesting work when we were kids. I think I had an interest in digging into that work because it seemed alien and fun, I wanted to understand it.

The window of manga I know is still pretty small. It's mostly the stuff from the 80's.

How did you transition from doing porn comics to stuff like King City or Prophet? Not that those porn comics weren't sci-fi, but I guess I'm wondering how it all came about?

I always qualify that porn comics were never a dream job for me. I had fun with it and I still like drawing naked people just because. but ideally I like doing science fiction comics. The transition from stuff like Pillow fight to King City was over a long time and several different companies.

These days doing porn comics is more part of how people know me but back then sex comics seemed to me to be something that wasn't discussed in more mainstream comics. Artists always talked about Manara or Young Witches or whatever but it seems to be more part of the overall conversation now.

For me it wasn't that anyone knew me as a porn guy who had to transition to being known another way as much as no one knew my work because I'd been doing porn comics.

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Did you catch lots of flack from doing the early porn comics you did?

There were a couple moments where I went into more mainstream publishers and the only recent work that I had to show them was porn.

I have a hard time taking any flack seriously, it's all just lines on paper.

So if that's some of where you came from what can fans expect from you in the future? What makes you the most psyched working in comics right now?

I have a lot of ideas on what I'd like to do. I've been thinking about how a lot of artists do short comics and then move onto longer work. I'd like to have a couple years where the stuff I draw is all shorter books -- Tintin sized 60 page one shots. But I also have Warheads to finish (Im about 1/2 way through the second trade)

I'll also be writing more in the future and it looks like I'll draw a couple issues of "Arclight" that Marian Churchland writes. I did a Wicked + Divine issue recently, and I find a new joy in having a solid script that I enjoy and just focusing on how I want to show it.

As far as what makes me most psyched. It changes all the time. I love the freedom I love that one day I can focus on overall plotting of what i'll be doing for a year and the next day can be all about lettering or learning about lighthouses for a page.
It's fun.

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So if you had to recommend some works that don't get any shine but are really good, what would they be?

I think Carla Speed McNeil's Finder is always worth pushing. It's a rare comic that I think reads like a great sci fi novel. The Mourning Star by Kazimir Strzepek is an amazing series from a few years back. It's a kind of after a apocalyptic event fantasy comic. EK Weaver's TJ and Amal is also amazing, it's a gay romance road trip comic. There's so much great work out there.

Thanks Brandon! Also I never realized you'd worked on the Jermaine episode of Adventure Time. Super Awesome. Keep making the good stuff.

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