Monday, January 31, 2011

Talking to Brandon Graham

Brandon Graham is what would happen if Hergé and Geof Darrow had a baby, he is the mastermind behind King City and Multiple Warheads, the characters in his comics feel real and the sets are amazingly full with infinite details, you'll probably notice something new everytime you read one of his works.

PS: If you really want to know about comics you should be reading his blog instead of this one.

CQ: What was your first published comic?

BG: I started getting stuff published when I was around 16, pin ups at first in Antarctic press books.
The first was in Joe Wight's Twilight X book that I'm still a huge fan of.

The first full length comic I got published when I was 19 was a 3 issue thing called October yen,
about a alien/robot spy investigating a planet in a pocket universe.
Antarctic press put it out (1996). It payed 100 bucks an issue.

CQ: About October Yen, how did it get published?

BG: I sent out a lot of photocopies, I think from when I was about 15 on.
I did a lot of different versions of it and had lots of false starts with friends publishing and other small press companies.

For the most part in the 90's Antarctic seemed at the time to be one of the only places interested in publishing new artists or non mainstream comics--or anything with a manga slant.

Derek Kirk Kim got started around the same time with them putting out his book Cell.

CQ: When did you start feeling like a comic pro? What was the project that made you think you were finally in the comic business?

BG: I've only started to feel like anybody knew my work this last couple years with King city.
And it's been weird because so much of my identity as an artist is about making comics separate from the industry.

Years ago , I think around 2001 I had a big Fuck all y'all moment with comics where every lead I had dried up and I couldn't even get my porn work published. I was just so fed up with trying to jump through hoops and getting nothing. After that I went back to making comics like I did when I was a kid, more for myself.

I like to think that I've held onto that mentality.

CQ: Most people get into comics because they like doing it, and like you said, as an artist you feel like you just want to make comics separate from the industry, nobody gets into comics for the money, but are you living by only working on comics?

BG: I'm making a living off of drawing and writing but it's always a scam. I couldn't just live off of doing my own comics. I take some side jobs.

This year I worked on some storyboards and did some coloring for mainstream comics, my lady got a grant--stuff like that.
For that matter I don't think I know anyone short of Brian O'Malley that lives just off of doing their own comics.

Like Sheldon was saying in the interview you did with him, so much of just getting by is having good friends. I've got a couple good comic book gangs.

My pal Justin "moritat" Norman is like a comic book godfather to a lot of my friends. He taught me a lot about how to pull the scam of living as an artist.
He taught me things like not showing your work to an editor when you're just hanging out at a bar. I once almost got a Batman gig with that trick until they saw my drawings.

And when I was in NYC the Meathaus guys were a huge help, Tomer Hanuka and Tom Herpich, Chris McD Farel Darymple and Becky Cloonan and the like have all taught me so much about how to do this and helped me get work.

CQ: What about finding new projects in comics, has it gotten easier, now that you've worked for such publishers as Image, Oni Press and Tokyo Pop?

BG: Yeah, Image and Oni seem open to pretty much let me do whatever I want. It's awesome but also kind of a tightrope to walk.
I can see how it'd be really easy to follow the money jobs ,turn it into a day job and forget why I do this.

I think the industry eats artists, you come in with your own plans and then you can make so much more just writing Aquaman or working as an inker or colorist than you can off of your own work.

CQ: You are working in comics as a freelancer, that can be a frustrating job, have you ever felt like, "enough of this whole business I'm gonna work at McDonalds", or something along those lines?

BG: I'm fine with being broke. I assume if I had kids I'd feel differently.
I'm really stubborn about doing comics, in the past whenever I've gotten a day job I just quit as soon as I could get more drawing work.
There's been some dry spells and I missed a lot of rent in my 20's.

CQ: Let's talk about King City, probably your biggest project yet, and with a few ups and downs along the way, tell me about the whole process.

BG: Yeah King city was the longest thing I've done by far.

Letseee-- I started it when I was living in NYC.

Just drawing it for myself while I was doing porn comics for NBM and the porn website, Slipshine.

My pal Becky Cloonan , who I knew through working at an afro centric animation company (that my friend Lesean got me a job at) and NY artists gang we're both part of called Meathaus.

She introduced me to Tokyopop. She was doing her book East coast rising with them.
I remember I sent them something like 160 pages of photocopies including the first 30 KC pages to show them I was serious.

I moved back to seattle to work on it and did the first book. I was originally going to be 3.
About 100 pages into book 2 (and after me moving again to Canada) a book store chain closed and TP decided to cancel printing most of their american made stuff.

So I contacted everyone I could think of to try to find an out. It was insanely frustrating time because after the first book I'd gotten my work the attention of some publishers who were into publishing it but the rights were all tied up with Tokyopop.

I decided to run what I had on my livejournal, I put up the first 2 chapters and got an angry phone call from TP.
Luckily at the same time my pal Joe Keatinge (who I knew through Moritat working at Image) who was working doing PR for Image had shown some of my stuff to Eric Stephenson the headmaster of Image.

So I was able to tell Tokyopop that Image wanted to talk about publishing the book without taking any of the rights.

So after an insane 8 months of talks it all worked out and I was able to get it out as issues.
It was a fucking christmas miracle only made possible by me having friends that believed in my work and Image being such a fucking cool company.

CQ: Your LiveJournal is probably one of the best blogs out there, every post has huge amounts of information, you seem to take it very seriously, how much time do you spend on each post?

BG: Thanks. I usually do them slowly over the course of a day while I work on other stuff.

At first it was just fucking around but it's become really important for me to stay excited about what I do.
I like to say that my job isn't drawing comics as much as it's staying excited about drawing comics.

Also it's great that I can use it to hopefully get more attention to artists whose work I'm really excited about.
There's such a weath of amazing stuff out there.

CQ: What are you working on, now that you finished King City?

BG: I've been doing a thing called Multiple warheads with Oni press, I had a one shot of it out a couple years ago.

It's this fantasy russia/china about this lady named Sexica and her Werewolf boyfriend traveling around the country in their genius car
and getting caught up in a magical organ black market.

I'm 80something pages into the new stuff. And it's in color too.
I don't have an issue limit on it like I did with King city so the options on what I can do with it are really exciting.

CQ: Multiple Warheads is something that would fit really well in the French Comic Industry, and I know King City was released in french.
Do you ever considered a future in the French Industry?

BG: I've thought about it. French comics seem like some bizarre grown up scene.
Classy shit, I'm so used to our beer hat industry.
I'd love to do some books directly for the French. Something more serious maybe, with less puns.

There's some fun in imagining a possible audience and doing different work aimed at them.
When I was drawing porn I did this book called Perverts of the Unknown.
I was frustrated with it not coming out how I wanted it to until I decided that I needed to make a book that would ideally be read in the bathroom of an Auto mechanic.

I even tried to get the publisher to print it on crappier paper and smaller to fit my plans.
In that sense I would love to aim for what I think would work over there.

CQ: Porn is a subject that is sprinkled trough your works, and Multiple Warheads started as porn, now that you're working for "regular" publishers, do you feel like it's something you have to keep in check?

BG: I reigned it in a little in King city, with Multiple warheads I've been trying to get to a level of sex in the book that feels more real.

The french dude, Moebius wrote about how when artists are allowed total freedom, (like with 60's underground comics in America or what he was doing with Metal Hurlant in the 70's.)
the tendency is to just go for all the stuff you weren't allowed to draw before--sex and drugs and whatnot. But he was saying that's only the start and as artists we can do much more than that.

I always have to remind myself that I can draw whatever I want.
I think that's huge if you think about it. Whatever combination of words and pictures you can think of are at your disposal.
But yeah, that alows for lots of sexy drawings too.

CQ: Any advice for people who want to get into comics, and are trying to go pro?

BG: Mostly I think it's about meeting other like minded artists. The internet is great help to get work out there.
It doesn't have to be elaborate, I still only use Deviantart and Livejournal.

I think more important than that is doing good comics.
There's enough garbage comics out. Editors aren't going to stop you from putting out bad books, That's your responsibility.
Seriously, treat this art form with the respect it deserves, leave it better than you found it.

Also I think It's important to get cocky. Really own your shit and at the same time always remember that it's all bullshit. Treat your readers like you hope they treat you. Make this a culture that you're proud of.

You can follow Brandon Graham here:


  1. This is the kind of comics blog I've been waiting for. Less "tips & tricks" and more actual advice on how to become a better and more successful artist.

    And with two of my favourite cartoonists interviewed already, you're off to a really strong start! I've got high hopes for this blog, and I think it's gonna do really well.

  2. great interview! Very encouraging...time to really own up to my art and get it out there with gusto!

  3. great stuff. Love Brandon Graham's blog and all interviews I've read of his. keep it up!