Brandon Graham Talks King City and Euro-art

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Brandon Graham draws comic books and is having great fun. A creator whose views on life and comics are as exciting and open-minded as his comic books. Constantly in flux between Japanese, European and American comics, his linework and attitudes form an eclectic mix of bad boy fun and serious minded devotion to his art. His latest comics feature King City was dropped by Tokyopop after the first book but then got picked up again by Image Comics. We talk to this energetic creator about his love for life and comic books.

BROKEN FRONTIER: First of all, congratulations on finding a new home for King City! I am very happy that you get a chance to continue this tale. Did you have a lot of trouble finding a new publisher for King City?

BRANDON GRAHAM: Thanks, I'm pretty thrilled. Image getting involved happened quickly. I'm friends with Joe Keatinge, the Marketing dude at Image and was just asking him for advice when he got me in contact with Eric Stephenson, the sheriff of Imagetown. From there I think it was about 9 months of conference calls. I drew a lot of pages with the book in limbo.

BF: The new format will be quite different now though, going from manga-styled paperbacks to the American style serial comics format. Do you yourself have a preference between these two and why?

BG: I like bigger comics as a reader, maybe it's because of the books I grew up reading--even the Manga I got as a kid were the larger telephone book sized issues. Also I draw my stuff 11 by 17'  so it was getting reduced down by almost a quarter for the manga sized books. This way seems better to see all the little details.

BF: One major theme of your two ongoing comics seems to be freedom. There's often a struggle between the protagonists and certain aspects of freedom whether this pertains to a relationship or a freedom from the conventions of society. For iinstance in Multiple Warheads, Sexica is basically an exotic wares peddler (rebelling against society?) in a happy relationship while Joe from King City comes from a broken relationship, feeling he got strangled, and is a merchant for hire in a sensation overload society. Is this theme something you struggle with yourself? This freedom of expression in a conventional society?

BG: That's probably a good analysis of some of my deepest motivations all the way from childhood. I am a fan of freedom. I'm not sure how much of that comes from me just being difficult.
I do think that there is a struggle to do any kind of artistic expression, especially when you're trying to live off of it. But also, I just enjoy seeing what I can get away with. When I used to do commercial animation I would stay at work late just to hide dirty drawings. I once added an extra layer to a flash animation file showing britney spears having sex with a coke machine mixed into the animation of a pepsi add. It wasn't even visible in the final thing. Knowing it was there was enough.

I love the feeling of putting something on paper and laughing about if someone will find it or just thinking "i can not believe this is going to print." Even something as childish as cartoon poop or genitals --the though of it being printed over and over and shipping out to stores is amusing to me.

BF: Haha, that's a very personal approach to my question!

Now, your stories always center around emotional happenings and relationships. The characters act out their lives and feelings and stuff just seems to happens to them. It feels very organic, much like life itself. Is this your view on life? This mellowed out feeling of highs and lows?

BG: I like big sweeping science fiction epics but I can't relate to them on a personal level. So some what I aim for is to do something that combines the junk stuff I like to read for fun and my take on how life feels. It's like I'm trying to do autobiographical comics but I like drawing monsters and ninjas too much.

BF: Are you a social person? Do you feel that relationships lay at the base of our connection with the world and is this something you try to convey in your comics?

BG: I think I'm pretty social, so much of the stuff in my comics is based off of interactions with friends of mine.

Recently I was thinking about how much when I was a teenager my interest to break into comics was based around the idea of wanting into this world with the artists I looked up to. It felt like a party I wanted to get invited to. At that point comics seemed like a social thing to me. But the reality of meeting my comic book heroes as an adult has never quite been what I hoped. At some point it became about my relationship with myself and the friends I'd made. Like having to throw my own party.

BF: In King City and Multiple Warheads, there's a backdrop of a high degree of technology that always seems just out of reach of the current era. A lot of gadgets and thought through practical applications of sci-fi that seem to make life a bit easier (and weirder). Are you a gadget freak? Are you a futurist that's still thinking that he should have a flying car by now?

BG: I did once have an oscillator that I found on the street. It was just a metal box with some knobs that controlled the electric waves on it's screens. I pretty much just used it as furniture, but I was into that device.

I don't really have much interest in owning useful gadgets, most of what I own is paper and I've never learned to drive but I am fascinated at things from a distance. I really enjoy inventing fake things. When I was a teenager I tried to educate myself on how things worked I could grasp a combustion engine but something like a radio might as well be magic to me.

BF: On your Royalboiler blog, you often post stuff from European and Japanese comics. I'm curious as to how you got into those scenes because it is often obscure stuff for an American audience like for instance The Forever War and Barbapapa.

BG: I was lucky to grow up with an older brother that was into digging up cool stuff. He was really into obscure music and art in the '80s, lots of French, Japanese and American underground stuff. I think I have this idea of something good having to really be searched for.

Plus it goes back into being interested in stuff. If you are going to be into something it makes sense to me that you'd want to dig and find the best or at least get a clear understanding of what's out there. I'm interested in what the most innovative comics in the world are. It seems like that's not going to be the stuff that's easy to find, probably not the most sellable.

BF: What do you think is the main thing that is lacking in mainstream American comics storytelling?

BG: I think they could stand to be more fun. It seems like not enough people are really playing around with the medium or just enjoying it.

BF: And the reversed question for European storytelling, what do you think are good qualities there? Which are the elements you try to connect to in your own work?

BG: My favorite european books feel like the artists are trying to make work to be proud of. There's a class to it that I admire.

Like how Milo Manara has the ability to make sex comics that would go well with wine and classical music--or Enki Bilal or Moebius treating science fiction like literature.

BF: What is your background as an artist, are you self-taught or did you attend art school?

BG: I dropped out of school when I was 16 to try to do comics full time. i ended up learning the most about art from friends of mine that had gone to art and design schools.

BF: How did you come to your own version of the animated / ligne claire style that you use today? Where did that come from?

BG: When I'm drawing I tend to think about what I would like to see if I was viewing the work as a reader, so it's me trying to emulate what comic books or graffiti or advertizing really knocked my socks off. It kind of feels like a response to others work in that way.

BF: There's a magnificent balance in your drawings that still manages to be detailed yet airy at the same time as you can see in a lot of spreads in King City. Do you ever find yourself overdoing it? Is that balance difficult to maintain?

BG: Thanks, it's defiantly much harder for me to make something clean and work by itself. It surprising to me how much detail you can throw in a picture and still have it readable. Sometimes just walking down the street I'm amazed at how much detail is in everything and how even at it's most complex drawing is such a shorthand for that. It seems like for the detail to hold any weight you need some empty spaces. Like a hungry man enjoying food more.

BF: And finally, what has life in comics taught you?

BG: I've been happiest with what I'm drawing when I can just compartmentalize it and focus on what I'm doing at the time. I try not to worry about page 60 when I'm on page one. Just go slow and have fun. I think that works in more than drawing.

BF: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us, Brandon and we wish you the best of luck with King City and your future comics making!

King City is published by Image Comics and Multiple Warheads is published by Oni Press. Check them out if you like fun and innovative comics. And don't forget to check Brandon Graham's castle at his Royalboiler blog.

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  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jul 5, 2009 at 9:30am

    Okay. Another title to check out on "The Bart List"...

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