Aside from Northlanders for Vertigo, and now Conan for Dark Horse, Brian Wood has made his career writing about the modern world—vast and intimate real world settings, with intricate details about the places, things and people that inhabit our world. Part of that has to do with the visuals that accompany his stories, which are firmly in the hands of the artists he chooses to work with.
There have been many names: Becky Cloonan, Riccardo Burchielli, Cliff Chiang, Brett Weldele, Steve Pugh, Toby Cypress, Rob G, Rebekah Isaacs, Davide Gianfelice, Dean Ormston, Ryan Kelly, Massimo Carnevale, and many more. For The Massive, Wood picked artist Kristian Donaldson, who he had worked with on Supermarket and several issues of DMZ.
Wood keeps coming back to the same artists. “It’s a collaborative thing,” he says. “And they’re my friends on top of that.”
For Wood, as he’s developing the narrative at its earliest stages, the visual is brewing almost simultaneously. “When I come up with a story I almost immediately think of who the artist is,” Wood says. “It’s hard not to.”
The trust factors inherit in that creative process ties directly to the friendships Wood has with his artistic partners. “I like working with friends,” he says with a smile. “I know it works. I know the relationship works. I trust them.”
Friendship plays an important part. “With comics you’re already off to the races,” elaborates Wood. “It’s like ready, set, go, go. You have to really produce immediately, so you don’t have the luxury of getting to know someone.”
For Woods’ fans that will inevitably follow the author over from DMZ to The Massive, Donaldson is just as much a friend. His four issues of the comic, spread out between 2006 and 2008, should still be familiar to readers. It brings a new meaning to the idea that The Massive is accessible to DMZ readers.
And while the two comics share some common themes, the scale of The Massive is far more grandiose. The challenge for Donaldson is to ground the visual. “My main responsibility is to do justice to the storytelling,” Donaldson says. “What I’m able to do with the scale of the environment really does set the stage for the feeling of the story itself.”
Completing construction on that stage is no easy task. From these early prequel chapters in Dark Horse Presents we can see the ambitious nature of the story. “With this project, the sea is essentially the stage,” Donaldson continues. “You have a lot of massive metal defying physics and logic. That’s just fun to draw.”
With a project like The Massive, we know that a writer like Wood starts by outlining, but where does the artistic collaborator begin. “You start with a lot of reference material,” Donaldson says. “If we’re going to be doing a lot of ships and oil rigs, I start looking at those.”
“It’s an active mode of discovery for me,” he continues. “Modern industrial design takes so many strange forms, but for me there has to be elements of not so modern design. Ships, for instance, they’ve been big metal hulks for over a century now, and for The Massive when I’m looking at reference I might find something antiquated to add some character.”
In that statement, we have the idea that while the ships of The Massive are sub-stages of the main stage, they take on their own characterization. For that to be achieved, a writer must trust their artistic partner to add weight and move them beyond set pieces. That trust factor begins with friendship. And in that we see the genius in the way Wood works.
Friendship. Trust. Industrial design. Large hunks of metal. The sea. Epic disaster. Apocalypse. The themes of The Massive are beginning to line up, and as far as the creative process and the execution, the collaboration between two artists can only lead to something grand. What’s still to be told is the how the creators, from their beginning points, meet on the page. Stay tuned.