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The idea for "DMZ" has been percolating in Wood's imagination for quite awhile. "I've been a resident of NYC for a long time, around 13 years, not counting my 18-month time away on the west coast," Wood told CBR News. "Spending every day for 13 years in the city would give anyone a lifetime of story ideas and 'DMZ' is exactly that: city stories, but amplified. Setting them in a war zone just amps up the intensity, the stakes, the emotion, the action."
The opening of "DMZ" drops the readers right into the thick of the war torn concrete canyons of New York City. "The war's been going on for years, and in fact it's reached a stalemate," Wood explained. "People are starting to lose interest, and its not front page news so much anymore. But what you do learn about it in the first issue, in broad strokes, is that Middle America, literally, has risen up out of frustration, anger, and poverty to challenge the government's position of preemptive war and police action throughout the world. It's left America neglected and unattended, and also unprotected, at least from a major threat within its own borders. Then isolationist and religious militias get involved and arm the people, and then it's suddenly the Second American Civil War. They push to the coasts where they're stopped, creating a no-man's-land in Manhattan, with the 'Free Armies' in Jersey facing off against the US Army in Brooklyn.
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The United States of America might not exist as a whole in "DMZ," but the US Government still holds sway over many areas. "We can assume that Manhattan is not the only hot spot in the country, that similar sorts of lines have been drawn on the West Coast as well, although they don't play into the story, at least not initially," Wood said. "Matty [Roth], the main character, comes from Long Island, which is still very much The United States of America, but is under a media and security umbrella like nothing anyone's seem before, and its made him a very sheltered young person."
Growing up in sheltered Long Island means Matty is in for a very rude awakening when he enters the real world. "He's a college grad from Southampton, Long Island, a white kid who applies for an internship at the TV network his dad chairs the board at," Wood stated. "He's not political, or even socially conscious. He's a passive blank slate, a victim of mainstream culture saturation, and that's what makes him such a great personality for this story. He's experiencing an entire new world for the first time, one that's raging right next door to him, and we're along for the ride."
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"But they don't get a half-mile into the city before the cease-fire breaks and the helicopters go down and suddenly Matty finds himself abandoned and alone in the city in the middle of an insurgent attack," Wood continued. "He hunkers down for the night, contacts his bosses in the morning, and arranges to be picked up and brought home. Without giving the ending away, its safe to say that events conspire to keep him in the city. He actually has a really unique opportunity. He's there in the DMZ, where so few reporters ever manage to go, with all this broadcast equipment and an expense account. He could stay and file stories and the network would probably run them. Exclusive material. But will he stay? He lacks the training and experience of a real journalist. How does that factor in?"
Once he's inside the DMZ, Matty discovers the brutal, frightening and violent realities of life in war torn Manhattan. "Think equal parts 'Escape From New York', Falluja, and New Orleans right after Katrina," Wood explained. "Manhattan is a city largely abandoned and the people that have stayed are the very poor who had no hope of fleeing on their own or being part of anyone's evacuation plan. A lot of snipers and insurgents have moved in and there are AWOL military who are hiding out. Add to that a whole mess of kooks and crazies and holdouts."
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Joining Wood in chronicling Matty's experiences in the devastated Big Apple is artist Riccardo Burchielli. "Riccardo is an artist my editor, Will Dennis, hooked me up with," Wood said. "He's got this crazy detailed way of telling a story, his action is really powerful and I don't think I have ever worked with someone who has such an enthusiasm and drive to make comics (ok, except Becky Cloonan)."
"DMZ" is Burchielli's first American comic book. His work caught Will Dennis's eye when the editor was visiting a comic fair in Naples, Italy. The two began corresponding and Dennis asked Burchielli to submit some work for "DMZ." Burchielli, whose first language is not English, told CBR News, "[Will Dennis] contacted me at the beginning of this year and told me that it was possible to draw some trials for a new series approved at Vertigo and written by Brian Wood (who had meanwhile seen my works and was struck by the boards of 'Chourmo,' an old story of mine where I dealt with the graphic style of a military action theme).
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Collaborating with Wood has been an enjoyable and rewarding experience for Burchielli. "The way he writes is very clear and simple and I rarely have trouble when dealing with the boards," Burchielli said. "And he's really quiet as well: he lets me set the board and choose shots and sequences with a lot freedom. We mainly debate about New York. I've never been in the States, least of all in New York, and this sometimes gives me some trouble when realizing the city and some processes of life in it. Anyway, he provides to me a lot of photographic reference and gives me advice about all aspects of New York life."
"DMZ" may be Burchielli's first American work, but he has not changed his style for his new audience. "I go on drawing like I've always done because this is the only way of drawing I know and I'm able to perform," said Birchielli. "I really like simplicity in the stroke and a graphic synthesis that sometimes takes its inspiration from the 'clear line' of the French comics and from some South American authors. I've always loved Juan Gimenez and Moebius. Of course, I'm a lot more nervous and excited (and thus more careful when working), both because I have to face a public I don't know that's much larger than the Italian one, and because I find myself working in the big world of American comics, which I was always amazed at as a reader."
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The level of detail required for the military aspects of the book is really the only difficult part of "DMZ" for Burchielli. "The most difficult aspect, still speaking from the graphic point of view, is a kind of thoroughness I have to keep when reproducing all things belonging to the military world," he explained. "This is just because they need more time to be realized and be credible."
Burchielli particularly wants to bring to life the interesting cast of characters with his art on "DMZ." "I'd like to be able to reproduce with my art the true moral and emotional depth of the characters (all of them) appearing in the story," Burchielli said. "I've been trying my best up to now, even if it's not enough. Brian's work on the scripts is really great and I want mine on the boards to be up to it.
Brian Wood has enough ideas to keep Burchielli busy and keep "DMZ" running for many years. "Its designed as an ongoing, hopefully for years and years, and I have no concrete ending planned, just a rough outline of where I see the series in six months, a year, three years, etc," Wood explained. "I have no shortage of ideas, and no doubt the subject matter will remain relevant for some time to come, so I hope to be able to tell all of them."