A Trip To The "Supermarket" With Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson

Wed, December 28th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

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Many cities have nicknames that are somewhat puzzling at first glance. New York is the Big Apple, yet I've never seen a Red Delicious stamped "Grown in NY." I live in Seattle, which has apples, but for some reason it was deigned the Emerald City (yeah, and Toto's a slug). Considering all this, how would you feel about a town called the Supermarket?

Writer Brian Wood ("Demo," "Local," "DMZ") and artist Kristian Donaldson ("Forsaken") give us their answer to this in a new four-issue IDW miniseries titled, appropriately enough, "Supermarket." Before the first issue arrives in stores this February, CBR News decided to check in with Wood and Donaldson about this project and ask them the question readers are dying to know: paper or plastic?

(Sorry - I'll limit myself to one gratuitous supermarket joke.)

Wood started us off by clarifying the meaning of the book's title. "'Supermarket' doesn't refer to a literal supermarket, but is slang for the city in the story; a city simultaneously profiting off of and being ravaged from the grip of an excessively unregulated commercial system - a black market, on a massive scale. The Supermarket, much like The Big Apple or The Smoke."

With this description of the setting in mind, the writer went on to tell us about the story he's laid out for readers. "'Supermarket' is about a wise-ass girl named Pella Suzuki and her run-in with organized crime in the big city. Pella's a suburban teenager, very self-aware about most things, but has no idea that her parents are in witness protection, or that, upon their death, she becomes heir to a massive fortune and a place of honor in the criminal underworld.

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"The logical next statement is, of course, that the criminal underworld probably doesn't want some weird, smart-aleck kid inheriting such money and control. Cue chase scenes and copious bullet casings, etc.

"The book's tone is very tongue-in-cheek, very self-aware," continued Wood. "I stop just short of calling it an outright comedy, though. It's very much in the same vein as my 'The Couriers' books: lots of style, lots of action, wisecracks, larger than life characters and grand settings. A summer action flick, basically, with a healthy dose of sarcasm and light-hearted social commentary. A fun book.

"You could call it a mafia book, a sci-fi joint, cyberpunk, crime, action-adventure. It's all those things. I'm intentionally muddling a lot of stock genres. I'm also doing something I've never had the nerve to do before in a comic: internal narration spoken out loud, which I think really amps up some of the more absurd parts of the story."

In addition to creating fascinating settings, one of Wood's strengths is his ability to create believable, multi-faceted characters. When asked who we can look forward to meeting in this book, he responded, "Well, we have Pella, who is pretty much the main character, although Kristian and I are paying special attention to the city itself, almost treating it as a character. Kristian's doing some amazing work with the architecture, signage, public transport, and urban filth and decay. This city breathes.

"Secondary characters include Pella's parents, the Yakuza crime family, the Porno Swede crime family (yes, it's true), and some gutter rats and other ne'er-do-wells that Pella encounters along the way."

While Wood seems excited about every aspect of this project, he sounds particularly pleased with the art. Listening to him talk about Kristian Donaldson - especially how he came to the project - should be seen as an encouraging sign for all struggling artists.

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Wood explained, "Kristian used to do 'fan art' (I hate that term) from some of my early books like 'Couscous Express' and post them on the old WEF (Warren Ellis Forum), and then he asked for some of my 'Fight For Tomorrow' scripts to practice drawing fight scenes. I guess he always kept me aware of him, and I would check his website from time to time, seeing his progression as he went through art school. He came out with that Image book 'Forsaken,' which I thought was great. I forget who asked who, but the decision was made to do a project together, and thus came 'Supermarket.'"

Donaldson's work on "Forsaken" had a very distinct look, but the artist says he's trying something new on this project. "My work on 'Supermarket' shows a definite departure from my past work," said Donaldson. "I'm having a lot more fun with this one, and I feel like it shows. There's more expression, and the strict angular look of my older work has been replaced by a brushier, more textured, kind of line art. It's more over the top, often prettier, and more fun to look at.

"Brian understands perfectly the relationship between environment and characters, and the play that each has on the other. That drew me to Brian's work in the first place, and it's foremost on my mind when I work on 'Supermarket.'

"One of Brian's gifts is to create worlds that are dense and hyper-real, but easy to step into and occupy. When I draw a setting, I'm, in effect, spending time there. So having this interesting world, and an understanding of it and its effect on the players, makes it easy to immerse myself in it, from conception to coloring. And part of the fun with a story like this is being able to push scale, color, and whatever else as far as you want, in the service of making this world as dense and textured as you can."

If you visit Brian Wood's website, you will notice that he is an artist as well as a writer, and has done the art on a couple of the books he's written. This makes one wonder how he feels about other artists interpreting his words. Would he be overly analytical of their work? Or would it make him feel insecure about his own art?

"Not at all, on both counts," Wood replied. "I like to think I treat the artists I partner with well. I give them a lot of leeway in the scripts, usually let them design the characters, and rarely ask them to change things. I stay out of their hair, and they stay out of mine, and the books come out good. Everyone seems pretty happy with that arrangement. It really helps build a true co-creator type of situation, as opposed to a boss-employee sort of thing."

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On the subject of "leeway in the scripts," I would have to agree that Wood seems to grant the artist a good amount of freedom. He sent CBR News the script to the book's first issue, and the format he utilizes was notably different than other comic scripts I've seen. Wood writes in a cross between the "Marvel method" and the full script format: he writes the dialogue and action for each page of the book, but he doesn't list panel-by-panel breakdowns. Since this puts much of the book's pacing directly into the artist's hands, it could be considered intimidating for some. Fortunately, Donaldson feels the complete opposite about this method.

"It's incredibly liberating. Incredibly, greatly liberating," said Donaldson. "I certainly don't miss fighting against the bending of space and time some writers do while trying to over-direct the crap out of a panel that's 1/7 of a page. I love it, because it strips it down to a stage with actors hitting beats - elements that I can direct. It feels more like I'm a director working from the work of a screenwriter, as opposed to feeling like the crew working under orders of the director. It's much more fun, and much more satisfying."

As for the process the two use when working together, Donaldson indicated they kept it simple. "We seem to be pretty good at achieving an end result that makes us both happy, with next to no back-and-forth. I drop art on him when it's done, and then do some more."

Wood is mainly known as a writer of independent books ("Channel Zero," "The Couriers," "Demo"), but he has dabbled with "mainstream" (i.e. company-owned) books such as "Generation X" and "Vampirella/Witchblade." When talking about those two experiences, however, the writer didn't make it sound as though we'll see many more of these in the near future.

"I consider 'Generation X' and 'Vampirella' to be my crazy flukes. My first book was 'Channel Zero,' about as indie as it gets. I never really had a time in my life when I made a conscious choice to go indie or go work-for-hire. I've always automatically done the creator-owned thing. But yeah, I did those two company books, and I'm sure they'll come a time in the future when I'll do moreā€¦but I just got too many of my own ideas, ya know? Life's short."

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Books by Wood have been published by many companies, including AiT/Planet Lar, Oni Press and DC Comics. "Supermarket" is being solicited by IDW Publishing. CBR News asked the writer how he decides on a publisher, and in this case, how he decided on IDW?

"I get asked this sort of question a lot, and I always feel my answer sounds boring, but: IDW was there, and willing," he responded. "That's pretty much it. I wanted to expand my readership and was looking at trying some other publishers. I asked them, they said yes. Sometimes it's just as simple as that."

Those other publishers have no reason to feel jealous though. They have plenty of Brian Wood goodness to share with their readers.

"Well, 'Local' and 'DMZ' have already started coming out," Wood said. "'Local' is a natural successor to the 'Demo' series Becky Cloonan and I did in 2004 - single-issue stand-alone stories set in real life cities and towns across North America. The comic equivalent of dramatic indie cinema. Brian K. Vaughan called 'Local,' 'some of the sharpest slices of life the medium has ever seen.' Oni Press publishes, Ryan Kelly illustrates.

"'DMZ' is the new Vertigo monthly series I'm doing with Italian artist Riccardo Burchielli, about a war-torn Manhattan and a rookie photojournalist who makes it his home. Very topical series, echoing some of the conflicts the world's seen in the last couple decades.

"There's a third, a Top Shelf project, but I shouldn't spill all the beans yet. The 'Demo Collection' shipped at the end of November, a 328-page monster containing all twelve of the 'Demo' stories. Also working on finding a home for 'The Tourist,' the graphic novel I did early in the year with artist Toby Cypress."

And for fans of Donaldson's work, the artist indicated that you'll hopefully see more of him soon enough too. "There are some bright prospects with a few publishers, as well as some enthusiastic back-and-forth with writer friends. I'm also developing two particular stories of my own that I'd like to get pitch-perfect and find homes for. But 'Supermarket' has my full attention, and until that baby is put to bed, I'm not too worried about anything else."

 
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