Interview: Brian Wood – Part 1: Looking Back At DMZ & Northlanders

Brian Wood - photo by by Seth KushnerOne of the more prolific writers at Vertigo/DC Comics over the past few years has been Brian Wood. With two ongoing series that have yielded numerous volumes of stories, along with several smaller projects along the way, Brian Wood has definitely built up a respectable library.  When news broke this summer that both of Wood’s ongoing series, DMZ and Northlanders were coming to an end (one naturally and one by way of cancellation), it was clear that Wood’s time at Vertigo may be coming to an end.

We caught up with Brian Wood to chat about DMZ and Northlanders, as well as what’s coming next, both at Vertigo and beyond.  Today we’ve got the first part of our conversation where Wood looks back on his work with DMZ and Northlanders. Come back tomorrow to hear what else Wood has coming and what his plans for the future are.

iFanboy: You’re at an interesting point, with DMZ and Northlanders both coming to an end.  As you look back at these two titles (as well as your time at Vertigo, along with Demo V2, The New York Four and Five etc.), are you pleased with your work at Vertigo?

Brian Wood: I was just talking to my editor, and thinking about where my life was when I first started working on DMZ, nearly 7 years ago:  I was living in San Francisco, I was in the first year of my dating my future wife, no marriage, no kids… a lot’s changed and DMZ‘s been a constant throughout all that.  And also Northlanders, although a couple years less so.  And yeah, I am pleased.  DMZ was my first attempt at an ongoing book, so when I do look at it I see a lot of problems early on, but any writer, or creative person, feels that way, so whatever.  I’m hugely proud of Northlanders, and proud that I did all that at Vertigo.  Vertigo, for my entire comics career, been my dream destination.

DMZ #70iF: DMZ was launched and ran during a turbulent time in our society both politically and socially and as DMZ‘s been published, that world has been through lots of change.  How much of the outside world happenings affected your run on DMZ after it got started?

BW: A lot of it, but in much less subtle ways than you might imagine.  There’s only been a couple instances where I’ve “ripped stories from the headlines”, and instead its been more of a mood thing for me.  The outside world affects me, and it filters down into the scripts in a very general way.  I think I was hoping to avoid dating the work too much by linking it to any specific thing, since no matter how urgent it might seem in that moment, the world – and the news – moves pretty quick and I didn’t want anything I wrote to feel dated or hokey. I think it shows a little more respect to the reader as well to not draw such an obvious line between influence and story, like they can’t figure it out for themselves if you tweak it a little.

iF: The latest DMZ issue began to show signs of hope for the world of Manhattan, not to spoil the ending, but are we looking towards a happy ending for Matty Roth, NYC and the world at the end of DMZ, and are you at the ending you always planned for?

BW: Everything with DMZ was always the way I planned it, as much as I did plan way back when.  I guess a better way to word that would be to say that I always got my way, I always got to do whatever I wanted with the book.  As far as the ending, I’m not giving anything away, but if you wanted clues, just look at the covers for the final few issues once they start hitting Previews.  That’s all I’m saying. I do think that the final issue, #72, which is more of an epilogue than a final crashing ending, will be a pleasant surprise for longtime readers.  #71, though….

DMZ #71iF: DMZ has been cited as the influence for a lot of creators, in and outside of comics – how does it feel to have positively impacted those who read the book?

BW: Good, of course.  I’m much more relaxed about it these days, but early on when I wasn’t sure the book was going to last, what with so many of its contemporaries being cancelled right and left, I tended to view anything even remotely similar as a threat.  That’s a pretty immature stance to take and I’d like to think I’m past that now, but it can be a difficult emotion to master.  I think there is a certain segment of fandom that enjoys pegging things as “rip-offs” so I’d rather just avoid that whole scene if I can help it.

If there is one thing that bothers me is seeing DMZ picked apart by videogame developers, as I think I’ve tweeted about in the recent past.  There was a period of time, maybe 2-3 years ago, when I was courted really heavily by a few game developers.  I took a lot of meetings and after awhile, when no job offers surfaced, it started to seem like they were just picking my brain, maybe.  One recent game that is “very DMZ” came from a dev company that took me to lunch and only wanted to talk about how I created the world of DMZ, the dynamics of a civil war.  Rather obvious in hindsight.  It’s flattering to feel like I inspired anyone, but at the very least I wish they were a little more honest in how they dealt with me personally. Plus, obviously, I’d love to see an actual, official, DMZ game!

iF: Do you have plans to work with your long time collaborator on DMZ, artist Riccardo Burchielli?

BW: No plans, but its bound to happen eventually.  Maybe we need some time off!  He’s got a project cooking for the French market, I believe.

iF: News that Northlanders was coming to end seemed to come as a surprise, even though the last arc is 9 issues long, did you have to adjust your plans around the cancellation?

BW: There something about that not a lot of people know, and its that the news of the cancellation broke about a month ago, but I got the news, I dunno, a great many months ago.  Late last year, maybe.  First they were only going to give me to #45, but that was extended to #50.  When it was #45, yeah, that really screwed up my plans and this current “Icelandic Trilogy” arc I had been planning was not going to happen at all.  But now it can and everything is proceeding as it would have anyway. That was always a benefit of the Northlanders format, is that there was no end to it all in the sense that DMZ has an end.

Northlanders Vol. 5 MetaliF: Going 50+ issues with a “Viking Crime Book” is a huge accomplishment, especially in this comics marketplace – what do you attribute the success of Northlanders to?

BW: Christ, that’s a really good question and all I can think about is the fact it succeeded despite everything it had against it.  And I consider this series a total success, in pretty much every way.  It’s true that trade sales were dropping off after the first volume, but not THAT much.  If this were a book at Image or Oni, we’d be dancing in the streets with trade sales like that.  I loved working with all those amazing artists, and with Dave McCaig, and I think the majority of the writing in that series is the best writing I’ve done.  Most people would consider DMZ to be my signature work, and I get why, but for me I feel most connected to Northlanders.

But I think we made it all work with the roster of talent, year after year, and also just by being different.  That was my #1 goal from the start – I looked at every other instance of Vikings in comics and made a point to not do anything like that.  Different also means that it made it hard for retailers to get a handle on it, and in the end hard to be a big commercial hit, but it was a strong critical success.

iF: What has been your favorite moment from both DMZ and Northlanders?

BW: DMZ, its impossible to say.  Well, actually, I think my favorite moment was not an in-story moment, but was travelling to the Lucca Comics Fest in Italy as a guest of the show, where I saw art from DMZ exhibited in a massive city gallery, hung out with Riccardo and Davide Gianfelice, and Massimo Carnevale, and Doubleshot, who publish Demo over here (Demo won “best short story” while I was there), ate the best food of my life, was interviewed for national TV, for the Japanese press, and so on and so on.  I’ll be blunt and say I felt like a fucking star and at the same time so humbled by it all.  It was hands down one of the very best times of my life.  It was easy for me to get bummed out looking at dwindling Diamond orders for the DMZ monthly book and not even realize on what other levels the book was on, halfway across the world.

With Northlanders, I got so much joy and satisfaction out of just writing the stories, that’s it.  It’s a very personal book in a lot of ways.  High points for me in terms of my own work are The Plague Widow, Metal, all of Book 3, and those two one-shots with Matthew Woodson and Marian Churchland.  Definitely writing something for Marian was a huge deal for me.


Come back tomorrow to read part 2 of our interview with Brian Wood, where we discuss his other upcoming work at DC/Vertigo as well as The Massive from Dark Horse Comics and more.



  1. I’ve loved the Talksplodes you guys have had with Brian Wood. Can’t wait to see where he goes post-Vertigo.

  2. Everything Brian has done seems to have been both original and tremendously influential. I love DMZ, Local, Demo, NY5, Northlanders etc and hope he finds the home he deserves for future work.

  3. Northlanders has been one of the books that never let me down, ever. It’s gonna suck to see it end, and I hope Brian gets another ongoing soon.

  4. Late to the scene, I picked up DMZ at the behest of iFanboy and man, was I floored. That book blew my mind away and I’ve been devouring as much DMZ as I could. Then I went to Big Apple Con and to my surprise found that BW had a table there. I got to chat with the guy and he showed me the Northlanders trade and also Demo. I was immediately convinced to get Northlanders and but I admit I was skeptical about Demo.

    Then I read Demo and that magic combination of BW’s writing and Becky Cloonan’s art just left me speechless after reading it. It was one of the few trades I’ve had to read over a few days because each story was just so…deep. So overwhelming in the characterizations and the environment. I had to take days to digest each story mentally.

    Brian Wood’s influence and ability are amazing and I too can’t wait to see him post-Vertigo.