Interview: Brian Wood Brings ‘Star Wars’ And A Sensitive Conan To Dark Horse

Writer Brian Wood keeps busy. The “Demo” creator has “The Massive” and “Mara” scratching his creator-owned itch at Dark Horse and Image respectively, while he’s dipping his toe into superhero comics with a stint on “Uncanny X-Men” (something it seems like he’s still trying to wrap his mind around), plus he’s got a “Conan the Barbarian” miniseries with his “Demo” collaborator Becky Cloonan and bringing the original trilogy “Star Wars” to life in a new series.

I got a couple of minutes with Wood during Emerald City Comic-Con to talk about why he’s not bothered by the expanded universe, the love of Conan’s life, and sex, athletics, and superheroes.

MTV Geek: How did you get involved in the “Star Wars” at Dark Horse?

Brian Wood: I literally just got an email from the editor there. They had an idea for it, in a sense, that there was going to be continuity-friendly or a new reader friendly book. He said, “What do you want to do?” It was a really easy process because I just pitched to them because that original film is what I know best—all the original characters—so that’s the “Star Wars” book I would write. One of the easiest things I’ve gotten approved in my career.

Geek: Can you elaborate more on that: “new reader friendly”?

Wood: On a couple of levels, the expanded universe is quite vast and there have been so many novels, comics, games, and television shows that kind of feed into it, and in that sense, [that’s not] “new reader friendly.” You only have to know that original film, or who the characters are. You don’t have to know anything else, and it’s also new reader friendly in the sense that I am trying to acknowledge the fact that the story takes place in the larger “Star Wars” universe, but to the bare minimum possible. The phrase we always use is “We’re ignoring continuity as much as possible as long as we don’t break it.” So we’re pretending all that stuff doesn’t exist as long as we don’t contradict anything. Longtime “Star Wars” fans love it because it’s the original stuff but then someone who has never read a “Star Wars” comic, they can jump right into it.

Geek: Do you think any of your work has been inspired by “Star Wars”?

Wood: I don’t think so. I’ve always been a “Star Wars” fan in a casual sense, I watched all the films. Then I read a couple of books, and I wasn’t aware to the extent I was knowledgeable about “Star Wars” until I started writing it.

I mean, large portions of my adult life have gone by without me thinking about “Star Wars” like the hardcore fans. Maybe In a very general sense, I feel like a lot of people my age saw those original films as kids were inspired to draw “Star Wars” stuff and maybe that’s where my creative streak started in my life? I’m just guessing.

Geek: You’ve probably had to field this question a couple of times, but what are your thoughts on the upcoming movies?

Wood: We just did a panel and everyone asked that. All the writers and artists agreed and said, “we didn’t really care about it.” But the question was more of what we want to see in the upcoming films. We are all just waiting.

I am happy there is going to be more films, but I just want to enjoy it as a fan, I want my writing “Star Wars” separate from my enjoying “Star Wars.” So everything they do, I’m down for, I’ll know which list of storylines I want to see or characters I want to see.

Geek: Tell me about your “Conan” book. How did that come about?

Wood: Same way, I was just kind of approached. I’ve been talking to them for years, all this time I was working at DC and I never had time, but I’d often as about certain projects and this Conan email appeared out of the blue at the time I was going to leaving DC anyway. So Conan wouldn’t have been the thing I would’ve pitched I don’t think.

Geek: What would you have pitched?

Wood: Well I would have pitched an original thing. For this “Conan” thing, they definitely wanted my writing style, and wanted a Conan who wasn’t muscle bound, testosterone-driven, 1970s Conan. They wanted a new Conan in an accessible book and a lot of the character-driven emotional stuff I’ve done in other books.

It still is a little controversial, the main fan base, I still have no idea if it is big or small. They’re unbelievably vocal and definitely don’t really like this one. I get a lot of very angry emails, a lot of offensive ones. And because it’s a younger Conan, he’s not super confident and not a superhuman like the other ones. He doesn’t always win. Conan always kicks all the ass in the room. He’s younger, he’s still learning and he has some trouble, loses fights some times.

It’s been a hit in terms of sales and in terms of people coming up to me at a show and say, “I’ve never read a Conan book until yours.” So it’s like there’s a need for this kind of Conan book. Even if it’s not what the old guard wants.

Geek: So “Northlander” prepared you for this?

Wood: A lot, when they approached me, I pitched a bunch of story ideas, and they were so “Northlanders”-inspired and I think that’s what they said they wanted. They wanted that very character-driven, nuanced, and female friendly character stories and not just that stereotypical “He-Man” male-oriented sort of way. And yeah, that’s what the book is; it’s the story of Conan’s first love which lasted for several years, I threw it in the ring and just wanted to test it out, that relationship over and over again.

Geek: Can you talk about the structure? Three story arcs that loop over the entire story?

Wood: Yeah there’s a novel I’m adapting, “Queen of the Black Coast”—it’s a very short book. It has this first act, and then there’s this big period of time, like several years Conan and Bêlit sailed the oceans. And then there’s the ending of the story. And my job is to tell the beginning of the end, the undefined middle area.

That three arc thing, I’m doing it on one of my other books, and that was something I wanted to do in a general sense in my work. I felt like I had spent so many years trying to write the next issue and it didn’t always work out. And this time I wanted to tell a dense story, a story that feels packed with story. And tell a lot of stories. Like Conan is 24 four-issue arcs. If I do it in 3, I can fit a lot more events into the space. So that is really what it was and there is that goal of mine to tell very dense stories and as many as possible.

Geek: What else are you working on?

Wood: There is a book at image comics right now that I am writing called “Mara,” and it’s kind of a superhero story in the way I’ve done superhero stories in the past with my series “Demo.” Which again is a very personal story, and it’s very character-focused. It usually has an “indie” feel to it. This one is about a pro athlete in the future, in this imagined future, where everybody is an athlete in one way or another. The goal is to excel and strive to be the best you can to get to physical perfection. She’s like this super hot athlete at the top of her game and she starts to develop superpowers in a completely unknown way .So she’s developing powers in a world that is going to call her a cheater. They are going to think she’s breaking the rules and has an advantage now over everyone else. And so her celebrity-driven world starts to crumble around her.

What the book is really about is Internet and celebrity and how it impacts them, especially women in sports. I read a couple of books about the rigors of young Olympic athletes going through being sexualized in media. Those are the larger themes.

Geek: Do you have an affinity for the superhero stuff?

Wood: I don’t know, it’s all new to me. I never read it as a kid, and it’s new to me—it’s good and bad. I feel like when I work at Marvel what they want out of me is almost like fresh eyes. I don’t know the history of all the books and characters.

Geek: And all the “Uncanny X-Men” stuff is daunting?

Wood: It is, I don’t want to know, and so when they come to me for a story, I’ll often pitch something that’s already been told, but when I do, it’s like a newer reader friendly thing and not as a Marvel zombie.

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