Garry Brown & Brian Wood Walk A Black Road [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: Magnus is a shift from the archetypal viking protagonist. He's gruff, but curious. How do you see and approach him as a character, beyond just the events of this story?

BRIAN WOOD: In this case, it was the world that came first. And this is not a typical viking world, it's not a realistic viking world like in Northlanders. I've taken the events of the Christian conversion of the Norse lands which, in the grand scheme of things, was nowhere near as terrible as you might expect, and made it really terrible. It's a war zone, a violent occupation, a place with men being staked to the ground, with churches on fire, and civilians being driven from their homes.

So! With all that in place, I could create the character of Magnus the Black as a dark ages version of a modern wartime fixer, a guy who walks the line dividing two sides of a conflict, only looking to ease what he views as the inevitable outcome of conversion. He's a die-hard viking, in appearance and in deed, so the question of why he's helping the Christians, why he's taking a neutral stance, what happened to him in the past...these are the slow-burning questions present in the book.

IC: Brian, you've spoken about wanting this to be a series of stories featuring Magnus, like Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. What is it about Magnus the Black and everything around him that has legs for you?

WOOD: I think we have a setting and a character that can pretty much handle any story that I can think of. Magnus is a problem solver in a world that is nothing but problems. Sometimes you set yourself up with a concept and you know that, from a creative point of view, it's pretty much a bottomless well of story material. BLACK ROAD is just that.

IC: BLACK ROAD is subtitled "A Magnus the Black Mystery." Why did you want to explore this era by way of a mystery?

WOOD: Well, there is a clear mystery that presents itself within the first few pages of the issue, so I'm not considering it a spoiler. There's something under construction up along the northern coast, and it's clearly no good. Magnus is hired to take a priest up the infamous black road to investigate. So in that way we have something approaching a traditional mystery. A mysterious set-up. But also that tagline works to identify the sort of genre we're trying to emulate, the Jack Reacher type of story. Lee Child calls his books "thrillers," and Martin Cruz Smith uses "An Arkady Renko Novel," but in our case I felt "mystery" fit best.

IC: The Christians in this series are almost an occupying force, and the land of Norskk is described as being "under conversion." What is it about this point in time and location that makes for fertile storytelling?

WOOD: It's a time of conflict and a time of massive change. I get a lot of mileage out of those two things, as you can see from my bibliography. I think both these things bring out the best and worst in people.

IC: Past that, what appeals to both of you about vikings, in both a visual and narrative sense?

GARRY BROWN: I've always been interested in Vikings. Being from Scotland, there was always an interest in the possibility of that heritage. I like the brutality of the lands and characters. The landscapes are rough and unforgiving. It's a great backdrop for a story.

WOOD: In some ways I feel that the viking genre is connected to me. Not exclusively and not in a braggy way, but after 50 issues of fighting to get a realistic, historically-based Viking book done at DC Comics, I feel a sense of belonging to the genre. Note that this was well before the tv show (or shows, if you want to include Game of Thrones), and before that vikings in comics were usually barbarian or mythological in style. Or they were Thor. Northlanders came about rather randomly at the time, but I grew to love the genre dearly and worked out a lot of my new-fatherhood hopes and fears within the stories. I think I'm good at it.

All that said, BLACK ROAD is very deliberately me not trying to replicate Northlanders. There's no need to, and deep down I don't think anyone really wants me to. So Garry and I are removing the historical accuracy from the mix, and adding in more amped-up violence and some slightly fantastical elements.

IC: What's the status quo like for the everyday people there?

WOOD: Rough, ugly, cold, mean. I imagine it's like Garry's upbringing in Scotland.

IC: You two have worked together in the past, and Brian, you've worked with colorist Dave McCaig in the past, too. Can you tell us a little about your collaboration? What is it this team sees in each other's work?

WOOD: Speaking for myself, and I hope to christ that Garry agrees, I find the best collaboration is one of minimal contact! To me, that means we're all on the same page and things are going smoothly and we're at the point where I can write a page that works to Garry and Dave's strengths, and they know enough of what I'm going for that the pages coming back looking like what I imagined they would in my head. There's no crazy back and forth with corrections or confusion. It just all works the way it's supposed to work.

And yeah, Dave colored all 50 issues of Northlanders, and he's one of the best in the business, so that's perfect. Garry and I just came off of 30 or so issues of The Massive, and I think we complement each other well.

BROWN: I pretty much like seeing what they come up with. We're all partners on the book so it's great to see what everyone brings to it. Dave's a fantastic colorist who I've wanted to work with for a while now, so this is fantastic for me. Brian's got a stellar track record, it's always a good read when I get a script.

BLACK ROAD #1 is available now.