Live From The DMZ - by Justin Giampaoli

Justin Giampaoli has written and self-published several mini-comics, including The Mercy Killing, Silicon Valley Blues, and Blood Orange, but is primarily known as a critic. He’s written for Hijinx Comics, Savant Magazine, and The East County Californian Newspaper. He’s currently the Senior Reviewer at Poopsheet Foundation and blogs frequently about more mainstream offerings at his own 13 Minutes. Live From The DMZ is dedicated to Brian Wood’s contemporary classic through its final year of publication and beyond.


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The final volume in Brian Wood’s contemporary classic collects issues 67 to 72. With the beginning of the healing process and reconstruction burgeoning on the Isle of Manhattan as the backdrop, the arc focuses primarily on the final fate of series protagonist Matthew Roth. We tour the titular new “Five Nations of New York” as Matty seems to finally accept the city as it is, avoiding the temptation to label, itself a form of control. When he finally sees New York for New York, it’s as if he’s finally accepted as one of the city’s own. Matty finally comes to terms with his role in events, acknowledges the need for accountability, and seemingly identifies the one way out that allows him to salvage some sense of integrity. If he entered the DMZ as an insecure boy, he’s now determined to exit as a man, no matter what the personal cost. “The Five Nations of New York” is an emotionally satisfying conclusion to a resilient urban culture and an epic series that engages the reader and reveals as many personal truths as it does political realities.

Brian, for “The Five Nations,” we have Lower Manhattan, Chinatown, Parktown, Midtown West, and Midtown East. Is the idea behind redistricting a way to try and avoid labels and marginalization?

I figured it was natural, as reconciliation takes place and power shifts and consolidates, this seemed to be a likely breakdown. Based on how I’d treated the city over the course of the series, of course. But all that happens off-panel, so you gotta’ just take my word for it. Truth is, I had that title, “The Five Nations Of New York,” in my head for YEARS. I knew it had to be the final story, so I made sure I could use it.

If you change the hair color, “The First Nation” guy that Matty and Zee visit in Lower Manhattan looks like artist Riccardo Burchielli, no?

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“Free States Rising” runs from issue 60 to 66, and is comprised of two smaller arcs and a single spotlight issue. The first arc chronicles the birth of the movement through the eyes of one man’s induction into the FSA, as he turns from being an arms dealer riding the profitable tide of war to full-fledged FSA leadership. Shawn Martinbrough delivers this two-parter in his dark and ominous style. Issue 60 is aptly titled “Middle America,” and touches on the disenfranchised American Heartland, while “The Jersey Shore” in issue 61 depicts the takeover of the Lincoln Tunnel. Brian Wood’s trademark newsfeed informs us that the US has nearly one million troops deployed in the Middle East, including places like Yemen and Syria, entrenched in a campaign of 39 years of combined war on 6 fronts around the world. Riccardo Burchielli returns to the series he helped launch with the “Free States Rising” arc, captured in issues 62 through 65. In his newly minted role as official UN Observer, Matty witnesses the aftermath of some of his actions and reaches a mental tipping point, as the final surge to Broadway opens with an air strike, and is followed by an intense ground war. We learn definitive revelations about the Indian Point nuclear detonation, as well as the final fate of Parco Delgado. Issue 66 is the last solo issue focusing on Zee Hernandez, recapping the story of her corporeal existence in the DMZ, but also solidifying the figurative notion that she is the physical manifestation of New York City.

Brian, seeing the title of this arc, it’s impossible for me not to think of the Bruce Springsteen song “The Rising,” which he wrote as a response to 9/11. Any subconscious connection there? Does your musical taste even swing toward The Boss? C’mon, tell me you’re over there hammering out the guitar riff from “Born To Run.”

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“Collective Punishment” collects issues 55 through 59 and offers a plethora of diverse stories with rotating artist contributions by some of the most interesting artists working in comics today. For many of the characters, the stories bookend earlier spotlight issues and close down their story threads, securing many of the last remaining “loose ends” for posterity, prior to the resolution of the entire saga. Andrea Mutti depicts an undercover special operative in issue 55, Nathan Fox returns to tell the last Wilson story in issue 56, Cliff Chiang joins the roster of DMZ talent for Amina’s story in issue 57, Danijel Zezelj chronicles Decade Later’s story in issue 58, and David Lapham joins the urban fray with issue 59.

Brian, how does the tone of the writing change in this arc?

Does it? I wasn’t setting out to change my tone, but this is an arc filled with goodbyes and the wrapping up of minor storylines, in anticipation of the series coming to an end. Certainly by now I knew what issue was going to be the final one, so I knew how much space I had left to work with. It was odd to start to kill off characters and write conclusions to others more than a year away from the series’ conclusion, but this was the last chance I felt I had.

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Nathan Fox was born in 1975 in Washington D.C. Raised from the age of five on the suburban outskirts of Houston, an early addiction to cartoons, commercials, and video games led to a lifelong exploration of Narrative Art and the over-stimulation associated with his generation. In the hopes of making such an addiction his full time job, Nathan left Texas for Missouri where he attended the Kansas City Art Institute. 

What followed over the next four years can only be described as an eye-opening experience compared to the somewhat quiet Southern upbringing. The discovery of Anime, Yoshitoshi’sYukiyo-e prints, sideshows, and comics would lead him down the happily twisted path he still follows today.

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“M.I.A.” includes the landmark issue #50, with special contributions by some of the most revered artists working in the industry today. The half-century special frames Matty’s reflections on his time in the DMZ with several shorts full of sharp language and dangerous revelations, including talk of the FSA buying governors, rolling FBI Field Agents, and knocking down banks and National Guard Armories along the way. These disparate elements tell a story of survival and preserving culture, from people who endure conflict and envision a future beyond current events. Issues 51 through 54 reunite Riccardo Burchielli with Brian Wood and examine Matty’s self-exile for his role in the slaying of a wedding party. He is persona non-grata as the DMZ he knows crumbles around him; Parco is missing, Delgado Security Forces are disbanding, arrest orders are issued for members of The Delgado Nation, and there’s the small matter of a missing tactical nuke. This volume has a somber tone, suggesting that Matty may have done some good early on, but also may have lost himself in the process.

Brian, issue 50 really was an achievement. Not only did the series live a long life, but I think some of the big names reflect the book’s status as a modern classic. There’s Dave Gibbons, Jim Lee, Eduardo Risso, and rising stars like Rebekah Isaacs and Fabio Moon. With a roster like this, how does it come together; how much is editorial driving the project vs. you yourself?

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“Hearts and Minds” collects issues 42 through 49, with art contributions by main series artist Riccardo Burchielli and frequent Brian Wood collaborator Ryan Kelly. The short parable entitled “No Future” runs from issue 42 to 44 and is brought to life by Kelly. While it’s a specific look at just one man’s personal account of the war, it enriches all of the incidents occurring around it in the larger tapestry. It’s a sharp reminder that war isn’t an abstract concept to be examined clinically from a distance, but it destroys actual lives, and derails the futures of the individuals it touches. It’s a disturbing portrayal of the cycle of pain, predatory indoctrination, and the hypocrisy of war. In issues 45 to 49, Burchielli partners again with Wood, returning to Parco and Matty and their attempts to stabilize their relationship with local DMZ factions and ensure the security of their provisional government. Not only does the DMZ become a nuclear armed state, but in an emotional moment, Matty issues a sloppy order that irrevocably alters the dynamic of his role, and the fallout will be dealt with in more ways than one.

Brian, is Matthew Roth actually the main character of the series or is it the DMZ itself?

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Please welcome John Paul Leon to LIVE FROM THE DMZ.

Best known for his critically acclaimed work that envisioned and redefined the entire Marvel Universe in the maxi-series EARTH X, JOHN PAUL LEON’s bold and dramatic work has influenced many of today’s young talents.

Born in New York City in 1972, he first began working professionally at the age of 16, with a series of black and white illustrations for TSR’s DRAGON and DUNGEON magazines. In college, while studying under such legends as WILL EISNER, WALTER SIMONSON, and JACK POTTER,  JP began his comic book career with a mini-series for Dark Horse Comics, ROBOCOP: PRIME SUSPECT, and followed with the DC/Milestone ongoing series, STATIC, which would eventually develop into the popular animated TV show, STATIC SHOCK!

An alumnus of New York’s SCHOOL OF VISUAL ARTS, JP received his bachelors in fine arts in 1994 and began working on some of the most popular characters in pop culture, including SUPERMAN, BATMAN, and the X-MEN. Some of his other notable works include the critically acclaimed series THE WINTER MEN, and CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN.

JP has contributed artwork for the SUPERMAN RETURNS, BATMAN BEGINS, GREEN LANTERN and DARK KNIGHT style guides, as well as a pair of SUPERMAN children’s books for Meredith Books. He is currently working on a BATMAN mini-series. 

JP lives in Miami, Florida.

JP, how did you become involved with DMZ? Did you know Brian Wood prior to becoming the cover artist?

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Collecting issues 35 through 41, Volume 07 is comprised of two smaller arcs and a special issue focusing on the character of Zee. The first story in this volume witnesses the return of artist Kristian Donaldson for a two-issue tale in issues 35 and 36 called “The Island.” The short divergent arc follows Matthew Roth to Staten Island, the forgotten borough with a peculiarly high concentration of US Army soldiers. It offers a brief respite as Matty returns to pitching and reporting stories for Liberty News as the entire world awaits the outcome of the recent election. Riccardo Burchielli provides art for the “War Powers” arc proper, spanning issues 37 to 40, and addressing the action immediately following Parco Delgado’s rise to power. “War Powers” witnesses The Delgado Nation boldly attempt to position Manhattan as a fledgling sovereign state. In a startling move, Parco orders out all FSA, USA, and UN troops, while attempting to consolidate the power base of the new administration with the local factions. The last issue of the arc, 41, is a special spotlight issue on Zee, with art by Nikki Cook.

Brian, issue 35 marks the first cover designed by John Paul Leon, who first caught my attention on a WildStorm book called THE WINTER MEN. We talked previously about the reasons behind the transition, but let’s discuss artist selection. Were any others considered and how was JP finalized?

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Please welcome Will Dennis to LIVE FROM THE DMZ.

Will Dennis is a Senior Editor at VERTIGO/DC COMICS. He has been an editor at DC for over ten years and in that time had the good fortune to work on a wide variety of projects with some of the best creators in comics – including Joe Kubert, Jim Lee, Eduardo Risso, Brian Azzarello, Brian Wood, Lee Bermejo, Jason Aaron, Brian K. Vaughan, and many more.

Projects include 100 BULLETS, JOKER, Y: THE LAST MAN, DMZ, SCALPED, THE LOSERS (made into a major motion picture by WB), SUPERMAN “For Tomorrow,” BATMAN “Broken City,” SGT. ROCK “Between Hell and a Hard Place,” as well as heading up the VERTIGO CRIME line of books.

His books have won multiple Eisner Awards – the highest honor in the comic book industry, as well as Harvey, Eagle, and Spike TV awards. He also teaches a course at NYU-Tisch School of the Arts on “Writing the Graphic Novel.”

He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons. He’s not on Facebook.

Will, what factors led to the decision to green-light DMZ? Can you describe your memories of the pitch, the early meetings and conversations?

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“Blood in the Game” collects issues 29 through 34 and chronicles the aspirational rise of iconoclast third party candidate Parco Delgado. The powers that be in the DMZ are intent upon holding democratic elections in order to form a provisional government to guide the Isle of Manhattan. Parco speaks out in an effort to reject the status quo and the faux-choice candidates being presented. He embodies the disenfranchised of the DMZ and assumes the role of populist candidate in this historic campaign. “Blood in the Game” is fascinating in the way that early seasons of Aaron Sorkin’s THE WEST WING were, in that they reveal the inner workings of political posturing and the susceptibility of the processes to individual personalities. With Riccardo Burchielli providing art for the entire arc, the story of Matthew Roth is thrust forward in an unexpected direction. “Blood in the Game” is a game-changer for Roth and the political landscape of the DMZ. As the title implies, he moves from being a journalist simply reporting the news to being a political activist creating the news with “The Delgado Nation.” Matty now has a vested interest in the political outcome of the election. Brian Wood ratchets up the tension significantly so that Roth is no longer able to coast as an observer, but has become a direct participant in a very high stakes game.

Brian, did you set out to write a game-changer with this arc? It has that distinct feeling that one era is ending and a new chapter in Matty’s life is beginning.

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Volume 05: “The Hidden War” Interview

“The Hidden War” is the first full arc to feature rotating artists for self-contained spotlight issues on specific characters. Collecting issues 23 through 28, we’re treated to engrossing portrayals of the many compelling personalities inhabiting the city “you can’t kill.” Artistic collaborators Riccardo Burchielli, Nathan Fox, and Danijel Zezelj give us Decade Later – the DMZ’s resident street artist, Amina – a young woman whose life is co-opted by the war, Wilson – the crime boss of Chinatown, IWN Reporter Kelly Connolly, DJ Random Fire, and Soames – the FSA defector turned “Ghost of Central Park.” As the title suggests, “The Hidden War” teaches us about the individual personal wars created by the conflict in the DMZ. Through these diverse characters, we learn one solemn truth – that intimate moments and meaningful decisions must be found and seized when and where they can, for life is turbulent and often short in the DMZ.

Brian, I’ve been dying to discuss issue 27 with DJ Random Fire and art by Nathan “The Next Paul Pope” Fox. For me, this was a quintessential issue of DMZ that represents how somewhere in the middle of this conflict, there’s a vibrant underground culture happening even as war attempts to derail society and crumbles the city. The issue is like this b-side deep cut about a new culture being forged in fire. It opens with that Jared K. Fletcher free-floating rhyme that just pounds like bass against your chest. I’m losing it here; I can’t even come up with a question. Tell us about this issue and DJ Random Fire.

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[Interview Conducted @ Aloha Sushi Lounge in La Jolla, California]

When DMZ colorist Jeromy Cox walks into the Museum of Contemporary Art to meet me for lunch, I find that looks can be deceiving. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Cox was just another one of those aging hippie surfer types, often seen combing the summer streets of San Diego. These are the guys I see surfing at 7am on a random Thursday morning near La Jolla Shores or off the coast up at San Elijo State Beach. If you made that unfortunate mistake and judged this particular book by its proverbial cover, you’d never know that Jeromy Cox absolutely has his shit together. He’s one of the hardest working and most prolific colorists working in the industry today.

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For the fourth arc of DMZ, Brian Wood and a talented roster of artists present the “Day 204 Massacre,” a friendly fire incident in which 198 protesters are gunned down by US military forces, scarring the psyche of the country irreparably. “Friendly Fire” brings into question the reliability of multiple eyewitness accounts, shifts the narrative to potentially untrustworthy narrators, and suggests that in war there is no clear cut blame to be castigated. The true enemy is likely war itself. The very idea of a friendly fire incident is an indelible part of war that nobody likes to acknowledge, but Brian Wood bravely charges forward to examine one of the most traumatic incidents to occur in the DMZ. Artistically, the stories are framed so that as Matthew Roth investigates, each flashback account relayed by a Day 204 eyewitness is rendered by a different artist, underscoring the idea of perceived differences in reality depending on point of view, and leaving the audience reeling in uncertainty. “Friendly Fire” collects issues 18 through 22, with art contributions by Riccardo Burchielli, Nathan Fox, Kristian Donaldson, and Viktor Kalvachev.

Brian, issue 18 references summer in NYC as “the killing season.” As a New Yorker, does the heat really get to people in such a dramatic way?

Nah, it doesn’t make people murder other people, but it does make you seriously consider it. Joking aside, summers here are really unpleasant. The heat may not be that bad, but the humidity kicks it up several levels, and all that causes the stink to seep out of every sidewalk and trash can. The subway system is a giant brick oven, and the whole place just radiates. You pretty much have to run your air conditioners from May to October.

I wanted to take that common experience all New Yorkers share, that sort of inside joke, and amplify it within the DMZ. No one has air conditioners, I don’t think, in the DMZ. I can only image the smell, the disease, and the stress in that situation.

Nathan Fox is an artist I was immediately impressed by and have bought everything he’s done. I keep saying “he’s the next Paul Pope,” and here he provides the flashbacks for PFC Stevens’ story. How did your collaboration with Nathan come about?

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Before we dive in, I want to give very special thanks to artist Kristian Donaldson for creating this tribute piece to LIVE FROM THE DMZ. It captures nearly everything I like about his style. The penchant for generous backgrounds, vibrant use of colors, strong design sensibility, the attitude present in the eyes of Matty and Zee, the general mood he can compose, the small detail of the gloves, the precise effort of “I Miss The Old New York” that lesser artists would skimp on, and that special swagger that inking and coloring his own work can only  bring. While the sun may be setting on this beloved series that ran from 2005 to 2011, it’s clear that it occupies a special place in the hearts of not only its fans, but also the amazing artists who contributed to it. Thanks, Kristian!

Kristian, how would you describe your general aesthetic? I see bold use of color and very balanced graphic design elements, but can’t really spot any overt influences.

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“Public Works” collects issues 13 through 17 and is essentially “the Trustwell arc.” It places Matthew Roth undercover within a work crew at Trustwell, which is ostensibly a government security and reconstruction contractor. Matty quickly learns the insidious truth about the nature of Trustwell and its relationship to the US Government. Public Works is a fascinating slice of the DMZ epic, which showcases the divergent perspectives and tactics of the FSA, USA, Liberty News, the United Nations, and Trustwell itself. Through Matty’s experiences with all of the intersecting dynamics in New York, we learn that the war is far from black and white. The USA is not purely a benevolent force trying to preserve the union, and the FSA isn’t simply a bunch of redneck militia advocating anarchy. Every side in the conflict possesses valid arguments, and the only certainty is that the inhabitants of the DMZ are caught in the turbulent crossfire. Everyone has an angle for sale; the PR war is just as high a priority as the ground war. 

Brian, you play with allegory a lot in the political discourse of DMZ. Trustwell is not entirely dissimilar to, say, Blackwater or Halliburton. How much of the story content is inspired by the real world?

I think this one is rather “ripped from the headlines,” which is saying something in a series that is, you know, ripped from the headlines. I’m trying to think back to when this one was created, when I was writing these issues, and what was going on in the world… but I know there was dirty stuff being done by Blackwater for sure, and that’s absolutely where Trustwell came from. I’m fascinated by Blackwater… although now they rebranded as Xe, right? You know how to pronounce that? “Zee.” Love it.

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