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 second volume of DMZ, entitled “Body of a Journalist,” collects issues 6 through 12. Regular series artist Riccardo Burchielli pencils issues 6 through 10, with Kristian Donaldson featured on issue 11, and Brian Wood providing art for a guide to the city in issue 12. With the premise of the series firmly established in the first arc, this second sortie begins to highlight the flourishing social, artistic, and culinary cultures entrenched in the DMZ. We get a closer look at the FSA, witness the complex resolution of the Viktor Ferguson storyline, and are treated to the first of many one-shot special issues. Zee’s story in issue 11 illustrates how radically war changes an ordinary person. Matty’s guide to the city in issue 12 gives us the first glimpse into the mindset of the DMZ residents. They are neither USA nor FSA, but their own stand alone entity with a unique sense of identity. Wood offers startling tactical suggestions, such as the notion of having to pull combat troops home to secure Brooklyn because domestic forces are spread thin with regular Army and National Guard troops deployed overseas. Riccardo Burchielli continues to envelop us in a war torn cityscape, with haunting echoes of 9/11 that still reside in the collective consciousness. He vividly brings to life the idea of “war at home,” which is a foreign concept and simply a shock to our senses.

Brian, what was the title of this arc, Body of a Journalist, intended to convey?

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Volume 01: “On The Ground” Interview

“On The Ground” collects issues 1 through 5 as Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli embed us violently into the city, right alongside series protagonist Matthew Roth. Matty is a green journalist who has landed what was initially intended to be a photojournalism internship with Liberty News, shadowing veteran Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent Viktor Ferguson. In this arc, Matty meets Zee, a former med student turned unofficial combat medic. She becomes a confidant and mentor, as Matty attempts to navigate the DMZ both physically and emotionally. Wood also introduces us to “The Ghosts of Central Park,” one of many vying factions operating in Manhattan, an anachronistic radical environmental group right in the middle of the city. With Zee effectively functioning as a tour guide and exposing Matty to the many lifestyles and cultures surviving in the crossfire, he makes the critical decision to stay on as a lone embedded reporter in order to tell the stories of the real people caught in the conflict. This provides the basic premise for the series, and kicks off what would become a 6 year run of the book for Eisner Award Nominated Writer Brian Wood.

Brian, how did you finalize “On The Ground” as the title of the first arc? I remember reading it in singles, thinking you were going to call it “Live From The DMZ,” after Viktor’s intended story.

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Riccardo Burchielli’s initial design for the watertower sniper from “On The Ground”

Introductory Interview

Brian, for this introductory installment I have a few general questions for you before we address specific volumes. Let’s start at the top – what was the genesis for DMZ? 

This is probably the most-asked question, in interviews, at conventions and signings, and you might think by now that if I hadn’t thought up a genuine answer that I would have at least invented a fake one… but no. I don’t know where it came from exactly. Well, a big part of it has to be the point of time in history… this was 2003, post-9/11, post-invasion of Iraq, and I was packing up my life to leave NYC for San Francisco. So I had war, politics, and my home city very much on my mind. 

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Welcome to “The Twilight of Our Hallowed Union”

During the Winter of 2005, indie phenom Brian Wood and newcomer to American comics Riccardo Burchielli launched DMZ through DC’s Vertigo imprint. Critically acclaimed since its inception, the series is a dystopian piece of speculative political fiction which examines the national identity of the modern day United States. In the years since its debut, DMZ has proven to be a powder keg of social thought, voicing a prescient slice of ideological discourse for a generation of Americans. DMZ is predicated upon a not-too-distant future where the US overextends itself abroad, domestic social unrest peaks, the frustration and disenfranchisement of the American Heartland gives rise to the secessionist Free States of America (FSA) movement, and the country plunges rapidly into the Second American Civil War. The titular DMZ refers to the demilitarized zone of Manhattan, which is a hotly contested front separating the FSA forces from the remnants of the USA. The book’s emotional anchor is Matthew Roth, a green journalist who is dropped right into the heart of the DMZ as the series opens. Roth’s character arc may be a thematic Brian Wood identity quest as we’ve seen develop in his larger body of contemporary work, but when observed in greater context, the narrative sweep of DMZ also offers startling commentary reflective of the divisive nature of our current socio-political climate.

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early cover and logo mockups for DMZ #1, courtesy Brian Wood

Riccardo Burchielli’s first pass at designing Zee.

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