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.
It’s a mish-mash for sure. I’m not even sure right now where it’s going, but I’m trying to strike a balance between tight design and messier inking. I like an artistically broad range of books and artists, and try to stay on top of the possibilities that various artists are exploring, while hopefully not wearing my influences on my sleeve too much. Stylistically, I dig a lot of European and Japanese stuff, and I think there’s a lot of elegance to be gleaned from looking at it. I think the bones of it all, storytelling and design, owe to the American side of things.
Do you always ink and color your own work?
It’s the default for how I like to operate, but it’s not always possible. You can come up with some interesting things when you do it all yourself. Not every project is going to call for the same approach, so I like to recalibrate with each new project. If I were to color a new project right now, it would probably look different out of the gate than previous stuff. On my pinups and covers, I actually don’t use color the way I used to. Not as bold or arbitrary, I’m questing after some more subtleties now. My latest project, 99 DAYS [Editor’s Note: Vertigo Crime book debuting in August!], I inked and gray-scaled, and it developed its own feel. Now I’m inking, but not coloring, with colorist TBD.
I think I first became aware of your work on SUPERMARKET at IDW, also written by Brian Wood. How’d you guys end up working together?
I was a fan of CHANNEZL ZERO and THE COURIERS books. I sent Brian some work when I was young, like 21 or 22. He gave me practice scripts that I used for projects in school. He was very gracious and cool, and I’d just touch base with him from time to time, until 2005, when he asked if I’d like to do SUPERMARKET. We did some pitch stuff together and it worked out.
You have the distinction of being the very first guest artist on DMZ. On top of that, in issue 11 you told the origin story of Zee, a character which seems very near and dear to Brian. Was it daunting jumping into the series in this fashion?
It was great. I was thrilled. It was different from anything else I’d done before, so I was really into it. Zee’s a fantastic character, and I liked the idea of showing her back story. I love design opportunities, and there were plenty to be tackled on one’s first issue of DMZ.
Is your general approach different with DMZ vs. other projects you’ve worked on? Does the fact that Brian began as an artist change the dynamic?
To your first question, sure, because the tone is really important. I tried to shed some of the “cartoony” qualities that I’d had going on up to that point. Issues 35 and 36 came about 60 pages into 99 DAYS, so I’d hardened up my style a bit by then. My style has hardened significantly since then as well. Approaching DMZ has to be specific because it’s a realized universe. Drawing it is like taking a trip there. It has to feel familiar, but it’s been transformed into a unique place.
And the fact that Brian is an artist and designer shows in the way he writes for other artists. The scripts always make sense; it’s stuff you can draw. There are no physical contradictions. There is not an ounce of fat on any of it.
What’s Brian like to collaborate with? He admits he’s not a big collaborator type, very much an internal thinker. So, tell the truth. What’s the dirt? Haha!
I enjoy getting the opportunity to work with him. I think his writing pulls a certain quality out of my work. And I think he likes the way my art turns out on his scripts. I get a degree of freedom and leeway I don’t always get to experience, and I never get bored with the work. I’m the luckiest dude in the world. I’m personally a bit of a lunatic, so, maybe it takes opposite ends of the spectrum to unite in the middle. =)
In issue 20, you worked on Zee’s account of the Day 204 Massacre; the Day 204 posters are particularly iconic. What can you tell us about this issue?
The posters are Brian. I re-inked over it in my hand, but it’s his design. That issue was brutal, and awesome. Really, tense stuff in there. Structurally, it was interesting as well. Matty moving from interview to interview, with small flashouts. That was 2007; I was starting to get more confident in the way I was working my style.
You also contributed a short arc entitled “The Island” to DMZ, taking place over issues 35 and 36. It involves this high concentration of troops stationed on the forgotten borough of Staten Island. What can you share about this story?
That story is really cool. The opening where we go from sea, to street, to house party, and through the party… the way that Brian moves Matty through that scene is awesome. It’s subtle, but it’s so good, and I’d never drawn a sequence like that before. It’s 9 pages I think, and we go with Matty from crossing to Staten Island at high speeds at sea, past a bombed out financial district, to him perched on a roof looking out over a chaotic soldier party, where they’re fighting for fun, with Christmas lights lighting the yard. C’mon, when am I ever gonna’ get to draw that again? There’s some stuff in 36 I like, specifically, the page where the Free States guy is in the cage bumming the light from his former buddy, and then, the panel where the two sides are squared off, where the Free States guys have screwdrivers and shit.
I know you have a Vertigo Crime book called 99 DAYS coming out soon, written by Matteo Casali. What else is next for you, any other work with Brian Wood on the horizon?
99 DAYS comes out August 17th. Matteo and I crafted a very cinematic noir story, and I’m excited for people to check it out. There’s some really dark and cool stuff in there. My stuff got really technical and my style got really tight on that one.
And, yeah, Brian and I are currently working together on a new project. Details will come later!
Why do you think DMZ is such a long-running success?
It’s a complete world, and a one-of-a-kind work of fiction in any medium. Brian, Ricardo, JP Leon, Jeromy Cox, Will and Mark on the editorial side, and everyone else who had a hand in it really brought it. I’m happy to have had some time with DMZ.