Artist Brandon Easton created Shadow Law. His Graphic Novel showcases a combination of horror/sci-fi themes and also mixes elements of the giant robot/mech genre with martial arts action in a futuristic world. Brandon stopped by CBI studios to discuss Shadow Law and his comic book career…
JMH: Where were you born and raised?
BRANDON: Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland during the 1980s. Had an almost idyllic childhood despite the economic and social devastation that eventually hit my hometown.
JMH: Tell CBI about yourself…
BRANDON: I was raised in a working-class environment, so a lot of my worldview comes from the perspective of having to earn everything I’ve gotten with no safety nets or helping hands.
My life got tough after high school but I learned some unforgettable lessons about following your dreams at all costs as well as the importance of self-determination. No one can stop you from achieving your goals unless you adopt the mentality that you cannot win. I’ve seen so many people give up on themselves because they believe that they won’t make it in the end. Success or failure is truly a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Growing up in the mid-80s meant that I watched all the classic animation of that period: Transformers, Voltron, Robotech, He-Man, Jem, G.I. Joe, Galaxy Rangers, M.A.S.K., BraveStarr, etc. I loved all of that stuff. It definitely kick started my imagination early on and got me thinking about new ideas and eventually put me on the path to becoming a professional writer.
JMH: Have you had any formal training in writing?
BRANDON: Yes, I earned a M.F.A. in Film & TV Screenwriting fromBostonUniversity, but during my undergraduate years atIthacaCollege, I took almost every creative and academic writing course offered by the school that I could realistically cram into my schedule.
I take the craft of writing very seriously, and it’s always a personal and professional challenge for me to meld what I’ve learned in theory into a coherent narrative. I have much growing to do as a storyteller and the best way to get better is to continue to write.
JMH: Who are your writing influences?
BRANDON: In screenwriting, Paddy Chayefsky, Aaron Sorkin, Paul Dini, John Ridley, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Spike Lee and Kevin Smith.
In literature, Richard Wright, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, John Steinbeck, Robert Heinlein, Allen Steele, Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler.
In comics, Dwayne McDuffie, Warren Ellis, Chris Claremont, Brian Wood, Grant Morrison, David Michelinie, Robert Kirkman, Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Mark Millar.
I also consider music a form of literature, and some of the finest poetry ever created has been from folks like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, John Fogerty, The Clash, Led Zeppelin, Freddie Mercury/Queen and much of the Hip-Hop scene from 1985-1990.
JMH: How did you break into writing comic books?
BRANDON: Around the end of 1998, I met a lot of fledgling comic book artists inBoston’s geek scene. After spending time learning about how the industry actually operated (after realizing that much of what I believed about the business was completely wrong) I figured out the best ways to connect with editors and other writers working in the biz.
I made a lot of mistakes over the next couple of years – mainly believing that people were far more welcoming and open to new people than they really were – but after moving to New York City in 2002, I met a very talented artist named LeSean Thomas who was on the verge of getting signed with Pat Lee’s Dreamwave Productions.
LeSean told me that Dreamwave was looking for a writer for a new series called Arkanium and that I could pitch some ideas on what I would do with the series if given the chance. I typed up a one-page concept pitch and sent it in.
After a week went by they let me know that I was going to be hired on the series as the writer. Of course, I later learned that the only reason I got on board was because their first choices never got back to them. But that’s how it goes sometimes; a new writer will be chosen because they might be the last one standing.
For a variety of reasons, things didn’t quite go as planned with the series and it got cancelled after five issues but the experience was tremendous and I never forgot what I learned about how to be a professional.
As the years have passed, I’ve applied that knowledge to rebuilding my career from scratch.
JMH: What is the first comic you remember reading?
BRANDON: I’m not 100% sure, but I believe it was one of those MARVEL TALES reprints of classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man stories. If I remember correctly, it was the issue when Flash Thompson challenges Peter Parker to a boxing match and Peter knocks his block off. That was the beginning of my love affair with comics.
JMH: Do you read any of the new comic books that are being published today?
BRANDON: Yes, I don’t have the spare cash that I used to, but I’ve been into a few newer titles like Halcyon, Uncanny X-Force and some of the DCnU reboot titles.
JMH: Print versus Digital. Your thoughts…
BRANDON: That’s simple: its evolution. That said, I am not a fan of reading novels or comics on an e-reader or tablet device. I prefer the experience of turning pages and holding books in my hand. However, I’m not a Luddite and I do understand that technology moves forward and I won’t actively campaign against the proliferation of electronic media.
Kids born in the 21st century won’t know of a world without the internet. I was born in 1974 and I don’t know of a world without color television or movies dominated by special effects. My grandparents saw a world consisting of radio dramas and vinyl records. Every generation has its own technological development that is frowned upon by the previous generation.
The difference today is that complaints are instantaneously transmitted around the world with great repetition so everybody becomes an expert in a universe no bigger than the size of their computer screen or cell phone.
More to the point, the comic book industry has been notoriously slow in adapting to the ebb and flow of societal realities. The big marketing pushes going on now should have been going on consistently for the past 20 years. The industry spent too much time catering to the whims of 45 year old men who didn’t want to let the Silver Age of comics go to the point where two generations of potential readers felt alienated and got into video games instead.
The industry realized that selling less than 100,000 copies of everything per month could not continue. If pushing comics through a digital source gets new readers to give the books a chance, then I am all for it. It’s not as if the existence of digital comics will somehow diminish the print versions of the comics. Heck, those books were already on their way to extinction so if digital comics can increase their visibility and viability, I see no reason for this to stop.
JMH: Writer’s block. How do you get around that creature?
BRANDON: I try to stay busy. If I can’t get any new writing or re-writing done, then I try to work on my podcast or my blog or spend time on message boards trying to drum up interest/awareness in my work. Of course, the old adage is to sit down and force yourself to put words on the page but it doesn’t always happen.
More often than not, I expose myself to new movies, TV shows, comics, magazine articles and scripts. I never try to rip any ideas from them, but it helps to stimulate new concepts in my brain so I can apply it to whatever is stopping me from moving forward in my writing.
Writer’s block is really an extended form of procrastination. Once you start getting work done, you find that quality writing bubbles up from your subconscious. If you spend time worrying about what you’re not getting done, it will overwhelm you on so many different levels. I try not to get stuck in that trap.
JMH: What is Shadowlaw?
BRANDON: Shadowlaw is the original graphic novel project I’ve been working on for over six years. It is a horror/sci-fi hybrid that mixes elements of the giant robot/mech genre with martial arts action in a future world. The general logline is: In a future world of giant mechanized armored warriors, a rebellious soldier is sentenced to life in a distant prison colony. There he must stop an advanced race of Vampire lords from taking over the world when they break their restricted feeding treaty with the human race. He must cope with the fact that his very presence in the colony may be a part of their dark design.
I signed the contract to publish with Arcana/Platinum Studios back in the summer of 2006. But almost immediately, I ran into a series of production difficulties that led to me hiring and firing eight different art teams over the years up until late 2010, when I finally found an artist who could finish the project. It’s been a very tough run!
JMH: Do you research your story ideas? If so, how?
BRANDON: I do all kinds of research constantly for a variety of reasons. Most of my story ideas have been sci-fi based for many years and some of the scientific principles have to be verified for the sake of common sense. I keep up with politics, economics, technology and social justice news daily and so much of my ideas are inspired by and/or reinforced by what I learn.
The internet has made it possible for me to learn at an exponential rate and it’s been an invaluable tool in my writing career.
JMH: What is your writing process like?
BRANDON: It depends on the project. When I do comics, I try to compose a hard outline of what happens on every page so that I don’t have to do too much over-thinking. Having a stripped-down thought process helps me to get the best out of my characters and dialogue. I don’t like staring at a blank page too long because I feel that my influences begin to creep in and I inadvertently recreate my favorite scenes from movies, TV and literature.
For feature-length screenplays, I do breakdowns of each scene and build up from there. For comics, I go to the end of each chapter (issue) and go in reverse to achieve the desired effect. This process is constantly evolving as I find better ways to develop my material.
JMH: Do your stories carry a message?
BRANDON: I believe all stories carry a message. Some are cautionary tales (horror), some are pro-individual (epics), some are pro-conservative (superhero) and it goes on and on. I don’t know if anyone goes into a story with the specific agenda of putting a message out there, but every human being has political beliefs (whether they realize it or not), every human being has prejudices, every human being reacts to various stimuli.
Writers are creatures of their socio-historical moment. The cultural context of their lives bleeds into their work regardless of intent. Writers from the 1920s and 1930s are products of their environment just as writers from the 1990s. Stephen King is a product of the 1960s and 1970s and that couldn’t be clearer in works like Carrie, Salem’s Lot and the early Dark Tower books.
I don’t always have a specific message in mind, but I am very concerned about the political and economic situation in theU.S.as well as the nature of power and how it can be used to control the masses.
JMH: Do you feel more comfortable with writing prose or comic book sequential storytelling?
BRANDON: Both are fine really. Prose is much harder because there is a tendency to second-guess your work in the middle of the process. When you’re writing huge blocks of text, it feels good at first until you stop for ten minutes and examine at what you’ve done. There is a desire to edit yourself and that leads to paralysis because you can’t get past your own desire to be perfect.
Comic book scripting presents a whole other set of challenges. The collaborative element to comics can make it much more difficult to achieve thematic clarity. Even if you spend three pages describing one panel, there’s no way of knowing if the artist has the proper “director’s vision” to interpret your words into an illustration that conveys your intention.
I’ve always said that I would be a millionaire by now if I knew how to draw sequential comics on a professional level. I have these vast, epic, incredibly detailed and impactful stories in my mind’s eye but I have to turn that over to someone else and pray that they can get close to what I originally imagined.
It can be a maddening process. With prose, you don’t have to worry about anyone else meddling into your vision. It’s just you and the blank page. With comics – you have the penciler, the inker, the colorist and the letterer. In other cases, if you’re working for a larger entity, you have the editor(s), the publisher and (sometimes) the other executives to worry about. Your vision can be stifled by the politics of the company but that’s not something that happens of all the time.
Simply put, prose is your work unfiltered. Comics scripting is art by committee.
JMH: What future projects are in the works?
BRANDON: I was recently hired by a new media company called Lion Forge to script a Robin Hood reinterpretation in the form of a graphic novel. This should be released in the latter half of 2012.
My next original project is my own sci-fi/fantasy hybrid series called DOMINION’S LIGHT (http://www.killingthegrizzly.com/dominions-light-by-brandon-easton-jeff-stokely/). The scripts are almost done and my art team is scheduled to work on this throughout 2012 for a release in 2013.
I am also working withSTARTREK:ENTERPRISEactor Anthony Montgomery on one of his intellectual properties that I can’t say too much about. But it’s a young-adult adventure series that people are really going to like.
JMH: Where can fans get a hold of your books?
BRANDON: Shadowlaw will be released in North Americaon November 16th, 2011. Your local comic book shop may have ordered it but if they haven’t, folks should ask to order it and give their retailers this code: (SEP110748) so they can get some copies.
Shadowlaw will be available for order through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
I’m also a writer on the new Warner Bros. THUNDERCATS TV series and I hope that old school fans and younger viewers are watching the show. I don’t know when it airs outside of theU.S., but inAmericait airs on Cartoon Network on Fridays at8:30pm.
JMH: Anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered yet?
BRANDON: Sure, if there are any aspiring writers out there who are mystified by the process of getting their careers started, I offer a free podcast titled WRITING FOR ROOKIES (http://writingforrookies.podcastpeople.com/) where I discuss how to develop ideas, how and where to find artists and the best approach to the business. I also interview a few established professionals as well as folks just breaking into the industry. I try to cover many bases and answer questions from newcomers.
JMH: Brandon, Thanks for your time! All the best!
BRANDON: Thank you! This was a great interview and I hope we can talk again in the future! Take care.
About the interviewer –