Writer Jeffery Burandt of Thomas the Headless Boy has crafted an incredible tale starring a boy who navigates life –without a head! Jeff recently talked with comicbookinterviews.com publisher John Michael Helmer about his writing career and his future projects…
JMH: Where were you born and raised?
JEFF: I was born in Denton, TX and raised in Plano, a suburb of Dallas. I moved to Austin after high school to attend UT. Hook ‘em.
JMH: Tell CBI about yourself…
JEFF: I’m a writer and musician who lives in Brooklyn, NYC. I write prose fiction, comix, the occasional magazine article, and lots of music. I’m also the frontman of the post-punk-apocalyptic rock band Americans UK. I record our sci-fi adventures in both song and graphic fiction, with my partners in crime JTR3, Von Boiko, Paul Ciaravino, ZeeS, and a lot of other cool, talented dudes. Some people know me as “Jeffrey Burandt.” Others as “Jef UK.”
JMH: Have you had any formal training in writing?
JEFF: Yes, I have a BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin, and I have a MFA in Fiction Writing from Brooklyn College.
JMH: Who are your writing influences?
JEFF: Nabokov, Dostoevsky, Dahl, Lethem, Dick, Dumas, Atwood, Ellis, Ennis, Morrison, Bendis.
JMH: How did you break into writing comic books?
JEFF: My first published work was a series of comic strips for Details Magazine that advertised Amstel Light beer. After that, I pitched to Oni Press, and I will soon have a series coming out through them titled,Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad with artist Dennis Culver. Otherwise, I’m always just making comics, publisher attached or no, and whenever an opportunity to make more arises, I say, “yes, I can do that.”
JMH: What is the first comic you remember reading?
JEFF: A very early comic for me was this freebie that came out in the now defunct Dallas Times Herald where the Uncanny X-Men and Spider-Man were at the State fair of Texas, and Magneto is attempting to recruit a mutant kid who is half pegasus. I remember repeatedly reading a couple of issues of Satellite-era Justice League of America, where Mister Mind was a villain. I remember very specifically reading Amazing Spider-Man #231, with that wonderful, early John Romita Jr. cover where the Cobra is attacking Spidey from behind. You could probably throw a Star Wars comic in there also. I was also very into kid’s comics like Little Lulu and Richie Rich when I was a tot, so those may predate the super hero stuff even. I’ve been reading comic books as long as I’ve been reading.
JMH: Do you read any of the new comic books that are being published today?
JEFF: Sure, but almost exclusively as hardcover or trade collections. Right now I’m digging the Slott-penned Amazing Spider-Man and Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. I’m eager to pick up the latest collections of Locke & Key, The Walking Dead, Scalped, and Casanova. The Sixth Gun by Bunn, Hurt and Crabtree is the only book I’m reading in singles, and it is so good. As to digital, I love Dean Haspiel’s The Last Romantic Antihero, and Charles Soule’s and Robert Saywitz’ Sal & Chrys, which is about two buildings in love. Those are both available in the online salon at TripCity.net.
JMH: Print versus Digital. Your thoughts…
JEFF: I don’t think print and digital are at odds with each other. I think an emerging, probably successful model is to make issues or episodes available for free as digital content, and then print fine collections to sell to niche markets, where those niche markets no longer depend on the Direct Market, and individual digital issues ultimately work as advertising for collected, print editions. So there’s a struggle between comic book retailers and new means of distribution, but not a struggle between print and digital.
JMH: Writer’s block. How do you get around that creature?
JEFF: I don’t get writer’s block. If I get stymied by a scene or a story or something, then I just work on another one of my projects and come back to the problem piece later. I also find writing by hand in a journal to be very productive, because I can doodle or knock out drafts of various ways to solve a plot problem or work out a character’s motivation, until I stumble on a path that excites me. It’s looser and less restrictive than drafting in a word processor, and I’m able to let go and barf out maybe some of the bad stuff that will never make it to print. And often enough, inspiration to solve any given problems emerge when I’m doing the dishes or riding my bike. But I never have a problem writing. My biggest hurdle to writing is time management.
JMH: What is Thomas the Headless Boy?
JEFF: Thomas the Headless Boy is a series of graphic novellas about a magical boy who navigates through the pitfalls of life without a head. The concept is artist Aaron Bir’s idea, and he asked me to write the story around a basic outline he had. We’re putting up pages on TripCity.net as we finish them; you can read the first chapter HERE. We are also pitching the book to publishers as we can. I approach the story as though I am Roald Dahl writing a Tim Burton movie, as Aaron’s initial concept and art evoked those creators for me. In essence, I think Thomas is a story about broken suburban families and the children who grow up in those families, who we then represent as this creepy, cute kid who carries a spooky box around full of nightmares. Makes perfect sense, right?
JMH: Do you research your story ideas? If so, how?
JEFF: Yes, definitely. I’m most concerned with making my stories feel right, and then I’m concerned about not getting anything specifically wrong. I’ll watch documentaries, read both novels and non-fiction books about or around the subjects in question, and then occasionally use Wikipedia to look up specific facts as I’m typing on the computer.
JMH: What is your writing process like?
JEFF: I write a lot in Moleskin journals, and always have one on me. Doodles, outlines, bits of dialogue, scenes–I just write what interests me at the time, and sort of barf up everything as it comes to me when I start. I then start to structure that into outlines and scripts and more notes. As deadlines approach, I start trimming the fat and really fine tuning the piece.
JMH: Do your stories carry a message?
JEFF: I suppose messages can be gleaned from any story, but I don’t really bother with trying to promote any specific agendas within my stories–at least nothing lofty. I’m more concerned with themes, plot, characters and internal consistencies, or simply putting out something strange and unique into the world.
JMH: Do you feel more comfortable with writing prose or comic book sequential storytelling?
JEFF: They are completely different beasts. I think prose can be a more powerful, intimate experience with readers, and for me the struggle there is how the story is told just as much as what story is being told–which is to say, I want readers to relish my prose. With comics, that “how” of the story is controlled by the artist, which makes it really exciting to get pages back. I guess I would say that writing comic scripts is easier because I’m not writing the script for an audience, and therefore what I write need not be performative. So writing comic scripts is maybe more fun, but writing excellent prose is more rewarding.
JMH: What are your thoughts on the DC Reboot/Relaunch?
JEFF: The books I’m reading from DC these days don’t seem to really acknowledge any reboot, so I think the New 52 was mostly a successful marketing ploy, so good for them. I would love to write Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth for DC. Otherwise, more than anything, I miss the robust output of Vertigo before DC moved to California. Vertigo was taking lots of chances with lots of formats, and it’s a pity we’re not really getting much of that anymore.
JMH: What do you think Marvel’s response will be?
JEFF: Marvel seems to have a pretty solid publishing plan. I hope they take a “if it ain’t broke” approach. Most of my favorite writers seem to be in their employ. And man, there are SO many toys in the Marvel toybox that I would love to get my hands on.
JMH: What future projects are in the works?
JEFF: I have a book titled Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad coming out from Oni Press with artist Dennis Culver. It’s huge: 155 pages! All the line art is finished and the script is done, and now it’s off to the colorist and letterer. It’s about a group of teens in Plano, TX, who perform in a punk band together, and who one day discover a secret organization intent on breaking the laws of science! Our elevator pitch is, “Josie and the Pussycats meets X-Files.” I’ve also teamed up with music producer Peter Boiko, and we’ve written and recorded a 5-song EP as performed by the characters in the book. We’re working on the final mix of that right now, so we’re essentially finished. I hope we get an announcement about the book at New York Comic Con in the fall.
Meanwhile, artist Paul Ciaravino and I are working on Americans UK #5. Americans UK is my real life band, and the comics are our sci-fi adventures, which in turn has led to spinoffs such as Time Bum, SH3: Human Hunter, and various graphic short stories, and what I call, “comic book music videos,” where the dialogue and caption boxes in the story are the actual lyrics to our songs. “Sons of Ba’al” with with Feeding Ground artist Michael Lapinski is a good example of one of those.
And finally I’m working on a series of graphic short stories with the umbrella title of Just Super, wherein super heroes are imagined as just another wave of gentrification in urban environs. I teamed up with my frequent collaborator ZeeS for the first episode.
JMH: Where can fans get a hold of your books?
Also, you can download digital copies of the Americans UK series for FREE from www.americans-uk.com, and also purchase physical copies of our 40 page anthology comics, or the main series from IndyPlanet. I think you can still get a value pack of the available Americans UK issues from Midtown Comics (online) and Things From Another World (online), but it’s been a while, so who knows.
I’m also a regular at many of the East Coast comic book conventions, and often have a table. I should be at Boston Comic Con and SPX this year with my friends and co-founders of Trip City, the aforementioned Dean Haspiel, along with Seth Kushner and Chris Miskiewicz.
JMH: How can fans and publishers contact you?
JEFF: You can email me at email@example.com .
JMH: Anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered yet?
JEFF: I have a prose short story titled “Portrait of a Zombie As a Young Scientist” in the Trip City Visitor’s Guide, 2012, which East Coasters can get at cons and many New York stores.
Also, we Americans UK have albums available on Amazon.com and iTunes, and everywhere online, actaully. We also have a vinyl record titled Luxuria available via our Facebook page, and a sci-fi rock album titled Rocktronic, and we’re recording our next album Where Giants Walk right now. You can also get our first EP titled I, Ape-Man for free at americans-uk.com, and listen to our live album AM/UK Live From Another Dimension streaming for free.
JMH: Writer, CBI appreciates your time! All the best!
JEFF: Hey, John, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work! I appreciate it, bud! I hope everybody digs what my collaborators and I are cookin’ up.
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