Going on Instinct: An Interview with cartoonist Garry Brown

A comics interview article by: Keith Silva

Garry Brown draws a lot of water, in other words, he's a force.

Art makes for (perhaps) the most idiosyncratic experience (aside from love) in our lives. One woman's Transformers: Age of Extinction is another woman's Under the Skin. Little exists to differentiate the two besides taste … for which there's no accounting.

I didn't dislike The Massive when it debuted in the summer of 2012. I thought the first three issues merely adequate. What left me cold was Kristian Donaldson's technical (and I felt) cold cartooning. I wanted something approaching the kineticism of Supermarket and instead I felt like I was looking at the plans to the Death Star; the fault was mine, not Donaldson's. That's art. And then like that clich├ęd bolt out of the blue, everything changed with The Massive #4. Enter Garry Brown.

It will be good sledding weather in the Northeast when The Massive wraps with issue 30. What will make the weather even more frightful is that Brown won't be drawing Cal, Mary, Mag, Lars or Ryan any longer, the Kapital will be kaput and (perhaps) the whodunits of The Massive will be solved. Brown's talent and skill as a cartoonist and storyteller on The Massive has demonstrated he is an artist with limitless (ironclad?) opportunities. Here's hoping those possibilities are endless, as innumerable as all those damn waves Brian Wood makes him draw for The Massive.

Keith Silva for Comics Bulletin: Admit it, Garry, you're sick of drawing waves and THAT's why The Massive is ending with issue #30?

Garry Brown: Ha! Nah, I'm actually getting better at drawing them. There's a lot of nuances to ocean waves.

CB: As a cartoonist what was it about The Massive that made you want to 'ship on,' so to speak?

Brown: Without a doubt it was Brian. I'd been a fan of his for years, Northlanders, DMZ, etc. He's got a great backlog of well written books and I wanted to be a part of another of his worlds.

Also getting on at (almost) the beginning of a huge monthly book like this was really exciting. I hadn't ever done a monthly book or a series over four issues before.

CB: How much of your work as a cartoonist is interpretation and being a 'close reader?'

CB: I do layouts differently than other artists I've spoken to. I think most artists read over the script a few times to get familiar with it [and] then work out the layouts. I read it once while I'm doing the layouts. That way I get my instinctual reactions, angles, compositions down as I'm 'seeing' the pages for the first time. That doesn't mean I get them all perfect the first time, but I value my instincts in this regard.

CB: What went into your approach in developing the look of Callum Israel (especially that beard)?

Brown: I didn't want to try and make him look like Kristian's version -- that was his take. Brian and Sierra [Hahn, editor of The Massive] were really encouraging about finding my versions of the characters and environments. To really make the book my own, so I really just went back to Brian's original notes on the character. I got to see the original descriptions and went from there: Redford in the '70s.



CB: As much as The Massive is a character study, you get to draw a lot of stuff. How do you approach drawing boats, oil rigs and submarines as opposed to people?

Brown: Yeah, I think I've pretty much drawn everything you can think of. I was pretty intimidated at the beginning, I'd never really had to draw stuff like that before, but then you do it a lot and it becomes a lot more comfortable. Also a lot of my drawing of environments and vehicles are gestural. I try and get over the main point of whatever I'm drawing as clearly as possible. I'm not really into adding an excess of lines.


CB: The Massive requires reference and a lot of research. How do you approach reference material pre- and post-crash i.e. the Oslo Tinghaus as opposed to a partially submerged Statue of Liberty?

Brown: Brian's really great at helping out with reference. And since he's an artist too, he knows the right words to say to let me know the feel of each place. It's a lot of fun drawing post-apocalyptic places. I love The Planet of the Apes and stuff like that.

CB: (So far) is there a scene or a character you think of as the most 'Garry Brown' contribution to The Massive?

Brown: I really loved all the stuff with Bors and Cal. I could have drawn that stuff all day (and I did, Ha-Ha!) really powerful and dramatic writing.

CB: You've gotten to work with Dave Stewart and Jordie Bellaire -- a legend and a legend-in-the-making. When it comes to colorists, how has each one informed your work on The Massive?

Brown: Colorists are incredibly important and they add so much to the art. A bad color job can absolutely destroy a book. With Dave and Jordie we really lucked out. Not only are they really cool collaborators but they're at the top of their games. I think artistically I 'see' in black and white. So it's always a surprise when I get the pages in. I think we all have storytelling in common. People don't really think about that with the colors, but it's very important.

CB: When this series ends you will have drawn over two-thirds of it. What does that mean to you as an cartoonist and does it take on greater meaning because The Massive is a creator-owned work?

Brown: I really wish I'd gotten to draw the whole thing. It feels really great to have been involved in a book of this quality. Working with Brian has been really great. I'm really going to miss the characters and all the creative involved … [it's] a strange feeling, this being my first co-created world.

CB: How do you think your work has changed from when you started with issue #4?

Brown: I think my style has changed dramatically. It's probably not that obvious to the outsider, but I've definitely improved as an artist and I'm more confident in my drawing.

CB: What issue are you working on now (as of June) and has this story developed the way you thought it would? (Please provide as many spoilers as possible)

Brown: Brian pretty much told me what was going to happen in general terms, but it's still thrilling and surprising to read the scripts. I think that helps me to get my reactions down for the characters.


The Massive Volume 3: Longship is available now from Dark Horse Comics. Follow Garry Brown on Twitter: @GarryBoom. To purchase original art, visit his website: http://www.garrybrownart.com/    

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