Thursday, January 29, 2009

Brahm Revel - Interview - Creator of Guerillas

Guerillas has fast become a favorite book of mine, my love (some say obsession) for chimps certainly plays a role in it, but this book just is flat out a great comic. I had never heard of Brahm Revel before and read up what I could on him, but I had questions of my own and Brahm was generous enough to do an interview with us.

Jim: One of my first questions to every creator is a simple secret origin question as almost every comic fan loves to know the origin of the characters. Who is Brahm Revel and what drove him to create comic books?

Brahm: I was born and raised in the old port town of San Francisco. I lived there with my Mom and a couple of roommates in an old Victorian house in the Mission District. I later heard that some of the roommates thought it was haunted. One said there was a cold spot in the long hallway but I never noticed anything. When I got a little older my Mom and I moved to a place of our own just four houses down the block.

My Mom was a creative type and encouraged my drawing. I was exposed to Tintin and Asterix
when I was fairly young and I always had comics around, but it wasn’t until sixth grade that I went to an actual comic book store and was introduced to the wider world of comics. That’s where I found the old black and white Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. From then on I was hooked.

I realized it was somebody’s job to make these comics and I decided pretty early on that that
was what I wanted to do with my life. My tastes changed as I grew up, but I always loved the form and the rest of my life has been in the pursuit of figuring out how to make these damn funny books make sense.

I went to an Arts High School in SF and then to an Art College in NY where I now live and work. GUERILLAS is my first professional work as a sole creator.

Jim: When not slaving away at a drawing board or writing what do you enjoy to do in your free time?

Brahm: What do you mean when I’m not at my drawing board? You mean when I’m sleeping? Seriously, there’s not much extra time after those two things.

When I do give myself a little free time I like to look at things that inspire me. Things like books and comics. Every comic book fan has a collector inside them and I am slowly amassing a pretty respectable collection. I also love to watch movies and television. I was raised with the TV on and I’m not afraid to say I love it. I don’t know if beer and whiskey should be put down as hobbies, but I like them too. And lastly… Baseball! I have always loved baseball and in particular the New York Mets! I watch or listen to pretty much every game. It’s a great thing to have on while you work. Me and a couple friends got our names put on a brick at the new stadium they built for the Mets… Go check it out if you don’t believe me…

Jim: GUERILLAS is a great series. It is part war story, part a view on how man treats animals and a human-interest story of John Clayton. How would you describe GUERILLAS?

Brahm: I see GUERILLAS as a cool action comic that also happens to have a lot of interesting themes to explore. I see each issue as a chapter of a Graphic Novel that has a defined ending. I see GUERILLAS expanding the page count of the typical monthly. I’m trying to make each issue longer to allow for more elongated sequences of pure visual storytelling. I’m not heavily influenced by manga, but I think what Katsuhiro Otomo achieved with Akira and Domu is amazing and I’m trying to tell stories with that kind of ambition. I don’t have an agenda or a particular message that I’m trying to get across with GUERILLAS. I’m just trying to tell an interesting story with relatable characters. Ultimately, I’d like GUERILLAS to be a page-turner that you get more from each time you read it.

Jim: What was the evolution of this story? Was it as simple as the term guerilla warfare that gave you the idea or do you have an interest in the Viet Nam war? As your bio information shows you to be too young for the Viet Nam war I’m assuming no other recent war would have worked for the concept.

Brahm: As unbelievable as it may sound, I didn’t think of the name GUERILLAS until the very end. And when I did, I thought, “Wow, this is so obvious… Why hasn’t someone done this yet?” Then I was afraid someone else was gonna come up with the same idea or a very similar idea and get it out before I could.

As far as I can remember the idea came while I was watching Saving Private Ryan. The images
of the soldiers walking through bombed out Europe reminded me of Chimps walking in troops through the jungle. It was as simple as that… Chimps at War… That just might work!

Originally I was thinking it would take place during WWII. Mainly because that’s the war that
Private Ryan took place in, but it didn’t make as much sense logically. Vietnam ended up making much more sense… Jungle Warfare… Guerillas Tactics… and a presidency that was desperate not to lose a messy war. I didn’t have a particular affinity for Vietnam or war comics in general, but this was where the idea was going so I just followed it.

Jim: John Clayton and his girlfriend Jane are an obvious homage to Tarzan by ERB, are you a fan of his work or did you just like the humorous touch in naming the characters?

Brahm: Indeed. They are homages to the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan, which I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never read. Tarzan is another one of those things that seems like an obvious early inspiration, but I didn’t recognize the similarities until I was well into the writing of GUERILLAS. At that point I was afraid that if I read Tarzan then, it might become too big of an influence. So I thought the names would be a nice little extra to put in for those in the know. I threw Francis in there to make it a little less obvious… but you got me!

Jim: This is a one-man project, do you consider yourself an artist first, writer second, vice versa or a storyteller?

Brahm: I never really considered myself to be a writer when I was younger. My goal was always to become a penciler and work at either Marvel or DC. I just assumed I’d have my own writer and inker to take care of those aspects of the comic. So I guess, growing up, I always saw myself as an artist first.

But I’m also a bit of a control freak and as I started working with people early on, I realized that I had a particular vision of how I wanted the stories to read. So at this point I guess I think of myself as a storyteller. I want the drawings to service the story first and look pretty second.

These days I even find it hard to compose covers or pin-ups because they are stand alone images and have no sequential storytelling to them… There is almost too much freedom because there is no story to adhere to.

Jim: This is a nine part series, so I assume you have the basics of each chapter already completed. How have you structured the work so that when you get to each chapter you know what you are doing? (A script outline, thumbnails).

Brahm: It’s a little messy… I have every chapter outlined. So I essentially know what’s gonna happen and how each issue will end. I also have lots of notes from my research that I go over to see if any little scribble I wrote months ago will apply to that episode. Things like a conversation, a short scene, or an observation or detail that might help define a theme for that particular issue. Then I make a more detailed revised outline that I try to breakdown into pages. One page for this scene, three pages for that scene. That way I can see where I stand with an overall page count. I try not to be too restrictive with how many pages I use. I try to keep it around 48, but the first 4 issues have ranged from 44 to 52 pages. If I’m at a good spot with page count I start to do thumbnails. I write most of the dialogue as I thumbnail. If there are big areas of exposition or dialogue I’ll stop and write it out as a script, but if it’s just banter I’ll write as I go. It’s kind of a back and forth thing and it’s really only something you can do if you’re the writer and the artist.

For me, doing the thumbnails is probably the most exciting aspect of making the comic. It’s like
a puzzle. You have all these little pieces that you’re trying to fit together in just the right way to make this bigger story.

After that it’s the grind of drawing the 50 or more pages…

Jim: Based on some internet research and looking at your blog, you are also doing storyboard work, how does that differ from a comic book?

Brahm: With storyboards you are always working with other peoples stories. So usually I’m working from a script or I’m given some notes and I’m supposed to illustrate someone else’s vision. Other times I’m given first crack at the scene and the boards are used more as inspiration for certain shots, or as a springboard for the director to elaborate on. Either way it’s good practice for visual storytelling. You also start to learn how to stage scenes cinematically. You learn about screen direction and editing theory. It’s not essential for making comics but it doesn’t hurt.

My favorite part about doing storyboards is that they don’t have to be perfect. You are expected to draw a lot of panels so the finished boards can be loose and sketchy, and sometimes those are the nicest drawings.

Jim: Where else would you like to see GUERILLAS? Any hopes of a trade or hard cover down the road?

Brahm:I would definitely like to see GUERILLAS compiled into one book at some point. I like the idea of making comics like you would a movie or a novel. You work a year or two on a project that has a defined end point and when it’s finished you move on to the next idea. So it makes sense that each story would eventually be bound as a single object.

That’s not to say that I dislike the episodic nature of the floppy issue. I actually love that about comics. I feel it’s a part of the medium and I hope to always be able to present my stories as individual chapters with cliffhanger endings. I think it’s more fun to have to wait to find out what happens

That being said, I urge people to continue buying the floppies. Sales will have to stay high enough to warrant a collection.

Jim: Are you selling your original art or are you doing everything on the computer and therefore there is no original art? What is you process in creating the art?

Brahm: There are originals, but I haven’t been selling them yet. The early issues are in storage right now so it’s not very convenient, but I will eventually.

As far as my process goes, after the thumbnails are worked out, I start drawing the pages just slightly bigger than print size. I sketch with the non-photo blue pencils and then tighten the drawings with a regular pencil. When they’re done I blow them up to the typical comic original size (about 10” x 15”) and then ink them on a light-box. I use the classic #2 Windsor Newton series 7 brush to ink and felt-tip disposable pens for boarders and detail stuff. For the words I use a comic font, but I print out the words and paste them onto the actual originals. I feel like it makes the words look less computery. I also like that the originals actually have the words on them and can be read.

Then I scan the pages and put the gray-tones on in Photoshop.

Jim: Do you have any other comic projects in the works?

Brahm: One of my side jobs is working on a comic adaptation of a movie called “I Sell the Dead!” and as you might have guessed, it’s about grave robbers. It’s directed by Glenn McQuaid and stars Dominic Monaghan (Lost, Lord of the Rings), Ron Perlman (Hellboy, City of Lost Children) and Angus Scrimm (Phantasm). It’s a fun movie that’s as influenced by the EC horror comics of the 50’s as by the Hammer horror movies of the 70’s. The comic will be a 48 page one-shot and will most likely be in color. It’s uncertain when the comic will be coming out but it will coincide with the release of the film, which is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit.

Jim: Would you ever work for the big two? If yes, name one or two characters you would like to work on.

Brahm: I would in a limited way, like a one-shot or an anthology like Batman: Black and White, but I wouldn’t want to get into the monthly grind.

I was a big X-men fan, but they’ve been through so many changes that these days I don’t recognize anyone on the team. Wolverine was always a favorite of mine, so a solo Wolverine story would be fun. Miller’s Daredevil was a big influence and I love the Film Noir-like style, so that would be fun too. Batman and Spiderman are just fun to draw, so that could work too.

I was so into superheroes at one point in my life that it would be fun to do anything related to that genre at least once.

Jim: Is there anyway you could work Beppo the Super Monkey into this book?

Brahm: I don’t think Beppo’s gonna make it into GUERILLAS with out a lawsuit of some kind.

I know my chimps can’t fly, but they’re as super as the technology of the 60’s would allow… Plus they got machineguns… and that never hurts.

Jim: What is the one thing you would want readers to take away from this series?

Brahm: Personally, I’d like them to think that I was a quality cartoonist and someone to watch for in the future.

As far as GUERILLAS the comic, I want the readers to be entertained first. But in doing so, I also want to build a story that has many different layers and works on different levels. I think that each reader will bring their own experience to GUERILLAS and each will get something different in return.

But it’s a comic… I always want it to remain fun first.

Jim: What is been the hardest thing about trying to market your book?

Brahm: I think the biggest thing is that I’m an unknown in the industry. Readers are always more likely to support someone whose work they are familiar with. But there’s not a lot I can do there. You gotta start somewhere.

I also think the fact that it’s not in color turns some readers off. But I’ve also heard from a lot of readers that think the gray adds to the grittiness of the title.

And lastly, I think the price at $5.99 has turned some people off. But it is a 56-page book and starting with the 4th issue it’ll be going quarterly. So $6 isn’t a huge investment to ask for every three months.

Give it a chance people! It’s got monkeys shooting guns! What more could you ask for?

The more I learn about the creators the more fun the book is for me. I love that Brahm wants us to have fun first and foremost and whatever else we get out of it is just icing on the cake, so to speak. In spite of Brahm being a Met fan, I like him and hope he shows at Balto-Con this year.

Thanks again to Brahm for giving so much of his time to us and supplying all the graphics. When the next issue of Guerillas hits the stores on March 25 make sure you have ordered one from you local store.


Seriously this is a great story so far and I can’t want for the rest.

Visit his blog.
Read another interview at CBR.
Check out 28 pages of issue #1.

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