Interview with Brian Reed

Interview with Ace Masters

By Robert Murray
Published: 2006-03-05


Robert Murray: For all of our readers, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you broke into writing comic books.

Brian Reed: Well, I’ve been working in the video game industry for about ten years now (started out as a tester at Blizzard in the WarCraft II era), and I was lucky enough to land on the Ultimate Spider-Man project about three years back. My work as USM’s lead game designer led indirectly to my working in comics.

RM: Who are your biggest influences?

BR: I think it’s a law that you have to say Alan Moore taught you a lot, but it’s true. Watchmen still teaches me new things about how to unfold a complicated plot, every single time I read it. I also learned a lot about characters from Garth Ennis’s Preacher. There wasn’t a single character in that series that wasn’t well defined and well integrated into the story. And Jeff Smith’s Bone (which I think everyone should read, by the way — buy a copy and share it with your kids, or your younger siblings) has taught me a lot about writing big epic stories with a large cast of characters.

RM: What comic books are you reading right now?

BR: I am reading more than is healthy for my bank account, I can tell you that much. Some of the stuff I’m really enjoying — Fell by Warren Ellis, Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley, DMZ by Brian Wood, Y The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughn. I read the collected Black Hole by Charles Burns last fall and it absolutely blew me away. Oni Press has a book out by Ted Naifeh called Polly and the Pirates, which is just a lot of fun. Peter David’s new X-Factor is also quite good. Even as Bendis and Bagley are closing in on issue 100, Ultimate Spider-Man is still doing it for me. And I just realized how random and eclectic that list is. From my Grandmother to my five-year-old son, I believe there is something for absolutely everyone in comics. So, go out there! Buy some things! Read them. Give them to your friends and get more people into this great art form.

Watchmen still teaches me new things about how to unfold a complicated plot, every single time I read it.

RM: I’m loving Spider-Woman: Origin so far. How did you come upon the series? Did you pitch or were you approached?

BR: First of all, thanks for the kind words. Second, the series was offered to me as something to do with Brian Bendis. We had worked together on the USM game and I had managed to sell a story to Marvel for Spider-Man Unlimited. Tom Brevoort talked to Bendis, Bendis talked to me, the next thing I knew, I was surrounded by Spider-Woman comics.

RM: I really commend you for writing Spider-Woman: Origin #1 as a moving family drama. Why did you tell a majority of the first issue from Jessica’s father’s perspective?

BR: Some of that had to do with the Luna art style, and really wanting to cater to their strengths. But it also goes back to a scene in Spider-Woman #1, from 1978. There’s a flashback to Jessica’s childhood and it’s almost all about her mom and dad. But what really fascinated me about it is that there’s one panel where Miriam Drew (Jessica’s mom) is freaking out about Jessica’s well being — then the next panel is Jonathan (Jessica’s dad) at Miriam’s grave. The woman mysteriously dies between panels, right after arguing with her husband. That scene made me think that if we’re going to understand Jessica, we have to understand what the hell was going on between her parents first.

RM: Enquiring minds want to know! How did you first meet Brian Michael Bendis and what was it like to work with him on Spider-Woman: Origin?

BR: We met on the Ultimate Spider-Man game. I was the lead designer, but I had asked if I could write the story as well. I had a basic take on the game story (someone is trying to weaponize the Venom suit) when Activision came to us and said, “let’s hire Bendis.” He came on, we fleshed out and refined the story concept and then worked together on the game’s dialog. I was basically there to make sure the game had everything it needed and he was there to make sure we sounded like the comic book.

As for Spider-Woman: Origin, it was great. I’d known Bendis as a friend and co-writer for almost two years at that point, so it was really just another day on the job by that point. For me, it was a lot of learning about a character that he held near and dear to his heart, and learning to type “Page 1” instead of “Level 1.”

Jonathan Luna has a dream-like, animated quality to his stuff that does great things for stories like ours where we have talking cow people, and secret spy organizations that hire skull-faced hitmen.

RM: What do you think of the Luna Brothers’ art in Origin? Did you read any of their other work before this series?

BR: I don’t know if it’s common knowledge or not, but there was a big desire on everyone’s behalf to have this book be really special in the art department. Bendis went onto his message board and asked everyone there “who should I work with that I never have before?” And there were hundreds of suggestions. But when “The Luna Brothers” popped up, Bendis screamed, “That’s it!” We all knew they were going to bring the look to the table that would get absolutely everyone talking.

I love the Lunas. They’re completely different than anything else on the stands and — this is the important part — it’s a good kind of different. Jonathan Luna has a dream-like, animated quality to his stuff that does great things for stories like ours where we have talking cow people, and secret spy organizations that hire skull-faced hitmen.

Before I wrote word one of Origin, I sat down and read The Lunas’ Ultra. I read it through once just as a casual read, enjoying the story and just looking at it like anyone else would. Then I read it again, paying attention to how the shots were framed, how the characters moved, how the scenes were lit. I really wanted to tell a story that would fall right into Jonathan’s strengths.

RM: What comic work of yours are you most satisfied with so far?

BR: I’m my own worst critic. I always see a thousand things I wish had been better, but I’ll be totally honest and say that I am really, really happy with Ms. Marvel #1. And that’s not me shilling the book either (shilling looks like this: MS. MARVEL #1 is on sale March 1st! Buy a dozen copies!).

This is my first true solo flight in comics (Spider-Woman: Origin was a co-writing deal, and the Spider-Man Unlimited story was only eleven pages). And the fact that it’s in the Marvel Universe, my favorite superhero universe since forever — well, it’s pretty great. But, truth be told, it was also really scary. I was the only writer to blame if things go wrong. I was bringing back a character whose last series ended over twenty years ago. I mean, there’s any one of a billion ways this project could have crashed and burned, right?

But I just approved the finished pages of #1 last week, and I’m so excited with how well it all came out. Roberto De La Torre is an incredible penciler. I think he’s going to get a lot of fans as this series goes along. He’s Marvel’s new “It” guy as soon as this book hits the stands. The colors and inks look great. The whole package just really came together and is a lot of fun.

Truth be told, writing Ms. Marvel was also really scary. I was the only writer to blame if things go wrong.

RM: In your experience, what is the best comic story you have ever read?

BR: Watchmen kicks my ass every single time I read it. And I’ve been reading it at least once a year for the last, what, fifteen years? And still, I find new things in it like details in the art, or the plot that have always been there, but stand out more on the most recent reading. It’s one of the best bits of fiction I’ve ever read, period.

In a single-issue, I adore the Transmetropolitan issue where Spider Jerusalem is writing about the woman who just woke up after having her body preserved in the 20th century. It’s a wonderful pause in the middle of that series where the reader is reminded that they’ve become desensitized to Spider’s world. We’ve gotten used to the disgusting and twisted people we’re reading about, and we’re allowed to see it all as new again through this woman’s eyes. That’s a tough trick to pull off.

RM: After your work with Bendis, are there any creators that you are dying to work with?

BR: Steven Spielberg and I need to talk more often. It’s been too long.

RM: How does your experience with video game programming help you with your comic book writing duties, or does it hinder you?

BR: Well, first off, I need to set the record straight — I’m not a programmer, I’m a designer. And I somehow managed to work my way through a decade in this industry without ever picking up any real technical knowledge, which is not something I’m proud of, so much as it is a fact. I work with people who know their C++ from a hole in the ground, but I am not one of those people.

That being said, comic books (and just about any other entertainment medium) are a lot easier to write for than video games. With a game, you have to write contingency plans — what if the Player does something they’re not supposed to? What if the Player fails? You don’t have to deal with any of that in any other style of storytelling. You can just turn on your imagination and let it roam free.

RM: Tell us about the Ms. Marvel series and what we can expect?

BR: Fun. Action. Adventure. That was essentially my pitch for this book. I don’t want to do a grim story, deconstructing superheroes and exposing their flaws here. There’s a time and a place for that, but this is about big, over the top adventure.

In a nutshell, this is about being the best you can be at whatever it is that you do, which I happen to think is one of life’s most important lessons.

Short story, long: During the House of M event, all of the heroes were granted their greatest wishes. One by one, as the heroes learned the reality of their situation, they had their hopes and dreams taken away from them. Except for Ms. Marvel. In the HoM, she was the greatest superhero that ever lived. She was loved by millions and really was the best of the best. Once HoM ended, all the other heroes lost their fulfilled wishes. But Ms. Marvel, she hadn’t really had anything taken away; so much as she had been shown what she was capable of. Once HoM. was over, Ms. Marvel is basically left with the question of, “Why am I not being the person I could be?” So that’s where the series starts off.

Comic books are a lot easier to write for than video games. With a game, you have to write contingency plans — what if the Player does something they’re not supposed to? What if the Player fails?

RM: I really enjoyed the dialogue in the Ms. Marvel preview and Spider-Woman: Origin. How do you consciously develop your characters’ dialogue and keep it fresh and witty?

BR: I love to listen to people talk. The natural flow and the cadence of the words, everybody has their own patterns and it’s all really fascinating to me. I honestly don’t consciously do anything while I’m writing dialog. I just try to get out of the way and let the characters talk in their own voices. If I do my job right and just let the characters flow and be themselves, then I usually just have to clean up punctuation on the second draft.

RM: Being a huge fan of both characters, I have to ask: What was it like writing a story involving both Spider-Man and the Hulk (Spider-Man Unlimited #11)?

BR: When I wrote that story, I assumed it would be my only Marvel work ever, so I was going to play with as many toys as I could in those eleven pages. Since it was a Spidey book, I already knew my favorite character was in. And the mystery man at the center of the story, he’s my favorite Spidey villain, so I couldn’t resist bringing him to the party. When we were growing up, my brother loved the Hulk, so I really used Hulk for his entertainment as much as my own. I’d love to take a run at the Hulk series someday. I think that could be one heck of a lot of fun.

RM: Any non-Marvel comic book projects you’ve written that fans might be able to get their hands on or find on the internet?

BR: There is some creator-owned stuff brewing, but nothing I can plug just yet. It’s all still too early and nebulous.

RM: You seem to be building a fan base rather quickly. Are you planning on attending any conventions this season?

BR: I’ll be hanging out at Emerald City with the Luna Brothers. I’ll probably drop in on Wizard World LA. But I haven’t got a lot of convention plans yet this year.

RM: Are there any future projects you’re working on that you could enlighten us about? Anything involved in Civil War…?

BR: Ms. Marvel #7 starts our Civil War tie-in. It’s going to be a lot of fun for me to write since how she comes down on this whole hero registration thing is the polar opposite of how I would deal with it myself. I get a kick out of writing things like that, where a character does something I just can’t imagine myself doing.

RM: Do you have suggestions for apiring comic book writers? What do you think made Marvel notice you?

BR: My greatest suggestion to any writer of any genre is to practice your craft. Nobody is going to magically offer you a gig, you have to go out and find it and fight for it and damn near force them to give it to you. But if you’ve spent all your time mastering Halo 2, but haven’t finished a single writing project you’ve started, then you’ll never make it as a writer.

As for Marvel noticing me? I’d like to think it was my rugged good looks and winning personality. But it was probably the fact that I could write “Hulk throws a truck at Spider-Man” in an entertaining way.

RM: What video games are you currently playing when you’re not busy writing?

BR: Hah! Play games. That’s funny. Actually, when time permits, I’ve been squeezing in a few minutes with my Xbox 360 and Call of Duty 2, Dead or Alive 4 or Geometry Wars.

RM: In regards to your website, when you hunt Man for sport, do you typically use a gun, a bow, or your bare hands?

BR: For those that don’t know, my website has a bio up that reads: “Brian Reed writes for video games (ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN), comic books (SPIDER-WOMAN: ORIGIN, MS. MARVEL) and has been known to hunt Man for sport. This is his pseudo blogish thing.”

This is a filthy lie on my behalf. I gave up hunting humans years ago when I realized I was never going to eat all that meat I had in the freezer.