Friday, January 14, 2011

About Robots and Vikings with Ivan Brandon - Part 1

It all began with a harmless online sideswipe on Twitter relating to the sticky topic of chewing gum which Red Dot Island is internationally notorious for. And that was how Red Dot Diva had her first brush with well-known graphic novels writer/ editor, Ivan Brandon. Digital-style.

Ivan Brandon made his name as one of the creators for the robotic-"NYC Mech" world. So, Red Dot Diva thought that was rather apt.

She sure did not expect to bump into him and his pretty wife at GnB Comic's pre-convention event. Ivan happened to be there together with a host of other STGCC guests. They were also there at the shop for David Lloyd's special appearance. Towards the back of the crowded shop, Ivan had settled himself on a cream-coloured sofa; his dark observant eyes quietly surveying the crowd.

Their eyes met and Red Dot Diva promptly introduced herself. Shaking hands, Ivan insisted that he does not chew gum, but pointed out that his wife had a pack of gum hidden in her bag. Red Dot Diva impishly noted that this was most unfortunate, for as a responsible citizen of this island, she now had to call and report the matter to the authorities immediately.

There wasn't much of an opportunity to chat more as some fans swooped in eagerly upon Ivan with comics for him to sign - which he gladly obliged.

After doors officially opened on the first day of STGCC, popular DC writer Gail Simone and Ivan Brandon were the first guests at the Walk of Fame autograph signings. Because the crowd was still entering the venue and has yet to form long lines, Red Dot Diva took the opportunity of the leaner first-day morning queues to get her "24Seven" Vol. 1 anthology signed by Ivan.

She mentioned that she loved the scifi themed series - a welcome change from the usual superheroes storylines. Ivan flashed a smile. Not wanting to consume too much of his time at the table, Red Dot Diva was about to slink away, when Ivan held on to her copy of the book and flipped to the back cover.

Going through the list of the anthology's creators, Ivan pointed out to her the peeps who were present as STGCC guests, like Esad Ribic, Alex Maleev and Matt Fraction. He then said he couldn't quite remember if C.B. Cebulski was in the book as well, and Red Dot Diva said she thought he wasn't. They both leaned closer peering down the rather long list and finally, unanimously agreed that C.B. Cebulski was indeed in Volume 2.

Cuban Chocolate and Chili-Padi kinda warmed up a little more to each other from then on.

On STGCC Day 2, Red Dot Diva was in the theatre scoping out the Lucasfilm panel on "Ironman" when she received two urgent-sounding SMS-es asking if she was going to make it for the interview with Ivan at 12pm. It was already 11.50am. Eeks.

She made a mad dash down the hallway and up a floor like an Asian Fire Cat on speed (- not a pretty sight, BTW - ) and tumbled into the guest lounge... only to have one of the PR volunteers say that Ivan was going to be late.

No worries. *pant* Need to catch breath.

So, she decided that she had time for a much needed caffeine injection. Before she could gulp down two mouthfuls, Ivan arrived.

Bright-eyed, with hair noticeably damp, and wearing a navy-blue plaid shirt that contrasted against his dark Cuban chocolate good looks, it was quite obvious that Ivan was just out of the shower. Quite distracting.

Especially with the awful din from the exhibit hall already in full-swing. But Red Dot Diva and Ivan decided to bravely battle against that as they dove right into the interview. Which happened most notedly without any form of chewing gum.

Red Dot Diva: Is this your first time to Singapore and Asia, and did you have any pre-conceived notions before you arrived here?
Ivan: I've never been to Asia before, and we came in on Sunday. I went to Phuket for a couple of days before that. I knew a little bit of Thailand, but Singapore, in my impression so far.. is a little more nebulous. Little less specific. So many cultures... and so it was hard for me to wrap my brain around.

There's a lot of Asian culture but it's almost very American in a certain way. So, that's been very interesting to me.

And so I was saying last night that it would almost be too dangerous for me to live here because there is so much food culture. There's just food everywhere. I know there's a lot of shopping but I don't care about the shopping so much. But the food would get me into trouble.

I would be a very very BIG comic writer ... but not in a good way.

Red Dot Diva: Did you manage to have a look of the city yet?
Ivan: A little bit. The gracious people of GnB Comics took me around on Thursday. A little bit into the city, mostly Chinatown. Tomorrow, Sunday is our biggest day. I believe the Tourist Board is going to take us on a food tour and a fun, nice tour. I'm definitely excited to see the city.

With that small talk out of the way, it was time to get serious with the geek talk.

Red Dot Diva: For those who are not familiar with your profile and your work, how did you first get into writing? I heard that you were also involved in TV before. Was that one of the things that helped you get into writing comics?
Ivan: Not TV. I dealt with an animation property that was supposed to be launched around the same time in animation and in comics. Funny enough the comics came out, the animation is still pending. And it's been like 9 years or something. And the animation still isn't ready.

That was my first work and I went from there with the same company, like "The Terminator" and a book named "Ganglords of Chinatown", based in San Francisco's Chinatown - which was basically like a cross between Mad Max and a biblical story. A very post-apocalyptic story.

From there, I did a lot of creator-owned work, which I am very grateful to see a lot of it here. People have brought me some of my earliest book which was "NYC Mech". And I signed many many copies of "NYC Mech" yesterday, which was really really flattering to me. Very surprising and also, very happy to see.

Red Dot Diva: So were you surprised with the in-depth knowlege of some of the fans here at the convention and how well they knew you?
Ivan: Yeahhhhhh. I guess I knew certain things ... some of my DC and my Marvel work I would have expected there would be a following because they had a huge army of people promoting around the world. That stuff was less of a surprise. Still, it makes a person feel great to see their work available here. You know, I took 25 hours on a plane to get here, so to see my work also here, is very very flattering.

But to see the work and the things that I created which are more a labour of love..... where even in the United States, they usually reach a smaller market. That stuff is a struggle to get in front of people and to find a people out here with it, was just amazing. But we also have an amazing history about Singapore in specific. We have a fan here, from many many years ago, the very first person to get an "NYC Mech" tattoo.

Red Dot Diva was very impressed: Wowww....

Ivan continued with the anecdote animatedly: Yeah, it was a guy Wayne Ree who lives out here in Singapore. I've seen him and I met him here yesterday. And it was super cool for us because... even then I was only a couple years into my career. And one of the most mindblowing things that happened to me was this guy getting a tattoo of something that we created.

Red Dot Diva: Seriously!

Ivan: It would have been different if I wrote a Superman story and inspired someone and Superman has been around for several years. But this was a character who didn't exist until we made it. And some guy thousands and thousands of miles from where we live and dreamed up this crazy idea, has a permanent representation on his body of of my favourite characters that I've ever created. That to me was enormously humbling and it's *surreal*.

There's been a bunch of tattoos since then that people have gotten. We even have a girl in Philadelphia who has her entire arm done in robotic style. But it's just surreal to connect to anybody on that level. And to be able to reach so far .. I'm sure you guys have your own culture going on here to excite you... so to reach through things that are going on locally, and so on, is really thrilling and *surreal*.

It's one of those things that no matter how much you see it, it's impossible to believe, you know.

Red Dot Diva was getting quite caught up with Ivan's buoyant mood, and was totally loving all these hardcore fan tattoo stories. Partially because she never really had a desire to tattoo her body in any way!

Red Dot Diva: Talking about robots, you seem to prefer that kind of genre.. and those which are post-apocalyptic in nature...
Ivan explained to Red Dot Diva that this wasn't entirely true. "I ended up, at the beginning, doing a lot of robotic stuff based on.. you know, just an idea that popped into your head. We were thrilled with "NYC Mech".... We were kinda an artists' artist book, I guess. The book was the kind that connected really really well with other creators. So, we would get approached a lot by people wanting to do covers, wanting to do artwork... 'can I do a short story?' 'can I do an issue?', etc etc.

From that, we wanted to do a couple of back-up stories from "NYC Mech" but I didn't want to contain what people were doing... I wanted to give them a bigger audience from when they started doing their work, so that moved on to "24Seven". And "24Seven" was a looser version of basically the same simple concept. And from that, we had tons of amazing people throw in their own interpretations of the same basic idea we were working on from "NYC Mech".

So, it wasn't that we were obsessed with the idea but it was more of, we were inspired by other people's love of the idea. And when you have amazing artists coming to you and want to play with your concepts, I would be stupid to turn that down.

And then we went and did "The Cross Bronx", which was a modern crime kind of story. And "Viking" which is a period drama. I tend to be .. what I call .. creative ADD. Because I dislike doing the same thing over and over.... "

Red Dot Diva: Yes, I can see that. I mean... from robots to vikings?!
Ivan: Right! I try to keep myself surprised. It's kinda like an actor who has to play the villain over and over again and gets typecast. To me, it's boring. I want to be able to write fantasy and modern crime and a biographical historical book...

Red Dot Diva: I know you love comics because it's a special kind of art form but how would you feel if someone were to ask you to create a TV series?
Ivan: Well, we've actually have been asked and we have developed stuff. But the TV market is very tough. TV is very interesting to me and I've sorta experimented and done comics in the way that they did TV. TV is fascinating. Outside of comics, it is the pop culture medium that excites me the most right now.
Red Dot Diva: I think it has changed recently as well.
Ivan: Yeah, it's experiencing kind of a renaissance right now.
Red Dot Diva: Actually, I've been noticing a reverse trend. Like from "Heroes", there's the graphic novels. Then there are the "Buffy" graphic novels and now "True Blood"... there are the graphic novels too...
Ivan: I thought that "Heroes" was a fun show but from a comic standard, wasn't a very original show. They've used stories that the comic fans have seen before, and I was very surprised that the comics people embraced it so strongly. Because it was all things that had been done before.
Red Dot Diva: Yeah, it does seem all too familiar and some were saying they were following "X-Men" a little too closely.
Ivan: Yeah that was why I was surprised. I thought it would have been cool to approach an audience that wasn't comic-oriented because they didn't know that kind of stuff and would get excited. But I was very surprised when people who read "X-Men" followed the show so closely because it would have been too boring. But then I guess they saw it as a weird melding of the mediums involved.

Red Dot Diva filled in by saying that many of her friends who are "Heroes" fans were admittedly not comic readers. But for those who are, they seem to particularly enjoy how the multi-storylines available in comics were able to be translated on to the TV medium, especially in the first two seasons.

Ivan listened and nodded. "I do generally think that comics has the most creative work happening right around because we have so much freedom to create any kind of story. Whereas TV is very difficult, you'd have to deal with production and studio budget. The network determines what kind of programming they want. But it's probably my second favourite medium. The budgets for TV are big by comic standards but very small by Hollywood standards. It is much easier to spend the budget on an episode than on a movie. So for that, they are able to experiment and take a little bit more risk."


Coming soon... !! In the next part of the interview, Ivan Brandon discussed about editing vs writing with Red Dot Diva. They also chat about indie comics, non-superhero comics and the dilemma faced by local Singaporean works in the global pop-culture arena.


Specially for those non-local folks:
Chili padi - Tiny chili fruit that tastes uber-spicy. Used frequently in South-East Asian food. It's a popular local euphemism for a petite female with spunky or fiery temperament.

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