Brandon Jerwa and Eric S. Trautmann are no strangers to critically acclaimed comics, as each has written well-received titles at two major publishers. Brandon has crafted the stories for Dynamite Entertainment’s Battlestar Galactica – Season Zero and Highlander and Eric has co-written DC Comics’ Checkmate and goes solo for the upcoming JSA vs. Kobra mini-series. I had the pleasure of speaking to both at this year’s Emerald City ComiCon and, as the title implies, it was a lively conversation!
From “Popgun” Volume II, art by David Messina with Mirco Pierfederici
PCZ: As Brandon told me earlier, you guys are working on something together, is that correct?
PCZ: …and what is that?
Eric: All we are currently authorized to say is that we are working on a book for DC/Vertigo. It’s a stand-alone graphic novel. We can’t tell you who the artist is yet, but he’s awesome. It’s a name you will recognize. We don’t know when it’s coming out and we can’t tell you anything about what it’s about.
Brandon: It will have a front cover, a back cover and several pages.
Eric: They may be in sequential order.
PCZ: Some words, some pictures…?
Eric: Right! We don’t want to over sell it.
Brandon: Yeah, before Eric can completely make you feel like this interview is a total bust, I was actually referring to Wide Awake, which is our new webcomic.
Eric: Yes, that we can talk about!
PCZ: Excellent, do you have a website for it already?
Brandon: We do, it is www.wideawakeonline.com.
PCZ: And what is this webcomic about?
Eric: It began as sort of a nine-page teaser that we did for the second volume of Image’s Popgun series, which is also available online at Brandon’s wonderful “Anything Goes” column at Comics Waiting Room, complete with Director’s Commentary. It’s a supernatural adventure story, for lack of a better term, about a young woman who has the ability in her dreams to encounter various monsters, supernatural horrors, awful things. If she doesn’t defeat them in her dreams, she wakes up and they’re in the room with her and she no longer has fantastic powers. That’s the general high concept. Sinister demonic forces from the other world are trying to manipulate her power in such a way to bring about the end of the world. If she dreams Armageddon, it will happen.
“It’s a supernatural adventure story…about a young woman who has the ability in her dreams to encounter various monsters, supernatural horrors, awful things.” – Eric Trautmann on “Wide Awake”
PCZ: Is this a full-page comic or a four panel strip?
Brandon: Basically, we are approaching it very much in honor of the greatness that is FreakAngels and we’re going to have a new six-page installment each new chapter. And we are actually trying to keep it strip-like in the layout. It will read like a comic book page, but keeping the panel count low and letting it just serve as a nice little strip piece. We have three issues worth of material plotted out for the first installment, so it’ll essentially be like a big mini-series when it’s done. We’re intending to launch a “zero chapter” on Free Comic Book Day as a free comic book online.
Eric: [The free comic] will be indicative of the format that we’re going to use, six pages. Poor Brandon had written a chapter before we’d had a lot of time to sit down and talk about the format and the first script was perfect for a traditional floppy comic and I said “Yeah, I don’t think we should do that, we should totally do it this other way. Everything you’ve done is great except we gotta do it all over.” And then once he’d stopped hitting me and I’d stopped crying we worked it out. We spent a lot of time looking at FreakAngels and Watchmen.
Watchmen is fascinating to me because it’s constructed almost exclusively on a nine panel grid, which is a deceptively simple layout, but allows you to do some rather surprisingly cinematic effects. Most of Watchmen consists of pans and zooms and, really, camera movement. It’s also really easy for someone who’s never ever picked up a comic book to decode those pages. If you look at a conventional comic book as layouts get more sophisticated readers who’ve been reading comics for twenty to thirty years get it, but if you hand it to someone like my mom, she’d be lost. It’s a webcomic, we’re not just selling the product to comic readers, but to anyone on the Internet. We have the same shelf-space as anyone in that regard. A lot of work went into the page layout and the methodology.
PCZ: Is this something you’re going to collect in a trade eventually?
Brandon: That is the end result that we’d like to get to. Right now we just want the story to be told and get it into the hands of as many people as possible and sort of let their reaction dictate what format to present it in after that. We don’t have any publishers lined up for a trade deal or anything. We figure that will come in time.
Eric: Story first.
Brandon: Yeah, and we should speak about the artists since they can’t be here to speak for themselves. They are many, many miles away. We first did the Popgun piece with David Messina, who seems to draw every IDW book, and I met David through Stefano Caselli, who I did G.I. Joe – Master & Apprentice with and he went on to become a Marvel super-star. We got together with David and did the Popgun piece and he had some assistance from a guy who was one of his students, because David’s also an art teacher in Italy, Mirco Pierfederici. It really became sort of a collaborative effort for Popgun for them and when it came time to do the webcomic we came back to them and said are you interested in doing this. Mirco actually stepped up to the plate to be lead artist while David is going to serve as art director and oversee it from that standpoint.
Eric: And he’s going to do covers for each installment and that’s awesome!
PCZ: Is there going to be Internet gold-foil covers or…?
Eric: Yes! We’re working on that right now. Grant Morrison has been sitting on that technology for decades.
Brandon: We’re actually having the entire website polybagged. But in all seriousness, the Italians are out of their freaking minds and they will cut you with knives, as we’ve learned via email. David once told us that he would cut us with knives.
Eric: Yeah, and that was a joke. That was actually one of the funny things when we first started doing the Popgun piece. Of course, they correspond with us in English, but English is not their first language and I had written a description of a character who had a five-o’clock shadow. I got this note back saying “Ok, so I got the clock on the wall and it’s at five o’clock, but I don’t know where you want the shadow to go.” So, it’s been an interesting exercise in writing the scripts and really boiling things down to avoid just idiomatic differences. When we were joking about it, and I’m sure this joke is just hysterical in Italian, but David said “I will cut you with knives.”
Brandon: I occasionally get instant messages from Stefano asking me for help with translating something he’s working on, if there’s a reference he doesn’t understand he knows I’m quick to reach. Once he asked me, “What does this mean, a range rover? Is that a type of cowboy?” and I said no, no, no, let’s not have anybody riding a cowboy in your script.
I think, too, that with Wide Awake, you know, none of us are getting paid, it’s just putting art out there and just doing our thing. There’s nothing purer than that, there’s no incentive to do anything other than your best work, which of course we would never dream of doing otherwise! It’s just the purity of the form, I suppose.
“…with ‘Wide Awake’, you know, none of us are getting paid, it’s just putting art out there and just doing our thing. here’s nothing purer than that, there’s no incentive to do anything other than your best work…” – Brandon Jerwa
PCZ: That seems to be the way to go for people that can’t get work at Marvel or DC, they just go “You know what, I’m just going to do my own website, put out my book that way, collect it in trades and hopefully enough people will want to pick it up.”
Eric: Exactly, this is indicative of the both of us being at the end of our careers now. Thank you!
Brandon: Thank you very much!
Eric: The stuff I’ve done for DC has always been collaborative and it’s all serving DC’s overall editorial vision, which is great. It’s their toys and I am incredibly thankful that they’ve let me do that, but at the same time it’s a lot of me subordinating my own personal aesthetic to DC’s. Something like Wide Awake, this is not like that, the sky’s the limit, we can do whatever we want. It’s just really invigorating.
PCZ: So when you’re writing it, there’s no “Can we do this?”, instead it’s “Why yes we can!”
Eric: Yeah, exactly. A great example is in the JSA vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith series I’m doing I’ve actually written back up scenes because I can’t imagine DC will let me get away with what I just put down on paper. Ironically, I get “Yeah, no problem, can you do worse?” and I’m like “Y-yeah, you’re daring me, you know that, right?” Actually, the note I got back from Rachel Gluckstern, who’s editing the JSA vs. Kobra book, was “You have to work really hard to shock me,” but yeah, don’t test that.
PCZ: That’s a challenge!
Eric: I don’t want to make her cry, but I’ll consider it a victory.
Brandon: Far less work than you realize…
PCZ: Ok, staying with JSA vs. Kobra, is that from a plot point that comes out of Justice Society of America or does that follow the storyline from Checkmate?
Eric: Yes. It is not a Checkmate story. They came to me after Ivan Brandon’s Faces of Evil: Kobra one-shot that closed off some of the Checkmate plot-points that were still there after the end of the series. At one point I was considered to take over the series and Kobra was going to feature very prominently in that and they knew that. There had been some talk for a long time of doing a Janus Directive style spies versus terrorists in the DC Universe story, which I discussed very thoroughly with Joan Hilty, who had edited Checkmate and is now editing our Vertigo book. Apparently the idea took root at DC editorial and at some point somebody said “You know, Trautmann did a lot of work prepping Kobra, we should probably ask him if he wants to do it.”
The funny part was that they asked me if I wanted to do this book about Kobra and I said absolutely. Marty Pasko and Jack Kirby had done the solo book in the ’70s and those are great footsteps to be following. And I get to write a bad-guy book and that’s right in my wheel-house. I wrote a couple of proposals for it and I got a note back from Rachel at one point going “Hey, this is really good, but I’m a little puzzled why the Justice Society isn’t in it.” I was a little puzzled why they thought they should be and I was told internally it was referred to as JSA vs. Kobra. That’s great…I’m external, that’s important information, thanks, let me go revise that really inappropriate proposal! It was funny. But I couldn’t be more thrilled. The JSA on the cover is going to move more books and expose more people to my particular mental illness. Gene Ha is doing the covers, how could you not be happy with that? Don Kramer, who drew nine million pages of Justice Society is doing the art. It’s great, he sent me a note back saying “I’m not sure this guy would do that.” You’re right then, I’ll change it! He knows the characters better than I do.
From “Popgun” Volume II, art by David Messina with Mirco Pierfederici
PCZ: And you’re pulling in everyone in the JSA that you can?
Eric: As many as I can fit. There are about, what, three hundred of them now? Battalion strength. For the most part, most of the JSA players that I could fit on the page are in it. I do break off Power Girl and Mr. Terrific and the Alan Scott Green Lantern briefly in issue two for reasons that are fairly apparent when you read the issue, so I won’t be telling you now. In issue three, the idea is that while they are off doing something, the kids back at the Brownstone are not sitting idle, so there’s a bit where they’re split up for a little bit and then back together by the end. So, yeah, as many as I could fit on the page without killing Don.
PCZ: When’s the first issue out?
Eric: June. And it should be monthly.
PCZ: And Brandon you’re going to the big Highlander convention, right?
Brandon: I am, it’s my second Highlander convention and I’m super excited. They invited me to the one in Vancouver a couple of years ago and I was scared to go, honestly, because the Highlander comic book series was at about the halfway point and I wasn’t very clear on how the hardcore fandom was receiving the book. I got there and sold out of every book I’d brought in something like ninety minutes. There was almost a literal fist-fight between two women for the last copy.
Eric: Because “There can be only one!” It had to be said, I’m a horrible person.
Brandon: Eric Trautmann, ladies and gentlemen! So yeah, this one’s in Los Angeles and I’m very, very excited to go with the Highlander Origins: The Kurgan book that just wrapped up. The Adventures of Li’l Kurgan! Beyond that, Eric and I are just focused a lot on the Vertigo book because it’s ginormous and intense and huge. Wide Awake is obviously occupying our time as well and there are some other possibilities on the horizon that are fantastic that I cannot discuss.
Eric: Yeah, we’re right at that stage of “Wow, it’s really great! Yeah, I can’t tell you.”
PCZ: Well, maybe we can talk down the road when you guys can talk about these other projects.
PCZ: Cool, well thanks guys.
Eric: Thank you.
Brandon: Our pleasure.
Thank you very much to both Brandon Jerwa and Eric Trautmann for taking the time out of their busy con schedule to talk to me. Be sure to bookmark www.wideawakeonline.com!
From “Popgun” Volume II, art by David Messina with Mirco Pierfederici