Some people are drawn to Brooklyn, but in the case of Park Slope–based comic book artist Brian Wood, the borough is drawn to him.
What Wood is perhaps best known for is “DMZ” — shorthand for demilitarized zone — a comic that explores a war-torn and deeply misunderstood New York. Sandwiched between two sides of a civil war between the “Free States” (New Jersey and what lies westward) and the “United States of America” (Brooklyn and Long Island), Manhattan becomes a staging ground for countless battles and blasts.
Readers travel through the city with rookie photojournalist protagonist Matty Roth, hitting Red Hook, DUMBO and Park Slope along the way. And life goes on. No one in the war zone is forced to eat rats or pigeons. In fact, they grow organic gardens on their rooftops — even amidst enemy mortar fire.
“‘DMZ’ reflects real divisions in our country and society, because Brian is incredibly knowledgeable and aware [of] cultural and political events,” said James Lucas, Wood’s editor at comic publisher Oni Press. “He’s just tapped in.”
Wood arrived at the medium relatively late, when he was already an art student at Parsons in 1997. “I walked blindly into a comic shop,” he said, “and suddenly I saw that comics weren’t the pulpy stuff from my childhood, but had evolved into a mature and sophisticated medium.”
Inspired by the “really smart and cool” comics that he discovered, he made a comic book of his own as his final project. At that time, Wood was concentrating on being an artist, but he did all the writing as “a control thing,” he said.
These days, Wood does all of the writing, but leaves the drawing to illustrators like Ryan Kelly.
Taking a series of Web site design jobs during the dot-com boom, Wood dropped out of the comic world for a few years. In 2000, British comic artist Warren Ellis offered him a writing job on Marvel Comics’ “Generation X,” a spin-off of the highly lucrative “X-Men” franchise. Wood worked on 12 issues before he returned to independent comics in 2001, producing several graphic novels and miniseries.
In 2003, Wood quit his day job as a designer at Rockstar Games (the video game company best known for “Grand Theft Auto”), and teamed with artist Becky Cloonan to create “Demo,” a monthly comic series that was the start of the single issue, “done-in-one” format that’s all the rage in independent comics.
The “Demo” format proved so successful that Wood went on to replicate it in his 12-issue series “Local.”
“Local” differs from its predecessor in that it focuses on one character, Megan McKeenan, whose arc is gradually traced through the series, even if she is not always the protagonist within each issue. This difference has led “Local” down its own path; Wood refers to it as “transcending its ‘done-in-one’ format to really be about Megan’s story, her life, that progression over time”.
Each issue documents a local scene of some kind and always in a different town. In Local #6, for example, Megan finds herself sharing an apartment in Park Slope and bartending at neighborhood watering hole Great Lakes. “These are all places that I visit,” Wood said. “Virtually everything [in the comic] is within three blocks from my house.”
For kids browsing comic books, Wood’s work — especially when it’s taking place in their neighborhood — is very popular. “Brian’s work appeals to an incredibly wide audience,” said Alex Cox, owner of the Rocketship comic shop on Smith Street. “I can sell it to almost anyone and be confident they’ll enjoy it, regardless of gender, age or background.”
And while “Local” won’t come back to Brooklyn, “DMZ” will continue to feature the borough — something Wood enjoys doing. “Brooklyn is where I’ve chosen to put down roots,” he said. “New York is a place often done in comics and not done right, so I have a lot of pride that I can write about my street and know what I’m writing about. Everything I write takes place here because it belongs to me, and I belong to it.”
Brian Wood’s “Local” hit Park Slope a few issues back, and while the brownstone that heroine Megan McKeenan lived in wasn’t based on a real house, plenty of the places where she hung out were. Test your Slope IQ by identifying these neighborhood spots:
1. Great Lakes Bar; 2. Perch Cafe; 3. The F-train stop at Ninth Street and Eighth Avenue.
“Local” and “DMZ” are available at Rocketship (208 Smith St., at Baltic Street in Cobble Hill). For information, call (718) 797-1348. For back issues, visit www.onipress.com.