Matt Brady isn’t a stranger to the comic book industry; metaphorically, he’s probably one of the best bass guitarists in the comic book industry when you consider his tenure with Newsarama.com and the fact that, under his leadership, the long-standing news site scored the first Eisner Award for Best Comic Book Related Periodical/ Journalism in 2008. He’s also had a modicum of success writing comics with his partner, Troy Brownfield; having written a Buck Rogers Annual for Dynamite as well as a Batman short for DC Comics. The sky is the limit, right?
Wrong. Try Mars…and after that? Probably beyond. Brady’s newest project is a solo gig that’s taking him straight to Mars with Dynamite’s Warlord of Mars #0 featuring Edgar Rice Burrough’s pulp icon John Carter.
I sat down with Matt to talk about his upcoming John Carter project as well as some of the challenges of transitioning from comics journalism to writing comics and how he incorporates comic books into his day job as a high school chemistry professor.
FreakSugar: Zero issues can sort of be wild cards in terms of story content. Where does Warlord of Mars #0 fall in terms of the continuity that’s already been established?
Matt Brady: The simple answer is: it doesn’t. Going into this, I knew this was a #0 issue, and that had to serve two purposes – tell a standalone story about the character that makes sense with everything that’s been done, and also, not to get in the way of what’s coming up in the new series. Nick Barrucci, Joe Rybandt and Molly Mahan are great caretakers of all the properties Dynamite has and obviously they weren’t going to let me go crazy and say…have John die, or have more children, or any huge thing that didn’t fit with the established continuity and feel that they’d worked hard to develop and maintain with the other writers who’d worked on the character before this.
The way I looked at the story was the same way Troy and I approached the Buck Rogers Annual a couple of years back – I needed to come in and tell a classic John Carter story that can be a solid piece of entertainment for fans, as well as introducing the character and showcasing who he is and what he’s about to someone who might pick this issue up to see what this Warlord of Mars thing is all about. I think I did that.
FS: Are you a big Edgar Rice Burroughs fan? What sort Sci Fi/ Fantasy background are you drawing your inspiration from?
Brady: I’m a HUGE ERB fan, and not just the big name stuff that everyone cites, but his lesser known stuff, or works that don’t fit into his larger “worlds.” I dug into some of that, actually to get a feel of how to blend some outright horror with John Carter.
As for the background I’m pulling from – when you write John Carter, you have to go epic and pulp, but keep almost an innocence to it all. Even though you may not be able to write the same stories in the same way that Burroughs did, you can shoot for the same feel. John Carter isn’t the place for realistic science and true to life history. Carter’s Mars is a fantastic place where the vistas are wide open for storytelling. I’ve always seen say, Burroughs’ Mars existing somehow in the same place – but probably different time as Bradbury’s Mars – both are in that mist of fairy tale/high adventure that just allows for so many different things to show up in the story.
FS: What sorts of challenges do you face when you’re scripting? What’s your process?
Brady: Obviously – finding the time. I can handle about a book or two a month with the day job (I teach high school chemistry and physical science), so that means I can’t sit for a day in front of my computer and peck at it until I get it. My method is generally to jam as much as I can about the story that I’m thinking of into my head and “back-burner” it – I mean not think of it actively, but it’s never too far from my thoughts. Along with that, I try to find times where I can just let things grow – for instance, 15 minutes in the school library with a notebook after a day on the back burner can yield up two or three scenes. The twenty minute ride to school after I drop my son off is time I can set the iPod to play some soundtrack music and my brain puts together another scene. After about four or so days of percolating, I pretty much have the story done.
And then it’s blocking things out on their respective pages, making sure surprise reveals are on the left hand page, counting out panels – all the mechanics and the stuff that’s not quite as fun as dreaming stuff up. There are still story tweaks in there, but not as fast and furious as earlier.
All told, my method works for me.
FS: What are some of the strengths of John Carter as a character? What are some of his weaknesses in your mind? Do you want to try to bring something new or fresh to the mythos of the character?
Brady: In regards to bringing something new, as I said earlier, I knew going in that this story wasn’t going to be the place to do something like that – this was a place, in my mind, to give a pure, undiluted version of John Carter that would show the reader who he is, and what’s important to him. That’s where I started the whole process – by asking myself, “What do I want the reader to know about John Carter when they’re done?”
Asking that lead me to think about his strengths – what makes John Carter “John Carter,” rather than just some other earthman who’s sent to a faraway place? Again – at least as I saw it, thinking through the history of Carter via Burroughs’ novels, you see time and again his loyalty, his integrity, his curiosity, his devotion to Dejah, and of course, his feelings for his true love – Mars. I think that last one is something that can’t really be understood as clearly today as it was in Burroughs’ time. A lot of people will say that John’s in love with Dejah, and don’t get me wrong – he is. He just loves Mars more. It represents…everything to him. Without Mars…yeah, that forces the question – who is John Carter without Mars? And that’s a good question.
John’s weakness are linked to his strengths – his curiosity will and does get him into trouble. He’s headstrong. He’s also pretty much unstoppable once he sets his mind on something. While that last one may sound like – and can be – a strength, John’s let it become a weakness from time to time.
FS: After spending years in the industry as a journalist, how have things changed for you as a creator of comics and as a reader?
Brady: For the first year after I left Newsarama, I made a point to taper back my comics reading and stay out of the “inside baseball” as much as I could. I did it to focus on settling in to teaching, but also to break my addiction a little bit. I know my guys at my local comics shop would get annoyed with me as I would come in and point out things that I was noticing for the first time now that I was more of a casual reader rather than a part of the industry – things like, I could not, for the life of me figure out variant covers, and more than a few times, bought the same issue twice, because I bought the regular issue and the variant. Dumb, I know, but again, I wasn’t reading and writing about all the variants that the issues had, so I didn’t know. I also remember one day pointing out to the guys – who rack the comics really well – that virtually all of the covers were using the same color palette, and it all blended into mud from six feet away. Again – stuff I wasn’t noticing from being “in the sausage factory,” as Paul Levitz calls it.
I also started buying for enjoyment rather than obligation or need for work, which really allowed me to cull my monthly list to some shockingly small number of issues in some months.
But coming back as a bit of a creator, I find myself looking for voices and ideas that interest me, rather than the same story told the 14th different way since 1995. I like looking at the books now and comparing creator’s creator-owned work to their work for hire work. I like trying to second guess on where creator-owned stories are going and suss out what inspired them.
I’m really back to reading for enjoyment now, which is great, but it’s a different type of enjoyment.
FS: You’ve handled some pretty big heavies to date: Batman, Buck Rogers and now John Carter? Who do you really want to get your hands on the most? Why?
Brady: Someday I want to write one or two of the science/science fiction based characters, either in the Marvel U or DCU. I may be dreaming really big, but I’d love a shot at an FF story. Something with the Vision. Or Ray Palmer, or Flash, or Cyborg, or Firestorm or Captain Atom or the Metal Men. I’m getting older and more crotchety, I know, but there are such vast opportunities for what these characters can do and be given recent and current science. Not to mention the tangential science that already must exist in their respective worlds – you know, stuff like, if you have mastered Boom Tube technology, well, you would have had to have figured out how to do x, y and z beforehand, otherwise you couldn’t control Boom Tube technology.
Yeah – gimme a science hero.
In terms of dream, dream characters – there’s a group that Troy and I have been jonesing to write with a new spin for about six years now. Our take would redeem them and their creator a little, and man…just make them all sing together. Barucci knows who I’m talking about…let’s make it happen Nick…
And there’s also that natural Archie crossover with some real world folks that I had come up with that was pretty cool but honestly, pales in comparison to what they’re doing over there now.
FS: By day, you’re a science teacher, how do you try to incorporate comics and science fiction into your classroom?
Brady: I teach teenagers. Teenagers eat, live and breathe pop culture. Coming from Newsarama, where I had to be up on movies, television, comics, novels, games, toys, etc. etc, actually really prepared me for communicating with my classes. I use pop culture as the hook to lure them into thinking about science – for instance, we’re studying Newton’s Laws? We look at curving a bullet from Wanted (and yes, I show the cover to the comic, and name drop Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, too) – after talking about and working out Newton’s First Law of Motion, I tell my kids that they know everything they need to know to answer that question if a bullet can be curved.
(Just as a science aside, as I’m sure we all know, Newton’s 1st Law says that an object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. Once the bullet is out of the barrel, it’s an object in motion, and will stay in motion in the same direction with the same speed unless acted upon by an outside force. There’s no force acting on the bullets to curve them…so, in movies, yes, in reality, no, you can’t curve a bullet.)
So for speed and acceleration I pull out The Fast and the Furious, we talk about lasers in Star Trek when we talk about light, alien life when we discuss light years, and…well, really anything hat catches my interest that I think my students might be able to relate to and be interested in. Coming up in chemistry, we’re talking about heat energy, so I think I’ll do something with having to melt the ice monster from Frozen…or something. But yeah, I have a Flash based worksheet on speed that I pull out now and then, the Hulk gets referenced when we talk about gamma rays, and we’ve done some basic math on Electro. I also occasionally wear my light up Iron Man arc reactor shirt to class as well.
Also – my wife and I have started TheScienceOf.org – it’s still in a beta state and moving a little slower than we’d like, but the idea there is to take what we both do in class (she teaches middle school science) and go big with it – basically take current or not so current popular culture and use it to dig into real world science. For instance, I’ve written a piece over there about Electro and electric eels, Captain America and cryogenics, Daredevil’s sense of smell and more. We also are working to produce materials for teachers to use in their classrooms so they can capture the interest their students may have in something cool that’s out or coming up that can be related to science. Future plans are for interviews of creators, animations, downloadable lessons, and more. Finding the time is the tough part.
Our schedules are tight – finding time to write comics is one thing, but each article for TheScienceOf.org takes more time. I’m pretty good at my science – I’ve got a Master’s in Marine Biology and did all the work for a PhD in Physiology/Pharmacology (long story…) and I teach, basically, beginner physics and honors chemistry, but figuring out how to write about something that’s out of my comfort zone is still tough. For instance – back in Infinity – one of my favorite scenes in a comic in a long time was when Thor threw his hammer up on Hala while he parlayed with the Builder. His hammer did a loop around Parma (Hala’s sun), and then came back and punched a hole in the Builder – and Thor caught it. It was a beautiful scene. Very cinematic.
And it got me wondering – how fast Mjolnir would be traveling when it came back from its presumed gravity assist when it traveled around Parma. Easy, right? Nope. What is the escape velocity for Hala? How big is Hala? What’s Mjolnir’s mass? How far is Hala from Parma? Oh, and does the gravity assist work if you’re in motion relative to the star? Needless to say, that article isn’t written quite yet, and might be a few more weeks until everything is sewn up. Weirdly, the easiest thing to get was Mjolnir’s mass. Not to mention the research opened up a whole other can of worms about Hala which has me wondering about how well the Human Torch can burn when he’s there, since the atmosphere has more nitrogen (and therefore less oxygen) in it.
But I have to be clear – the mission at TheScienceOf.org isn’t to rain on parades. You’ll never read an article there about how Superman can’t fly. No – in his world, he can, but what about the science around him? Superman flies to the sun to recharge during a fight and flies back seconds later? Well – TheScienceOf.org would look at how far the sun is away, how long a trip would take, why it would take that long, the chances of getting lost if you were this tiny thing out in space without any kind of instruments to find your way home, and how these problems are solved in the real world. That may sound like we’re splitting hairs, but that’s not how we see it. You think flying around the sun is neat? We do too – let’s talk about the science of it.
FS: As a writer, how do you want your writing voice to stand apart from other creators? What are some of your biggest personal hurdles when you’re writing?
Brady: I want the characters I write to sound real. I mean – I know that we’re never going to be on Mars, but that doesn’t mean that John Carter shouldn’t sound familiar when talking to Deja. He’s known Deja for years. They’re lovers. They can talk one way in front of people, but between themselves, with Tars Tarkas as the only other person around, you’d expect a “shorthand” banter rather than a stiff dialogue. If anyone were to read my dialogue out loud, I want it to sound like things people would actually say, not what someone might imagine people might say.
Likewise, I want the characters I write to have real feelings and motivations, rather than melodramatic ones. For instance, in my story, John goes off exploring. Deja’s a little annoyed at him doing that, and ultimately has to go looking for him. Again – they’ve been together for years. They’re, effectively, a married couple, she’s worried about him, but hides it in her annoyance in having to go and find him. She acts, I hope, more like a real person would, rather than a cutout.
My biggest hurdle – I’m still relatively new at this, so I think my issue is the same one everyone starts with – fitting everything in. I want to write stories that take twice as many pages as what I’m given.
FS: Is Pulp on the rise again in the comic book industry? Are characters like John Carter, The Shadow, Magnus: Robot Fighter and Red Sonja primed for a big comeback?
Brady: I hope so. And not to be seen as sucking up to Nick and Dynamite, but they’ve been doing it right for the last ten years. Bringing pulp characters back takes a steady hand and a clear vision, and a real determination not to be swayed by current trends or fads, but to put your trust in the character – the core concept of the character. There’s a reason why all of the characters that are seeing a resurgence have been popular for so many years, and for nearly all of them, nothing needs to be changed, tweaked or adjusted. That kind of talk ends up with neon piping, and ninja turtles that are actually aliens.
And I know there are people out there who claim that the older characters are out of date, don’t have any new stories left in them, etc, etc, nonsense, nonsense. Look at Fred’s commentary on modern society in Magnus. What Gail has done in Red Sonja. What Avid has done with John Carter – there are still stories to be told with all of the characters. Along with the entertainment they can provide, these classic characters can still be used in ways that their creators meant – to explore ourselves, our world, our feelings, our actions and our motivations through the lens of fiction. Isn’t that what it’s all about?