Brian Wood has been responsible for some of the last few decade’s most challenging comic book titles. From the stark violence of the Viking saga Northlanders to the fragile peace of DMZ‘s wartime New York, Wood has never shied away from asking tough questions about the price of civilization and the inevitability of change. His new series, The Massive, looks ahead to an uneasy future of global collapse. Look for a first look on February 1 in Dark Horse Presents #8. The full series launches in June.
It seems to me that a lot of your work focuses on societies in transition, be it northern European communities responding to Christianity or the fragile peace of demilitarized New York. The Massive continues this theme. What interests you about these stories?
I think the point of change is ripe material for any writer, and at any scale. I think I first figured that out with my Demo series in 2003, which, put briefly, was about these troubled people at a crossroads, faced with decisions that would radically alter their lives depending on which way they went. Those were smaller scale stories to be sure, but the same idea applies no matter how big you get. In Northlanders, as you reference, that series was set, deliberately, at a time of huge change, an entire way of life turning over, and there is no end to the stories you can set there.
That’s sort of the technical reason, the pragmatic benefit as a writer looking for great material. Personally, I like to create situations where I can put my characters through hell, where they are forced to examine who they are and why they do what they do, and how those actions can affect others. I like hard time and tragedies and stories of struggle. And specifically with The Massive, the near-future enviro-disaster world hits on a lot of stuff that’s been on my mind for a couple years, themes of austerity and scarcity of food and societal breakdown and the health of the oceans.
There’s a strong sense of social justice – or at least a questioning of the status quo – in your books, too, even when that “justice” comes from the point of a sword or barrel of a gun. Would you describe yourself as a political writer?
I write about politics, but try not to be partisan about it. I made that decision with DMZ, to strive to the best of my abilities to not pick sides as a writer, to not make simple black/white boundaries, to always create gray areas, moral ambiguity, so the book could never be so easily labeled as this way or that. It was tricky, and maybe I slipped a few times, but on balance I think I pulled it off. If there is one definitive message the book did communicate in a forthright way, its that war is bad. If that’s a partisan position, I’m not sure I belong in the same world as those who would think so!
The Massive is a little post-politics, though. The world it inhabits is sort of a minefield of current events, of divisive politics (global warming, regime change, corporate bad-behavior, etc) but all that has sort of come to pass by the time the story opens. The damage has been done, and so its less about why/how things got so bad and more about, okay, what do we do now? Powerful social themes, but not political in the same way DMZ is.
I know I’m looking forward to reading The Massive. I’ve been a fan of your work for a very long time. Can you tell me a little bit about the plot? What is The Massive anyway?
The Massive itself is the name of a ship, a converted trawler that serves as one half of a direct action conversationist fleet. Since the “Crash”, the end of the world, the complex series of global breakdowns that is all explained in the first chapters of the series, The Massive has gone missing, and our cast is aboard The Kapital, the other ship in the fleet. A persistent story element in the series is not just the search for the missing sister ship, but also what happened to it, and why is it so impossible to find, despite popping up from time to time on radar. There is a slight sci-fi vibe to the story as well.
That personal story is mixed in with the larger one of this future world and the exploration of what it means to be a conversationist, and environmentalist, having failed to stop the end of the world? None of the rules of society apply any more. Many nations have ceased to exist. Those still around are all now in what we would call the third world. Resources are scarce, access is limited, and the hits just keep on coming. As The Kapital sails the globe, they are forced to confront this new reality.
There are some apocalyptic themes – or at least dystopian elements – in The Massive. Do you think western society, or more specifically, the United States, is in danger of collapse?
I think so. Economically, absolutely, since no one who can prevent it seems to care about doing that. A bit further out we have the issues of water scarcity, the massive (heh!) overfishing of the oceans, and global warming. I think in my lifetime I’ll be largely safe from all of this, but I suspect my kids will grow up in a world of scarcity and compromise.
I’m always interested in other people’s influences, and with you, I’d like to know what nonfiction – and fiction – (comic and otherwise) has informed your very unique perspective as a writer. Could you share a few “recommended” titles for fans of your work?
I do a lot of research and could easily recommend a dozen titles. But start with Four Fish, The World Without Us, Tropic Of Chaos, and the two volume Endgame series.