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Brandon Graham - Comic book about a guy named Joe and his cat Earthling in a far future metropolis run by spy gangs and evil sorcerers. It’s full of weird drugs, black magic, luchador masks and oddball humor

Brandon Graham, King City, Image Comics, 2012.

"At last! The long-awaited collection of the complete King City series is here, chock-full of comic book games, puzzles, and wordplay! Joe is a catmaster, trained to use his cat as any tool or weapon. His best friend, Pete, falls in love with an alien he's forced to sell into green slavery, while his ex, Anna, watches her Xombie War veteran boyfriend turn into the drug he's addicted to. King City, an underbelly of a town run by spy gangs and dark dark magic with mystery down every alleyway.
Brandon Graham‘s King City represents everything I love about creator-owned comics. In the way that Martin Scorsese directs films that pay homage to cinema, Brandon Graham crafts King City like a love letter to the comics and culture that raised us all. From ninja cats to world destroying elder gods, the collected King City drips with adoration for everything geek.
Joe has returned home to King City after leaving California. In California, Joe trained to become the perfect thief and ninja known as a catmaster. As a catmaster, Joe is able to use his cat, Earthling J.J Cattingworth, as a tool or weapon depending on what injection he uses. Other residents of King City include Pete, a lovesick petty criminal who just fell in love with the alien he helped deliver to some pretty awful people. Joe’s ex-girlfriend also haunts the pages of King City as she paints mustaches on billboards and worries over her drug-addicted Xombie War veteran boyfriend.
If you could not tell by now, Graham has a specific talent in lacing the whimsical with threads of reality. As ridiculous as a super ninja cat sounds, the relationship that Joe has with his cat is familiar to anyone who has had a best friend. Death and sorrow are very tangible even when they are held in the hands of a demon overlord or alien stranger.
King City plays the role of an epic, yet stays grounded in one strange and sprawling city. The city that Graham has created is one covered in filth and grime. It is a city that inhales dreams and exhales death. King City is every major city in the world. The inhabitants are strange and if you dig deep enough you will find your worst nightmares. Each horror or love story in King City is taken straight from the streets of Los Angeles and Chicago. Graham is able to take the bizarre and make it familiar to us through the personal affairs of his characters.
Graham takes his artistic cues from manga in King City. It is refreshing to see an artist who does not agonize over perfectly proportioned characters. Instead Graham draws every streetlight and dark alley with the utmost attention to detail. Every panel of this comic is packed with busy streets and solitary rooftops. There is nothing typical or cliché about the artwork of King City. Graham has a style that is just as unique as the city he has crafted.
It may seem like sensationalizing, but King City is a piece of artwork. When you spend as much time reviewing comics as I do, reading something this fresh and original is marvelous. If you read one graphic novel in 2012, make sure it is King City, you won’t be sorry." - RoughJustice

"I’ve written before about expectations and how they cheat us of our reading experiences. Whether a positive or negative bias, these prejudices do unquestionable damage to the natural formation of opinion. A strong positive predisposition toward a book can push us to massage problems in a work to reflect our existing good will toward it—or, if the work too abruptly veers from our expectations, those expectations can lead to a sense of betrayal that wouldn’t otherwise come about. A negative feeling toward a book can likewise either sour us unfairly toward the work or too easily endear us when things turn out better than we might have guessed.
And this isn’t just a dynamic that exists before a book is opened. Expectation is interlaced throughout one’s experience of a story in a manner both complex and largely unpredictable. What we expect of a book is a force that plays in every moment of a book’s consumption, from taking in its cover to its method of introduction to its characterization to those characters’ arcs to plot points along the way to its use of thematic elements to its climax to its conclusion. And to any number of other parts and pieces along the way. While reading a book, our expectations will naturally shift as we assimilate new information with our experiences and awareness of other stories and formulae.
So while we may try to give books a fair shake, it’s impossible to approach things from an entirely neutral vantage. This is all very elemental critical theory of course and probably doesn’t surprise a single one of you. I only mention it so that you’ll be well on alert to my own predispositions in regard to King City.
King City by Brandon Graham
Among the myriad tastes and experiences that influenced how I would approach reading King City, there were two major (and conflicting) things that exerted some force me. The first was the excitement/praise cycle that caused me to buy the book. If it wasn’t for tremendous word of mouth, I wouldn’t have been aware of King City in the least—let alone have been persuaded to spend of my limited budget to secure a copy. That right there is the kind of good feeling toward a book that I mentioned earlier, usually a boon but sometimes an albatross. In any case, I was excited for King City when the package arrived in the mail. Opening the book, however, led immediately to a sense of betrayal, as Brandon Graham’s visual sense conjured a whole host of predispositions—none of which were conducive to a just approach to his work.
So I took a couple weeks to let those dueling expectations dim before I read a single page of King City. I think that was probably the right decision.
King City is a wonky, sly-futuristic extrapolation of a ton of implausibilities caked in that kind of alt-formal art style I (rightly or wrongly) associate with a skate-punk, indie DIY aesthetic. It’s the art style that made me put down the book for two weeks. Generally, this visual method means cluttered, cacophonous pages filled with too much Stuff and disastrous visual storytelling. The characters are cartoony and not always super consistent. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the style save for the fact that I just don’t have the patience for it.
But Graham’s work in King City, though often busy and often manic, surprised me by being easy to follow and sometimes even a raucous joy to experience. There’s a lot going on in this book both visually and narratively, but it doesn’t bog down in overly detailed renditions of scenery. It may be that the importance of King City as its own kind of character gives meaning to all those flourishes that would otherwise be decorative trivialities.
King City by Brandon Graham
While King City is principally concerned with Joe, a spy-thief and cat master, and his feline companion Earthling, the city he’s returned to on Page 1 is nearly as important. King City in Graham is like L.A. in Chandler or Tokyo in Murakami or New York in Auster—only hopped up on two fistfuls of crazy. The city is populated by ninjas, mercenaries, spies, hoods, thieves, cults, aliens, and weirder things. There are secret passages into even the most mundane places. There are hideouts and tentacles and drugs made from humans. And puns. There are a lot of puns. If puns aren’t your thing, then King City is not your thing. For that matter King City might not be your thing either. A knack for wordplay may be low-ball humour, but that’s only tip-of-iceberg here. Graham has built a world that, while thriving on sex and violence, glories more than anything in a sense of humour and comic timing. Personally, I found very winning the particular joy Graham exhibits in giving his characters the stage and ability to make so consistently with the funny.
So far as story is concerned (and it really isn’t too concerned), King City reflects on cat master Joe as he returns from a couple years away. He had fled the city after a bad break-up and holed up on The Farm, where he learned the Way of the Cat and received his boon companion, Earthling, whom he carries around in a bucket. Joe is doing some sneak-thief work to ingratiate himself to the locals while he tries to find his feet in a city that’s changed while he’s been away. Meanwhile, his old friend Pete Taifighter (who wears constantly from a collection of wrestling masks) has decided to cross his employers Transporter-style after having grown a conscience. Meanwhile still, Anna Greengables (Joe’s ex) is painting graffiti moustaches and worrying over her drug-conflicted ex-mercenary boyfriend, who’s got bad PTS from the last Xombie war. And then, on top of that, there’s a death cult and tentacle monster and the fate of the world. Or at least King City.
King City by Brandon Graham
It’s a good mix of everything and kitchen sinks and bathroom scales and old-timey refrigerators. King City boasts a healthy menagerie of wild abandonments and ridiculousness and tempers it with a lot of heart. More heart than I would have expected from something that wallowed in so much indie-skater-punk aesthetic. Brandon Graham, in a word made of three words, defied my expectations. In a good way. Or maybe in the best way. King City was a wonderful experience. -

Here’s the way to start off an essay with a cliche: King City is not a place–it’s a state of mind. That’s the easy way to look at Brandon Graham’s ambitious, phone-book thick story about Joe, a Cat Master who returns to the city where his heart was broken. Actually, that sounds a bit of a cliche as well, minus the “Cat Master” part. You see, Graham seems to be having fun playing giving us a bit of the old and a bit of the new as he throws these strange, amusing and just bizarre twists into stories that, when broken down, are just standard boy-meets-girl/boy-gets-heart-broken-by-girl/boy-tries-get-on-with-his-life stories. Graham has fun with those old-as-time stories because he gets to play with the little details in the corners of the city and in the corners of his panels that add the color to his story.

For about two weeks now, I’ve been staring at the cover of this book. Joe’s amazing cat Earthling J. J. Catingsworth The Third (henceforth referred to as “the cat”) is caught in this dance wtih other-time versions of himself. Or maybe we’re seeing one incredible action slowed down so that we’re seeing it happen all at once. Or maybe through his magical injections, the cat has made copies of himself that are floating over the ground below him. Or maybe it’s a cool image that Graham came up with that has no real meaning other than it’s a cool image that Graham liked. After you stare at the front cover a bit, flip the book around to the back and see the continuation of that image; Joe and his friend Pete, sitting on the ledge of a building, sharing some Chinese take out and enjoying the tableau before them. Where the front cover is puzzling, the back cover is the real key to to the heart of Graham’s story.
There’s a certain a mount of sleight of hand going on in Graham’s pages. Opening the book with a mysterious mission for Joe and the cat, Graham wants us to think that his story is going to be kind of dark and spooky, that it’s more about Joe’s work and his status as a mysterious cat master. He wants us to believe that this will be some kind of martial arts/ mysticism story but that’s only part of what the book is.
Graham has fun with the story, creating these patently absurd scenarios for Joe and the cat that carry you through the book. Secret gangs, cat masters, hidden parts of the city and a giant Cthulu-like demon theater Joe and his friends but they never seem to be the focus of Graham’s story. Graham uses all of those to draw us into the characters. His story looks to be about this danger and intrigue in the city but those ultimately lead to the characters who have these wonderful lives and personal issues.
 The spontaneity of Graham’s artwork creates a stream-of-consciousness effect in the storytelling. His long, languid lines reflect the honest coolness o his story telling. It looks like there’s little effort spent in thought or intent for each page. The images of the characters and the city flow out of Graham’s pen with such ease. Or at least that’s the way it looks. Part of Graham’s fun is the parts that must have taken forever to draw- the details of the city.
It would be easy to get caught up in all of the clever visual and verbal puns that Graham throws into this book but that’s part of what makes this book so much fun. It’s not right to call what Graham does “world building,” (a term that I really hate.) A better term though for this book may be “society building.” Through all the off-the-wall details that Graham puts in, he’s creating something that’s living around the characters. He’s not doing anything as clinical as building a world but he is breathing life into the city and his characters with every creative line of dialogue or every odd detail drawn into a corner of a room. All of those odd details and quick, snappy lines give Graham’s story and characters their unique life.
Stories come and go but characters are forever. Brandon Graham’s King City is about life in the big city. On the surface, it’s all fighting, beautiful and mysterious women, sasquatches running safe houses and giant monsters threatening to destroy the city. And that’s all neat but that’s not Joe’s story. Ultimately with the city hanging in the balance, Graham tells us a story about a guy who wants to do right by his friends and ex-girlfriends. Maybe that’s a bit uncool but the people who Joe lives with are more important than where he lives. It’s a bit like Graham’s book: it looks cool and has some great drawing of things that never existed but it’s the quiet moments with Joe that make this more than just a book about a city." - Scott Cederlund

Technoccult Interivew: King City Artist/Writer Brandon Graham by Klint Finley

King City by Brandon Graham is a comic book about a guy named Joe and his cat Earthling in a far future metropolis run by spy gangs and evil sorcerers. It’s full of weird drugs, black magic, luchador masks and oddball humor.
This month Image Comics published a collection of all 12 issues of King City, which was originally serialized from 2007 to 2010. After a battle with testicular caner Graham literally gave his left nut to finish the book. He’s now working on Prophet for Image and Multiple Warheads for Oni Press. I caught-up with him to talk about Moebius, graffiti, technology in science fiction and more.
Brandon Graham
How many details about the city were conceived in advance? Did you create maps, or list of facts and details about the world the book takes place in, or did you just make it up as you went along?
I had some rough ideas about the characters but I pretty much made up the city as I went along. I was always trying to base places off of somewhere I’d been. I think of Joe and Pete’s place in the 2nd half of KC as being in Seattle’s China town. The diner where Pete meets Exiekiel to get information about the alien lady was me trying to draw a diner in Queens.
King City Board Game
King City, to me anyway, has a very spontaneous feel. I imagine you just making up each page as you went along, packing them with as much detail as possible. Or did you have a more structured plan for each issue?
I had a real rough structure for everything but I try to allow for a lot of drawing what I’m in the mood to draw. And I usually lay out the book in 4 or 5 page chunks as I go along.
It’s nice to just follow your mood with a page and try to find new ways to stay interested in what you’re doing. I like to think about what’ll be fun to draw on the next page forcing me to speed up on what I’m doing because I’m so excited about what’s next. And then there’s days where I’m just not thinking about what comes next and I’m just having fun making lines on paper.
King City appears to take place in the far future, and there are references to certain technological advances like nanotechnology. But in some ways it seems really low tech – I’m not sure we ever see anyone use a cell phone or the Internet. For example, Anna seems to have no way of reaching Joe or Pete remotely, she has to walk to their apartment to find Joe. Did you consciously decide to avoid having the characters use certain technologies or was this  just the way the story worked out?
Yeah, it was on purpose. I avoid certain things like cell phones or the Internet or anything too modern that would seem dated really soon. I was trying to make it feel like it was happening now but with all the sci-fi fantasy elements I felt like throwing in. Excluding all the crazy sci-fi-ery, the technology is probably at the technological level of the early 1990′s because that’s about what I can wrap my head around.
I think a lot about different eras of science fiction and how they portrayed the future. The sci-fi that reflects modern technology seems sleeker and smaller, and it makes sense but it doesn’t look as cool to me. I’m a big fan of the look of big clunky utilitarian 70′s sci-fi. But maybe KC is “20 minutes in the future” of 1992.
Brandon Graham "The Long Goodbye"
Graham’s tribute to Moebius
King City actually reminds me a lot L’Incal by Jodorowsky and Moebius and other old European sci-fi/fantasy comics. Moebius recently passed away, can you talk about his influence?
Yeah, Moebius is probably the artist whose work has influenced me the most. Him and Howarth, Shirow and Barlow. I like the Incal all right, but I’m really obsessed with the work he did alone.
I feel like he took a lot of the freedoms American underground comics were doing in the 60s and pushed them to a whole new level adding all kinds of elements from science fiction novels and really creating something new.
I’ve always been so impressed by the joy he seemed to put into everything he did. His comics read like he’s having a great time working on them and the nerve in some of the stuff he pulled off is fantastic. How he’d allow himself to change a character’s look so dramatically in the middle of a story or jump from something completely serious to the ridiculous. I could go on forever about all the elements of his work and his life that have impressed me.
I know you haven’t done graffiti in a long time, but did being involved in the graffiti scene in Seattle as a kid affect the way you perceive the urban environment? Do you think you’d draw cities the same way if you hadn’t been a part of that?
Yeah, I think it definitely affected how I think about cities, certainly the way you interact with your environment when you’re running around drawing on it. It’s nice to be able to fuck with the world around you – changing signs or just writing a response to an ad directly on the ad or having to draw something to fit on the surface you’re drawing on.
Bigger than that, I think graffiti really influenced how I think about the scene I’m in.
Can you expand on that?
The graff writers I was around really pushed the idea that the culture has to be treated with a fair amount of respect. You’re expected to know the history and you have to earn your place in it.
I think the comic industry gets dirty because people make the excuse that it’s a job. For me it’s that if it’s where I’m going to spend my life then I want to make it a scene that I’m proud of.
The pillars of hip hop influenced you when you were younger – what, outside of comics, influences you now?
Still a lot of hip hop, I think in the last couple years the wordplay in rap has really driven a lot of what I put into my stuff.
I think I’ve been really influenced by some of the authors I’ve been reading. Robert Heinlein’s way of rethinking the way future relationships work and his whole out look on life being so different from mine. I’ve been influenced with how William Gibson structures his books and certainly the way Haruki Murakami writes about food and music.
My misses Marian has been a huge influence as well. She’s coming at art from a much more fine art/literary way of looking at it than I was used to. She’s really good at challenging my ideas and helping me think about what it means to be a life long artist and how I talk about art. A big thing I learned from her early on was the idea of talking about the quality of work not from a “this is the best” but rather “this is my favorite”.
Prophet cover by Marian Churchland
Prophet cover by Graham’s wife Marian Churchland
Given the amount of improvisation in your work on King City, how different is it to be a writer, instead of an artist, on Prophet?
The whole approach is pretty different. It puts a lot of the weight on the guy drawing it, plus we go back and forth on the layouts and script. I do the text after the art is done so there’s lots of room to improvise.
I think it uses the same skills that I use in my solo work but it feels like a different animal.
Multiple Warheads by Brandon Graham
Other than Prophet what are you working on?
My main thing is Multiple Warheads that’ll be coming out later this year from Oni press. It’s a fantasy comic set in a fictional Russia. and I’m putting together an 80 page book of my sketches.

A few months ago, Brandon Graham Twittered a link to download pirated copies of his comic King City. It was a move that he says "didn't make him any friends in publishing," but as it had been unavailable and out of print so long he thought he had nothing to lose.
That's how I came to read King City, andI found that it's equally amazing and impossible to describe. Its hero, Joe, is a "cat master" trained in the use of an adorable cat as a deadly weapon. His best friend is in love with an aquatic alien. His ex-girlfriend is dating a veteran of the chainsaw-fueled Korean Xombie war. There's kung fu action, pop music angst, and incredible visual wit.
The best thing is how Graham's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-and-the-kitchen-sink's-kitchen-sink approach gives the city its own popular culture. (Echhhh Zu the Baby Eater of Shadowtown, moustache art and the Handlebar Riots of '63, an addictive drug that eventually turns you into more of itself.) The density of story and art makes you feel like could magnify any inch of the page and find another half-dozen narratives taking place. As the opening narration says: "I go under the streets, under train tunnels, sub-basements and sub-sub-basements. I go deep."
It's just been announced that there'll finally be a full King City collection arriving from Image in February 2012, and that Graham is also writing an impending superhero title for them called Prophet. Over the phone, I told him that King City is my favorite fictional metropolis since Steve Aylett's Beerlight. He immediately asked me how to spell it.
Graham: I'm always looking for new stuff to read. I kind of skipped books until I was in my twenties. I was really comic-centric, and then I realised that maybe the best literature that human beings have ever made isn't necessarily in comic books, and I should check out some other stuff.
I think there's a purity to finding something you love and just sticking with it.
It was very grounding. I used to work in a bar and I'd get into these conversations about literature. I managed to fake so many of them about Hemingway or whatever because I'd read comic book adaptations. I've read at least four or five Moby Dick adaptations. There's a Will Eisner version, and I think they did it in Bone... 
King City is funny, playful, sometimes defiantly silly, but its visual puns and puzzles don't throw you out of a comic like they would in a movie or in prose. Do you think that's true?
Yeah, it's an amazing trick. You can do a lot of "quiet loud" things if that makes any sense. You can do these completely ridiculous things but there's a subtlety to them.
King City seems like it was a place first and a story second. What was its genesis?
I was living in New York, and I was really frustrated with trying to break into comics. I was doing adult comics for a while -- which my mother was very proud of -- and desperately going into DC Comics every week. I was really frustrated so I decided just to do something for myself. Just do King City and draw exactly what I felt like drawing. The character came first, but it was also me trying to write about what I was feeling in the city. I was trying to put the emotional content of my life into this totally ridiculous situation and just have fun. I didn't expect it to get printed. I'd done forty pages before anyone saw it and that was by accident. A friend of mine, Becky Cloonan, was doing a book for TokyoPop and hooked me up with the editor.
So many artists are terrible at putting themselves out there, but you were just showing up at DC Comics and demanding they look at your work? That must've been soul-destroying.
[Laughs] It gave me a nice chip on my shoulder. I was in New York; I'm from Seattle, and I wasn't really used to dealing with the comics scene. But New York was where Jack Kirby lived! Paul Pope was drawing comics about it and I remember going to some of the restaurants he'd put in Heavy Liquid and being like, "Oh my god, this is the place!"
I filled an entire collection with things I was drawing essentially as pitches to DC -- a book called Escalator. There was an editor there who believed in my work and was trying really hard, but nothing of mine would go through. Eventually they said that if I had a name in comics they could push my stuff, but since I didn't it didn't matter what I threw at them. Only recently have I learned that there are places and people in comics I can feel a kinship with. Earlier on I ended up falling much more into the graffiti scene because I wanted to be an artist, but I didn't really relate to any of the comic artists I was meeting.
Does street art change your relationship to the city?
Definitely. I was always really surprised at how many cartoonists ignore it, because it has a lot of the same roots as comic books. It's everywhere, and it's such a cool kind of secret society of bored teenagers...
Can you see the street art influences clearly when you look at King City?
I think it's probably more apparent in the earlier stuff. I haven't done it for a long time. These days I live in Canada, and I don't have much interest in being deported. Part of it then was just that I was doing it as an outlet. You mentioned before about artists getting their work out there? I had this urge to show my work to people and graffiti was a good way to do it. It was really fun to do comic books and wheatpaste them around town, or do a big drawing in an alley and walk by it later. Now I'm able to do comics and get my work out in a much larger way, so it's almost the same feeling.
Is there a feedback mechanism when you put up something in the city? Do you see or hear any reactions to it?
Oh, yeah. I had a great rivalry for a long time with one of the guys who'd deliver newspapers in Seattle. In the front the boxes that you'd buy newspapers from there were these little cardboard ads, blank white on the backside. So I'd take them out, draw pictures on them, and put them back it. When I first started doing graffiti I was really timid about it and this was a way where I could spend time doing artwork I was happier with. I didn't have to sit there and draw the picture with the risk of getting caught. The newspaper deliveryman didn't like this at all, and he started putting Xs on them to stop me from doing it, so I'd try to turn the Xs into drawings. I remember he wrote "Fuck off Brandon" on them. I used my real name because I couldn't think of a cool graffiti name.
You'd be a terrible supervillain.
I know. I had this idea that we had to be secret about all this stuff, and I met this graffiti writer who was older than me and said the only reason we're not all in jail is that the cops don't really care. It's just dumb teenagers, running around, with really obvious clattering spray paint cans. There are no secrets.
If you can see the influence of street art in King City. What about the influence of your time spent doing adult comics?
I feel like that's stuff I'm just now getting out of my system, too, in the same way as graffiti. Porn comics were the only job in comics I could get in New York. It was funny; it was this publisher who translated a lot of European books, Moebius and Manara, all this stuff that I had a lot of respect for. I showed up there thinking it was time to do all my serious artwork. They said: "We want you to do a book about lesbian schoolgirls."
The cool thing was that I had complete and total freedom, so long as it had sex scenes in it. I always say it was like my art school. And it was also good for my imagination, I think. I had to come up with ridiculous scenarios because it got really boring, month after month, figuring out new ways for people to have sex. Multiple Warheads actually came from that. I did it as a ten-page story that ran in Sizzle Magazine, and enjoyed it enough that I wanted to come back to it and actually explore the characters.
I love the idea of deciding porn characters have deeper stories worth telling.
"Where's that pizza man going next?"
You draw plenty of sexy women in King City, and in Multiple Warheads I laughed out loud when I saw the lead's name was Sexica. What's your position on the sexualization of women in mainstream comics? There's just been an explosion this discussion thanks to titles in the New 52 DC Comics reboot...
I think a lot of it is context. I'm obviously a big fan of drawing dirty pictures but I don't want to do, like, Curious George with a boner and then try to get kids to read it. But I'm fine with more stuff in kid's comics than I think a lot of people would be. I think the Japanese are really good at it. If you read early Dragon Ball or whatever, there's constant nudity and poop jokes -- all these things kids think are funny -- but when they bring them over here they get censored.
If we can't do Curious George with a boner, though, should we do Sexy Adult Batman? Should these characters be left unperverted for children too?
I wouldn't want a version of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns that was made more Nickelodeon. It's more just the missed opportunity of it. DC made it very clear that these characters are not being opened up to a wider audience. Maybe they think their core audience is just thirty-five-year-old guys, but there are a lot of women who read comics too, and I don't think they're thinking about them at all.
One of the rants I always go on is about the bizarre separation between a lot of the people creating comics and a lot of the people reading comics. A big thing in graffiti is taking comic book characters and doing murals of them. I'd be in New York and see this Incredible Hulk mural or Spawn mural, but then I'd look at Spawn or Incredible Hulk comics and they don't even take the time to draw graffiti in the backgrounds correctly. It's kind of like that with women. There are female artists and female readers who are really excited about comics, but comics' portrayals of women are like their portrayals of graffiti. Like they're not even looking at them.
It's not true across the board, but corporate comics definitely seem to be steeped in it. It sucks, because there's a lot of fun to be had there and some great comics still slip through the cracks.
You're now writing -- not drawing, just writing -- a superhero comic called Prophet for Image. How does that change your creative process?
I had to approach it differently because in the past I haven't liked collaborating. One of the fun things about comics for me is coming up with ideas on the spur of the moment, just doing whatever amuses me. When you get a script and it says "Page 1: A man walks through the door. Page 2: He sets down his keys"... it's very hard to have fun with it and not destroy what the writer's going for. The only way I could do it and keep my conscience okay was to collaborate on every aspect of it. The artist, Simon Roy, and I talk through all of the plots, then I do really rough breakdowns, then he does layouts, and we send it all back and forth. He's coming up with a lot of the ideas as well.
The really bizarre thing for me is how much Image is letting me get away with. I don't think I've told anyone, but we give Prophet a tail in issue four. He has sex with a chicken alien in the first issue; I expected that to get cut out. I've had total freedom, and could move it away from it being a superhero comic and toward more science fiction. Actually, when we were writing it, we'd put on old Tom Baker Doctor Who and say, "Let's try to do a comic like this!"
Now there's the King City collection finally coming next year. Can you look back comfortably at old work, or does it pain you to see it?
I'm fine with it. I like to say that the old stuff is like a time capsule. Even if I think I can draw better now, it's what I was doing at the time. I got to talk to a comic artist whose work I really admire a while back, and he really didn't like any of the work that was my favorite work of his. It made it really hard to talk to him. He was all, "I couldn't write, I couldn't draw before I was forty," but a lot of the work I've been influenced by was the stuff he did in his twenties...
You write in King City about a how a danger for an artist is to believe your ideas are so good they don't need refining. Is that more so when you're young, before you have the arrogance beaten out of you?
I worry it's more of a danger when you get older. I always think about how unhealthy the life of a comic book artist is, especially when you reach any level of success. You basically spend all day in a room, having fun drawing pictures, and then a lot of your social interaction comes when you go to a convention and people stand in line to tell you you're a genius. I can't think of a better way to turn someone into an asshole. I fight to avoid that. I have a really good community of friends who do comics. My wife, Marian Churchland, has her own book called Beast. James Stokoke who does Orc Stain is right down the street. We all sit around and draw together and try to not turn into crazy old people. 
You've said that you think it'd be cool to see "split battle comics": two artists given the same subject and amount of pages and "promoted like a boxing match." Are you trying to turn your artist friends against each other?
There's competitiveness in a lot of my artist friendships already. It's almost a kind of joking abuse. We do art battles -- less now, when we all have deadlines -- where we get ten or fifteen different artists in the one room and say "we're all drawing Colossus from X-Men" to see who can do the best one. It forces you to try harder because you know you're there with people whose work you admire.
This is a big thing in graffiti, too: being the best, or at least keeping up. I worry that the current comics community there's this attitude of complacency. You question people's work and immediately it's like, "but they have a family and they have to pay their bills!" There's still ego involved, but it's untested ego. It might just be that I'm coming from a different background. I mean, I can't imagine Chris Ware stepping up to defend his machismo.
On one King City letters page, someone writes: "Mr Graham, you're a difficult man to be a fan of." Soon your work won't be nearly as hard to find. Does it feel like a major career shift?
Yeah. It's bizarre. That and Prophet happening at the same time is a little bit intimidating. I didn't really expect there to be an audience. Now I'm meeting more people who've read my stuff. It's such a terrifying experience. I was at a convention recently and a teenage girl came up to me and said "you're a huge inspiration to me" and "I learned to draw women looking at your work." I said "Oh my god, we've got to find you some better comics! We need to get you Elfquest, stat!" The idea that there are younger artists looking at my work and being inspired -- I never expected that. It's really daunting, and puts a new level of responsibility on your work. I hope I'll rise to the occasion. - Interview byMartyn Pedler

'King City' and 'Perverts of the Unknown' Creator Brandon Graham on Porn, Sex and Honesty. By Laura Hudson

Now that February is over -- and with it, our two weeks of spotlights on sex in comics -- we wind things down today in an interview with creator Brandon Graham, whose superlative series King City comes out in trade paperback next week. Graham also scripted the recent relaunch of Prophet at Image Comics, and has been known to make the occasional porno comic like Pillow Fight and Perverts of the Unknown.

ComicsAlliance talked with Graham about the importance of honesty, context, and diversity when it comes to sex in comics, why the sexiest comics are the ones that deal with women as people, and why good porn is so hard to make. (No pun intended. OK, maybe a little.)

ComicsAlliance: You're someone who has both made porn and been critical about how women are drawn in superhero comics, something you tweeted about recently after someone on Twitter attacked you as hypocritical, because they couldn't understand how the two things could be compatible.
Brandon Graham: Yeah, I think there's a disconnect there. I think a lot of that was backlash for me being mean about how the new Catwoman is being written... and [people] seeing female sexuality as an either/or thing, rather than considering how the female characters or readers might actually feel. And also you know, I'm cool with drawing porn or whatever power fantasies you have, but at least do it well. And what gets under my skin is when something that is just porn or power fantasy is sold as something else.
CA: When you say female sexuality as either/or, what do you mean?
BG: I mean either it being sexy ladies made to jerk off to or some sexless work that you could pass out in a preschool.
CA: So, seeing these comics as either something only for men that treats women only as objects, or having no sexuality at all?
BG: Yeah, yeah.
CA: Rather than something that could take a wide range of sexual and artistic forms, or even just deal with women in more fully human ways.
BG: That's kind of at the core of my annoyance with a lot of this. It almost becomes a craft thing, like, is that how you think women act? ... [It's] even how connected to reality your ideas of sex are. Truth is what I want to see more... [art] that relates to actual life on earth, even if you're doing some crazy out-there story. I think it gets back to why would anyone be making art in the first place, if not to deal with being a person and express how they feel about it.
CA: It's interesting, because I think that people get that idea more generally in superhero comics. We suspend our disbelief that Superman can fly, because it is a fantasy, but we still need to identify with him as a person or we don't care about the story. He needs to be believable on a human level.
BG: Yeah, realism in superhero comics is a slippery word. It can mean stuff that looks like photos, which I think can sometimes make it all even less believable.
CA: So what makes sexiness believable in comics, even in a fantasy context?
BG: I think one thing worth talking about is that it can be a lot of different things to different people. Something that always bugs me is this dude idea that there's one type of attractive, not really allowing for more variation than the same pin-up lady -- except maybe she has glasses on now. The stuff I'm into is pretty close to a lot of that, but I think it needs be talked about that that's not the only thing. Like how would superhero sexuality read if you were mostly into fat guys?
CA: I remember reading something you wrote in an issue of King City about what it was like to ink some other dude's porn, what got someone else off.
BG: Oh yeah, that was no fun... but I do like reading stuff that is far from my scene. It's always really interesting to me how women show sex as opposed to men or gay or transsexual cartoonists.
CA: That quote always reminded me of a lot of superhero art, because that's how it often seems to me: like reading someone else's sexual fantasy instead of reading an accessible adventure story. Which wouldn't even bother me if it were one comic, or even a lot of the superhero comics, instead of almost all the superhero comics.
BG: Yeah I think that's the big problem. It's like, ok dudes, we've tended to your boners since the dawn of time. Can someone else have a turn?

CA: Another question I've had come up a lot is the issue of objectification, and in erotic material it seems to me that there is always a certain amount of dealing with someone's body separately from just their sparkling personality. What's the difference between something that is objectifying and dehumanizing, to you?
BG: It's like you were saying about superheroes: You want them to fly but you still need a connection. Like it makes sense that people would want to draw what they're attracted to but it'd be like dating a person that you didn't have any interest in past their t*ts or whatever.
CA: Making erotica in general does seem like it'd be difficult, since eroticism can be so hard to define when you move outside the realm of easy T&A and cliches. One criticism I heard leveled at Alan Moore's Lost Girls, for example, was that while it was an ambitious and technically interesting comic, it wasn't really hot. How do you approach eroticism in comics, and how is it different from conveying non-sexy situations?
BG: Yeah porn is difficult. That's definitely one of the appeals of it to me to try and do. And I think I've failed a lot, (maybe always) in the ideal of what I was going for. But yeah, Lost Girls is bad at being porn. At least I think so. But it might succeed on a lot of other levels. Back when I was doing porn full-time, I was specifically not into just making something for dudes to jerk off to. I mean, whatever whatever -- but I wanted it to be more of a joke book with sex in it. I tried to put in stuff like an old [Charles] Bukowski-looking guy ejaculating a fish, not to be sexy, but because I thought it was funny.
CA: I would imagine that in order to create erotic art, you have to think really critically and clinically about what you personally find sexy, and I wonder if that isn't a little like deconstructing a joke to figure out how it's funny?
BG: Yeah, totally. And also I think it could be a little scary to really put your libido out there like that. What [artists are] into really comes out in their art, but I was always a little guarded.
CA: Yeah, because you can be like "it's art, it's not about me," but like most art, it kind of always is on some level.
BG: Well yeah, I mean it should be. Ideally.
CA: Porn, or art generally?
BG: I was just thinking art in general. Porn too.
CA: I think if someone is writing a graphic novel about Abraham Lincoln or something, they might not be able to totally divorce themselves from their perspective and influences, but they can make it not primarily about themselves or their pet issues. Whereas with erotica, I think the more you depersonalize it, the less it will probably work?
BG: Yeah, but personally I'd be more interested in someone's pet issues than a clear Lincoln story.
CA: I've always been kind of curious about the mindset that goes into a lot of superhero art that I see, and maybe you have insight. When artists draw something cheesecakey like this, how deliberate is it? Are they genuinely thinking that it's the best way to portray an action scene, or have they just absorbed the aesthetics of superhero comics so deeply that they don't even realize it?
BG: I bet it's a mix. Chicken and egg and all. Yeah, I bet that was done with pure motivations or just wanting to show sexy lady and action. I remember seeing that on the stand and picking it up for the cover, but it's definitely someone drawing with their boner, taping a pen to the end of it. And I bet a book like that could be done well, if it was aware of what it was doing. It gets me if [in] the making of that no one thinks it's not meant to just be t*ts and fishnets.
CA: Would you see a lot of the sexualization in superhero comics differently if it were happening in a porn/fetish/erotic context?
BG: Yeah, I definitely think so. I mean, I still wouldn't think a lot of it was well done but it wouldn't be so embarrassing. I mean I think the Catwoman comic is really well-drawn. and it'd be fine if it was that but smarter... Just some diversity would be nice.
CA: What do you think the best way is to change the mindset of artists? Does criticism help? Getting more women involved in the genre?
BG: Yes and yes. I think talking about it is really good and definitely on all levels it helps out the artform so much to just let a wider variety of creators in. Like I see DC say that they hire the best, but it's like the best of the tiny fraction that they're willing to look at, that even feel welcome to submit to them. And I would even argue that it's not always the best of that (but that's just me being mean).
CA: Well, comics has become this economically delicate machine built to create a very specific thing for a very specific audience. And there's this belief that you can't change too much of how it works without potentially "breaking" it and alienating the core audience.
BG: I dunno, I don't think the existing audience is so delicate. And I think if the quality was better they'd stick around along with all the new readers that would love comics if they could just find ones they liked.
CA: Well, there are occasional experiments with stuff like Wednesday Comics or Strange Tales.
BG: They're just experiment ghettos.
CA: But I think a lot of people, especially publishers, look at those experiment ghettos, see them do not-so-great, say the market isn't there, and just end up back with mega-crossovers. I've heard a lot of people suggest that you can't ask publishers to do things that will lose them money even if they are more positive and inclusive, and I get that argument. What's the solution?
BG: I tend to look at comics from my own interest. I think for the most part they aren't trying to blow peoples minds. I mean, maybe, but it's sad if they are. Like I'll look at Marvel books with ads on every other page -- is that exciting to anyone as a reader? I live across the street from a comic store and I'm over there every week with money to buy things, and most days I end up looking at back issues because so much of the new stuff just isn't worth $3 to me.
CA: What makes comics exciting to you? What's the last (newish) comic you read that provoked a strong reaction?
BG: I just got this great Emma Rios [Amazing] Spider-Man, and read it and loved it. And then went back and noticed that out of thirteen pages of ads, two of them weren't for Marvel products. They're just f*cking up their own sh*t for free... Rios's work is really impressive. I was really into what she was doing with Spider-Man and Daredevil jumping off a building and she drew it without horizontal panel borders and had the panels overlapping a bit to show speed. It was just a new way to show something to me.

CA: You've also been doing a lot of work for Image lately, a publisher that initially launched around the idea of creator empowerment, and allowing artists to do their own thing. The Extreme Studios stuff has been really interesting, because they're properties that had previously been very... '90s.
BG: Wicked '90s, bra.
CA: Then these reboots came out of the gate with all of these great creators innovating and doing much more mature things with them. That contrast -- that sense of evolution was really fantastic, and the sort of thing I'd love to see in more superhero books.
BR: I was really happy to be able to do something new with Prophet, and I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have such faith in Image letting me do what I thought would be the best stuff me and the other dudes on Prophet could do... I don't think a lot of the guys at DC or Marvel are allowed to just f*ck around like I do. [There are] editors and collaborators. When I do my own stuff, I'm not submitting a script; I'm just doing it.
CA: Well, whatever the aesthetic is that makes money, that's what people learn to do. That's what people are drawing in their sketchbooks and bringing to conventions for portfolio reviews.
BG: Yeah, and I think on some level pandering to something like that's a mistake, at least in the long run. I think if someone wants to stick around and really do well in comics when they're old it makes more sense to me to do your own aesthetic, but also I'm coming from a different place than someone who wants to draw Batman.
CA: Do you think the real innovation and the comics with the potential to reach out to a mainstream audience -- are they going to come from indie comics? Is that the only place where you think it's possible for that kind of work to flourish?
BG: I think it's really about editorial in the end. I see creators at mainstream companies that I think could really be pushing things. And I don't want to make a huge line between indie and mainstream because I identify as little with Dan Clowes as I do with Mark Millar... Editors basically choose who and what gets on shelves and we just don't have an Archie Goodwin or Lou Stathis that I'm aware of in comics right now. And if we do, they aren't being given much freedom. Also with the extreme stuff, I think guys like Joe [Keatinge] and Ross [Campbell] on Glory and Tim [Seeley] on his book [Bloodstrike], they really grew up on and liked the old [Rob] Liefeld books in a way that I'm not coming from.
CA: Well, isn't that something that the superhero world needs more of too: people outside the insular feedback loop? People who didn't grow up just reading superhero comics, people with other influences?
BG: Yeah, other influences are really important, but also it does get scary when you hear about someone who doesn't even read comics having control over decisions in comics... But there's so many diverse creators making comics, I don't think it would be all that hard to let more types of creators in.
CA: So you see it as an access issue.
BG: Yeah, I think you really see the creators let in who are the kind of people the editors would get along with.
CA: It's funny, I often spend so much time dealing with the enormous output from the major publishers that it can be difficult to find the cool, amazing comics under the surface, the sort of stuff I've seen you find at cons and post about on your blog. So you can end up feeling really disheartened like this stuff isn't out there, even though I think you're right, it really is; it's just not in a system that delivers it to me through publishing channels.
BG: I might miss a lot of the good stuff the mainstream does too, but the majority of creators who I'm really excited about are making comics that dont make it to comic shops... I pulled out some real early less porny [Milo] Manara to read tonight... his Bergman books. Have you read those?
CA: Nope.
BG: Still a little sexy lady, but I think he was really trying to do something new with the stories. I feel like him and [Masamune] Shirow had these amazing aspirations and work when they first came out, and then they kind of degenerated into smut. I fear my own future. It's that fine line.
CA: Don't you think you'd get bored with just smut, though?
BG: I don't think I've ever beat porn, if that makes any sense... It's really hard to do well and I always fall a little short of what I want. There's a pun in there. The other funny thing is that when I do porn now -- like [for] the Thickness its pretty much for free, where in the past it was all I could squeeze money out of.
CA: There are some things I don't think you're ever supposed to be done with. Like, you don't really ever "win" sex and call it a day.
BG: Heh, yeah. But some stuff I can say I think I outdid what I planned. Like I think without being too insanely cocky that King City came out better than I hoped. Whereas a lot of the porn I've done was less so. I mean I like a lot of it still, and I dont want to just sh*t on my own work, but it's hard to pull off. But yeah, that'll get me back to [porn] at some point I bet.


Interview by Brian Burns

Brandon Graham's web page