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DMZ Volume 01: On the Ground (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2006)
DMZ Volume 02: Body of a Journalist (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2007)
DMZ Volume 03: Public Works (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2007)
DMZ Volume 04: Friendly Fire (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2008)
DMZ Volume 05: The Hidden War (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2008)
DMZ Volume 06: Blood in the Game (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2009)
DMZ Volume 07: War Powers (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2009)
DMZ Volume 08: Hearts and Minds (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2010)
DMZ Volume 09: M.I.A. (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2011)
DMZ Volume 10: Collective Punishment (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2011)
DMZ Volume 11: Free States Rising (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2012)
DMZ Volume 12: The Five Nations of New York (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2012)
DMZ Book One: Deluxe Edition Hardcover (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2014)
DMZ Book Two: Deluxe Edition Hardcover (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2014)
DMZ Book Three: Deluxe Edition Hardcover (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2014)
DMZ Book Four: Deluxe Edition Hardcover (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2015)
DMZ Book Five: Deluxe Edition Hardcover (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2015)
DMZ Book One (TPB) (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2016)
DMZ Book Two (TPB) (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2016)
DMZ Book Three (TPB) (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2017)
DMZ Book Four (TPB) (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2017)
DMZ Book Five (TPB) (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2017)

Volume 12: "The Five Nations of New York," Interview w/ Writer Brian Wood

The final volume in Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli's contemporary classic collects issues 67 to 72. With the beginning of the healing process and reconstruction burgeoning on the Isle of Manhattan as the backdrop, the arc focuses primarily on the final fate of series protagonist Matthew Roth. We tour the titular new “Five Nations of New York” as Matty seems to finally accept the city as it is, avoiding the temptation to label, itself a form of control. When he finally sees New York for New York, it’s as if he’s finally accepted as one of the city’s own. Matty finally comes to terms with his role in events, acknowledges the need for accountability, and seemingly identifies the one way out that allows him to salvage some sense of integrity. If he entered the DMZ as an insecure boy, he’s now determined to exit as a man, no matter what the personal cost. “The Five Nations of New York” is an emotionally satisfying conclusion to a resilient urban culture and an epic series that engages the reader and reveals as many personal truths as it does political realities.

Brian, for “The Five Nations,” we have Lower Manhattan, Chinatown, Parktown, Midtown West, and Midtown East. Is the idea behind redistricting a way to try and avoid labels and marginalization?

I figured it was natural, as reconciliation takes place and power shifts and consolidates, this seemed to be a likely breakdown. Based on how I’d treated the city over the course of the series, of course. But all that happens off-panel, so you gotta’ just take my word for it. Truth is, I had that title, “The Five Nations Of New York,” in my head for YEARS. I knew it had to be the final story, so I made sure I could use it.

If you change the hair color, “The First Nation” guy that Matty and Zee visit in Lower Manhattan looks like artist Riccardo Burchielli, no?

Yeah, he’s done that many times… in some cases, it’s obviously him (he’ll draw his tattoos on the character or have the guy holding a pencil), but in some cases it has to be an accident. The same way with Erik in his NORTHLANDERS story. Traits of him, physically, keep appearing. I hope he’s not embarrassed to read this!

Matty is mourning privately and coming to terms with his final actions, but the arc opens joyous and hopeful with the war over. I’m curious about any alternate endings you may have considered? [Senior Editor] Will Dennis was joking with me that Matty and Zee are probably not going to get married, move upstate, and start a family. On the other end of the spectrum, half of those charges were trumped up, but even if you accept them at face value, Matty got off light with a life sentence. You could have rightfully executed him, no? Was his ultimate fate a sort of difficult compromise between two extremes?

I wasn’t prepared to see Matty die in any circumstance. But that’s less about my affection for the guy, because I think that’s actually the lighter sentence. Both for him as a person, and in terms of impact for the reader. Much more complex and evocative is the image of him sitting alone in a prison cell, chewing all this over in his head. At least I think so. 

And hey, here’s an exclusive for you: some notes written by me, for me, in early 2010 regarding the end of DMZ… as I saw it then. This is heavily edited, but only to take out irrelevant bits:

60-64 “Diplomacy Alone” or “The Free States Of America” or “Free States Rising” (will be collected as volume 11)

Following the political events of the last arc, this war in America goes hot again, truly hot, with a wholesale military invasion of NYC from both sides, with suggestions that the same is happening all over the country… I want to stress that this is total war, like nothing we’ve seen in the book. The civilian population is driven underground, probably literally, there are tanks and armies in the streets, air strikes, you name it. It’s like everyone involved has finally given up on any notion of preserving the Union or minimizing collateral damage, and just want to accelerate whatever has to happen for the war to end.The major events in the arc are… Parco being found and killed, most likely by soldiers, for ‘crimes against humanity’ (the nuke blast), a la Saddam.

65-72 “The Five Nations Of New York City” (will be collected as volume 12)

Major points: a failed attempt at an insurgency forces Wilson to negotiate to keep Chinatown intact. A return of the Delgado Nation, named in honor of Parco, but dedicated to peaceful means… a true people’s revolution.These two, plus the U.S. enclave, the Free States enclave, and the Community, a self-run section where Matty and Zee reside.

And going back a year before that, an even rougher take on the end of the series. This was written around the same time I was writing “The Island,” issues 35 and 36.

This next arc, probably #35-40, called (maybe) SEEKING TO ACQUIRE or ACTIVE MEASURES, will show a post-election DMZ fracturing dangerously and Parco attempting to heal it through force. The acquisition of the bomb is made in utter secret - Matty and like three or four other people know about it. It’s buried in the Park.

DIPLOMACY ALONE (#41-45), the following arc, is about all the other players (FSA, USA, Trustwell) coming to terms with the Delgado Nation as a major, major threat. They all want Parco gone, they want the bomb, they want the city and they want to keep the peace, which is going to be a tricky thing. They need to undermine Parco’s popular support without giving him a reason to either use the bomb or even MENTION the bomb. And that means going through Matty.

TOTAL WAR (#46-60), a trilogy of arcs that deal with final battle for the city. Matty hits the lowest low and struggles to redeem himself during this all-out battle for the city. This needs some serious thought and outlining, obviously, but one thing I definitely wanted to show was Matty completely fucking up and subsequently having a total breakdown. His personal redemption being tied to the fate of the city.

end/epilogue (61-65): THE FIVE NATIONS (suggesting the five boroughs) - The lines are drawn, the treaties ratified, and finally a lasting peace: the DMZ is now Chinatown, the Delgado Nation, the US enclave, the Free States enclave, and the Community, a protected anarchist-type section of the city where Matty and Zee reside.

There’s also a lot of notes in my book on a story I called “The Battle Of Broadway,” meant to be a BLACK HAWK DOWN-style account of a single DMZ battle. Matty wasn’t meant to be in it, it was pure military. I wanted it to be a side mini-series, but it never came to pass.

I like the balance shown in the way the city starts to heal, with Jamal, Lau, and everyone grieving differently and trying to figure out what’s next. I thought the denouement of Soames was sad as hell, here’s a guy who tried do something good and basically ends up a raving loon. Does this scare affect Matty’s ultimate decision any or has he already decided by that point, is it fait accompli?

I never really explained how Matty felt about Soames, other than what you could glean by looking at his face. The Ghosts were Matty’s first story in the DMZ, and as proud as he must have been about that, the association was tainted by having to go and buy a fucking nuclear bomb from them on behalf of Parco. I think, that as far-gone as Soames was at the end, Matty could feel little more than personal shame when looking at him. Shame for what he, Matty, did.

Ok, this is probably the most important question I’ll ever ask, but what’s the deal with the tape on the bridge of Matty’s nose? Does it just never heal right? Is it just an aesthetic? My brother-in-law pointed out to me that it just shows up one day with no explanation (at the end of issue 2 there’s no bandage, then it appears in issue 3). It comes and goes in different arcs all the way to the end of the series.

I think it only went away once. At some point, Will Dennis suggested we retire it. I wasn’t so comfortable with that, since at that point I considered it part of his “uniform,” like Spider Jerusalem’s glasses [TRANSMETROPOLITAN] or Jesse Custer’s white jeans and collar [PREACHER]. But we did it and it just felt wrong. We got LETTERS about it! No one liked no-bandage Matty, so we brought it back and all was right in the world.

In reality, Blackwater rebranded as Xe; in DMZ, Trustwell has a subsidiary company named XET that you show during the reconstruction period. Is this comparison suggesting that some degree of corruption is unavoidable, or that these insidious things are cyclical, like the more things change, the more they stay the same?

All of what you said is true and I agree with it. In the case of XET, it was a personal joke I made for myself. I couldn’t believe that Blackwater would do something so lame as to change their name, and I doubly couldn’t believe it that what they changed it to, Xe, is pronounced “Zee.” So, yeah, I wanted to mirror that in the book. There’s a lot of things in DMZ I love dearly, truly miss, and Trustwell is one of them. I’ve created a similar type of thing in THE MASSIVE with Blackbell PMC, but it’s just not the same somehow. Although “Blackbell” is a much better name than “Trustwell.”

President Obama officially ended the war in Iraq in December 2011, the same month you ended the war in DMZ and the final issue shipped. Is that a weird synchronicity or what?

I’m cynical about all of that, and perhaps it’s also telling that I didn’t make that connection until you pointed it out. Or maybe I’m still coming to grips with the fact that I helped elect a President even more hawkish than the last one.

I remember in early February, the US closed the embassy in Syria. You mentioned that in the DMZ world, Syria was one of the conflicts the US gets involved in. How you do you feel about this “prescient” label that people throw at you and your writing?

There’s this thing that has stuck in my head since 2003. It was right after the shock and awe campaign, and the subsequent invasion, and what they called the liberation of Baghdad. In some media circles, there was a feeling of “what’s next?” Meaning, Afghanistan and Iraq down, who can we topple next? This was a serious discussion for some, and Syria was often cited as evil enough, I guess, to be next in line. A co-worker, I remember, changed his AIM chat icon to a read “Syria Next.” So that’s where the Syria thing came from. 

I get the prescient thing, I did way back with CHANNEL ZERO, and now. I’m really not trying to be that, and I think when I come up with these near-future scenarios the only “trick” is simply looking at what’s going on now and applying some generic common sense to figure out worst case scenarios. When enough of those come to pass, you look prescient. It’s a far more depressing thing more than any point of pride, believe me.

Is the identity of the girl in the final issue important or is she just an average POV character to see New York City through the eyes of? I’m tempted by the thought that maybe she was a reincarnated Zee, after Zee just kind of disappears and fades away. Maybe it was her, the soul of the city, now living on in this new manifestation.

I get this question a lot and I decided to always decline to answer it so I don’t change anyone’s perfectly valid interpretation.

I hate you.


At 72 issues, DMZ is your longest series to date, and quite an accomplishment for any series these days. First, just… congratulations, man! Second, how does it feel? What did you learn?

Man, I could write a book about what I’ve learned. Christ, where to start. This was my first ongoing book, and my first story over six issues in length. I really learned as I went. First off, I now know not to write another 72-issue series. It’s cool that I did it, a book of that length, and it’s great on the resume, but I don’t think it suits me or makes for a good story. At least part of the reason I kept it going – and this is how every writer feels, even if they say they don’t – is fear of losing the steady income. That’s no way to do things, even as understandable as that is. It feels good, I feel proud, humble, all those things. I feel tired when I even think about DMZ, I feel pretty burned out on the subject matter. I couldn’t even bring myself to participate in anything Occupy because of that. The way things ended with me and DC colors it a bit. That’s most of the negative stuff. 

The positive is pretty indescribable. DMZ took me around the world (well, at least halfway a couple times – had I agreed to that Singapore Con, it would have), made me friends all over the world, fed my kids, built my career, got me a full page in THE NEW YORK TIMES… I could write an endless list. I remember something Warren Ellis said, around the time TRANSMET ended. The exact phrasing I don’t recall, but it was something like “Finish a big multi-year project like TRANSMET and you find you can do anything afterwards.” His implication wasn’t personal, but commercial. Meaning that doors will open up for you. It took me getting out from under DC to see it myself, but that was one of the things that kept me at my desk writing DMZ even when I didn’t want to. So, everything I’m working on now was because of DMZ. Had I stayed at DC, I’d have started some Vertigo book that would have launched low, and been kicked around to a few of the D-list New 52 titles, if I was lucky. In retrospect, things worked out great.

When DMZ #1 came out, I was still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, was working a different job, didn’t have kids yet, and I remember Will Dennis saying you were in a similar state, still living in SF, not married yet, no kids, etc. I guess my question is how does your real life inform your writing? I definitely saw maturation in the tone of DMZ and even NORTHLANDERS. For example, I don’t think a writer who wasn’t a father could turn in a story like the one with Hilda and Karen in NORTHLANDERS.

I became a better writer as I went, for sure, but DMZ was always detached a bit from my personal life or my personal thoughts. I don’t mean that in a negative way; what I mean is that I didn’t pour myself into it in the way I did with NORTHLANDERS, heart and soul. DMZ was intellectual, while NORTHLANDERS was emotional. NORTHLANDERS became so connected to my identity, more than anyone else will ever know. Losing that book was hard, and I know at some point I’ll write another series just like it.

Is there some issue, some moment, some “thing” that you’re most proud of? Are there any particular high or low points related to this series for you?

High points for me are “Friendly Fire,” which was nuanced the way I wanted it to be, and offered no clear answers, the way I like. It was tragic as hell. Parco was a fun creation and I’m proud of how that all unfolded with him and Matty’s fates tied together. Wilson, for sure.

You mentioned about half a dozen times in these interviews “I wish I had more time with…” x character or x idea. Would, say, 100 issues have gotten it all out of you, or do you think story ideas could have kept popping up indefinitely?

I can’t even imagine. 100 issues… I probably would have imploded long before that. But in theory, yeah, I can see ideas being generated for at least that long. Ideally, I would have used another dozen to address things I missed that I felt actually mattered. But all that’s hindsight. I think being a better writer would have done the job properly, not needed some extra issues.

Where does the property stand in terms of adaptation to other media? With the DC/Warner Brothers relationship, the film rights are automatically optioned, right? And now Syfy is in the picture?

Yeah, there’s a bunch of misconceptions out there about the nature of DC/Vertigo’s media... there’s also a lot of truth. But as simply as possible, DMZ, as a comic, is owned by Riccardo and I. What DC has, or rather what Warner Brothers has, is an option on the media and merchandise rights for as long as they want it. So a DMZ film or TV show is at the discretion of WB, and while we've had some near misses in the past, everyone hopes the recent option with Syfy works out.

You’ve mentioned Nick Stahl or Bryan Greenberg as Matty over the years. Any other ideas in terms of dream-casting a TV show or film just for fun?

Yeah, Zoe Saldana as Zee. It’s also fun to imagine Sen Dog as Parco Delgado.

I’ll add Giancarlo Esposito as Parco, Jennifer Morrison as Kelly Connolly, and I’ve always wanted to see Jim Caviezel doing a cameo as Decade Later. For Matty, I find it difficult to find someone who can look age appropriate, but has the right swagger. I think Patrick Wilson comes close.

How do you want DMZ to be remembered?

As something serious and respected. It’s grim material, but that’s not what I mean by serious. I want it to stand the test of time and be taken seriously, not to become dated and trite over time.

I know you’re already like 6 months into the next major phase of your career, and might not give DMZ much active thought, but when was/is it “over” over in your mind? When the final trade shipped in June?

For me, it was over some time in the mid-#60s, when I knew 100% how I would execute the ending. It was over for me when I committed to ending it. When I handed in the script, I wanted that to be the definitive ending, I wanted to burn backup CDs and call it a day. 

But there’s a million tiny things to do after that – approve pencils, proofread the lettering, do the variant cover, do the trade cover, write the back of trade copy, make a handful of little decisions about this or that. Do interviews. All that kind of robs you of the hard stop, when you can feel 100% done. I’m not there yet, I may never be there.

You’ve mentioned before that your DMZ audience can easily follow you to THE MASSIVE. Why is that? What’s the loose connection there?

It’s tonal, really. A socially-aware story in the skin of an action comic. Nothing beyond that, no narrative connections.

Brian, now that we’re at the end of this series, it seems only fitting that we start at the beginning. Would you be willing to share the original pitch document with us?

Here you go, from October 13, 2004. May it live in infamy.

End Transmission

Cover Rough, Courtesy of John Paul Leon

Volume 11: "Free States Rising," Interview w/ Writer Brian Wood

“Free States Rising” runs from issue 60 to 66, and is comprised of two smaller arcs and a single spotlight issue. The first arc chronicles the birth of the movement through the eyes of one man’s induction into the FSA, as he turns from being an arms dealer riding the profitable tide of war to full-fledged FSA leadership. Shawn Martinbrough delivers this two-parter in his dark and ominous style. Issue 60 is aptly titled “Middle America,” and touches on the disenfranchised American Heartland, while “The Jersey Shore” in issue 61 depicts the takeover of the Lincoln Tunnel. Brian Wood’s trademark newsfeed informs us that the US has nearly one million troops deployed in the Middle East, including places like Yemen and Syria, entrenched in a campaign of 39 years of combined war on 6 fronts around the world. Riccardo Burchielli returns to the series he helped launch with the “Free States Rising” arc, captured in issues 62 through 65. In his newly minted role as official UN Observer, Matty witnesses the aftermath of some of his actions and reaches a mental tipping point, as the final surge to Broadway opens with an air strike, and is followed by an intense ground war. We learn definitive revelations about the Indian Point nuclear detonation, as well as the final fate of Parco Delgado. Issue 66 is the last solo issue focusing on Zee Hernandez, recapping the story of her corporeal existence in the DMZ, but also solidifying the figurative notion that she is the physical manifestation of New York City.

Brian, seeing the title of this arc, it’s impossible for me not to think of the Bruce Springsteen song “The Rising,” which he wrote as a response to 9/11. Any subconscious connection there? Does your musical taste even swing toward The Boss? C’mon, tell me you’re over there hammering out the guitar riff from “Born To Run.”

My go-to Springsteen track will always be “Glory Days.” Although, I really like his recent forays into Americana and Irish folk. Anyway, I like “The Rising,” but no connections that I’m aware of.

In the Shawn Martinbrough issues, the idea of the FSA seems to be evolving fast. It’s a movement, it’s a prelude to civil war, and there’s even thought given to the idea that it’s just a means to an end – to force the end of foreign wars and draw troops home. I’ve seen a lot of reviews (mine included) that tend to project their own ideas of what they think the FSA is into the work. It’s tempting to dismiss them by wrongly classifying them as just redneck militia from The Red States. So, in your own words, for the record, what’s the FSA?

The FSA has always been more of an idea than a standing army. The idea of resistance, of a popular civilian uprising, rather than soldiers in uniform per se. So, as such, the FSA is disorganized and fluid in its actions and motivations, and also nearly impossible to point at with a gun and kill. For a decade, America’s tried to point a gun and kill an enemy in Afghanistan.

I’ve consistently shown the FSA as having come out of the Midwest, or Montana, and I get how that plays into the stereotype of rednecks. Early on, I think I saw the FSA as having been born out of the survivalist movement, which is neither Red nor Blue really (of course I did research), but soon after I evolved it into a more national concept. When I knew I was going to be winding down the Commander character, I wanted to show his origins.
And the Commander, a favorite of mine, was one I deliberately tried to write as contradictory as possible. He’s all over the place in terms of ideology and even loyalty, both a friend (born from familiarity) and an enemy to Matty. A pot-smoking long-hair defending the Lincoln Tunnel, what’s not to like?

You’ve always said “the FSA is an idea,” and honestly that took a while to finally click for me. But once it does, you realize what a powerful idea this is to the status quo. It’s the idea of an asymmetrical foe that can be faceless because it’s just a mindset of resistance or opposition. The FSA as, like, America(ns) as a slumbering giant, that might actually wake up long enough to keep their government in check. That’s always there in the background. Dissent as patriotism, a government fearing its people, not people living in fear of their government. Wait, I think I just quoted V FOR VENDETTA…

This was back when the war in Iraq was turning out to not be the slam dunk we were promised, and Rumsfeld was on TV whining that the enemy wasn’t playing by the rules, i.e. lining up politely to get shot. They were not in uniform and were blending into the population, etc. An impossible enemy to find and kill. Sorta’ reminds me of how we won the American Revolution, in part.

Yeah, I think it was Howard Zinn who said that from the perspective of the British Crown, the hit-and-run guerrilla warfare of something like the Boston Tea Party was not some liberating birth-of-a-nation moment, but a terrorist act by a local insurgent cell. Perspective is everything.

There’s this full page shot in issue 61 of ConEd taking down the power grid and for a moment we see the spire of the Empire State Building lit up. When I was in NYC last summer, I went to a midnight wedding on a rooftop down in Tribeca, and was really struck by how iconic that beacon of light is. Do you think that building has become the de facto skyline image with the WTC gone? Shit, this is a long-winded question, but what I really wanted to get to was how do you think that a New Yorker reads DMZ differently than someone not as familiar with the city’s geography?

I don’t know a single New Yorker that claims to love the Empire State Building in the same way they might the Flatiron or the Chrysler or the Woolworth. But, it’s so recognizable, and I tried to include it as much as possible since DMZ’s audience is global, and probably only .005% of those readers are familiar with NYC like the locals are.

I was at a function about a month ago that was on the 50th floor of a Midtown building and witnessed all these die-hard New Yorkers just awed by the view of the Chrysler Building. Not much tends to awe our cynical, blackened hearts.

While in New York, like every other tourist, I walked by Ground Zero and was surprised to find that my reaction wasn’t very positive. All these families were taking pictures with their kids, like it was Disneyland or something, and it really twisted my stomach. It was a real carnival atmosphere. It just cheapened the whole thing. I expected more… reverence, I guess? I couldn’t wait to get out of there and not be part of the problem. I couldn’t help feeling that this revulsion must be how Zee and the locals partially feel when outsiders come into their city. What do you make of this phenomenon?

I’ve actually never been. I mean, I’ve walked by the construction site a lot (my wife works a couple blocks away), but I’ve never seen the memorial or walked on that walkway or anything like that. It’s not out of any particular emotion other than pure lack of interest. But I think it’s a fair comment about Zee… the idea of tourists wanting to gawk.

I like the symbolism of this guy having to get through the Lincoln Tunnel as it starts flooding. There’s a spiritual transformation with those baptizing waters of the Hudson as he enters NYC. I just want to confirm, this is the origin of the infamous FSA “Commander” we see pop up at various points throughout the series, right? How does he go from being an arms dealer loosely affiliated with the FSA to full-fledged FSA believer, and a leader of the movement?

Well, like I said, the FSA is pretty loose. What I wanted to tell with this mini-arc (the first part of “Free States Rising”) is how he sort of came into the fold of the FSA and then left it and went off and did his own thing. I guess you could call him a cell (maybe?) affiliated with the larger movement. I don’t know if he was ever a believer. He joined up for the amnesty, for the cover, mocking the “brotherhood” language one of the REAL true believers used.

This might be a question for Riccardo, but is that an old Fiat 500 that Matty is thrashing around in? He’s gotten pretty good at power-sliding it around corners.

Any chance I get, I give him a chance to draw that Fiat! He first did way back, maybe in volume 3, and I remember he was so proud of it, representing the Italian automotive icon. I’ve never forgotten it. I think we see it in again in the last volume.

I have a very specific question here and then I’ll follow up with my theory. There’s a panel in issue 62 where Matty is almost entirely in silhouette and there’s white text against him as the background. He’s talking about how you can’t control chaos and have to give into the tide of events. It seems to be this little Zen moment of clarity. What’s that about?

Less clarity than just trusting to the fates. It’s not the clearest scene in the world, but he essentially walks out into the open and is trusting the city not to kill him (very much like the rooftop scene in volume 2). Matty is very much in this mindset now, much less concerned about self-preservation. It’s all part of the wind down.

I thought it was truly the first time that Matty becomes self-aware, on that precipice you talk about, knowing his decisions will steer his future. I think this is the precise moment he becomes a man, he decides that nobody is going to use him, not the FSA, not the USA, not the military, not even Zee and his need to belong, not his dad, Liberty News, or Parco Delgado. And yeah, he’ll walk out and take his chances; if he dies, he dies, if it works out, it works out. It’s like a switch flips and he knows what he’s going to do regardless, he’s not appealing to anyone’s approval, but to his own internal moral compass.

It’s certainly when he first walked the walk as far as that’s concerned. At the end of the “M.I.A.” arc when he was talking to his dad and turned down immunity from prosecution, that’s a fantastic and brave gesture, but it’s all just talk until he physically and literally commits, which he did here.

There’s finally a very terse conversation between Parco and Matty. Even though Parco clearly used Matty, he does call Matty on his victim trip, saying that he didn’t make Matty do anything he didn’t want to. It seems like this was an important conversation for you to get on the record?

I think it’s ultimately true, and there is one thing I wanted to be very clear about: Matty is guilty as hell, of capital offenses. So is Parco, but the worst Parco did in terms of his relationship with Matty was to enable him, to encourage him, typically in a “bro” sort of way. Matty’s responsible. When the series ended, I got a lot of pushback from readers who were sort of appalled at what I did to Matty, at how he ended up. That he would be considered guilty. Maybe the expectation that because he’s the “hero” of the book he somehow would prevail? He’s a murderer! He trafficked a nuclear weapon! He’s guiltier than a lot of the villains in the DMZ.

In issue 64, Matty learns that Wilson is dead. We go on to learn about the UN Ambassador that Trustwell assassinated, there are mentions of PFC Stevens, and DJ Random Fire has apparently gone on to a successful career overseas. It has the definite feel that you’re tying up little loose ends. How did that feel to begin closing up shop?

I felt relieved. In so many ways I like to talk about, but in this case it was a relief to actually be pulling it off, to be snapping the puzzle pieces down and realizing it’s all starting to look like a complete picture. This was my first time writing a big story like this.

There’s a pretty intense scene where the US kills the FSA Commander right after he gives up Parco. It seems like this pushed Matty over the edge to release (or threaten the release of) the info he had on Indian Point. Is that accurate or do you think he would have released it anyway just out of spite?

He never would have, I don’t think. He knows the value of it (Parco’s life) and also the potential to prolong the war. It’s an interesting choice he makes (with Zee’s encouragement): cover up the truth, but hasten the end of the war. And, to a degree, take the blame.

In issue 65, there’s a military tribunal for Parco. Is he just assuming that he’s going to die? That this tribunal is just a formality, so he might as well be blunt and tell the truth?

The tribunal was valid, but in the scene after, and the one after that, we see Matty cut a deal with the President to spare Parco’s life in exchange for the proof of the truth about the nuke. Parco gets exiled instead. I remember my editor being surprised at that, assuming that Parco would die. I couldn’t kill everyone! Haha!

It seems like Matty threads a very tiny needle. The US gets what it wants by taking the FSA Commander and Parco Delgado off the board, and Matty has used the info he has about US culpability in the nuke detonation to keep Parco alive. His ownership of that small piece of truth actually saved a life. He did some good for once, which might be all Zee ever wanted from him, not to get anyone else killed, to protect people, or protect the city. Is this the beginning of his road to partial redemption, or at least squaring up to become a man?

It’s all of that. It’s a very “grown up” decision for him to have made, in the sense that it’s rational and not based on emotion or revenge. In effect, he takes care of everyone – everyone gets something they want – except for him. There’s no direct benefit to him, and he knows it and makes the deals anyway. He does this partly out of guilt and partly out of maturity.

It is all very fine, and subtle in some ways, and requires looking back at the body of the crimes Matty’s committed, and a lot of readers missed it entirely. One thing that really bothered me was this sense among some readers that all this was rushed and half-assed and made up on the spot, when it was a process that began at the end of the “M.I.A.” arc.

Instead of “Every Day is 9/11,” we seem to reach an emotional turning point and get the more positive “We Love NYC” in background graffiti. Is this another thing that Riccardo just did of his own volition or was it scripted?

It’s all Riccardo!

How did you approach what is really the last substantial Zee story, “Citizen Zee,” in issue 66? Where did you want to leave her, or what did you want to say about her?

I wanted to do one last Zee issue, a third one since I like groupings of three. Riccardo wanted to draw a Zee issue, and I saw an opportunity to give some first-person context to a lot of the decisions she made in the recent past. It’s also her final issue, in the same way that Wilson got his, and Decade Later got his, and so on. We still see her in the final volume, but her story basically ends here.

It nicely recaps her existence in the DMZ, highlighting her caring for Matty despite some of his actions. It seems like you consciously went into this knowing Zee really is the city itself, she takes care of her residents, warts and all, but because she’s this living embodiment she can never really leave.

Not to get ahead of us, but in #71 she leaves the courtroom, and she is gone, vanished into the city. I like to imagine her literally disembodied and absorbed, as silly as that is. Metaphorically, let’s say.

End Transmission

Lower Manhattan Burning, Courtesy of Danijel Zezelj

The Final Decade Later Story, Courtesy of Danijel Zezelj

The Final Wilson Story, Courtesy of Nathan Fox

Volume 10: "Collective Punishment," Interview w/ Writer Brian Wood

“Collective Punishment” collects issues 55 through 59 and offers a plethora of diverse stories with rotating artist contributions by some of the most interesting artists working in comics today. For many of the characters, the stories bookend earlier spotlight issues and close down their story threads, securing many of the last remaining “loose ends” for posterity, prior to the resolution of the entire saga. Andrea Mutti depicts an undercover special operative in issue 55, Nathan Fox returns to tell the last Wilson story in issue 56, Cliff Chiang joins the roster of DMZ talent for Amina’s story in issue 57, Danijel Zezelj chronicles Decade Later’s story in issue 58, and David Lapham joins the urban fray with issue 59.

Brian, how does the tone of the writing change in this arc?

I wasn’t setting out to change my tone, but this is an arc filled with goodbyes and the wrapping up of minor storylines, in anticipation of the series coming to an end. Certainly by now I knew what issue was going to be the final one, so I knew how much space I had left to work with. It was odd to start to kill off characters and write conclusions to others more than a year away from the series’ conclusion, but this was the last chance I felt I had.

I think the audience could feel your intent, starting to close up shop, and it was a little bittersweet being on the receiving end of that. It must have been satisfying to bring the series home to its planned conclusion (unlike, say, the cancellation of NORTHLANDERS), but at the same time it must have been a little sad too?

I was only ever sad to end Wilson, in the sense that I felt I wasn’t done with him. Everything else ranges from satisfying to feelings of relief. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I was thrilled to end DMZ, to finish it and have it stop being a daily presence in my life. 7 years of writing (including development work) is a long time, man. It was time to move on.

For issue 55, Andrea Mutti’s pencils have bits of Jim Lee, Sean Philips, and even some Dave Gibbons influence. What was the intent of the Cal Foster story?

It was a few things. It was set-up for the bombing campaign that was about to start, it was a way to include Zee in this arc, and to get some nice gray-area morality into the mix, and to put a combatant in the same room with a bunch of civilians and see what happens. For all my intentions of making DMZ a book about the “civilian perspective on war,” the Matty storyline could really veer us away from that. So I was always looking for chances to balance it out, if possible. Andrea’s an underrated artist and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in comics. His Zee was unlike anyone else’s, a really warm face with great eyes. Typically Zee is angry and squinting much of the time.

Issue 56 is essentially the last Wilson story, was that a difficult task to wrap your brain around? I could always tell that you enjoyed writing this guy.

I did, but I sorta’ knew there was no other ending for the guy. Earlier in the series I had him predicting for himself that he would run the city when all was said and done, and he’s not the type to give up. So I knew he’d have to die trying. And as weird as it might sound, it was a fun issue to write. I was happy to get him out of the situation, out of the DMZ and the war, and in such a way that no one could ever say he compromised, even if compromise ended up being the smartest thing one could do. He stuck to his guns. All of those flashbacks just make me want to write a Wilson series. Which I can never do, I don’t think. I don’t see Vertigo approving that project.

Nathan Fox changes his style pretty dramatically, showcasing a younger Wilson with his designer furniture, and wild celebrations on Mott Street. Jeromy Cox laid down this kind of watercolor effect that washed out the scenes and suitably dated them. Was this sense of aesthetic nostalgia your suggestion or Nathan’s own contribution?

It was Nathan, I think. In the scripts, I always put in some line about flashbacks being colored in a different palette, and typically that’s all that’s done. But in this case it was Nathan that did the watercolor wash.

Is it me or does that negotiator who comes to talk to Wilson look like Willem Dafoe?

Yeah, I thought so too. There was no specific direction in the script, so that’s all Nathan. You could assemble a pretty interesting supporting cast out of these lookalikes. Dafoe, Sen Dog for Parco, etc. I think Riccardo based his Zee off of a Korean actress he saw way back when. There’s more, I’m sure.

I’ve loved Cliff Chiang’s art since his work on DOCTOR 13: ARCHITECTURE & MORTALITY with Brian Azzarello, can you discuss the Amina collaboration with him on issue 57?

I remember being really intimidated. I know Cliff, I have for years, and he lives just a couple miles away from me. But when it came time to write him something, this script, I felt a ton of pressure and this overwhelming feeling of just not being good enough. It happens sometimes… with Marian Churchland on NORTHLANDERS, probably the first time with Zezelj as well. I still think I gave Cliff a shitty script. I’m dying for another shot at working with Marian, to give her something meatier and just… better, for all her talents. So yeah, not the answer one would expect, but I felt like I fumbled the entire way through this issue of DMZ. Cliff did a great job, of course.

Looking at the series holistically, I found it interesting that you really tell her story in split fashion over a few sporadic special issues. Was that always the plan or was she a character you simply felt compelled to return to?

She’s just another one of those DMZ characters that I invented on the fly, liked more than I thought I would, and then kept trying to find ways to use her. Wilson is one of these and a successful one. Amina, I always wanted to do more with her but never felt like I had the space.

It seems like I say this regularly, but issue 58 is another favorite issue. Danijel Zezelj helps you depict Decade Later’s entire life via one impromptu art exhibit. How did this issue come about?

This arc, which was pretty loose in its conception (it came into being to give Riccardo the time off to do his run on NORTHLANDERS), was really a goodbye arc for a few of the higher profile side characters, a chance to wrap up their stories before I headed into the final year of the series. In a way, I suppose the first part of the “Free States Rising” story belongs to “Collective Punishment,” in how I deal with the Commander. So, Wilson, Amina, and Decade Later get their last encores. Decade, he’s a guy I love, and I wanted to do something special for him. I knew I wanted Zezelj for this, and I gave him all the freedom he wanted to define Decade’s art style. This is one of my favorite issues.

Issue 58 seems like one of those very rare times where a script is perfect, the artist is perfect, and the collaboration reaches a high that’s way more than the sum of its parts. I know you’ve determined that Zee is the physical manifestation of NYC, but sometimes I feel like Decade Later is NYC and the entire series could be thematically extrapolated from this issue and his life. Or, maybe all the people are. Maybe New York isn’t a place or a state of mind, it’s the people. Wilson is NYC, Decade Later is NYC, DJ Random Fire is NYC, and the city will always survive if the people are present. Maybe it’s why some hang on so fervently despite the war. The buildings might die, but New York can’t die if there’s still New Yorkers. I’m just trying to work this out in my head, what do you think?

I play pretty fast and loose with Decade and stretch his life out over quite a few eras of New York’s recent past. It’s not immediately apparent in the comic since some of this cultural reference was lost on Riccardo, but when we see Decade in the flashbacks (in his first solo issue), he’s basically a 70’s-era kid from Queens, ala The Ramones. And he’s part of the street art scene of that time, which would put him in the same company as the pioneers of street art. From then, probably in the 80’s, he would have done what many did and move into galleries, and so on and so forth. By the time the war hits, he’s kind of irrelevant, more of a legend than an active player. I’m sure that says something important about my gut thoughts regarding the city but I think I’m too close to see it clearly. Despite the fact that DMZ is not dated, Decade would be much older than he probably looks, and I appreciated Danijel making him look older. Or, rather, timeless?

Almost every issue of this arc opens or closes with big full page shots of the city being carpet bombed systematically, why keep punctuating this idea?

It’s all the same bombing campaign. It’s the last ditch nighttime bombing before the US troops invade the DMZ for the last time. I established that right off the bat with that soldier Cal Foster, who was sent in early to ID targets and stay the hell out of the way once the bombs started falling. It’s these same bombs that take out Wilson, that Amina braves to save that baby, that preceded Decade’s freedom, and what Matty wakes up to at the end of his issue. It’s loose, but in that way all these issues are connected and form the arc.

In an interview we did a couple years ago (time flies!), you’d mentioned wanting to work with David Lapham, who was on art duty for issue 59. Did this scratch that itch, or was it more of a writing collaboration that interested you? What do you think his art brought to DMZ?

I love David’s work and I chatted with him ages ago about maybe co-writing… this was when WildStorm was still a thing and I had been asked to create a universe-wide unifying story for the imprint. That never went anywhere, but I think this issue here preceded that. David and I were part of that Standard Attrition forum together (along with Cliff) and so he was an easy guy to ask. Who doesn’t love his artwork? I have a few originals from this issue. He brought a sort of honesty to Matty, an openness to his face that I felt we never really got. In some panels, he was so real he was almost ugly. That’s a compliment! I felt like I knew the guy, like it was a drawing of a real kid I used to know. It was quite a revelation, five years after creating the character.

End Transmission


Wilson Character Design, Courtesy of Nathan Fox

Interview w/ Artist Nathan Fox

Nathan, the first time I saw your work was in PIGEONS FROM HELL at Dark Horse. I’ve been a fan ever since; I keep telling people you’re “the next Paul Pope!” I loved the subversive nature of DARK REIGN: ZODIAC, and FLUORESCENT BLACK was particularly inspired. What’s it like jumping in and out of a series like DMZ where you’re not the exclusive artist?

Thanks, man. Really kind words. Flattered and glad you dug it all. Getting a chance to be a part of the series and then go back to DMZ was an honor. I was a fan of the series from issue one and was inspired by Brian and Riccardo’s work. So to get more than one chance to collaborate and contribute was an amazing opportunity. Sad to see it end, but excited for what’s to come and for what Brian has up his sleeve next.

How did your collaboration with Brian Wood come about? What’s he like to collaborate with?

I don’t recall if it was Brian or Will that called about the “Friendly Fire” arc, but when I found out what the project was for I was beyond on board. A bit before DMZ, I did cover #4 (I think) for Brian’s FIGHT FOR TOMORROW series. I hoped it might be a strong portfolio piece for more work in the future, but really had no clue what it would lead to. I was a fan of the series, had my geek/fanboy moment getting to work with Brian, but once we got started and the nerdom was over, I took it all pretty seriously. Working with Brian was smooth and painless. He’s a pretty quiet, passionate guy and a pleasure to work with. He gave me great notes and direction and then just backed off and let me run with it. We went through one or two versions of PFC Stevens, but by the time I nailed it we were pretty confident on where it was headed.

Why do you think your particular art style works as well in the DMZ as it does?

HA. I’m not totally sure what to say to that one, but the one thing I think I did know, or was aware of, was wanting to comment on what was going on in the world and wars at the time. Trying to put some of that in the series, and I felt confident in the characters I would be working with on Brian’s scripts. I’m not from New York originally, but we lived there from 2000 to 2005 or so, so I felt I had enough of a connection with the city and boroughs that I could pay some due respect to its inhabitants, to the characters and story we were telling. When we were in NY, it wasn’t the smoothest of existences back then as an illustrator starting out in editorial illustration, living in New York, and then suddenly diving face first into comics and sequential work. Ambitious, yes, but looking back – I was happily struggling and paying some heavy dues along the way, much like everyone else. It was rough, but worth every minute to say the least. No regrets and looking forward to moving back some day…

Your first work on DMZ was illustrating the flashback scenes for PFC Stevens during the “Friendly Fire” storyline. What can you tell us about that?

Creatively, it was a chance to comment on a lot of things, especially the Haditha Massacre. I usually end up acting most characters out or trying to get into character somehow along the way. Personally, I had my own feelings about the war in Iraq and tried to imagine what it would be like if I joined the military knowing I had no place soldiering in war. Stevens was a shell of a “man,” only beginning to grow into and fill the shoes of what a man like that should be. You could just see it in his eyes from reading the script or something. He didn’t even know who HE was, let alone have any place in the military fighting for something he THOUGHT he should do. It was a poor decision that could have, and would have, the potential to do real harm to himself or others if he wasn’t careful. In Brian’s script, he tried to be careful and responsible, to do the things he was supposed to do – the “right” things, but in the end his caution and the collective delirium of his unit’s actions would inevitably decide his fate for him. He didn’t “join in” the massacre – and because of that he became the weakest link, and then an outspoken threat – so in the end he would be forced to take the fall. My only rationale was to draw ”the right pansy at the wrong time.” I enjoyed destroying him from the inside out. I hated doing it, as I got pretty attached to him in the end, but I think I learned a lot from the challenge of my first real character design. Brian’s writing set it all up. I just got the opportunity to bring it to life. I’ve been fortunate to work with great writers, starting with him.

DMZ #27 with DJ Random Fire is absolutely one of my favorite singles, and you pencil the entire book. Can you walk us through your memories and the process for this one?

Thanks. Random Fire was a trip. I can’t remember if it was page 3 or 4, but I remember reading the script for the opening scene and turning to the intro page, almost a splash of Random Fire in his room. Looking down at him from above, waking up after a nightmare or something. The book opened with a fleeing stolen cop car chase. Two guys in gas masks. It ends badly and SNAP! – we’re thrust into a day-in-the-life of Random Fire’s life for the rest of the book. There’s a rival DJ/sell-out with an armored security detail, a club full of people trying to forget the war that’s literally raging outside the club’s front door (and eventually inside the club) and a sexy saboteur who uses DJ Random Fire as a pawn. As soon as I got the script, I was on the edge of my seat to work on the next page, then the next, and the next. It was a great learning experience on my end, story wise. The pace of that script was really challenging and I learned a lot in the process.

You have the distinction of illustrating the final issue (#56) with Wilson, who became a fan favorite character. Were you cognizant of that task, did you alter your approach at all considering it was the last Wilson story?

Yeah, most definitely. Wilson was easily one of my own “fan favorites” too, and I really wanted to up my game on the issue. Give the man props, etc. Just before I started working on it, I got a chance to shoot reference for the issue on a visit back to NYC. I walked Chinatown, found the streets and restaurants I wanted to shoot for the issue, and started to plot it all out in my head and thumbnails. It was hard, as sappy as it may be, for me at least, to close the curtain on Wilson, and something I’m still not used to – killing off or leaving characters you get attached to. Especially the ones you get attached to. As a fan and reader, it’s hard enough to see a favorite go, but illustrating it was a weird and funky “joy of a bummer.” An honor and a blast to work on, but a bummer nonetheless. I have to admit that it definitely took a bit longer to finish the book because of it. Anyway, knowing that the end was coming, I wanted to send him off in style. I was hoping to amp up the flashback and nostalgia and was working on some ink wash work on the side at the time, and that style fit Wilson’s younger, freer days like a glove. I don’t remember what page it was, but that shot of him on the roof with the automatic rifle and cigarette did it for me. Reading the script the first time, that scene/panel really struck a chord, along with the bowing scene on the street towards the end – it hooked me right off the bat. Hopefully I did him justice and am looking forward to revisiting the series as the collected editions wrap up.

That image of young Wilson sitting in his designer furniture has really stuck with me. The end result was this washed out watercolor effect that lended a nice aesthetic nostalgia to the whole affair. Can you discuss how you, Brian, and colorist Jeremy Cox created that sequence?

Brian had laid out the scene and flashbacks script wise, but Jeromy and I were left to tackle its execution on our own. We had talked a bit about what I was thinking of in terms of how to approach it in ink wash, and he was more than up for it so we just kind of ran with it. It felt, not so much like that “life flashing before your eyes” thing just before you think you’re going to die, but more like an epic “looking back on better days” kind of affair. With Wilson, being the anchor and supporting cast member that he was, it just felt like it really needed some power, some silkiness and flow as he looked back on those days in the book. I just wanted to portray it in a way that would harken back to that sense of nostalgia. Brian knew what he was doing, and in the DMZ, Wilson made no illusions that the end would always come. He couldn’t run from it, and in the end Wilson chose, and was written to be, The Ghost Protector of Chinatown. His hands were far from clean, but Wilson chose to go out in style… having sampled everything on the menu. Inevitably, someone’s got to pay the bill.

Was the possibility of you providing art for an entire arc ever discussed?

Yeah, it was. For an arc of two or three issues, a few times. I so very much wanted to take it on. But previous obligations and other projects just didn’t allow for it. One missed arc in particular was a really heavy and gut-wrenching narrative. Our second daughter had just been born and I knew what kind of sleepless nights were ahead of me on top of the freelancing schedule I was keeping at the time. Knowing what kind of sleepless nights lay ahead of me fatherhood-wise, and the amount of research and time constraints I would have to do to give it my all and not just phone it in – I chose to pass. In the end, the arc came out stellar and much better than I would have been able to put into it. No regrets. It all worked out in the end. HA! But that dash to my ego and ambition will always make me wish I could have contributed again… c’est la vie. Can’t complain. I got to work on some amazing issues. Hopefully it won’t be the last time I get to collaborate with Brian.

Do you have a favorite panel or moment, an issue you’re particularly proud of, that you’d like to comment on?

I do. That Wilson panel I mentioned above is one. But in all honesty, my favorite moments and issues belong to the other contributors and collaborators on the series. I can not tell you how rad it was to be part of this series. So far, there are only a few books I’ve been a fan of or really known about before I worked on them. Working on DMZ was like dropping a hungry chubby kid with a sketchbook in a specialty candy store. It was a blast. Fanboy, artist, and all.

What do you attribute the success of DMZ to?

Originality, the characters, the art, and relevance to current events. The last 10 years have been pretty heavy and difficult for some, and horrifying for most – both here and abroad. I think DMZ, as a reader and fan, started out as a side view and commentary, satire in fiction, on what it might be like if the US suffered through a lot of what the real world was going through at the time – in real time – in one of the most populated, popular cities in the world. “Never here in the US,” I heard a lot when the series first came out. It was too close, so close to home and unapologetic in every way that people’s reaction was in awe of something so unimaginable. I think Brian and Riccardo tapped into that vibe and were able to address a lot of real world issues and identify with a lot of their readers through the series. There is no happy ending and there are no REAL answers. I would say that the unveiled parallel of the series and real world events gave a lot of us a vent or a direction to aim those issues, and page by page, a reflection of current events with very little censorship or disguising. It’s still a work of fiction and we read it for the characters, writing, and art. But historically, I think the satire and commentary on humanity, government, and the legacy of established order, especially in a few major arcs and fill-in issues in the series, will remain as important original works in comics, and mean a great deal more to most people who read it than just an entertaining story about war and New York City under siege. As time ticks on, I’m sure it will lose some of that weight and relevance, post-wars and conflicts, for future generations and readers, but it’s importance in the history of original comics I am sure will stand the test of time.

End Transmission

Cover Mock-Ups for DMZ #50, Courtesy of Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, John Paul Leon

"Homeless Matty" Character Design, Courtesy of Riccardo Burchielli

Volume 09: "M.I.A.," Interview w/ Writer Brian Wood

“M.I.A.” includes the landmark issue #50, with special contributions by some of the most revered artists working in the industry today. The half-century special frames Matty’s reflections on his time in the DMZ with several shorts full of sharp language and dangerous revelations, including talk of the FSA buying governors, rolling FBI Field Agents, and knocking down banks and National Guard Armories along the way. These disparate elements tell a story of survival and preserving culture, from people who endure conflict and envision a future beyond current events. Issues 51 through 54 reunite Riccardo Burchielli with Brian Wood and examine Matty’s self-exile for his role in the slaying of a wedding party. He is persona non-grata as the DMZ he knows crumbles around him; Parco is missing, Delgado Security Forces are disbanding, arrest orders are issued for members of The Delgado Nation, and there’s the small matter of a missing tactical nuke. This volume has a somber tone, suggesting that Matty may have done some good early on, but also may have lost himself in the process.

Brian, issue 50 really was an achievement. Not only did the series live a long life, but I think some of the big names reflect the book’s status as a modern classic. There’s Dave Gibbons, Jim Lee, Eduardo Risso, and rising stars like Rebekah Isaacs and Fabio Moon. With a roster like this, how does it come together; how much is editorial driving the project vs. you yourself?

It really was Editor Will Dennis opening his rolodex. Well, obviously some of them were people I’ve worked with in the past, like Ryan Kelly, and even though DV8 had not starting coming out yet, I think Rebekah and I had several issues in the can already. Fabio was, way back when, someone who was almost the initial artist on NORTHLANDERS. There are a lot of connections there. The others, the bigger names, all came from Will and his relationships.

Once I had these names, I could write the stories and the little vignettes to match. It’s a real luxury, I gotta’ say, especially the more work-for-hire and licensed work I do, to know who the artist is before you write. You can write to their strengths and to their desires. Riccardo specifically wanted a b/w story, and that’s actually a funny story, perhaps only in hindsight: no one told Jeromy Cox it wasn’t supposed to be colored, and he went ahead and colored it.

Fabio on NORTHLANDERS is a great “what if?” Did you meet him through Becky? I know she’s in that circle of creators/friends with Fabio, Gabriel, Vasilis Lolos, and Rafael Grampa, right?

I think I must have met him through Becky, yeah. We all shared a table once at San Diego. I met Grampa in Brooklyn, and after a bunch of failed attempts, we’re finally working together in the form of him drawing three variant covers for THE MASSIVE.

Did you envision these stories as small shorts originally or were they “leftovers” (for lack of a better term), spare ideas that never blossomed into full arcs?

No leftovers at all. Well, maybe the Ryan Kelly one about the art hoarder. I think that was the only story idea I had in advance. Everything else I wrote as if original.

I have two favorites, though I was selfishly hoping you’d do an issue about what happened in California – just for me! The first is “Looted” by Ryan Kelly, about the art collection amassed from Museum Mile. It seems like this story thread might have started as another urban myth, like the Chinatown Gold?

It certainly could have been its own arc. Perhaps with very limited appeal, though. Not sure if anyone really cares that much if you haven’t taken art history classes… it’s all very abstract otherwise. Ryan and I are both artists, have spent time in art colleges, and it forms a connection with these museums. Working for one, perhaps you feel the same.

I do. I liked the idea that, like Wilson, he’s trying to take the long view of the war, wondering what will happen when it passes. He’s thinking ahead, trying to preserve some of the culture for the future even if he isn’t a part of it. By law, the dude is clearly in possession of stolen goods, but it’s ultimately a very selfless and beautiful act if you examine his intentions.

I think anyone reading that little story would assume that the minute it became possible, he would not only return the art to the museums, but also thank them for the honor of safeguarding it.

And California??? Man, I’ve heard from all over at one point or another, readers wanted to know what’s going on in Chicago, in Miami, in LA. It would and never did happen. I feel like to even hint at that sort of malarkey would be to take the first step down a very slippery slope, one where I bash my head in at the bottom and possibly go insane. DMZ is big enough as it is.

Yeah, I think the minute you leave NYC, or even Matty for too long, then you’re getting away from the emotional center of the book. But, the type of information the FSA Commander drops on Matty is just riveting. The entire city of Chicago being a functional sleeper cell, marching divisions of FSA troops straight down the Hudson, it’s absolutely chilling stuff. I realize they’re probably just terrific sound bytes and not main story fuel, but I always find myself so enamored of those cool factoids in the greater FSA/USA conflict.

I have a feeling that, in the moment, I was having a chuckle writing stuff like that, knowing there was no way in hell I would ever have to follow through on it! But it’s fun, imagining scenarios and situations like that. If DMZ ever has a life beyond the comic, be it a film or a game or a TV series, that would be a good opportunity to expand the scope a bit.

And interestingly, I see other comic series that take on that “what if…” thing… not as a direct response to DMZ, but thematically. There was one called, I dunno’, THE MARKSMAN? A DMZ-like San Diego, as I recall.

I thumbed through that. I think it was even billed as some sort of “DMZ meets WASTELAND” type thing. Considering those are two of my favorite books, it seemed right up my post-apocalyptic alley. But uhh, no, I didn’t buy that book, even for the introductory price of $1. Let’s leave it at that.

There were others… ZERO KILLER? That rings a bell. The core premise of DMZ is not something that’s incredibly original, so I’d be surprised if there weren’t several similar works that both pre and post-date it. I’m also shocked there haven’t been more Viking comics, to be honest.

My second favorite is “Heart of North Jersey” by Riccardo Burchielli. What led to it being rendered in black and white?

Riccardo’s wish, basically. I think if it had been up to him, DMZ would be a black and white book. It’s his roots, working in Italy, and I can appreciate that. I wonder if he every really warmed up to seeing his work in color, in anyone’s colors. I’m the same way, about my own work. I would have done the DMZ covers in b/w if I was king of the world.

Upper Manhattan is portrayed as very bleak. Humanity is hanging on by a thread. What can you tell us about this suicide scene that Riccardo nails? It’s black and white, with no background, and just that splash of red.

Not much, except that both Riccardo and Jeromy know their stuff. And yeah, I am harsh on that part of town, but I actually lived there, right on those exact streets that Riccardo drew. I got into Google Street View and took shots of the neighborhood. That long staircase in the first issue is a very well-known landmark. This is possibly one of the most referenced sites in the whole comic.

I lived on 189th and Bennett Ave. when I first moved to the city, in 1991. It wasn’t that bad, overall, but a total shithole by today’s standards. I would walk my brother’s dog through the little parks, which were carpeted with used condoms and crack vials (ah, crack vials, very retro), and, more frequently than I ever would have guessed, the bodies of dead dogs. Here I was, some dorky kid from Vermont, only feeling safe because of the massive German Shepherd I was walking.

But that part of the city remains my favorite to this day, the strip of the Upper West Side that runs along the river. The architecture is great, the views, the green areas along the water. It feels old, like a European city.

Riccardo turns in another amazing full page shot of the downed chopper that Matty stumbles upon. What are the dog tags that Matty wants to return symbolic of?

Yeah, it was really hard trying to communicate this shot to Riccardo, the very specific sort of airshaft (or “courtyard” if you want to be kind) that these old buildings all have. The dog tags were the first of Matty’s attempts at redemption, at doing the right thing, even when it doesn’t benefit him necessarily. And to sort of turn away from the knee-jerk prejudice he might have about American soldiers… that this guy in this chopper is a real person, whose family deserves to know. He decides to walk it out, expecting nothing in return.

I definitely felt that small sliver of redemption, the opportunity to do one last compassionate thing right. I think the symbolism of the dog tags also gets back to the title; it’s another title that offers multiple meanings. Matty is M.I.A., Parco is M.I.A., the nuke is M.I.A., but these soldiers in the downed chopper are also literally what the military refers to as M.I.A., before they’re confirmed as K.I.A.

You take a hard jab in this arc at The Bush Doctrine, the thought of preemptively striking anyone deemed an unlawful combatant. Did the right wingers ever get riled up?

No. Honestly, I don’t even know. Can we call it the Bush Doctrine? It’s also Obama’s Doctrine. It’s the American Doctrine, really, we should get used to it, as disgusting as it is. Plenty of lefties like it too.

Where did the idea come from to have Matty run this gauntlet using everything he knows about the city to get to the 59th Street Checkpoint?

I wanted to put him in danger. Or rather, to have him put himself in danger. It may have been a stupid thing for him to do, a pointless risk, but he felt he needed to make that walk, to put himself last for once. The idea is noble, but on the other hand, it’s sort of a selfish thing for him to do, reeking of wanting to be a martyr. But this was a first step for him.

Parco’s sister Rose has a very hard-edge punk look; she’s probably one of the most distinct characters visually, how did this come about?

Ha! I forgot about her. That’s 100% Riccardo. I think I just told him to draw a female Parco or something. Wow, I really did forget all about her, that’s crazy. Riccardo did a great job.

There are numerous shots of Midtown, Central Park, and Lower Manhattan just getting demolished. Sure, it’s fictional, but is that hard to do considering your love of NYC?

It’s so abstract, it’s easy. Maybe as the inventor of all that chaos I’m the one to be least affected by it.

Matty comes to this final realization that his role should be official scribe of what he’s witnessed in the DMZ, and then suddenly the official UN Observer role materializes. How did you reach this point? I couldn’t tell if it was planned or maybe you’d actually written yourself into a little corner.

Matty turns himself in, literally, when he arrives at the checkpoint, no doubt expecting the book to be thrown at him. But his dad comes in with this offer to go back out there and be this observer of sorts, a gesture for the US to prove they are being transparent in their final invasion of the city. Matty’s not a UN employee, or a Liberty one, really, but a neutral set of eyes. He sees in this an opportunity to take advantage of that position to complete his own work, his own account of the war. And – and this is something that was widely missed – turns down amnesty for his crimes. That scene right there was the start of the path that ends up with him in a courtroom.

As a funny aside, re-reading that scene with his father, there’s a line in there where Matty expresses a lot of frustration: “So sick of seeing people with guns!” That was direct from my own heart to the page. At that point I was sick to death of writing about guns and war. I was starting to actually get depressed about it.

Hold on, you said you can maintain some sort of writer’s detachment from the abstraction of bombing New York City, but at the same time you were sick of writing about guns and war to the point it was infecting the dialogue. So, where’s the line? When you look into the abyss, when does it look back for you personally?

I don’t know where the line is specifically… like, I can’t point to it. Maybe it was a cumulative thing, combined with the violence of NORTHLANDERS. But there came a time when just writing the words “assault rifle” or “handgun” would affect me physically, would drain me of something. It felt tedious, on one hand, and also I felt like I was past it somehow, that my time writing a war comic was done and I didn’t need the trappings of war to write a politically-aware action comic. So here comes THE MASSIVE for me to prove the point.

End Transmission