For as long as I can remember, Brian Wood has been one of those writers who has — to his credit — shared copyright ownership on all of his various projects with the artists involved and, in the case of the just-concluded Image series Starve, even the colorist. So if you’re an indicia-reader like myself, the “Copyright 2016 Brian Wood” in the fine print of the first issue of his new Dark Horse-published title, Briggs Land, is something of a surprise. We’re used to the artists being cut out of the action over at Aftershock, but why was Mack Chater — who does a bang-up job on this book, as you’ll see in the art reproduced below — not given co-creator credit here?
Well, the answer to that is simple : this comic has already been optioned for television and is, in fact, being developed simultaneously on the printed page and at AMC. When — or even if — it’ll hit the small screen is anyone’s guess, but make no mistake : Briggs Land reads very much like a not-yet-produced TV pilot because that’s precisely what it is. That would mean that the artist (the aforementioned Mr. Chater) and colorist (respected industry vet Lee Loughridge) were brought in well after the characters and concepts were developed (at least that’s my assumption), but still — I mean, these stories don’t draw themselves, do they? My best guess is that Wood probably had pretty solid visual ideas about how he wanted everyone to look and what have you when the rest of the team was brought on board, but this growing trend of creator-ownership for writers only — well, it kinda bugs me, because it means that if Briggs Land goes on to become the next Walking Dead, only one of the people involved with the comic is going to get rich off it.
Still, the artist knows that going in, I suppose, and hopefully he’s being paid a nice page rate, but this is a wrinkle that bears paying close attention to in the coming years — is “writer-only” creator ownership ethically and legally preferable to publisher/corporate ownership? Sure, no question. But it’s just as much a certainty, in this critic’s view at any rate, that full-on creator ownership that spreads the wealth among artist and writer alike — in other words, the traditional creator-owned model — is ethically and legally preferable to this emerging “writer-as-sole creator” model. After all, if a book has shitty art, no one’s gonna buy it — yet the view of the artist as essentially little more than a “hired pencil” and the writer as the “brains” behind a comic is, at the end of the day, the same bullshit that Stan Lee has been trying to sell us all on for years, even though most of us know damn well that Jack Kirby and/or Steve Ditko more or less created all the characters (and even plotted — at the very least — most, if not all, of the stories) that Lee now takes credit for. So I’d say it pays to be very aware of what sort of creator ownership the purportedly “creator-owned” titles you read and enjoy really have going on. In the case of Briggs Land, it may very well be that the entire idea sprang whole-cloth from Wood’s mind, but shit — somebody still has to draw the book, right?
Admittedly, if this first issue is any indication, this entire enterprise has been laid out in advance to a “T” — the various characters are all quite distinctive, the basics of the premise are fleshed out quickly and, it has to be said, rather magnificently, and all the principals involved have very distinctive voices, motivations, mannerisms, and agendas. Our protagonist, for instance, is Grace Briggs, a fifty-something woman who literally embodies the “strong female lead” archetype : she’s been operating as the de facto day-to-day leader of a secessionist/separatist community set on 100 wooded acres while her husband, the outfit’s official head honcho, is serving multiple life sentences for the attempted assassination of the president of the United States (which president is never stated). As our story begins, however, she’s taken it upon herself to let her old man know that his “services” — whatever they may amount to given his current residency — are no longer required, and that from now on, she’s in charge. Backing her up in this quiet coup is her youngest son, who’s just returned from a tour of duty with the Marines in Iraq, while her eldest son seems intent on remaining loyal to his dad and the middle son is — well, his allegiances are anyone’s guess, but first and foremost they seem to lie squarely with himself. So all our various bases are covered in the game of “who’s-on-who’s-side-here-anyway?”
Taking all this in, and acting as our own “eyes and ears,” we’ve got a pair of FBI agents who are monitoring the shady (to say the least) financing of this “breakaway sect” — and who also happen to be sleeping together — and a Godfather Part II-style attempted “hit” on the family right where they live makes it clear that this power struggle has the potential to be a very violent one indeed. Throw in some philosophical differences between Grace and her husband (he’s a hard-core white nationalist while she’s a “non-racist separatist” — an idea that strains credulity every bit as much as a flying man in tights, truth be told) and all the ingredients are there for a really electrifying comic — and, yes, TV show.
Which kinda brings us back full-circle to my original point : yes, this is a damn good comic. I enjoyed every single page of it and found myself immediately hooked. I’m sure I’ll pick it up religiously month in and month out. A lot of that is because of Brain Wood’s intriguing storyline, sharp dialogue, well-realized characters, and the palpable sense of tension he imbues the proceedings with right from jump. But a lot of it is down to Mack Chater’s evocative, dynamic, highly expressive art, as well (and having the always-amazing Tula Lotay on as cover artist certainly doesn’t hurt, either). He may not be a “co-creator” of this book, but he’s definitely a “co-author” — and in an ideal world, he’d be compensated as such.