By Eric Garneau
Study.com: How did you get your start in the comics field?
Ian Brill: I had read comics as a kid and pre-teen. I had a great enthusiasm for it and my imagination was permanently affected for the better.
While my interest in comics never disappeared, it waned in my teenage years. I returned to comics in 2000-2001. There were a few books that brought me back: Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, Ghost World and David Boring by Dan Clowes, Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, New X-Men by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely and Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday, as well as others. It was a mix of 'indie' and 'mainstream' books, although I didn't care about such categorizations then (or now). To me, these were books that fulfilled the promise of what the comics medium could do. Their artistry inspired me to delve deeper into the entire medium.
At the same time I was going to college, studying English literature. I started a blog called Brill Building that attempted to provide essays about comics that explored the medium the same way I explored the works of Milton, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald and Faulkner at school. I'm not sure it was 100% successful at that goal, but it got me noticed by many in the comics blog-o-sphere. Dirk Deppey, who was then running The Comics Journal, invited me to write some reviews. I also wrote for the news section of The Comics Journal under Michael Dean, which I found very rewarding. Then Heidi MacDonald and Calvin Reid hired me to write for Publishers Weekly Comics Week. I got to interview many fantastic artists and writers in the medium. I even got to speak to Joe Kubert, a living legend!
Then I saw that BOOM! Studios was looking for an editor. I was living in San Francisco at the time and had just graduated from San Francisco State University. I wanted to work full-time in comics. A job at BOOM! would mean I would have to move back down to Southern California, where I was born and raised, but I was ready to take the leap. Soon I was overseeing various BOOM! books, mostly licensed material. It was a lot of work, but I was happy to rise to the challenge. This is what I wanted, after all. During that time CEO Ross Richie and then Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid were cool with letting me write a few stories. For that, I shall be eternally gratefully to them. My first stories appeared in BOOM!'s horror anthology Zombie Tales. Getting lessons in comic scripting from Mark Waid was invaluable, and getting to work with artists John Cho, Cris Peter and Toby Cypress was amazing and truly rewarding.
When BOOM! was developing books for the Disney Standards license (basically: duck and mice books) I was lucky enough to have my pitch for Darkwing Duck read and approved by both BOOM! and Disney. Darkwing Duck begat Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers and here we are. The collaborators on these books have been outstanding. To work with people like James Silvani, Andrew Dalhouse, Leonel Castellani, Jake Myler and many more has been a dream.
E-P: How long have you been a fan of the medium, and what were some of the first comic books you picked up that really spoke to you?
IB: I probably first read comics when I was eight or nine. It was something that kids at our school did. The first comics I read weren't my own, they were books traded around by me and the other boys at St. Paschal's Baylon School in Thousand Oaks, CA.
Being a true product of my time, I would have to say that the first books that really excited me were the early Image books: Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Cyberforce and stuff like that. In particular a strange book called The Maxx by Sam Keith really captured my attention. Both The Maxx comic and TV series on MTV taught me what you could do with strange, highly imaginative ideas, particularly how you could tie them all into an emotional story.
It may seem strange to have been reading and enjoying those books at such an age, but I think kids are always going to want to read books above their station.
E-P: You write the second-highest selling kids comic on the market right now. Do you find any unique challenges in writing for a younger age group?
IB: I don't think of myself as writing for a younger age group. I set out to write smart, fun and satisfying stories and can only hope the audience feels I succeed in my goals. As a kid I wasn't into anything aimed at younger readers. Kids don't like it when you're pandering to them or, even worse, teaching them a lesson. They want a story where the first goal is simply telling a smashing story. So that's what I try to do. It's what I feel Pixar does in their films, what Herge did and what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did in their comics. It's why people of all ages still love those respective stories.
Obviously there's a limit to what I can do in terms of content. Pushing past that limit would not just be out of bounds for an all-ages book, it would also violate the tone of these characters' stories, so it's never something I'm tempted by.
E-P: That same book is the chief all-ages selection for this year's Free Comic Book Day. How did your involvement with FCBD come about, and did you have any input on the free title offered up by your company?
IB: The idea was all BOOM!'s. I'm incredibly grateful that they chose not just one but two books of mine to be offered for FCBD. I'm happy to do anything I can to promote not just this book but the medium of comics.
E-P: Are you doing any signings or in-store appearances to promote the book on FCBD?
IB: I will be at 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Chris Brady creates a small comic book city display near his store that brings in an incredible amount of people. There will be many creators besides this schnook signing their books that day, so it's very much worth checking out.
E-P: It's possible that the FCBD issue of Darkwing Duck/Rescue Rangers will be many children's first exposure to comic books. Do you have any thoughts on the benefits of the graphic medium to developing readers?
IB: Comics are almost as pure an expression of ideas as you can get. There's been graphic storytelling since people were carving pictures on cave walls. To comprehend a story in both a written and visual way both comforts the brain and also demands it to function better than when consuming other types of media. It's like a good workout for your mind.
E-P: Is there anything further you'd like to tell our readers about your experiences with writing and reading comics?
IB: My many thanks to those who have read and enjoyed the books, and get ready for more.
Learn more about Free Comic Book Day.