Black Future Month ’10: Brandon Thomas

February 25th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , ,

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury came courtesy of Brandon Thomas and Lee Ferguson. It blew me away when it first came out. It, along with Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, and Afua Richardson’s Genius, took a simple but clever story and turned it on its ear. I loved it, I was ready and raring for more, and bam, its publisher went through a reorganization period and publication halted.

It’s a while later now and we’ve got more Miranda Mercury on the horizon. I wanted to catch up with Brandon as part of Black Future Month because this guy deserves the attention. Miranda Mercury has a great blend of action and character, and “Not Dead Yet” is sure to be a treat.

All images here feature words by Brandon Thomas, pictures by Lee Ferguson, and are from the first few pages of The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury #295. Look for the new joint later this year in the form of three over-sized issues and, fingers crossed, more later. Check out Brandon’s website, his blog (which is the home of his long-running Ambidextrous column), and follow him on Twitter as @mirandamercury. For some fun, check the script to #297 and look at some of his notes on other books.

Buy Miranda Mercury: Not Dead Yet when it comes out.

What led you to comics originally? Are you a child of the ’90s and the Image boom, Claremont-era X-Men, the black and white boom, or something else? Did you go through that phase where you leave comics and came back later?

The Image boom, no doubt. When my father took me to my first comic shop, Spawn #1 was one of the books in my very first stack. That initial Image explosion, coupled with anything Spider-Man or Batman related properly introduced me to comics, and I’ve been here ever since. No matter what else adolescence got me into, I never abandoned comics for any real period of time. Have probably only gone two weeks without a trip to my local shop, and the only thing that ever changes for me are the specific comics I’m reading. I love the medium, I love the characters, I love the possibilities, and it was only a few years in that I started to leave behind thoughts of being a successful novelist, and get really serious about some day writing comics for a living.  
The first book of yours I read, after following your columns online for a while, was the issue of Robin you did. It had good action, but its biggest strength was in the character work. I noticed the same thing in Miranda Mercury– plenty of action and clever bits to bring people in, and then strong character work to keep them in their seats. What draws you to that side of storytelling, where equal importance is given to action and characterization?

Well, thanks for saying that—in both of those cases I really knew and understood the motivations and thoughts of those characters. Miranda is obviously my baby, but in the case of Robin, I probably own almost every comic appearance of Tim Drake, both in and out of costume. Chuck Dixon was the person that convinced me to really consider writing comics professionally (in a one hour seminar at a Chicago Con I attended) and I think that was always one of his greatest abilities—to successfully blend action and character.  

I mean, I love the big crazy action as much as anyone, but character is what matters. Every movie, comic, or television show that I’ve ever looked to as an inspiration has ultimately put character in front of all else, and that’s the kind of writer I aspire to be. If you strip away all the pyrotechnics and the great shots, if there’s nothing underneath it, then what was the point? Any of us can point to dozens of things where we wish more attention was paid to actual story and believable character motivations, and you know, I think there are enough examples out there of people who were able to do both. And the action stuff tends to be easier anyway.     

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury fills a surprisingly uncommon niche. It’s got a black female lead and it’s sci-fi. I’m having trouble thinking of a comparable series that puts all those elements together. Where did Miranda Mercury come from? Did you specifically set out to fill a hole or was the series born from a different motivation? 

I just wanted to work on something that was challenging from a storytelling perspective, and was the kind of book I’d want to read every month. At the time I started developing it, I’d finished up my small stint at Marvel and didn’t feel like there was anything else in the pipeline there. My prospects in comics seemed a little limited, and I think Miranda was something of an emotional response to that. Something that was designed to have no conceivable limits and push me into directions I wasn’t fully comfortable with as a writer. The mandate is that anything goes, and any idea, or genre, or tone can be seamlessly worked into the narrative of a particular story, make absolute sense for those 22 pages, before the book transitions into something completely different in the following issue. Miranda was a project that was all me, because as much as I loved my God Complex book, it initially came out of my Luke Cage Epic proposal, and only feels like a partial extension of me.  

Miranda Mercury is for that kid whose life was irrevocably altered by seeing Star Wars on VHS for the first time several years ago. The big extensive sci-fi project that I promised that kid I’d do one day. I didn’t really intend for it to fill a void in the market, but in this universe and history we’re creating around her, a black sci-fi heroine should feel almost commonplace and like the most obvious thing in the world. Knowing where Miranda comes from, and who her grandfather is, and what her family has been doing for decades, it’s obvious to everyone in the book that the name Miranda Mercury is supposed to mean something. Now comes the task of convincing “comics” of the exact same thing.  
You’ve had a long, hard road with Miranda Mercury, but you’ve managed to keep the majority of the creative team intact. The title of the relaunch, “Not Dead Yet,” works on several levels when you consider that fact. What kept you from throwing up your hands and calling it quits?

It’s hard to even say, man—equal parts stubbornness and foolishness, I guess. After ten years pushing at this, it’s going to take a lot for me to just walk away from everything. I can safely say that Miranda Mercury is the most “important” thing I’ve ever created, and the response to that first issue was fantastic, and exactly the sort of thing we were all hoping for. That said, getting to that point was arduous, and this book has been encountering (and outlasting) resistance since the moment we initially started submitting it to publishers. Either people just didn’t get it, or were unnecessarily afraid of it, but the book being published at Archaia in the first place was a huge victory, so the title going on an unexpected hiatus is really keeping in tune with how it’s been for us since the very beginning.  

We find unexpected opposition and/or some other disaster that threatens to completely cut us down, and eventually, we find a way through or around it. That’s been the deal since we started this in 2005/06, so as frustrating as the process and the delays have been, we’re confident it’ll ultimately pay off for all involved. “Not Dead Yet” is the perfect phrase to describe this book, and the aspirations of a lot of us working on it.  

How do you and Lee coordinate creating an issue? I assume you go full script and send it off to him, but is there a point where you two bat ideas back and forth or conference call? 

I do write things out full script, but Miranda Mercury is a true collaboration between Lee and I, so he usually knows exactly what’s going to happen in the stories before we even get to that point. We talk on the phone and trade e-mails constantly, not just about the book mind you, but he’s contributed a lot more than the book’s pencils—story ideas and titles, cover concepts, marketing ideas, etc. He’s fully invested in all this, and deserves just as much credit (or incredible blame) as I do.       
I can’t think of a comics creator who has had such a long-running and frank column as your Ambidextrous. It’s pretty interesting, in part because you’ve done a lot of “growing up,” for lack of a better word, in the public eye. What prompted you to begin, and most of all continue, Ambidextrous? 

Well, I got started because I wanted to break into the industry and thought writing a column would be a great way to not only speed that along, but to journal a process that I mistakenly believed would take no longer than a year. Then, I’d continue writing the column for as long as possible, detailing my exploits as I (hopefully) made a name for myself in the business. I was 21 and like most 21-year olds, thought I’d had everything clearly figured out.
I’m still at it almost 10 years later because throughout this whole experience, it’s the one thing that’s all mine. I never imagined that I would write over 300 columns, or what I could possibly still be talking about, but like I said before, I’ve been in this since ’92 with no breaks. When I started the column, I was in halfway through college and obviously had no idea what I was embarking on, or how long it would take. It was all very simple in the beginning, and has proven anything but. For better or for worse though, the column really documents almost a decade of my life both personally and professionally, and provided I can get where I want to go, it’ll all have been worth it in the end. And somebody can come along and see that it’s possible to get into this often-insane business…and hopefully they’ll be able to do it a little faster with all my mistakes posted up for all to see.  
On sort of the same tack- I know you changed the way you do your Stackology column at the top of this year. How has being so visible online changed how you approach pitching, creating, and writing about comics? 

Actually I think leaving Newsarama has made me considerably less visible, but I haven’t noticed too much of a difference on a professional level. The column has certainly opened tons of doors for me, but at this point in my career, the best thing I can do is get some more good work under my belt and out to the masses. I think I’ve proven that I can certainly write passionately about comics, and about wanting to create them, but I don’t want that to be what people ultimately remember about Ambidextrous.  

Breaking into this business is impossible, and if you want it, you might have to put in five to ten years of incredibly great experiences, demoralizing defeats, false starts, etc. before you get where you want. But if you can hang in though and keep yourself focused, you have a great chance of making it. My boy (who is a fledging actor) always says, “One day…this is all gonna be a funny story.” Hopefully, that’ll be the case with Ambi, and this seemingly endless quest of mine. 

What kind of research do you do when writing scripts, whether for Miranda Mercury or other works? Do you wing the sci-fi, depending on the tried and true “If it sounds good, if it makes logical sense, it works!” or do you really dig in with the various science and engineering blogs before putting pen to paper? 

Yeah, in Miranda, if it sounds cool, it’s good to go. Don’t do much research in regards to the tech stuff, but I do consciously ignore almost every other sci-fi comic out there, which is a shame because there seems to be some great ones out there. But I don’t want to be influenced by anything more than Star Wars, which is the main reason I ever wanted to write in the first place. Grant Morrison wrote this great line in the first issue of All-Star Superman, “Only nothing is impossible,” and that’s the sort of vibe I want people to get from the series, that you never know exactly what or who is coming next.  

For everything else, the internet has put so many potential sources at our fingertips, and I’ve found it indispensable when you’re researching other comics, and characters you’re not terribly familiar with. Books, movies, magazines, are my usual stalwarts for anything that’s slightly more based in reality. But yeah, most of that Miranda stuff is just getting made up…   

Do you already have the next step past Miranda Mercury planned? Once this series wraps and hits bookstores, will we see more, or do you have something else planned? 

Oh, absolutely. If enough people support the series, then there are many more stories to tell. Even though this first mini-series is all about Miranda’s impending death, I’m sure everyone out there realizes that in comics…death is never quite the end, is it? If the market will support her, we intend for Miranda to be around for a very long time, and I’d like to make the project a staging point for a host of other series that I can gradually introduce.

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2 comments to “Black Future Month ’10: Brandon Thomas”

  1. […] Creators | David Brothers talks to writer Brandon Thomas about The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury. [4thletter!] […]

  2. I got a real kick out of this book. I’d been following Brandon’s column, in the run up to Miranda Mercury’s release, and his enthusiasm for this project really came through on the pages. The design that he and Lee Ferguson came up with for Miranda Mercury was simple, yet modern/futuristic, and I loved the touch of the lightning-bolt ponytail. The imagination continued with the notion that there had been 294 issues of Miranda Mercury adventures already. I also loved the conceits that the stories were just so big, you had to use the real estate on the cover for the first panel of the story! Real slick!

    I’m gonna keep my eye out for more of Miranda and Jack’s adventures, and I’ll do my best to encourage others to do the same.

    – JEP