Brendan Rowe is a writer of comics, including the wonderful “Trenches,” featured in our second comics anthology, in which he teamed with the amazing Creees Hyunsung Lee to tell a story that will make you rethink warfare. He also wrote “Scripture,” a short comic about post-apocalyptic religion that appeared in our third comics anthology in January, 2018, with gorgeous illustrations by Tom Barton. Brendan’s talent for telling riveting stories that turn comic book tropes upside down and make readers question their assumptions impresses us, so we spoke to him about his heroes, inspirations, and ideas.
Why and how did you get into writing comics?
I’ve been been a comics guy since I was a kid. I started getting into anime and manga back in the early 2000s, when scanlation and fansubs started to take off in popularity. Interest in anime led to the discovery of fanfiction which, coupled with my cousin’s advice to be a writer, led to me writing my first ever story, a self-insert Gundam Wing fanfic. That, in turn, led me to pursuing some writing classes in high school, then an attempt to do game design and programming at university with some film classes, a school transfer, and more creative writing and film stuff.
Eventually, I ended up in a screenwriting class in college and really started buckling down into what I wanted. Visual narratives always appealed to me, and I’m just so much more comfortable writing a script than I am in prose. I guess comics was always something I was going to do, no matter what else I was doing.
Who are your comics heroes? Who inspires you?
Oh man. There’s so many creators that I’ve looked up to in my life. I could probably do a whole interview just about this one question. Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Warren Ellis were big influences when I was growing up. Akira Toriyama and Harold Sakuishi, whom I discovered and loved in high school. Scott McCloud’s Zot and Yashishiro Tatsumi’s A Drifiting Life changed my life in university. Osamu Tezuka, the father of manga, whose work I rediscovered along with Tatsumi, pushed the boundaries of what a comic could be about for me, with his deep psychological depictions of humanity in cute, wide-eyed packages. More recently, Canadian writers Jeff Lemire and Jim Zub, whose work is incredibly different but yet inspirational all the same. In other media, Brent Weeks and Patrick Rothfuss are two of my favourite authors, and I like Guillermo del Toro, Denis Villeneuve, Stanley Kubrick, and Akira Kurosawa as directors.
Who’s your favorite comic book hero/heroine? Villain? Morally ambiguous anti-hero?
I’d say that my favourite superhero is probably Wolverine. I like him a lot cause he’s Canadian, and there’s something underneath all that harshness and gruffness that just speaks to me. I kinda see Wolvy being a little like Batman, where everyone has a Batman story to tell. Wolverine is the same for me.
My favourite morally ambiguous anti-hero is Spider Jerusalem, hands down, the crazy Hunter S. Thompson-esque journalist from Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan.
You seem to have a penchant for twist endings, which we love! Can you tell us why they appeal to you so much?
I’m a really big fan of the British comic mag 2000AD, where Judge Dredd comes from. They have a regular feature in every issue called “Future Shocks,” which is basically a four-page comic with a twist ending. I wrote a lot of my original mini-comics with their format in mind, though trying to jam a story into four pages is extremely difficult. I’m also a big fan of slice-of-life type stories. So that sort of weird, atmospheric world-building stories I think works well with the mini-comic format. Oh, and then there’s my weird thing about being the next Rod Sterling. “Welcome to the Twilight Zone”! That’s another reason why I like twist endings for my shorter work. My brain is a weird hodgepodge of things mixing together up there.
Are you formally taught as a comics writer, or self-educated?
I’ve had a little bit of education (read: one year of screenwriting courses with a least one session on writing comics), but mostly self-taught. A lot of that comes down to there not being a whole lot of formal comics-writing courses and, you know, living in a smaller city doesn’t really help that. But the internet is a wonderful, magical place, and there’s so much you can learn if you know the right places to look.
What’s important to you in a comic book?
I’m definitely a premise guy. So you bring an interesting character and an interesting world or premise to the table, and I’m there. I like strong concept stuff, and I want to be pulled into a world as much as possible. I’m definitely willing to give stuff I’ve never seen before a chance if the concept sounds interesting over anything else. Bonus points if it’s a really good slice-of-life or about being a creative.
How do you make your work immersive and progressive?
Honestly, this is something that I’ve been trying to challenge myself [with] in my work. I come from small-town, white, middle-class Canada, but I wouldn’t say that I think of all my characters [as] being white or or straight or anything like that. I kinda think of characters as just being characters, y’know. Being on Twitch and getting to know a larger group of diverse people has really helped me think about different voices in my work. I know that [Oneshi Press co-founder] Lynsey has challenged my work in that way, and it has definitely forced me to think more about my role as an influencer.
We creators have a responsibility to our audience to give authentic and diverse voices. It’s certainly challenging, and I hope I can do more as I get better as a writer.
What made you decide to become a Twitch Creative live-streamer? Isn’t it hard to write on live-stream?
I was inspired by a couple of artists on Twitch: John Derek Murphy and Jonah Lobe. I figured if people can do art live on the internet, then why not writing? So I started working on an educational program, but that was too intense and hard to follow, so I kept playing with the format. My stream is still a work in progress, still trying to get my format figured out. It can definitely be difficult to focus while live on stream, but I like the interaction I get when people ask me questions about writing comics and that sort of thing. It’s as much a learning process for me as for the viewer. Just depends on what you’re looking for on a stream.
Who are the artists you’re dying to work with?
Can I choose all of them? I guess not. I think the short list for me right now is John Le, Eric Canete, Francis Manapul, and Jeff Lemire. Two guys I met on Twitch who are amazing artists, John Le and Eric Canete. Fabulous artists, but hard to impress as a writer. Gotta capture that imagination. Then there’s my two Canadian art heroes in Francis Manapul and Jeff Lemire. A little hard, since those two are a couple leagues ahead of me. Just gotta get to a place where I can make it happen, I suppose.
So far, we’ve seen short comics from you. Do you have any longer projects or characters you’re working on?
I’m always working on longer stuff in the background, though the short pieces are great practice for getting better. That being said, I’m not a big ongoing-series kind of guy. Mini-series are my thing. I’m currently working on “Strangers Beyond the Door” with Andrew Thompson and am in pre-production on “Fear the Siren” with Johnny Lighthands. No idea when that stuff is going to come out. I do have another, longer, graphic novel that I’ve been hired to do with a high-profile artist, but I’m not allowed to talk about it yet. It’s going to be real good, though.
All that being said….any new short comics coming up?
Well, I have “Scripture” coming out in the next issue of [the] Oneshi Press anthology and some shorter web stuff I’m hoping will be ready soon. All my other short pieces have been rejected by various anthologies. Probably not supposed to talk about that in an interview, but I kinda like being the writer who shows off all those behind-the-scenes things that you normally don’t get to see.