I’ve been a fan of David Brothers’ writing (about comics and music and, hell, whatever is in his brain really) for a while now (at Comicsalliance, 4thLetter and more). So, the other week, I decided the hell with it and asked him if he’d answer a few questions. He said yes, and so here we are. I’m really pleased I can present this interview with him.
Adam P Knave: There are really two things I’d like to focus on here: Your love of comics and of music. They’re different and yet the same. You talk about them both with such love and respect. What were some of your first comics and albums that you remember ingesting and thinking “Yes! This is something!” – the ones that changed you.
David Brothers: I don’t think I’ve had many of those lightning from heaven moments. I usually decide that something is ~something~ after reading and considering for a while. Though, in thinking about it… Emma Rios’s backup in Prophet 26 hit me like a ton of bricks, as did Inio Asano’s solanin.
But yeah, I don’t really have those moments where I sit down and realize that something is amazing and changed my life. The stuff that actually changed my life, like Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, Nas’s Illmatic, Milestone’s Static, Spider-Man, all that stuff, I only realized it was life-changing and amazing in hindsight. They crawled under my skin and set up shop in my brain subtly rather than immediately.
The first tape I remember owning was either DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper, which I still spin every month or so, or one of those old Sesame Street compilations. I think it had Kermit’s Kokomo and It’s Not Easy Being Green alongside Big Bird’s song about the alphabet. The first comics were Amazing Spider-Man 316 and 317, with 321 and 322 coming soon after. They were great, in the way that everything that is yours is great when you’re a kid.
APK: What got you started writing?
DB: I wrote a little as a kid, I think as a part of Bible studies and that kind of thing. I’m sure there were some short stories kicking around back then. I found a letter I wrote as a kid, but never mailed, to a Deadpool comic six or seven years back. It was weird.
I picked writing back up in high school because of fanfiction, basically. It was a nice way to fill time. I was in the middle of trying to put together a portfolio to apply to art school (either Savannah or RISD, I forget which) when I had a minor crisis and realized that I was a better writer than I was artist, so I switched gears entirely, put down the charcoals, and picked up the pencils. From that point on, it was all words everything. I tripped and fell into a video game reviewing gig, then comics, and then my day job.
I make it sound like an accident, but it wasn’t, not really. I’ve always loved puns and wordplay, ever since I was a kid. I learned how to read via comics and movie credits. I got my vocabulary from rap music and comic books, too. I did so much reading for the Book It program when I was a kid that my teachers asked my parents to confirm my claims. I got a library card when I was in middle school and went to town. I’ve always loved words, I just spent a lot of time studying them, rather than writing them. Once I started writing, though, it was off at the races.
APK: You have such a respectful tone when writing about comics and music, even when, perhaps especially when, things disappoint or upset you. Is that a conscious choice and if so, why?
DB: Yeah, definitely a conscious choice. Originally it was so that when my family found my writing they wouldn’t be appalled by all the cursing and invective. (When they eventually found a thing, it was a post that featured me extensively quoting a friend on “making the fucking comics,” of course.) It soon just became a style, a voice that I grew into. This’ll sound terrible, but cussing somebody out isn’t mean. It’s the mean equivalent of using a slapping someone in the face. It sucks, but they’ll get over it. But pointing out exactly what’s wrong, in exacting detail, and with a juggernaut-style flow? That’s much, much meaner. It’s a kidney shot. A respectful one, but a kidney shot nonetheless.
And it goes both ways, too. I try to avoid hyperbole and whatever when praising books, because being methodical is so much more effective and, for me, enjoyable. “I love this!” is meaningless these days, but pulling something apart and really digging into why you love it floats my boat.
It all really comes down to me trying to break everything down into its component pieces and figure out why I enjoy it or don’t enjoy it. At this point, it’s second nature, it’s become how I look at media in general. When I first started out, it took real effort to keep that in the forefront of my mind.
“Details over hyperbole,” basically. I could spit fire on something I hate, or I could turn the blog into an operating table and autopsy it. I vote for autopsies.
APK: How do you see the relationship between comics and music?
DB: Hm… complicated. Songs never work in comics. I can’t think of a single solitary time when I’ve read a song in a comic and thought “Well, that was a worthwhile way to spend a page.” I think that there’s a lot of overlap between one and the other, just due to how important they are or were to the culture when the people making either product were forming their opinions and personalities, though. But I would never try to mix the two. I’ll listen to music while I read, but I listen to music while I do everything.
I do like realizing when certain songs sound like a comic, or a comic sounds like a song. Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009 reads like an answer/complement to Demon Days by the Gorillaz. The dance party at the end of Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely’s chapter of The Invisibles sounds like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s “Terrible Angels.” Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America is the perfect complement to “Catch Me Now I’m Falling” by The Kinks.
I like when the two are connected in my head, but I don’t know that there’s a concrete or quantifiable relationship between the two, outside of adaptations or things like that.
APK: What are some comics you’re enjoying the hell of right now?
DB: My reading is stunted right now, while I work on a couple reading larks-turned-projects and readjust how I read comics. But with that said, I’m digging 2000 AD, especially Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing’s Zaucer of Zilk, which feels like Flex Mentallo 2.0 in a lot of ways, and the Judge Dredd strip that’s going on right now. Brandon Graham, Giannis Milonogiannis, and Simon Roy have created an incredible sci-fi comic in Prophet, and then Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples did the same thing in Saga. Brubaker and Phillips are rocking it on Fatale.
Most of my reading right now are older comics, like Conway/Romita Amazing Spider-Mans that I haven’t read in years, 2000 AD back issues, old manga series I got for cheap on Amazon. I’ve been reading a lot of Leiji Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999, which is almost embarrassingly good despite being hellaciously dated at times.
APK: What are some current albums you relish?
DB: El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure and Killer Mike & El-P’s RAP Music are probably the two best records to hit this year. I’ve loved those guys for ages, and it’s nice that they not only connected, but put out incredible product as a result of that connection. I like SpaceGhostPurrp’s Mysterious Phonk, which is easily as awful and misogynist as the worst Uncle Luke record, but also kind of amazing from a skill standpoint. Get Yah Head Bust on that album is as great a go-hard anthem as MellowHype’s 50 on the new Odd Future album. Sex and violence music.
I just got into Regina Spektor via her new album, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats. Oh Marcello is a fantastic song, and I was surprised to find that Spektor sounds similar to another vocalist I like, Camille. Tabi Bonney’s Endless Summer mixtape is A+ material, Blur’s two new singles are pretty good, and B.o.B’s Strange Clouds is good, as much as I wish he’d do more songs like Out of My Mind and fewer like Airplanes.
Frank Ocean’s nostalgia/ULTRA is still great, I keep Low Budget by The Kinks on my iPod, and I just discovered Zola Jesus and I’m looking forward to digging into her back catalog. I try to mix things up, I guess, from indefensibly offensive to adorable and back again.
APK: Have you ever thought about writing a comic yourself, and if so what sort of story would it be?
DB: I did, and then I realized that doing that would be a terrible idea and make me feel like comics were work. (Cut to four years later and… comics often feel like work. C’est la guerre.) I did a few scripts, mostly of the street level variety. Regular people doing regular things with regular guns, that kinda thing.
I like crime stories above all stories. Give me regular people placed into horrible situations and you’ve got me. I don’t have much of a taste for sci-fi in and of itself, elves and dwarves are awful, and I don’t have the mind to do good military/war fiction. But guys hanging out on a corner somewhere, trying to think of a way to make fast money? I’m all about it.
APK: Do you play any instruments, write lyrics or find yourself personally involved the creation in music?
DB: I don’t play anything yet, but I’ve been slowly teaching myself acoustic guitar over the past few months. It’s been slow going and is probably backburnered right now while I handle other stuff, but I do plan to be at least okay at playing guitar by the end of the year. I should probably start practicing more than an hour a month, though.
I’m not sure if I’m cut out for writing lyrics. I felt like a schmuck writing poetry for class in high school. I think I’m too self-conscious to be good at that, but I do like how guitars sound. I’d like to learn a few Blur songs, I think, and there’s a couple Clash songs I’d like to learn how to play. Slow, country-ish type stuff.
As a side note, there is both The David Brothers Band, who I think plays out of LA, and David Brothers the folk singer, who operates out of Portland. No relation.
APK: Why are comics and music, as mediums and as forms of expression, so important?
DB: They’re personal in a way that most movies and novels aren’t. All you need to put a comic or song out there is a single person with a little bit of talent, and all you need to experience it is five minutes of your time. You need a crew for a movie, you need hours to read a novel, and they never feel as intimate as reading someone’s minicomic or listening to a song they wrote when they were sad.
This is true of even big budget comics and songs, it’s not just a DIY thing. There’s something about a comic and a song that feels much more intimate to me, much more than anything else I can think of feels, short of a blog post or something.
But I like the idea that someone sat down and made something so that I could read or hear it, and that they spent their blood, sweat, tears, and probably money getting it done because they believed in it so much. It helps that comics and music are bite-sized compared to other types of entertainment, so I can consume more of them in one sitting than I can anything else.
APK: What is your favorite type of pie, and just as important, ala mode or not?
DB: Pizza pie? I’m not a pie guy at all, really. Ice cream is okay separately. I figure I like pound cakes the most at this specific point in time, but a classic yellow/chocolate cake is always good, too.