the year coming to a close, a lot of areas of entertainment are
starting to take stock of what their audiences view as the best works
from the past twelve months. And with local comic books now seeing a
sudden increase over the year and gaining rack space in nearly ever
shop, fans are weighing in on what the best series is thus far.
One of those titles: Green Monk features the story of a wandering holy man through the vast and sometimes treterous countrylands of Russia, armed only with an enhanced blade of grass as his weapon of choice. The book's simplistic design and storyline have caught the attention of local comic readers, making Brandon Dayton one of the most talked about creators of 2009 as its started drawing to a close. I got a chance to chat with Brandon about his career and body of work, plus thoughts on comics and a few other questions to be had.
Gavin: Hello Brandon, first thing, tell us a little about yourself.
Brandon: Apart from being born in California and living for a short while in Iowa, I basically grew up in Utah, in the Holladay area. I now live in West Jordan with my wife Annie and daughter Lucy. We also have two cats. I work as a concept artist for EA Games in Salt Lake.
Gavin: What inspired you to start drawing, and what were some of your influences growing up?
Brandon: I've drawn for as long as I can remember. I was a typical kid of the late 70's/early 80's. I loved cartoons and action figures, and drawing seemed to go along with that. In school, I was always the artist in the classroom, and that seemed to be the thing I always got positive feedback for. When I was around ten or so I made friends with Will VanWagenen, and through his family I had my first real exposure to comics. His dad was a film maker, and a comic collector, and when I would go over to his house I would just get lost reading issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Judge Dredd, Groo and Akira. A few years later I met Sean Hennefer who introduced me to all of the super hero stuff, and the soon to be Image founders like Jim Lee, Erik Larson and all the rest. It was around that time that I realized that I was way to lousy at school to ever do any serious type of profession, so I decided I wanted to become a comic artist. That's when I really started taking drawing seriously. I would swing back and forth between animation and comics, but I knew I wanted to draw, and I knew I wanted to tell stories.
Gavin: You went to BYU getting into their film program. What made you decide on the Y, and what was their program like for you?
Brandon: It was honestly a mix of following tradition and fear. My family is a big BYU family. My parents went there and almost all of my extended family went there as well. It was the easiest thing to do, and I was really intimidated by applying to Cal Arts too. I remember seeing a brochure for it, and not even knowing where to begin. At one point, I think I considered going to BYU and then going to Cal Arts after. Ironically, BYU has since become a world class Animation school, but this was after I was pretty much done with school. When I got to BYU I applied to the film program, because I figured it was the closest thing to animation. I figured I would also try and take as many illustration classes as possible while I was there. Being in the BYU film program was an awesome experience. I was there with a lot of bright, ambitious and talented folks, and that really motivated me to do big things. BYU also had access to some really great resources, and it wasn't that hard to figure out how to access them. I took a documentary class one year, and basically used my clearance from that class to make a my first short film, which was a black and white sci-fi movie. I still think it was the best short film I made at BYU. But, I had a lot of opportunities there. I made a handful of films, and had some big disasters along the way. It was very discouraging at the time, but I learned a lot in the process and studied story-telling pretty deeply. While I was there I was also accepted into Orson Scott Card's Writer's Bootcamp (not associated with BYU). I think he accepted 18 people, and it was a four or five day intensive writing workshop. It had a huge impact on my storytelling theories, and on my confidence. Scott was very encouraging of my writing, and that helped me get over some difficult discouragement, and helped me put aside some other professional "advice" that my talents weren't suited to writing.
Gavin: When you finally left, was there any set plan of what you'd be doing career wise, or was it more up in the air?
Brandon: I thought I'd take a temporary job while I wrote a script, and then I'd make a movie from that script. Many of my peers from school were doing the same thing. It was not too long after the whole Mormon Cinema thing, and many of my classmates picked up on that energy and made features. It never worked for me. I just couldn't finish a script. My final project at BYU was kind of disastrous, and I was so obsessed with writing a perfect script that I could just never get past the first 40 pages. I worked for a souvenir company during that time, and then got a job at a local jack-of-all-trades production studio in Sandy called 8fish. I applied there hoping to do animation, and ended up doing all sorts of things. It was a great place to cut my teeth as an illustrator. I built most of my current portfolio working there, and refined my illustration to a point that it was marketable. I also had a chance to develop pitches for TV animation, which was a blast.
Gavin: How did you eventually come to work for EA Salt Lake?
Brandon: After working at 8fish for three years, I felt pretty strongly that it was time to move on and I started applying for other jobs more focused on animation. Nothing really came of that. Then I had two friends, Bronze Swallow and Gibbs Rainock, who I had worked with at 8fish who got hired on at EA doing concept. They tipped me off to a job opening, so applied. I didn't hear back from them, but I was to the point at 8fish that I knew I had to move on, even if something wasn't lined up. I was fortunate enough to run into some freelance work so I just decided to make a leap of faith and start working on my own. About a month later EA called me and offered me a job.
Gavin: Working for them, what are some of the games you've had a hand in designing artwork for?
Brandon: If every game I had done concept for actually made it to the shelves I would have a huge resume right now! Most of my best stuff I won't get to show for awhile because it's still locked up in NDA's, but the two titles that actually contain some of my work are last year's "Nerf N-Strike" and the just recently released "Nerf N-Strike Elite". I played a big part in designing the characters for "N-Strike Elite". I just recently posted some of the development work on my website.
Gavin: You've also contributed artwork to the book Making Faces. How did that opportunity come about?
Brandon: That was done through 8fish. We met some of the folks from Impact Books while we were at Comic-Con one year and pitched the idea about designing facial expressions for animation. I ended doing a lot of the writing for that, but several of the artists at 8fish contributed writing and art. Gibbs and Bronze did art for it along with other great artists like Ben Simonsen and Blake Loosli.
Gavin: Where did the idea come about to start drawing your own comic?
Brandon: I had just been so frustrated with trying to finish a script. It'd been years since I had finished a personal piece of art and I was just dying to accomplish something. I had a big list of story ideas and I went through a very serious period of introspection, where I was trying to figure out which story I was most passionate about, and which story I had the most confidence I could do well. It turned out to be Green Monk. The only problem was, since I was being honest with myself, I knew it wouldn't be right to do it as a movie. It had to be comic. I read some books around that time like Steven Pressfield's The War Of Art and Stephen King's On Writing that just got me in the right frame of mind to sit down and get to work on something. The nail in the coffin was an episode of Science Friday about successfully keeping New Year's resolutions. It was just around New Year when I heard the show, so I took the scientific advice they offered, sat down, and started drawing.
Gavin: How did the idea for Green Monk come to mind?
Brandon: Like most ideas, it started with bits and pieces of cool images that started to form together over the years. I liked the idea of blade of grass as a sword. I remember reading a Native American folk tale when I was kid about a hero that uses a leaf as blade to cut a villain's throat. That might have planted the seed. The thing that tied it all together though, was seeing Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublyev". It's one of the greatest films ever made, and its vision of Medieval Russia just totally electrified me. I knew that's where I wanted to Green Monk to take place. Visually, Green Monk is all Andrei Rublyev, with the exception of some of the fantastical elements.
Gavin: Considering the work you do, why did you choose to do it in traditional sketching as opposed to digital?
Brandon: It's a gut thing, I think. I just really enjoy working with traditional media, and I guess I think getting away from the computer as much as possible is a healthy thing. It certainly makes me more focused when my email isn't sitting underneath my drawing pad, but there are a lot of common sense reasons to work traditionally too. A computer and piece of paper are both just tools, and you have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both media. Too often the assumption is just that a computer will always do things better and faster, but its not always the case. For instance, a computer obviously doesn't have the same portability that paper does. When I was doing a panel a day on Green Monk I could pack up my materials and work on it anywhere with relative ease. Until a computer is completely indistinguishable from a piece of paper, paper will have some advantages.
Gavin: When you finally put it out, what was the reaction like from people?
Brandon: The reaction has been very positive. My wife just told me the other day that she was surprised that people like it so much! Not that she didn't like the book, I just think she wasn't quite certain of what demographic is was meant to appeal to. I can understand that. I've worked on enough artistic projects to have a sense of when something stinks or not and I felt pretty good about Green Monk when I was finished. I was very deliberate and careful with many of the decisions I made with Green Monk, and I was really proud about the final product. That being said, I've been pleasantly surprised with the reaction. It is better than I'm used to.
Gavin: Is this a single one-shot series or will we see more issues down the road?
Brandon: I've written myself into a corner where I feel like I have to continue the series. So, yes I'm going to continue. I just have to figure out the best way to do that.
Gavin: Going a bit local, what's your take on the Utah comics scene, both good and bad?
Brandon: I'm still kind of getting to know it. I contacted some local comics artists for the first time the other day, but I haven't really started up a real correspondence. I'm also not a real frequent comics shopper, so I'm not as familiar with the scene as others might be. From what I know, there's a lot of talent in Utah, I'm just not aware of a real robust community. It seems like a lot of lone gunmen to me. I think that's something that will change. In general working as an artist in Utah can be rough. Art tends to be undervalued anywhere you go, and Utah is no different. There are a lot of folks that want you to work for nothing, or close to it.
Gavin: Who are some of the artists and writers you read and would recommend?
Brandon: I'm most interested in the writer/artists. I feel like there overall work has more harmony than a book that's a collaboration. I like Craig Thompson, Jeff Smith, Guy Davis. I guess BPRD is a collaboration, but he's got his own stuff too that's pretty rad. I can't say I really "follow" any artists loyally, but those are some of the guys I like.
Gavin: More national, what are your thoughts on the comics industry today?
Brandon: I think there is a lot of growth to be had. Just look at the demographics. It's adult males. Young males aren't targeted like they could be comics aren't even close to touching female audiences in a significant way. There's so much potential, and it just require someone who figures out the right way to do it. There have been some attempts. Marvel published comic versions of Pride & Prejudice, but my wife and I were unanimous that is was pretty crummy. I'd like to see some of the stigma of comics to change, for more people to see that's its just a medium. It would be great if there were more people willing to venture out and open new markets with comics. I think it probably has to happen with the younger generation.
Gavin: If you had to make a top five, what are your most favorite comics currently out?
Brandon: I'm not really following any ongoing titles, but I can list my top five favorite books. On the top of the list would be Hiyao Miyazaki's Nausica Of The Valley Of The Wind. He's more well known for his animation, but in my opinion Nausica is his masterpiece. After that, in no particular order, I like Jeff Smith's Bone quite a bit, Craig Thompson's Blankets, Otomo's Akira, and Kirkman's Walking Dead. I think Hellboy is a lot of fun too.
Gavin: A bit on video games, what's your take on the local studios producing today and the work coming out of Utah as a whole?
Brandon: I think it's great that Utah has a robust video game industry. There are a handful of good studios hereabouts, and some great talent. I feel like there haven't been the opportunities for any of the local studios to really show the world what they're made of, but it's just a matter of time. I'm constantly blown away by the talent of the people I work with, and I'm witness to the limitations that keep them from creating really amazing stuff. I don't say that to criticize any of the studios. I just think the talent is capable of more than they're able to show with the work that's available at this moment.
Gavin: What can we expect from you going into next year?
Brandon: I'm going to continue the Green Monk series. Not sure of all the details, but I'm going to continue working on it. I'm also going to be contributing to some anthologies including an all-comics issue of Sunstone that should be coming out next year.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Brandon: You can see my work at BrandonDayton.com. You can get a copy of Green Monk at my website or at any of the local SLC comic shops.