An Interview With The Creators Of ‘The Brother Of All Men’

by Rachel Bellwoar

Officially, Guy is looking for a missing girl. If he can kill two birds with one stone, though, and find his brother in the process, everybody wins. That’s Guy’s plan anyway in writer, Zac Thompson, and artist, Eoin Marron‘s, new series, The Brother of All Men, in which Guy’s search leads him to join a cult (based on the Aquarian Foundation). Whether or not that’s a good idea, Thompson and Marron have created a compelling mystery and it was great to be able to ask them some questions about it over email.

Rachel Bellwoar: Most comics open with a credits page, but you actually incorporated the credits page as the first page of the story. What made you want to jump right in and get started?

Zac Thompson: From a practical standpoint, I wanted the book to begin with a visual sequence that communicated both the central question driving the narrative and the huge journey Guy had undergone to get to that point. Incorporating the credits onto that sequence was actually Hassan [Otsmane-Elhaou]’s idea.  Which really tied everything together! One of those thrilling situations where everyone on the team is in perfect sync. It’s fun because it was written to work as an entirely silent sequence and that credits sequence really elevates the gravity of the moment. Eoin’s sense of visual storytelling is unrivaled so he took that idea of a slow pull out and absolutely nailed it. There’s a real sense of emotion and scope to everything he brought to the page and frankly after we saw the inks, we knew it didn’t need a single line of dialogue.

Eoin Marron: Hassan is a gift to comics; the way he interweaves his lettering with the visuals and narrative is why I was eager to work with him again after first collaborating on Killer Groove together. With some projects your relationship with the team can often veer one-way, but with Hassan I always feel like there’s a creative conversation going on at all levels, spoken and unspoken. He ties all our voices (me, Zac and colorist Mark Englert) together in a harmonius way that only enriches the reading experience.

RB: So much about this series can be gleaned from that first page, yet not a single word is spoken. Was it always the plan to start with a 12-panel grid?

ZT: Yeah, I’m a formalism freak. So once I had the idea for the book, I figured you can’t tell a story about a guy calling himself Brother XII and not open the book with a twelve panel sequence. From a nuts and bolts perspective, this kinda pacing really lets you slow down and creates a deliberate sense of visual momentum to the page. Eoin just killed the sequence. And his storytelling is really the star of the whole thing. That slow push out is so ominous but it also tells you everything you need to know. I just knew we needed to frame the central question of the story ie: the “who is he” on the photograph. It could’ve been written by anyone but it’s asking a question about both men in the photo. Then as we pull out we see the broken face of the man studying the photograph and how far he’s already come to find some version of the truth.

EM: I also just appreciate a good, quiet, introspective scene instead of opening up a story with the usual bombast and spectacle. This book isn’t terribly ‘loud’ by most metrics, so imparting that impression early is key. And it doesn’t hurt that each issue is a lengthier 24 pages of story, giving us a little more room to decompress and tease certain elements out than normal within the North American model.

RB: When did you first hear about the Aquarian Brotherhood and how did that lead to The Brother of All Men?

ZT: I lived in British Columbia, Canada (where the story is set) for a decade and during that time I was doing a lot of journalism work for different websites. The editorial mandate at the time for one of them was something along the lines of “interesting subcultures”. So I spent some time poking around the long and storied occult history of the province. That led to hearing rumors that Aleister Crowley visited or lived in Victoria (BC) for a time. On a trip to Vancouver Island, I went to some local bookstores and learned about the existence of Brother XII. Legend has it that Crowley was maybe in town meeting XII (I don’t remember if there was any truth to this at all). Anyway, that led me looking further into Brother XII and realizing that scarcely little had been written about the man. His story was incredibly rich and complex. He was a weirdo and the further I read about the Aquarian Foundation, the more I understood why he was able to recruit people into his fold. The 1920’s weren’t dissimilar from now. People were let down by their government, recovering from death and destruction they’ve never seen before and all it takes is a skilled orator to convince people that perhaps a new religion may be in order.

RB: Between the chapter titles and the way the main character, Guy, is referred to in the captions, there’s a very prose style to the way this first issue is written. What about that storytelling approach appealed to you?

ZT: I wanted to embrace the pulp traditions of the genre while also allowing the narrative to change POV without missing a beat. Because the story is broken up into 12 chapters and features the inner lives of three different men, that omniscient prose style of narration really worked for the story we’re telling. At its heart The Brother of All Men is a story about a cult leader in Brother XII, but there’s also this fictionalized part of the narrative with the detective stuff and this third facet where we talk about the complexities of being/believing in a cult. And truthfully (or selfishly) I’m never really content with writing in one style for too long. I’m interested in experimenting with different types of storytelling on the page as it relates to comics. So this felt like a natural evolution on the page as well as a little hat tip to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Image comic series Fatale which is also written in the same style.

EM: From a visual standpoint, it gives me more freedom from the usual routine of waist-up, talking head shots, allowing Guy to move around the scene, frame him in ways that convey whatever he’s internalizing and open us up to his perspective more directly.

RB: It’s clear that Guy is still dealing with a lot of unaddressed trauma from the war. Because he wears a mask, strangers are always of his military service, too. What made you want to tell this story from a veteran’s perspective, and did you go through a lot of character designs for Guy?

ZT: It was important to me that Guy occupied the most complex POV of Canada possible. Especially given the time. For a variety of reasons that both relate to plot and how I’m feeling about my country. It was also important that he was a bunch of things beyond his military service. So he’s also French-Canadian, which I don’t reckon many people outside of Canada will pronounce his name correctly but it’s “Gee” not “Guy”. That was my grandfather’s name, and in a lot of ways, Guy is a fictionalization of a man I never got to know. The physical disability comes from my own experience living with a disabled parent and recognizing that very little exists in the way of disability representation in the horror/noir genres. So I wanted to create a complex hero who can embody all that trauma but seek to overcome it. Which is really the driving force behind Guy. He’s out to find his brother, but he’s really out to find himself. In all seriousness though, after spending years studying disability rights in Canada, I think it was learning that Canada’s veterans were so routinely failed by our Federal Government and returned from wartime to really hard lives. That abject failure of society to help someone who dedicated their life to protecting their “country” informs so much of Guy’s character. It’s a confirmation that ideals we can dedicate our life to can fail us. And leave us with nothing. That ultimately the world is indifferent to our existence. Not to mention, visually – a character who wears their wound, but has to hide behind a mask is inherently interesting in a story about cults.

Eoin’s early takes on the character were almost spot on from the jump. We had both talked about the book for so long and talked about the particulars of Guy’s appearance that it was a seamless process of development. We always knew he was going to wear the mask and we knew he was going to be thin and pale. So when it came to Eoin’s early takes, Guy almost came out fully formed from the beginning. We had to make some slight adjustments to his design when we got to [the] first issue but for the most part, Eoin’s mastery of creating compelling characters made things easy!

EM: I don’t tend to do a lot of pre-designing, a lot of my characters are loosely formed from studies of various actors and references and usually with a strong image already in mind. I also find – as many other comic artists do – no matter how many turnarounds and iterations you complete, you’ll never truly know what a character looks, feels and moves like until you’ve drawn them forty odd times by the end of the first issue.

RB: Who is The Brother of All Men to you, and do you have a favorite panel or transition from the first issue?

ZT: It’s whoever you want it to be. In some scenes it’s Guy, in others it’s his brother Bastien. In reality, it’s obviously Brother XII. A brother to all men is a true friend to none.

EM: Page 17 was one of my favourites to draw; I incorporated some panel division that ties into the formalism Zac mentioned earlier in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing and hopefully satisfying for the observant readers. And The Brother of All Men is not who you think they are.

RB: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Zac and Eoin!

The Brother of All Men #1 goes on sale July 13th from AfterShock. FOC date is June 20th.

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