[*The following interview was conducted at New York Comic Con 2018 this past weekend!]
Brendan Allen: I’m sitting here in the ridiculously loud “green room” in New York Comic Con’s Artist Alley with artist Ryan Browne, who’s been working on Image’s Curse Words for about a year and a half with Charles Soule. Thanks for taking the time out to be with us today, Ryan. For those who have been living under a rock for the last three arcs, tell us about Curse Words. What is this story?
Ryan Browne: Well, Curse Words is the series that I do with Charles Soule. I’m currently working on issue eighteen. Seventeen will be out in a couple weeks. But it’s basically about a family of wizards that don’t know that they are a family. It follows Wizord, who is this super cool wizard who shows up in modern day New York City and does magic for hire. Everyone loves him. He is super popular. He has a koala named Margaret that’s his sidekick and everything is great. Except, he’s actually an evil wizard in a good wizard disguise and he was sent to our world from his fantasy realm to destroy the planet Earth. And when he gets here, he actually pretends to be good, because it’s a pretty cushy lifestyle, better than his horrible fantasy world. So his evil wizard buddies come to get him and finish the job. It’s kind of a story of a bad guy pretending to be a good guy, and then actually having to become a good guy in order to save the world he comes to love.
BA: That’s a great tie-in to my next question. Morally grey protagonists have become insanely popular in today’s pop culture. Walter White, Elphaba, Frank Underwood, Hannah Horvath, Stone Cold Steve Austin… On the surface, Wizord generally appears to be a decent guy, but then you dig a little deeper, and it becomes abundantly clear his motivation is entirely self serving. Why are people so thirsty for flawed heroes?
RB: Gosh. You know, I don’t know. There’s a lot more flexibility and you can play a lot more with a character that is a little bit morally ambiguous, kind of in this grey area. Having a dark past, like our character Wizord. He was like the right hand man to Sauron where he came from, right? And he did horrible, horrible things all the time. So he sees this as kind of a way to redeem himself, but he can’t escape the horrible self-centered person that he was. I think that’s interesting because we spent so many years reading fiction about clearly good guys, versus bad guys, and I think that people have grown pretty tired of it.
When you have a character and you get to know them, and they’re charismatic and you’re on their side, then it challenges you as a reader. Do you root for this person when they do something terrible? And I think people see possibly some of themselves in that. And I think that is why people drift to characters like Wizord or Walter White or what have you. Or Vic Mackey. I always go to Vic Mackey, because The Shield is one of my favorite shows ever. Charles loved that show too, so when we were setting up Curse Words, I was like “I want to do a Vic Mackey”. And The Shield also has a structure where something happens at the end of the first episode that resonates and affects the whole rest of the series, and we have that in Curse Words as well. We kind of set up with that same kind of “Oh-my-gosh-what-just-happened? Moment” and then Wizord is dealing with the consequences of that for the rest of the series.
BA: It also seems like, as the series progresses, Wizord is shifting a little bit toward the light. Is he slowly leaning into the White Knight? And what’s affecting that change?
RB: Yeah. He is. It becomes addictive to get positive reinforcement for him. And it’s something that didn’t exist in the old world that he came, from because the world that he came from is called Hole World and it’s basically Lord of the Rings, except Sauron won. It’s a miserable fantasy realm where everyone is oppressed. So that’s what was so intoxicating about our world is that people were free, had free will, and could enjoy their lives. So, I think he just wanted to take advantage of that, and then as he’s taking advantage of it more and more, he realizes this is actually a more fulfilling life.
BA: It seems like Margaret is just about every reader’s favorite character. She kind of started out as a straight man to Wizord’s dark humor, but has evolved into a major mysterious player in the series. How much of that was intentional, and how much is a response to the fan reaction to her extreme squishiness?
RB: You know, when we were first coming up with the idea to do Curse Words, Charles’ initial thing was “What would be the most fun to draw?” And that was drawing a book with magic. And then he decide on, “Let’s do a story about a wizard who’s a dick.” And I said, “Okay. That sounds great.” So I designed Wizord, came up with his look, and then I drew a koala. And he said, “Ryan, I know you love drawing animals, but we aren’t doing one of your silly animal books.” And I was like, “Come on, man. This would be so fun. He needs a sidekick.”
Originally she was just like his familiar. That was the original idea, so I convinced him to keep it, and then he started thinking about it and he was like, “Her name is Margaret.” And then we had a long conversation about who Margaret was, and we came up with… I don’t know if I want to spoil anything, but we came up with who Margaret is in relationship to Wizord, and that determined the entire series there. Once we figured that out, it was like, “Now we know what we’re doing”. It’s not just a story about a wizard who’s a dick, it’s this serious story about a family and something that happens to them, which is like the mystery that needs to be solved over the course of the series. I know I’m being a little bit vague, but in the next part, like what’s coming out now, you learn a ton. Questions are really starting to get answered in issue eighteen. The series is all about Margaret at this point. She is the main character, and she’s the one that in the end, we are on her side.
BA: Last question. This whole series kind of feels like HBO won the rights to reboot an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon. Tell us, if Wizord, Mumm-Ra, and Skeletor were thrown into a cage match, who walks out of that cage alive?
RB: I mean, it’s definitely Wizord. Part of Wizord is that he’s very inventive. Not only is he very powerful, but like, this dude was the baddest dude in the land. This was the right hand man of Sauron. So, he’s pretty indestructible.
BA: Fair. Well, hey, thank you so much for taking time to talk with us today, Ryan. Looking forward to seeing how this thing plays out. #TeamMargaret