Interview: Brandon Jerwa on ‘Battlestar Galactica: Season Zero’
Writer Brandon Jerwa has had a varied and interesting career since beginning in comics early in 2001. Not letting rejection deter him, he persevered and eventually landed a job as a writer for the G.I. Joe comic book series. Later, Jerwa took on other television tie-in comics such as Highlander from Dynamite Entertainment — which he co-wrote with Michael Oeming.
During that time, he also wrote a backstory series about the Battlestar Galactica television character Tom Zarek. Due in part to his success with Zarek, Jerwa next took on a new comic for Dynamite titled Battlestar Galactica: Season Zero — a prequel of sorts to the Sci-Fi Channel TV series.
Now, with Season Zero rocketing towards a thriling conclusion in issue twelve, ComicMix caught up with Jerwa to talk about how he became the "go-to" guy for Battlestar Galactica at Dynamite, what we can expect from Season Zero as it finishes up and what other plans Jerwa has up his sleeve.
COMICMIX: Brandon, for people who might not know, can you give us a bit of info on your background? Did you read comics as a kid?
BRANDON JERWA: My first comic was an early issue of Star Wars when I was 4 or 5. I had all those early issues and they were definitely a huge thing to me, but I think Spider-Man and Batman made their way into the house pretty quickly after that! I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t have comic books.
My parents were supportive of the habit, so I’d always get at least one new book every time we’d go the grocery store or Kwik-E-Mart (ah, those were the days) and a long road trip was a surefire guarantee of a big pile of comics.
CMix: What were your favorites?
BJ: My favorites as a kid were Star Wars, Avengers, all the Spider-titles, including the most awesome one, Marvel Team-Up; along with Marvel Two-In One, Detective Comics, Power Man and Iron Fist, Justice League of America and Teen Titans. G.I. Joe obviously made a huge impression on me.
I also have an undying love for Rom: Spaceknight.
CMix: How did you get started writing comics?
BJ: Well, I’m told that I’m the exception to the rule. I was living with my wife and infant son in Portland, Oregon when I started. It was 2001 and I was unemployed, so I thought I’d use my time playing stay-at-home dad to shoot for the Big Dream.
I wrote two scripts – one a G.I. Joe pitch for Devil’s Due and an original superhero piece for Dark Horse. A few months later, Dark Horse had given me my first rejection letter, but Devil’s Due apparently thought I was the man for the job.
My two-part script was extended to four parts and became my G.I. Joe: Frontline arc "History Repeating." Just a few months after those issues hit stands, I was the new regular writer of G.I. Joe.
CMix: How much did you know about Battlestar Galactica before you started writing any of the comics? Are you a fan of the Sci-Fi Channel show or the original ’80s version?
BJ: The original show was cool when I was kid, but I honestly grew out of it. As far as the new series, I watched it the first night it was on and I’ve been absolutely enslaved to it ever since.
CMix: What attracts you to a project like Season Zero?
BJ: I think I’ve become the go-to guy for "expanded backstory," so it’s definitely in my wheelhouse. Snake-Eyes: Declassified and Battlestar Galactica: Zarek were both origin stories that drew on and expanded the existing mythology of their respective worlds.
So trying to fill in those blank spots for the "big picture" of Galactica seemed like it might be fun.
CMix: Expanding on that a bit, how did Season Zero come about?
BJ: Really, it just sort of happened. I knew Greg Pak’s series was wrapping up, so I told my Dynamite editor, Joe Rybandt, that I had an idea for a new series if they ever needed one.
He asked what the idea was, I said Season Zero – a prequel and I was literally moving ahead with it two days later. Easiest pitch I’ve ever been involved with.
CMix: You had already spent some time in the BSG world with the Zarek and Pegasus comics. Did those have any influence on the creation of Season Zero?
BJ: I think so, sure. I had been trying to get a Galactica gig from Dynamite for a while, but they were in the early stages of Pak’s run and hadn’t committed to the idea of any sort of ancillary mini-series or one-shots.
Once Pak’s book succeeded, they came to me and said "pick one of these" from a list of possibilities. I picked Zarek but I also pitched a slightly different version of Pegasus at the same time. I like to think my passion for the subject matter was a selling point.
Having the books turn out okay didn’t hurt, either.
CMix: If Season Zero is a prequel to the current TV series, where specifically in the BSG timeline does it take place?
BJ: It starts two years before the TV mini-series and moves ahead from there. It will end at a period just a couple of months before the start of the show.
CMix: What familiar characters appear in Season Zero. Any new ones the regular BSG audience might not know about and should discover?
BJ: Oh, most of the key faces are along for the ride: Adama, Starbuck, Tigh, Dualla, Gaeta, Doc Cottle, Chief Tyrol, Cally, Boomer, Helo, Captains Kelly and Spencer, Carrot, the human model Cylons and even Apollo (very briefly).
There are more than a few original characters who play key roles, like Julian DiMarco (a former CO of Adama’s) and Byron Dane (a Colonial Separatist with a nasty secret). Can’t spoil their roles, though!
CMix: How much contact to you have with Battlestar‘s Exec. Producer Ron Moore, the show’s other producers, writers or Universal/Sci-Fi Channel?
BJ: We get notes from Ron’s office at Universal. They read every script and offer their feedback. It’s a big help.
I actually had to change the second half of Season Zero because I was treading too close to something that’s going to happen in Season Four!
CMix: Do you have to get every character and story point approved as you go along or are you allowed more freedom? How does the process work?
BJ: I’m free to come up with story ideas as I see fit, but they do have to be approved. They approve a rough outline first and then review each individual issue as they’re produced.
CMix: Speaking of the story, tell us a bit about the story arc of Season Zero?
BJ: Commander Adama and Colonel Tigh are assigned to the Galactica. They think the job is a quiet road to retirement, and that doesn’t bother them a bit.
During a routine mission, they discover that Adama’s former Commander has been involved with a black ops operation, a mission he was set up to fulfill without realizing it. This doesn’t sit well with anyone.
What follows is a tale of betrayal, revenge, subterfuge and political maneuvering. There’s no small amount of deception going on between the human factions…and then the Cylons get involved.
Of course, no one knows they’re Cylons, so that makes it even easier for them to slip in and mess around with things.
CMix: The comic was originally going to only be a six-issue run, correct? How did you change or modify the story now that you’re doing 12 issues?
BJ: I actually pitched it as 12, but we had to see how it performed before we committed to a full run. Luckily, Dynamite saw the necessary numbers and critical reaction, and the full 12-issue order was given.
I highly doubt that we’re going past twelve, but I would definitely be up for it. I’ve just written issue 10, and I’m honestly wishing we had more time and space.
I’d love to see it go to at least 16 or 24-25 issues. I’d have no problem developing a story. There are some definite ideas floating around in my head.
CMix: Thematically, what are you trying to explore with this comic?
BJ: I’m really trying to explore the humanity of these characters, and the notion of past mistakes and how you repair them in the present.
How people deal with anger and betrayal is always something I enjoy exploring, because I think those sort of instinctive reactions are the most human.
CMix: Does what happens on the current TV series have much (or any) effect on what stories you’re telling in Season Zero?
BJ: Yes, in the sense that it’s always nice to draw parallels or illuminate the way we view a particular event. In general, I’m not trying to make direct connections, but I do try to enhance the characters and setting in a way that keeps them consistent with what we know while showing something we haven’t seen before.
You know, I’m not even sure if what I just said makes sense!
CMix: Don’t worry, it did. Because of Battlestar Galactica‘s enormous popularity and its rabid fanbase, do you feel any pressure to handle things like characters or story points a certain way with Season Zero?
BJ: It’s funny, because I don’t see a lot of hardcore fans of the show being swayed into reading comic books if they don’t already. It’s good for us, then, that a lot of comic fans are Galactica fans as well.
CMix: What’s the fan reaction to the comic been so far?
BJ: I think the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Sacred cows are always a scary thing to work with, but I guess the Galactica comic writers are doing all right so far.
The Origins series is off to a great start and we’re keeping pretty consistent numbers on my book with good reviews all around. That’s the best we can ask for, I think.
CMix: Is there one thing in particular you want fans to take away after reading Season Zero?
BJ: I just want them to feel like it’s part of the big picture. If they can read my series and consider it one piece of the puzzle, I’ve done my job.
CMix: How does writing a Battlestar Galactica comic compare to writing something like Highlander or G.I. Joe?
BJ: Well, it all comes down to capturing the feel of the property and putting your own flair on it. I will say that out of those three properties, the Galactica fans are, shockingly, the least rabid!
CMix: I know you also love music and are in a band at the moment. Which do you like more, comics or music? If you could only pick one, which would it be?
BJ: That’s a question I’ve really been grappling with lately. Music has been a part of my life since I was 15 years old, but I’ve sort of reached the point in my life where it’s a hobby rather than a pursuit for success.
It’s a young man’s game, and I honestly don’t have much time for it these days. I guess I’m saying that comic writing wins out, but that’s sort of a default setting, because it’s my job, and because I’ve been much more successful in comics than I have in music.
I do hope to marry the two on an upcoming project, though.
CMix: Speaking of writing, what other projects are you working on?
BJ: Well, I realized the other day that I’ve written more Dynamite books than any other writer. At the moment, though, I don’t know what, if anything, is coming up next for them.
Beyond that, I have two Tokyopop projects debuting. One is an online pilot called Jason Mason and the Ghosts He’s Chasing, an all-ages story that I really love. Rob Guillory is the artist on that and he’s doing a great job. We have a lot of fun doing it. I expect we’ll see that one hit the tubes this summer.
The second T-Pop project is something I can’t talk much about. It’s a big-volume Manga that will be tied to a new superhero property. My first work with superheroes, and it’s Manga. Bizarre.
I’ve spent six years trying to get some "cape" work and I had to go outside of normal comic channels to make it happen. I love this industry!
Eric Trautmann of Checkmate and I have forged a nice partnership and we’re brewing a few things up. First will be "Wide Awake" in Image’s Popgun Vol. 2 anthology. We’re also developing The Balance, a real-world espionage series that we’re hoping to make a free online serial a la Freakangels.
We have a couple of other irons in the fire together. I like having a collaborator, and Eric’s one of the best. We really understand each other, and we’re both just cranky and fussy enough to give the whole thing a nice little edge.
I have some other things developing, but nothing worth talking about yet. I’ve managed to make a career out of this little dream of mine, so I try not to worry too much about what’s next.
Okay, that’s a total lie. I’m completely neurotic and I’m pulling my eyebrows out right now because I don’t know what I’m working on in March of 2010 yet.
CMix: Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Thanks for talking with us Brandon.
BJ: Sure. Thank you.
Battlestar Galactica: Season Zero #10, written by Brandon Jerwa with art by Jackson Herbert, hits shelves in April. You can find more information about Dynamite Entertainment’s various Battlestar Galactica tie-in series at the publisher’s official website.