Brien Wayne Powell recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of his Magnet Man character (debuting in Magnet Man Minicomics #1, Jan. 2002); Magnet Man’s adventures have continued through 57 issues of Magnet Man Minicomics, 130 episodes of the online “Magnet Mansion”, and currently appear online in the twice-weekly “Boogieland or Bust!” strip, where he’s teamed with Brien’s real-life idol, wrestling legend Jimmy Valiant. As if that wouldn’t keep Brien busy enough, in the past few years he’s also produced 6 issues of the Human Patriot minicomic, the year-long daily strip “One-Horned Unicorn”, a series of Magnet Man movies, and (no doubt) even more! I met Brien through APA-5, where I first interviewed him for our “20 questions”-themed issue (APA-5 #355, July 2004). He’s done a lot of new and different things since that time, so I figured he’d be a good subject to kick off my “20 questions” series of cartoonist interviews…
1. What’s the secret to your amazing productivity? Macrobiotic diet? Cartooning in a luchador mask?
Creating comics is my main artistic passion and has been for some time. Once I’ve finished a comic, I can’t wait to get it mailed out or uploaded in hopes that others will get some enjoyment out of it. Also, if I’ve written several issues ahead and there’s a joke near the end of a storyline that I really like then I’ll work extra hard to get the issues out quicker just to get to that one joke. But probably the true ‘secret’ of my productivity would have to be the patience and understanding of my beautiful and loving wife Gala who has always been selfless in giving me the time I need to work on my comics.
2. Wrestling played a part in Magnet Man’s adventures right from the start, but it’s really taken center stage in “Boogieland or Bust!” What’s your favorite thing about your current project?
When I first went to Boogie’s Wrestling Camp I saw that it was such a special place full of larger than life characters and cool things to see. I felt like it would be the perfect setting for a comic book. The stories really tend to write themselves around whatever BWC wrestler that I happen to be featuring. I’ve loved comics and wrestling both since childhood so I guess you’d say my favorite part of my current “Boogieland or Bust!” comic is that it marries those two childhood loves. It’s been like a double honeymoon in Boogieland ever since!
3. It must be really exciting to be able to work with your hero like you’re doing in “Boogieland or Bust!” Are you pretty much free to do what you want with the comic, or do Jimmy and Angel like to talk with you about what you have in store first?
When I was a kid I would watch the Super Friends and then when it went off I would go outside and pretend that I was Batman or Superman. After watching wrestling I would go outside and pretend to be Jimmy Valiant. So, yeah, to be able to write an ongoing comic strip starring my all-time favorite wrestler is really a dream come true for me. When I first got up the nerve to ask Boogie to guest star in one of my comics, I sent him the completed comic first and waited for his approval before I published it or even showed it to anyone else. After the first couple of guest appearances, Boogie told me he trusted me completely and gave me free reign to use him in my comics anytime I want. And I’ve certainly taken him up on it!
4. As much as I’m enjoying “Boogieland or Bust!”, I miss the more superhero-flavored elements from the minicomic series. Will we ever see Mia, Phil, Thump Truck, or the rest of the old Magnet Man cast in action again?
I’d love to bring some of my old supporting characters to Boogieland, but there are so many great ‘real life’ characters already at Boogie’s Wrestling Camp that I really don’t feel like there is much room for anything more than the occasional appearance like I have done with Thump Truck, Ra Ra and Sisboombah. That said, I would love to do another print comic someday to revisit Melvinville and all of our old friends.
5. How far ahead are you working on your strip, or do you play things pretty close to your deadline?
When I first got the idea to do an ongoing online comic about BWC on the official Jimmy Valiant website, I wanted to make sure deadlines wouldn’t be a problem, so I wrote a year’s worth of stories before I ever pitched the idea to Boogie. The writing was going so well that I decided to make the strip twice weekly and still had 104 strips, exactly one year’s worth, before I published the new strip. So far I have yet to use any of that material because every time a BWC wrestler asks to be a part of the strip I’ve written a new storyline specific to that character and I haven’t had a need to touch my backlog! Hopefully someday I’ll get around to using the original material.
6. You successfully made the switch from print to webcomics. What are you enjoying about this format?
Switching to webcomics was a very difficult decision for me. But I got to the point where I was getting short on the time and money necessary to continue doing print comics so switching to digital comics took care of both of those problems. It’s also nice to think that anyone in the world can easily access my work with just a click of the mouse. As a child in the ’80s I was told that everything in the future would be computerized, so it’s neat to see that come true in some way with digital comics.
7. Your distinctive deadpan art style– and visually descriptive writing– are a big part of Magnet Man’s charm, but you’ve worked with other artists in the past. Do you approach a story differently when it will have fully-drawn art?
When I’m writing for myself and using my usual repeated image sans background art style it is a totally different thought process than when I’m writing for another artist. I don’t use backgrounds or facial expressions to tell a story but I always try to make sure you know exactly where the characters are and how they feel. If you see one of my characters and they say, “This sucks! I’m freezing!” then hopefully you know that they are unhappy and they are somewhere cold. If I was writing for another artist I could do the same thing by telling the artist to show the character wearing a heavy coat, shivering, knee deep in snow and with a big frown on their face. That said, I tend to be a little heavy with the dialog even when I’m writing for another artist. And I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. It’s just how I roll.
8. How did you first discover comics as a creator?
Many, many years ago, I was visiting UVA with my future wife Gala to see a dorm room they had set up in honor of former student Edgar A. Poe. We stopped by the bookstore and I happened upon a book about ‘zine publishing. I had already been putting together my own homemade poetry collections, but I had no idea there was this huge self-publishing network out there. I began looking into ‘zine publishing further on the then wet behind the ears internet and eventually stumbled upon a huge list of small press comics creators called the Big Mini-Comics list. This really opened up the world of self-published comics for me as a creator.
9. What continues to draw you to the medium?
As a fan I have always loved comics for the entertainment and escapism aspects. The unique combination of words and pictures really pulls you in to another world. As a creator I love the medium for its potential for artistic expression, both in the written and visual sense.
10. Have you had any professional art training? If so, has it benefited your work in comics?
I went straight into the workforce after high school, but after I got married eleven years ago, my wife Gala wanted me to have the opportunity to go to college. I went to my local community college for two years and graduated with a Liberal Arts degree in Communication Design. The two creative writing courses I took helped my confidence as a writer. The art history classes and the design classes helped me explore the boundaries of what art is and what it can be.
11. Your hometown of Forest, VA seems to be similar to what I have in mind for Wonder Valley– a day trip from the beach or the big city, yet able to retain its small-town identity. Any local color you could share about life there?
Yes, living in this neck of the woods is pretty much like you described it. People often complain that there is nothing to do here, but if you take the time and look hard enough you can still find the poetry readings and great local bands and the art galleries and plays and things like that. Of course living here got a lot cooler for me back in ’92 when Boogie’s Wrestling Camp opened its doors just over an hour away from me in beautiful Shawsville, VA!
12. How did you first discover comics as a reader?
As the youngest of three kids, I’d say there were always comics in the house since I was first born. Granted it was just a small stack in a box, but I loved them and would look at the pictures over and over as I imagined what was going on in the story. We had a couple Batman, a couple Spider-Man, a few Flash Gordon, maybe a Green Lantern, probably a Superman, plus a Richie Rich and an Archie or two. I also loved to go to the drug store and check out the comics on the spinner rack. My favorites were the DC Comics Who’s Who which had no story but page after page of cool looking characters that I had never seen before. I loved imagining what their adventures would be like!
13. What are some of your all-time favorite comics (runs, teams, or issues)?
All- time favorite run would be the Fury of Firestorm 100 issue series. Firestorm is my favorite mainstream comics character. Best creative team of all time is Lee & Kirby. Especially the X-Men stuff. I also enjoy the Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange stories very much. I loved Tellos by Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo. Miracle Force by Jerry Smith was great. Always enjoyed those. And Ronson Butler’s Antlusian Dreams. Just too many to mention!
14. What current comics are you enjoying? Why?
Not reading many new comics at all sadly. Just haven’t found many that I can get into. Perhapanauts by Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau is one I still enjoy. I pick up the new Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Men as a fan of the character but I’m not crazy about the story yet. And I don’t get nearly as many print comics in the mail since I don’t have anything to trade. That’s one thing I really miss about doing print comics! I’m sure there are plenty of great new comics being printed out there, I just don’t have the time or finances right now to seek them out.
15. What webcomics are you following?
Sadly, I don’t follow many webcomics, mainly for time reasons. I do really enjoy reading “Watusi the Talking Dog” every week. And Cynicalman is always great! Plus Mike Carroll’s webcomics are hilarious. I would love to follow more, but I’m usually busy working on my own webcomics!
16. I’ve enjoyed your Magnet Man movies, and I can tell the wrestlers in your cast really get into their parts, too, but they must be a lot more work than the comic. What is it that you enjoy about the movies that you can’t do in the comics?
I wanted to do a movie based on the Magnet Man Minicomics series pretty much from the beginning, but the problem was I didn’t have a mask. So when I found out Jimmy Valiant’s wife Angel had her own business making wrestling gear, I showed her my comics and she was happy to make me the official Magnet Man mask and that greenlit the movie so to speak. As far as answering your question, I guess the biggest difference was it was easier to do sight gags in the movie. Granted, I’ve done sight gags in the comics before on occasion, but some of the scenes would have been hard to do in the style I do my comics in. The shoe in the cereal immediately comes to mind. A panel of Magnet Man saying, “Hey there’s a shoe in my cereal!” wouldn’t have quite the same impact of seeing the shoe fall out of the cereal box.
17. Not that I’m one to talk given how many unfinished storylines I’ve started, but both Magnet Man Minicomics and “Magnet Mansion” ended in the middle of a storyline. Did you just paint yourself into a corner you couldn’t get out of? Were your new projects just too appealing to pass up? Would you ever be interested in completing them as bridging sequences to link the projects?
I knew you wouldn’t shy away from asking the tough questions, Dale! When I started the “Magnet Mansion” webcomic, I tricked myself into thinking that I could keep both the print and online versions going at the same time. I found out pretty quickly that it just wasn’t going to be possible for me. Financial and time factors dictated that I continue the online version and I reluctantly stepped away from the print comic in mid-storyline. Then the webcomic suffered pretty much the same fate when I got the idea to start up an unrelated daily comic strip called One-Horned Unicorn and thought I’d be able to juggle the two only to drop the elder project in favor of the new one. In both cases I had written well ahead and finished not only those storylines but storylines beyond them. Also in both cases I convinced myself that I would get back to finish the projects one day. If I do finally publish the ‘lost’ print comic storylines then they will more or less flow seamlessly into the place where I started the online comic.
18. If you could assemble your dream creative team– alive or dead– to work on your dream comic, who would it be? What title?
As far as dream creative teams go, I’d have to include my favorite comic book writer Stan Lee and my favorite comic artist Mike Wieringo. I don’t think the two ever worked together officially, but Mike did some wonderful comics about Stan’s characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, so I guess you could call that a collaboration of sorts.
19. If you had free reign to work on your dream project– any character, any collaborator– what would it be?
Well, “Boogieland or Bust!” is already about as much of a ‘dream project’ as I could ask for, but to answer the question in the spirit it was intended, I would have to say it would be a Firestorm ongoing series co-written by myself and Stan Lee, with art by Mike Wieringo. Dave McKean would do covers and my friend Jonathan Parrish would have a one page Lil’ Firestorm strip in the back of each issue. Regular supporting cast would include Magnet Man, Jimmy Valiant, Charlie Chaplin, Edgar A. Poe, and Rocket Rockne! It would be awesome!
20. Is there anything I neglected to cover in these questions that has you really excited about making comics?
I think you covered things pretty well, Dale. Thanks for the great questions and for the opportunity to answer them. What has me excited about making comics right now in the ability to tell stories to entertain people and jokes to hopefully give them a laugh. It is beyond cool that I can tell those stories using characters that I created when I was a kid alongside my all time favorite wrestler Jimmy Valiant and the wonderfully creative and larger than life students at Boogie’s Wrestling Camp. Life is good.
Finally, turnabout is fair play– is there any nagging question you have about my comics?
As far as a question for you Dale, you have done so many great comics both print and online, but are there any non-comic forms of artistic expression that you enjoy?
Writing and drawing comics is such a satisfying art form that I rarely find the need to work in another medium. When I do, though, it’s still primarily 2-D visual art. For instance, I did a satisfying run of abstract drawings to help kick me out of my cartoonist’s block a number of years ago. I’ve also adapted the method I use for stenciling my Watusi digest covers into a couple of stenciled paintings that managed to retain some of the freshness of my cartooning style, and I was rather pleased with them. I’d like to do more “fine” art, but am really just happier devoting my creative energy and limited time to comics.
Thanks for your time and thoughtful answers to my questions, Brien. We’ll have to do this again in another eight years!
Thanks again for the fun interview, Dale! And thanks to everyone who reads it! Take care.