With the final Brokenland Kickstarter in full swing, what better time to sit down with artist Drew Morrison?
For those new to his work, Morrison is the self-published creator of the wordless comic series, Brokenland. Readers follow Meeso, a curious creature wandering throughout their polluted world, on a journey of self-exploration and wonder. Along the way, they navigate through thrilling adventures, each pushing them closer to discovering their untapped potential. This exciting tale will leave you mesmerized by its gorgeous illustrations and thought-provoking storytelling.
Now that I’ve been covering the Brokenland releases for a few years now, it is a bit bittersweet knowing this is the last chapter in Volume One. That being said, as an OG reader, I couldn’t be more satisfied with the ending. Once again, Morrison has knocked it way out of the park, and I can’t recommend it enough. If this is the first you’re hearing of it, then now is the time to binge the series in its entirety!
As a full-time artist and long-time fan of Morrison’s work, this interview was such a blast. His work has served as a large point of inspiration for me over the years, and it was a bit surreal being able to work with him.
Want to see more of Drew’s work, keep up with him on his socials below!
That’s enough build-up for now…let’s jump into the interview!
What was your biggest inspiration while making Brokenland?
If I’m being completely transparent, trash and garbage are at the center of this story and my goal was to personify it as a main character. After moving to NYC in my late teens, I became overly aware of the massive garbage we create when gathered closely together. Brokenland became an outlet for my frustration with not being able to confront this problem beyond my own personal habits. But it’s not all bad, I have positive inspirations like my family and the rich history of comics work that has come before my own.
How did you decide to make the series?
For years I was selling my illustrated art prints, many of which had the Meeso character, at art fairs and street festivals. In the summertime, I actually made a living this way. Fans of the work started telling me I should make comics and that definitely planted the seed for this book. The format and structure of the story (silent and 9-panel grid) came from influences in some of my favorite comics.
What comics served as your largest point of inspiration?
Some of my favorite silent (or near silent) comics are by Norwegian cartoonist Jason. I remember reading some of his books like ‘Hey, Wait’ for the first time and getting gut-punched by these seemingly cartoony stories. There’s a level of depth in them that sneaks up on you, but it’s all balanced with humor. I started to realize the kind of subject matter you can layer into a picture story if you approach it with care. Swiss comics illustrator Thomas Ott’s ‘Dead End’ series of black and white thriller comics also left an indelible mark on me. Jim Woodring’s FRANK holds a special place in my heart. I basically like stories with sparse dialogue, layers of context and simple characters offering emotional connection. I also adore the Frank Miller / Geof Darrow team up projects Hard Boiled and Big Guy, but they serve more as artistic inspiration. Watchmen taught me the power of nine panel layouts, which served as a great limitation to work within Brokenland.
When creating the story for Meeso, did you always imagine it being a 4 comic series?
When I started making the first issue, I did not have a length in mind. I knew I wanted to create it as a series because originally I attempted it as a single shot graphic novel, and failed due to lack of story-telling experience. Breaking it into issues allowed me to create defined themes for each issue and reign in my ideas. I ended up writing it one issue at a time and luckily this organic approach worked out with a beginning, middle and end that make sense (to me).
Do you have any advice for those just starting in the comic/illustrative field?
If you’re trying to create your own original story and brand, giving yourself some rules and limitations can help guide your decision making and allow progress to happen. Creating comics that are visually involved and form a linear story requires lots of creative stamina. Without any rules for page layout and plot structure, the options can burn you out. Reading Scott McCloud’s books on comics is a good idea for anyone trying to make them, or art in general.
How did you discover Scott McCloud’s writing? Is there any particular advice you’ve taken from his writing that you’ve applied to your work?
I came across ‘Understanding Comics’ in the robust comics/graphic novels section of Pratt’s library. It was like finding the Bible. Without reopening the book the point I remember most was about paying equal attention to what’s happening in between the panels as to the ones you’re drawing. That when it comes to pacing and choosing what to include visually, consider what your reader is interjecting with their mind’s eye. Powerful stuff.
What would you say to those who want to create a wordless comic like Brokenland?
Going the silent route had an odd effect on the creative process, in that it both simplifies and complicates how you convey information. On the one hand, not dealing with dialogue freed my mind up to completely focus on the imagery. But without text, you have to build all of the necessary emotion and story into the pages. There is no exposition to fill the reader in on details. It’s like the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule in full force. Working wordless came naturally to me, possibly because some of my favorite creators work in the same way. In the end, each page really really matters to the story from the reader’s perspective.
Which scene from the series was the most challenging to convey without any dialogue?
I can’t tell you because it’s a spoiler from Issue #4! But there’s a scene in Issue #3 where we first see Meeso’s apartment and I’m trying to cover a lot of ground in that scene. That Meeso has a hoarding problem, that they understand the true power of the chalk and Old Man Moth’s ritual. In the end I think the scene will be very interpretive to readers and I’m okay with that.
Could you walk us through your artistic process?
Like most artists I carry a sketchbook with me everywhere I go and fill them up with good and bad ideas and drawings. I do a lot of straight ink to paper drawing in sketchbooks because for me they’re more a tool for recording ideas. As I approached the Brokenland series I combed through these for ideas to include in the book. As mentioned before I also made a collection of illustrated art prints prior to the comics, which ended up being used as concept art for Brokenland. For final artwork I work like many others in comics: Blue Pencil, Ink, Scan, Digital Color.
What program do you use for the digital color?
Adobe Photoshop is my weapon of choice for color. With each issue I learned new tricks and added a bunch of color holds to the new issue. Great tool for creating depth. For the fourth issue I also hired a flatter to help start the color process and it was immensely helpful. By the time I finished inking the 52 pages Kris had already flatted the majority of them. It was a taste of what it would be like working with a team and I liked it. Highly recommend Kris Pagaduan for anyone needing flats! (email@example.com)
What is your creative process for designing characters?
This also goes back to the trusted sketchbook, which also serves as a landfill of character ideas. I try to start with simple shapes and not a lot of adornment or textures, to get a general feel for the character’s sense of weight and movement. Creating characters for comics is probably a lot like animation design – in that if they’re going to feel alive the artist should know how much they weigh, what their skeleton looks like (if any) and what their range of movement is. Meeso is boneless and stretchy (like a tofu cube or mochi dessert) and you’ll see that put to use throughout the story. I also try to draw a character’s face in a full range of emotions before doing it on the page.
Did any one character come more naturally to you than others?
Meeso kind of slid from my subconscious into a sketchbook one day during senior year and Pratt. I used them in a few illustration assignments and the simplicity of the character lent itself to any situation. Chris Ware once said something along the lines that every cartoonist starts off fixated on some type of lumpy character (I’m paraphrasing) and I guess Meeso is mine!
Looking at the series as a whole, what has been like seeing characters like Meeso grow?
Creating and watching Meeso’s journey honestly felt a little like watching a child grow and learn about their place in the world (I have 2 children, ages 5 and 1). Meeso was originally inspired by an adolescent version of myself, so I took certain rights of passage and traumatic events from my coming into adulthood as inspiration.
What has been the most rewarding part of working on this comic?
Being able to unload all of the ideas and thoughts that inspired this story has been very cathartic for me. I’ve been able to put some demons to rest and romp around artistically like never before. Writing and creating art for a story of this length is so different from executing work for a gallery or finishing a commercial illustration project. It feels like a milestone in my life. Beyond that, the social connections I’ve made at conventions and with other comics creators has given me a really valuable network, one that I actually feel like I belong in!
Which comics were the most time-consuming out of Volume One?
The first issue took the longest to create, due to my inexperience combined with some major life changes that happened in the process. I drafted issue one in thumbnail form but couldn’t start the final art because of home repairs that needed to happen. Then as soon as I started pencils, we decided to move not only to a new house, but a new state (CT)! All with a 3 year old in tow. After getting our next fixer-upper to a livable state, I set up a card table in the dining area and finally got back to work. I must have spent a good 3 years on and off on issue one.
When taking on such a large project, how did you keep yourself motivated to continue?
I actually just wrote an article about this for Comic Book Yeti which is live now! Basically it was taking Brokenland on as a long form graphic novel initially that almost made it fail. I bit off way too much initially and didn’t have the experience to pull it off. So by breaking it into issues and realistic chunks of work, I kept myself on track. I’m a numbers geek so eventually I broke my goals down into weekly portions, and seeing those laid out is a great motivator.
Do you have a favorite out of the series?
I can’t say I have a favorite because each issue feels unique to me and they are hard to compare. As far as artwork and pacing goes, issue four is a standout. I feel like it’s my best drawing work in the series and contains the most believable action.
What has been your favorite experience to come out of Brokenland?
Connecting with readers who truly love the series has encouraged me as an artist and a person. I think when you know people are waiting for more comics and trust you to deliver, a sense of duty sets in. I feel like the Brokenland series is leaving a lasting impression on readers, the same way some comics have really stuck with me. That’s very special and creatively validating!
What should readers expect going into the final installment?
Readers can expect a lot of good payoff from setups in previous issues. Character arcs will escalate, as will the thematic points I’ve explored throughout the series. They can also expect lots of action!
Was it difficult to conclude Meeso’s story?
It was difficult writing a rewarding conclusion to Volume 1, while leaving a gateway for potential future books. I didn’t want to end on an irritating cliffhanger and I believe that was avoided. If there was one element of the story I defined for myself early on, it was Meeso’s character arc. Without that I don’t think the story would be able to walk the line between cohesive linear narrative and unexpected metaphor.
Why should readers choose Brokenland?
I’ve heard from many readers that Brokenland is just plain different. If you’re looking for something that takes you to a different place you haven’t already visited, I believe this series delivers. If you like thinking about topical matters but without all the politics and hate in the foreground, that also makes Brokenland a good choice. Not to mention lots of laughs and gross out humor. One reader described the series as a 70’s underground comic with the DNA of a 90’s era cartoon.
What do you hope readers will take away from this final installment?
I think I have my intended messages throughout the story and they will compete with the reader’s interpretation of what’s happening. I made the final issue double in length because I didn’t want to break momentum, which I find to be one of the most enjoyable parts of reading a great comic. The inability to put it down until it’s done. I hope readers pick up issue 4 and don’t put it down until they finish!
What did you, as the creator, take away from the story in the end? How does this compare to where you were when you started?
Writing and drawing Brokenland was a really chaotic process for me, because I did it one issue at a time. I did very little actual writing and figured out most of the story in my head and through thumbnailing. My main take away is that with better planning, a narrative project can get finished much faster and with less stress. I’m not saying I would change anything because apparently my process generated something people can enjoy. But for my own sanity, I’d take a more formal approach to figuring out stories and planning their execution in the future. I love listening to screen-writers on the YouTube channel Film Courage and learning about the mechanics of storytelling.
Has Brokenland opened up any new doors or opportunities for you as an artist?
It has attracted some offers to do sequential narrative work for hire, which is the direction I’d like to move in. I think once you make a fat stack of cohesive pages, your options as a writer and illustrator get much broader.
What was it like having your own art space in Fairfield?
Having the space was an interesting experiment and overall, worthwhile. The traffic to the space was slower than I had wished, but then again I didn’t do all that much to promote it. I sold a number of framed prints, some small originals and some comics. What makes it worthwhile is the people who came during the pop up and made a strong connection with the work. Sometimes you can just tell when someone is going to follow your creative work into the future. I also inked many of the Brokenland 4 pages while at the shop, it was a nice space to be productive in.
Would you do it again?
No, I don’t think I would. I got it out of my system and I prefer the more transient events like conventions and festivals.
What has been your favorite experience at a convention as a creator or attendee?
I definitely enjoy digging through bins of old toys and long boxes. There’s such an immense culmination of art, products and books at these shows, it’s overwhelming. As a creator who is young in their comics career, I geek out setting up at shows alongside some true greats. Comics is really the only art medium that has offered me a true sense of community, where the elders embrace new talent and want to help them get established. As opposed to seeing young creators as some kind of threat to their livelihood, which is childish. My peers in the self published arena want to cross-promote and build each other up. It’s very refreshing coming off commercial illustration/gallery world grind…
Now that you’ve wrapped up the first volume, what’s next?
After the upcoming Kickstarter in October, I want to begin sending Volume 1 to publishers to see if I can get proper distribution for the series. I don’t have plans to go forward with more self-published Brokenland issues at this point. The next comics project I have my mind on is an anthology of short horror stories, co-written with a friend and illustrated by me. I need an outlet for some of the darker things brewing inside over the past crazy couple of years.
As a horror fan myself, can you tell us anything more about your upcoming anthology?
Sure, so I’ve gathered a small pile of ideas that link to events in my life that I want to expand into short comics stories. More supernatural horror to be specific. I’m a huge fan of The X-Files and there is a deep paranormal element in one of the tales, connecting to my youth. I’ll be co-writing the scripts and handling the illustrations. Ideally I will get a colorist on board as well. Deep down I am inspired by some of the favorite books of my youth, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories.
If you could pick any high-profile title or character to work on, what/who would it be?
Wow, great question! I’d probably want to work on something in BATMAN’s universe, but perhaps not a typical story about Bruce hunting down a criminal. I like it when a villain’s internal conflicts are explored to better explain their external actions. I think a BATMAN story through a secondary character’s eyes would be awesome to work on.
Have you always had an interest in comics? What is your favorite series?
I was really into TMNT & Marvel comics as a youth. Venom was my favorite character through grade school and in general I was drawn towards anti-heroes! Towards the end of high school I found Robert Crumb, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware and other notable Fantagraphics creators. These were some of the most beautiful, well designed books I’d ever held! After reading loads of sad, slice of life stuff, I was drawn towards artists like Jim Woodring and Charles Burns, who weave emotional narratives through otherworldly imagery and characters. That takes some of the sting out. Nowadays I’m reading stuff from all the different genres, though I’ve never touched Manga. My favorite series? I’ll give you something recent – Daniel Warren Johnson’s runs on Wonder Woman and Beta Ray Bill were both fantastic. His panels just sing. Geof Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy is also very special.
Do you still have an interest in anti-heros? What’s your take on the most recent movie franchise adaptation of Venom?
I do and I think they offer the viewer or reader a very complex set of feelings to experience. I think Todd Phillips’ JOKER was perhaps the peak of anti-hero mastery. You really are rooting for Fleck despite his deranged goals and actions. Well crafted anti-heroes force us to ruminate over our darkest thoughts. I was very underwhelmed by the first Venom. Like many others who grew up with the character as a key figure in Spiderman’s world, I think it felt flat having a story focused completely on the symbiotes (sym-BEE-otes). Hardy is no doubt a great actor but his characterization of Eddie Brock was not broken enough for me. The cornball dialogue between Hardy and Venom’s floating head was a visual disaster in my eyes. Woody Harrelson seems like the perfect cast for Cletus Kasady so I’m optimistic that the second film will deliver more. When I was in grade school I obsessively tracked down all 14 issues of the ‘Maximum Carnage’ series which spanned across all of the various Spiderman titles. It has a ridiculously large cast and some great fights throughout. I found them all in comic shops and was very proud.
What’s your purely mindless entertainment, guilty pleasure go-to?