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Brandon Thomas Blazes a New Path

Brandon Thomas created his heroine Miranda Mercury to make the kind of comic book he’d like to see in the marketplace. While publishers initially shied away from the concept for a number of reasons, The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury eventually found a home with Archaia Entertainment and has been garnering attention and praise in the graphic novel world. It appears on this year's YALSA list of selections of Great Graphic Novels for Teens and has been nominated for four Glyph Awards. Thomas spoke to GraphicNovelReporter about how he created Miranda, his decades-long love of comics, and how he’s been both writing about comics and for comics the last several years.  

How did you create Miranda Mercury?
I think it was about 2005. I was just coming off a very brief stint doing some work for Marvel Comics, and it didn’t quite go or end the way I imagined that it would. I was feeling very stifled in general as a writer. I had devoted a lot of time and effort to breaking into comics as a writer at the larger comics companies, which is really not a very efficient way to do it. Taking a step back from it all, I had placed a lot of faith in something and I felt I didn’t have enough to show for it in the end. I wanted to devote more of my time and effort to creating something that was my own.
I’ve always been a huge sci-fi fan; Star Wars on VHS was my formative moment as a writer when I was a kid. That was the first thing I saw that made me question, “What if this happened after that?” I’ve had a soft spot for sci-fi in general. Being one of the few black writers in comics is something I also try to keep in mind with some of my work. So it was like my obsession with Star Warscolliding with a personal mandate to spend more time developing my own projects. I wanted to create a character I thought comics was missing at the time. I think Miranda Mercury came out of that.
I hooked up with artist Lee Ferguson; Marvel paired us together on a project that didn’t work out, but we stayed very close friends. I think I typed up a page-and-a-half synopsis, just a really rough pitch of Miranda Mercury, and I sent it to Lee. He was very excited about it and so we decided we should combine our efforts and see if we could do this together. That led to a long train of events that led to the graphic novel actually coming out last summer.
Do you like the attention given to the fact it’s a female African American lead, or do you think people should just read it for the story and never mind that? 
I would like no one to care, but I also acknowledge the fact that’s also a reason why some people will care. It’s one of those things that’s unavoidable, especially because it’s like, “Oh, Brandon’s black, so of course he created a black character.” I think if that’s what gets people to take a closer look at the book, I’m completely fine with that. I do know the fact she’s a black sci-fi heroine is the kind of hook that will make people’s ears perk up. But I hope once people spend a little more time with the book, they’ll know that’s not the primary focus. It’s a part of the book, but I don’t think that’s the most notable thing about Miranda Mercury, even though that might appear to be the case from the distance.
Do you think it will also be helpful for getting more female characters in comics?
I hope so. I really hope so. I think it’s something comics does not excel at; diversity in all its forms is hard to come by. I think the industry needs more female characters in prominent, lead roles, needs more female creators in prominent, lead positions. The comic industry right now, especially the bigger companies, seems especially hostile to anything new. I don’t think it’s a problem that’s exclusively about minority creators or female characters; I think as an industry, it’s one of those things that no one has been able to quite crack yet. I think it’s important we keep trying, even though it’s difficult and we might not know the perfect way. I didn’t want to be the comic fan that sits around and complains that people aren’t making the kind of comics I want to see. I thought I had the tools and the responsibility to create a character like Miranda Mercury if I wanted to see her in the marketplace.
Did publishers shy away from Miranda Mercury?
[Laughs] Yes! Let’s just say everything about this book and getting it placed at a publisher was also an adventure. Back when we were pitching the book in ’05, ’06, we were very new and very untested. On that level, a lot of publishers were wary to take a chance on it. And on top of all that, it’s a black character, it’s a female character, I wanted to start the first issue with issue 295. Being told “No” and having the door slam on our foot on a couple different occasions, it only made us stronger and made the project stronger. By the time Archaia picked it up, the concept was a lot more fully formed. Every time we pitched it somewhere and we’d get a “No,” we’d tear the pitch up and try again. You just don’t give up.
I think the incubation period gave us time to have a stronger project in the end. We did get some interesting commentary when we were pitching the book, some of it understandable, some of it very-not-so. I have this idea that maybe someday I’ll post some of my rejection letters and take names off so people won’t know who said what.
When did you start reading comics?
In April or May of 1992, my father took me to my very first comic shop. He was a huge comic fan as a kid. At the time I was obsessed with sci-fi and I read everything I could get my hands on. I was the kid at the library who carried the basket of books home every single time. He took me to the comic shop and I was pretty much gone after that. I’ve been making weekly trips pretty much from ’92 till now. It didn’t occur to me until six or seven years later I could create comics myself.
I started doing reviews for a couple of comics news sites and I used that to build up enough credit to then get my own weekly column. I started the column in, I think, 2001 and proclaimed, “I want to write comics professionally and I’m going to use this column to help me do this.” Me being young and not knowing anything, I was convinced it would take me six months. Someone would snatch me up and I’d be off and running and the column could be about this new fancy career I have writing comics. I’ve definitely made great strides, but I’m still not where I want to be 10 years later.
How did you start writing comics?
I started writing the column and I drummed up some contacts, most notably Mark Millar, who’s written some of the biggest books of the last decade. He was reading the column and he endorsed me in those early days. If he heard Marvel had projects going on where they were looking specifically for untested writers, he’d say, “You should talk to Brandon.” First thing I had published was in 2003 and it was to script over a Youngblood miniseries that Image founder Rob Liefeld was having put out. From there I got a couple miniseries from Marvel, so I’ve kind of been starting and stopping over the last six or seven years. Now I’m trying to create a regular presence; the last six to nine months I’ve been in a position to create some real momentum and I'm very excited about it.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m writing two Voltron series for Dynamite Entertainment, my first ongoing monthly comics. I’ve gotten some pretty good responses so far, especially from the hardcore Voltron fans, which I knew was going to take some doing, because I made some creative changes that I thought were going to get me in trouble.
I’m absolutely plugging away on scripts for volume two of Miranda because Lee and I want to get that started ASAP. I’m sending out sample packages and talking to people, trying to get more work, and more opportunities to continue to get better. I feel like every time I turn in a new script, I learn something. The secondVoltron series, Voltron: Year One, actually launches the first Wednesday in April and I’m very interested to see how people like Year One compared to the main title. I think Year One launches out to a much more confident start than the other book did. I’m also working on another unannounced project for Dynamite that should hopefully ship this year.
Do we know when we can expect to see more Miranda?
We were initially shooting for the end of this year, but I don’t know if that’s realistic, so we’re shooting for early next year. It definitely is not going to take another five or six years. We keep joking about that amongst ourselves, but we learned so much from the experience of doing the first volume, and I think that will manifest in a far more streamlined and consistent bunch of stories in volume two. But I know the beginning and end points of the next five or six volumes, so never fear, there's much more Miranda Mercury in everyone's future. Next volume will be titled At What Cost and we're looking to creatively abuse the work we delivered in the first book, and show everyone just how good this book and this character can be.