Brett A. Brooks has long been involved in both the comic and gaming world. He has written comics for both Dark Horse and Tekno Comics, as well as working on White Wolf’s World of Darkness RPG. For twenty years, he was a staff writer for Comic Shop News and the managing editor of Game Shop News. In the early 2000s, he published the cult-favorite RPG Xcrawl and later the kid-friendly RPG, Meddling Kids.
From a novel writing point of view, he is the author of the Pussy Katnip series, including Red is the Darkest Color and The Devil Was Green. He also wrote the critically acclaimed horror-comedy novel Edible Complex, as well as the fantasy series, The Champions of Elan.
Hey, Brett. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I am examining your credentials in awe, thinking my nerd badge might pale in comparison. So, instead of choosing whether to start with comics, gaming, or writing, why don’t you tell us about the journey that led to the three?
Oi. That’s a long journey. It really starts with me working at a comic shop. It was kind of a dream job while in college, and it led to me meeting a lot of good folks who’ve helped me tremendously throughout my career. I met, and became incredibly good friends with, Cliff Biggers, who is one of the publishers of Comic Shop News. I was hired on to be a staff writer, and my long-time fondness for gaming led to me becoming the managing editor at Game Shop News. This led to me knowing a lot of people in the gaming industry. Add on top of that my friendship with Dave Johnson, whom I’ve known since high school, and it all snowballs. I eventually ended up working with both Cliff and Dave (sometimes together!) on various comic projects for Dark Horse and Tekno Comics, and then I wrote some stuff for White Wolf Games, and eventually started up my own publishing company, Pandahead Publishing, where we put out the cult-favorite RPG Xcrawl and Meddling Kids. And there’s a ton of stuff not included in that brief review.
You have clearly seen the gamut in your career. What is the most underrated story in gaming or comics? On the other hand, what deserves the praise it has received?
You didn’t say my work, so this gives me some latitude. I’ve always felt that Matt Wagner’s Grendel deserves more praise than it gets, and in particular, the Devil’s Legacy series that he did with the Pander Bros. There is a wonderful sense of a life moving out of control in that story that was beautifully handled. I consider it, and the main character of Christine Spar, to be major influences on my work.
As to what deserves the praise it gets, I’d have to say Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. While I’m not a huge fan of the way the series ends, the overall journey and handling of the book is still exceptional. A pinnacle that deserves every bit of praise, in my opinion.
That’s just scratching the surface. There so many other stories and series that have been overlooked or deserve their spotlight. And I haven’t even brought up gaming. That’s a whole different can of worms.
Let’s jump into your fiction. I am currently about halfway through Red is the Darkest Color, your crime-noir superhero tale, and while I typically do not read about anthropomorphs, this book fits so well among pulp fiction that I am having a hard time putting it down. I know you have been open about throwing conventions of a genre on its head. How did your experiences in comics and games play into telling this story?
Why don’t you ask tough questions? [laugh] That’s quite a bit to tell, too. Probably too much, actually. I suppose the quickest answer is I started reading and collecting comics at the age of seven. After about a decade of that, I started going back into the history of comics and what made them a genre I loved. Which, of course, led to the Golden Age material—comics published prior to the mid-1950s—and the whole pulp genre. Pulp was a big influence on me. The short, action-oriented stories just worked for me. On top of that, though, I was also finding a love for classic literature. My degree is in English, with a specialization in literature. So I find that I have a weird mash-up of pulp storytelling with classic literature characterization. It works for me!
And I don’t want to neglect gaming here. I discovered D&D in 1981, and haven’t looked back. I think there is an absolute strength in learning to create interactive stories with people. You get to see and experience so many different ways to portray a character. I soaked it all in. A lot of my characters have a base in games that I’ve played.
Now, correct me if I am wrong, but the Pussy Katnip series surprisingly led to your adoption into the Furry Community. How did that transpire exactly, and how has it impacted your career?
You’re half right. I was most definitely adopted by the Furry Community, but it wasn’t because of Pussy Katnip. My first novel, Harmonia, features four anthropomorphic characters. That was the book that drew the Furry crowd initially. Pussy Katnip just sort of solidified it.
When I wrote Harmonia, I wasn’t thinking “Furry” at all. I was actually combining some of the character types that I grew to love while playing the World of Darkness games from White Wolf with a science-fantasy setting. (Yes, I said science-fantasy. I’ve still got a lot to reveal about the setting.) I think it was because I included adult material that it got the “Furry” tag. There is a horrible misconception that everything in the Furry Community is about sex. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Like many fandoms, it is very misunderstood. Stories get spread around and everyone just believes them. When I started getting more and more Furry fans, I began to learn about it. They are amazing people. Some of the kindest, warmest fans I’ve ever seen.
The same is true of Pussy Katnip. I discovered her through an article talking about some of the strangest comics of all time. She was the only character on the list I had never heard of, which led me to doing some research. The original Pussy Katnip stories are very odd, but there was something about them that just called to me. So, when I discovered that she was in public domain, I started writing about her and haven’t stopped yet. I didn’t write a “Furry” book. I wrote a comic character that appealed to me who just happens to be an anthro cat woman.
I would say that the single biggest impact the fandom has had, is my wife discovered she is very much a Furry. Always has been, but she never had a name to put to it. Now she’s very much into it, and loving every bit of it. And we’ve met some great folks along the way. If you are reading this and have a preconceived notion of what anyone in the Furry Community is like, I encourage you to put aside that notion and actually check into it yourself. I think you’ll be surprised. Lots of bad press and false stories out there.
Alright. We cannot ignore your horror-comedy, Edible Complex. Not only does the cover by award-winning artist, Dave Johnson, scream, “Read me!”, but the blurb is hilarious. In a world with The Walking Dead making millions, what provoked you to write something with zombies so far removed from the norm?
Ha! Okay, short version: I was exercising with my best friend, Bobby Politte, and somehow zombies came up. He has never liked zombies. Not at all. And the reality of how they would work came up. They are a short-lived species in reality. If they are such incessantly hungry creatures that feed only on human brains, their food supply would run out quickly. He challenged me to write a story about zombies that didn’t involve them eating brains, and that’s where Edible Complex originated. It evolved into a social satire and the book that’s out there.
With so much already accomplished, what can we expect from you in the near future?
The biggest thing coming from me is, surprise!, more diversity. I’ve got a Pussy Katnip short story collection (featuring work by me and others), the next book in the Elan series, some new gaming products (that I can’t talk about yet), and even a licensed novel (that, again, I can’t talk about yet). So it’s a busy time to be me. Which is a good thing.
If we have any readers who are pursuing a career in comics, gaming, or writing, what advice would you give them?
Start early. The biggest mistake I made in life was thinking I wasn’t ready. Or that somehow someone would come to me looking for a writer. I have no idea what I was thinking. If you are going to be a writer, or any sort of creative, you start working right now! I don’t care what age you are. Right now is the time to get started. If you put in the time—and that means a LOT of time working on the craft—than you have a chance at success. Stop doubting yourself and get to work. Also, develop a thick skin, because people are going to tell you that your are a talentless hack. It happens to everyone. Don’t let that stop you. Don’t let anything stop you.
Thank you for chatting, Brett! Please tell us where fans can find you this year for book signings and other events.
I’m pretty much done for 2017. My first show in 2018 will be February at ChattaCon in Chattanooga, TN, and then I’ll be at Furry Weekend Atlanta in April. And there will be a LOT more shows, as well. The easiest way to keep track of them is through the Pandahead website. www.publishing.pandahead.com
And thank you for giving me a chance to talk about myself! I’m such a quiet and demure flower that I relish these opportunities to finally say something.
Check out Brett’s latest release, A Hand of Gold and Other Stories.