America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, but the new comic Briggs Land by writer Brian Wood (DMZ, Northlanders) explores the seedy underbelly of those ideals and what happens when they get warped and twisted into something nearly unrecognizable. Briggs Land is a sordid, violent, roiling story of the titular Briggs Land, a hundred square miles of rural wilderness in Upstate New York where the Briggs family runs a highly secretive antigovernment secessionist movement in the United States’ backyard. When the family’s matriarch, Grace Briggs, makes a power play and seizes control of the business from her imprisoned husband, it ignites a powderkeg within the community–and her own family–that threatens to blow up everything they’ve built…as well as bring the federal government down on them.
The first issue of Briggs Land, published by Dark Horse Comics, illustrated by Mack Chater, with colors by Lee Loughridge and a cover by Tula Lotay, was released on Wednesday, August 17 and feels uncomfortably relevant given the current sociopolitical climate in the United States. And with a television adaptation for AMC already in the works, you can bet that you’re going to be talking about Briggs Land for quite some time. To take you inside the seedy American crime story, I caught up with Wood about the real-world inspirations for the book, what we can expect, and what to listen to while you read the first issue.
Image: Tula Lotay/Dark Horse Comics
Nerdist: Briggs Land seems to be a deeply American crime saga. Where did the impetus for this story come from? Is it based on any real-life figures?
Brian Wood: If I pulled from any one real life thing, it would be Ruby Ridge. There’s obviously other examples—Waco, Timothy McVeigh, the Bundy ranchers, maybe the Unabomber—but Ruby Ridge is just the perfect example, and a tragic story. It’s what got me reading, and researching, and turning the idea over and over in my head that would eventually become Briggs Land. And its obvious to anyone who watches the news that this sort of culture is pretty relevant to today, from the themes of the election to homegrown extremism and the lack of trust in the government coming out of rampant class division.
This is the sort of comics I love to make! And it’s right in line with past series I’ve written. You can draw a perfectly straight line connecting my earliest book, Channel Zero, along down to DMZ, The Massive, Rebels, and now Briggs Land.
N: Who are the Briggs and what kind of operation exactly are they running?
BW: So there is the actual Briggs family, the biological family consisting of several generations all living together on the same land that a particularly savvy ancestor purchased following the American Civil War. Located in the extreme wilds of Upstate New York, its a refuge from the outside world for all subsequent generations. At first it was just meant to be a chunk of nature that would stay untouched by population growth, the Industrial Revolution, and real estate development. As the decades wore on, it took on other roles and other meanings–sheltering Vietnam-era draft dodgers, for example–and as the 1980s arrived, it has devolved into an outpost for the growing religious extremist movement and the armed militias that inevitably follow. There’s also an unfortunate white supremacist movement mixed up in all of that.
Jim Briggs, the current patriarch of the family, really embraced the criminal side of that, and is responsible for the larger “Briggs family,” meaning the organized crime syndicate that operates off the land growing and cooking drugs, selling weapons, smuggling pharmaceuticals over the Canadian border, and all manner of mafioso crimes: extortion, money laundering, murder for profit, and so on. I often refer to Briggs Land, casually, as The Sopranos on a militia compound, and while that’s an incomplete description, it gives you an idea. Family drama is a big part of this series. The tagline is “An American Family Under Siege.”
N: Grace Briggs is a fierce matriarch and a shrewd operator who must navigate a roiling ocean of testosterone and violence. Tell us a bit about her and what we can expect from her in Briggs Land.
BW: So I mentioned Jim Briggs, the patriarch of the family. He’s actually in prison, and has been for quite some time, ever since he tried to assassinate the President. But like any true mafia boss, he’s been running the family from jail, with the help of sympathetic guards and the larger white power movement. But in recent years, his personal greed has been getting the better of his political convictions, and he’s in talks with the feds to sell Briggs Land, this vast and incredibly lucrative hunk of land in exchange for his freedom and a pile of cash. Never mind his family and the hundreds of like-minded people who have settled on the Land. He’s looking out for number one now.
Grace, his wife, has stood by his side for more than 35 years, but unlike Jim, she still believes in Briggs Land. Not the current corrupt Briggs Land, but the original ideal: a place where people can disconnect from the immoral world and live free and self-sufficient. So she’s taking over. She’s going to do what she can to block the sale and restore the Land. But there’s no precedent for this; she’s a wife, and she has three adult sons who could very easily make the case that they, as male heirs, should be the ones running things.
I love Grace. She’s a 50 year-old woman who at first seems a little bit of a throwback in her rubber farm boots and gingham dress, but she’s spent her entire adult life in this culture, and is as hard as steel as she is idealistic. She’s not to be underestimated.
N: It seems that Grace will not only have to contend with a civil war breaking out within her family, but a potential war with the federal government too. Which is more dangerous?
BW: Yeah, the ATF has sent a couple agents to the area to just keep eyeballs on Briggs Land while this sensitive deal is being worked out between Jim Briggs and the feds. All they have to do is sit and watch and make sure nothing crazy happens to disrupt things. Well, obviously it does, and they are the first ones to figure out that Grace is making a move. One of the agents, Daniel Zigler, also has ties to the Land that I’m pretty sure his bosses don’t know about.
N: In our current climate of deeply polarized politics, Briggs Land seems to tackle issues of gun control, race, and notions of freedom head-on. Is this intended to be a politically charged piece? What sort of discourse are you hoping to create with Briggs Land?
BW: It’s all in there: guns, extremism, terrorism, politics, taxes, religion, racism, and whatever else you can think of. Gender politics, prison themes, environmental issues, conspiracy theories… and one of the sons is recently back from Afghanistan with PTSD. It’s this capsule of all the hot button American topics playing out in a world that is entirely plausible, as we can see just by watching the news.
But like I said, this is also a family drama, so it’s not just politics. Its all centered around Grace as she struggles to hold the dream together while everyone around her seems to be working to tear it all down.
N: You are simultaneously developing this for a television adaptation with AMC. What about this story makes it ideal for television? What is the challenge in adapting this for TV? Do you approach writing the comic differently knowing that it is headed to the small screen?
BW: I think I’m in a unique situation here, simultaneously writing the source material and the adaptation. Usually, as we all know, there’s a comic or a book first and then a show or movie is created based off an existing body of work. AMC hired me to write a pilot based off the pitch, even before I had pitched it to Dark Horse Comics. So I have two versions of Briggs Land in my head right now, and it can get pretty tricky to keep it all straight.
BUT! It gives me a cool opportunity to look for ways each version can help support the other, with the two combining to create something that is more than the sum of its parts. That’s the idea anyway, but so far its working out great. The fact AMC was eager to make a deal right away speaks to the relevance of the material, and the strength of the story to last. I see Briggs Land as a series lasting years and years. I have the notes for it.
N: What music would you recommend as an accompaniment for reading Briggs Land?
BW: It took me some time to answer this, since I don’t really listen to music when I write, and there’s no obvious connection from the world of Briggs Land to a specific musical genre. This is such a niché culture and nothing seemed to fit. But a few hours ago I was designing a Briggs Land promo image and one of the characters needed an image dropped onto his t-shirt, and for some reason I started digging up logos for old New York hardcore bands like Judge, Sick Of It All, Breakdown, and Warzone–bands I used to like. So that’s what I’m going with, with Sick Of It All’s “America” as the theme song. Let’s see if I can sell AMC on that idea.
Briggs Land #1 is available now.
Image: Dark Horse Comics
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