Ben Humeniuk Interview: Bro-D BTS

Diving into the world of Bro-D!

Bro-D Can’t Be Broken begins in the thick of a battle between humanity clawing its way back from the ashes of the 21st century and the godlike beings fighting to send them back to the stone ages. 

It’s richly-characterized and action-packed stuff, and at the end of it, you’ll find yourself both satisfied with the story and wanting more of its world — at least, I sure as hell did. Luckily for me, an opportunity to interview the multitalented writer/artist/letterer/etc of the book dropped right into my lap. So whether you’ve read the book or not, I think you’ll get a thing or two out of this interview with creator Ben Humeniuk.

Rook: Getting the important questions out of the way first, what’s your favorite sandwich? And, even more importantly, what is Brody’s favorite sandwich?

Ben: Rook, I love this. There is a very specific burger truck in my town called Witches on Wheels. They have a patty that is a combination of prime rib and two other kinds of cow beef, and some kind of alchemy happens when they pile it with melty cheese between two buttery, toasted buns. The sandwich will disintegrate on you because of all the grease, and I can only eat it like twice a year because my body is too old to metabolize it more frequently…but my GAWD.

Brody is more healthy and more disciplined than me, but he is a protein-eating machine. I think if he gets a sammich-type thing, it’s either a gyro with extra tzatziki, or he goes for a wrap. He’d honestly prefer cooking that’s more tied to his childhood, but life working with the People’s Preservation Project had made him do with whatever the commissary has on hand!

Bro-D Can't Be Broken

Rook: From the very first panel, we get the sense of a world that has undergone massive devastation but has survived it.

Why did you choose that setting, skipping over the recovery and getting right to a world on the verge of a golden era, fighting the specters of its past?  What made this interesting to you in particular?

Ben: Okay, so I grew up on Star Trek, Sesame Street, and TGIF sitcoms, and each of these depicted diverse people coming together in good faith to learn and grow. I love that aspirational picture, and— as a religious person— it’s also something I’ve experienced in real ways among the people with whom I worship. 

I think I also wanted to tell myself a story where we can’t avoid a tumultuous future with the planet’s climate… but hopefully, it doesn’t have to be an apocalypse either. People have it in them to be altruistic, and pulling together to address a challenge that affects everyone on the globe could prove to be unifying. Maybe. 

But the last part of the puzzle was Hideki Anno. Watching through his Evangelion work, I was struck by his challenging vision of a future where humans repeatedly deal with apocalypses and forces bigger than they can control, as well as their own befalling insecurities. He gives us multiple endings where one person’s fear of connection either leads to resignation, isolation, or growth— and I wanted to tell a story that mashed up my idealism with those macro and micro stakes.

Rook: Deywos! It’s a hell of a name, and according to my google search, it’s Proto-Indo-European for something along the lines of “sky god.” What were you trying to invoke by naming these gods after one of the oldest root words for divinity?

Ben: Yep yep! I wanted to make it clear that these entities have been with humanity from the beginning— that they were recorded in our oldest literature— and that they aren’t to be taken lightly. In some ways, if you’ve read ancient stories about demons, demigods, or angels, I wanted you to be able to see them as potential adversaries in Brody’s world. In this instance, the gods have kept us down before, and if we act up again, they’ll repeat the pattern. The question is if we can fight them off, if we get subjugated again— or if there’s a third way out of the conflict that we haven’t grasped yet.

Rook: The cover suggests a bright, almost Cartoon Network-approved aesthetic with sleekly-designed uniforms in vivid colors and a smiling hero ready to weather any storm, but the first God we see shows up with blood on his hands. Without ever getting gratuitous, this is a comic about violence, and it refuses to shy away from the physical consequences. When you were coming up with the concept for this book, how did that combination occur to you?

Ben: It took a while for things to gel, honestly. On the one hand, my stuff just tends to come off as visually bright. I’ve found that when I color my own work, it helps to steal from the Silver Age of comics and put your leads in vibrant colors— they’re easy to track on the page, and I’m a mark for using pure Cyan (like in Brody’s uniform) or Magenta (which is the uniform color for M-Ander, the other protagonist) when I design a story.

Tonally, I’ve wanted to tell a story about an invulnerable character who ISN’T an offensive powerhouse for a while, and I knew I wanted his struggle to be around having emotional openness— a contrasting kind of thing. I also wanted it to be hopeful— not Pollyanna-ish, but with a sense that fighting and sacrificing for a better tomorrow is worthwhile. 

But I started to realize that there had to be stakes. Like, if we’re doing a story in the Comics Code mode where no one is seriously hurt on-panel, then 64 pages of action get repetitive and boring. And, like you pointed out, I’m also not inclined toward a ton of gore. I think Daniel Warren Johnson’s work ended up being a guiding light for me. I mean, his action storytelling is aces, but thematically, he often has characters go through harrowing— sometimes even brutal— circumstances in pursuit of redemption and healing. You feel it in Extremity when physical violence unmakes the world; it’s in Murder Falcon as you realize that, underneath all the gnarly Kaiju battles, Jake’s cancer isn’t getting any better. There’s got to be the threat and promise of hurt. Otherwise, invulnerability is a lie, and the smiles are unearned.

Bro-D Can't Be Broken

Rook: I don’t want to spoil the climax in case anybody reading this interview hasn’t picked up the book, but the confrontation carrying themes of mercy versus the concept of divinity as abuse really hits home, especially nowadays. What prompted that line of thought for you?

Ben: I hope this is alright, but— it comes from a larger conversation in my religious community. I’ve come up in the Evangelical strain of Christianity, and it’s undergoing a time of reckoning. Part of that is for how we treat our neighbors who don’t have the same faith outlook; part of it is for how we treat each other internally when we disagree on orthodoxy. And there’s a lot around the way we mishandle abuse— not confronting sexual abuse when it occurs with our congregations or the way we keep platforming religious leaders who then use that power to tear down and shame perceived enemies. It’s all a far cry from the ancient call to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

The point M-Ander makes in the story is that the nature of divinity ISN’T abuse: Divinity, in fact, is sacrificial at its best, and those of us who practice religion as a means of controlling the world around us ABSOLUTELY miss the point. And that’s the big sin of our antagonist, the demigod Bregghammer, as well of that of the Deywos who send him. It’s also why M-Ander is, in fact, the other protagonist of the tale. Being careful to not spoil a ton, she understands what sacrifice really looks like…and Brody learns from her in the process. 

Bro-D Can’t Be Broken isn’t allegory or a tract— I want readers of any religion or none to enjoy this story— but considering how impactful people of faith can be for good or for ill, it’s on my heart to lament what happens when we become bullies in the name of a faith dictum, rather than honoring God through practicing a love that costs something.

Rook: This struck a really impressive balance between being a completely satisfying done-in-one story and cracking open a whole new world full of really interesting ideas. from the concept of the Nephilim to the Deywos cult, to the field that gives the Bros their powers, you’ve clearly put a lot of thought into this world and how it works. What are some of your favorite things that didn’t end up having room in this comic?

How long have you been toying with the ideas in this comic, and do you have any plans for the future of Bro-D?

Ben: I really appreciate you saying that, Rook! I initially had a flashback planned for when Brody first meets M-Ander, and you quickly see his desire to protect her, her ability to handle herself, and the first blush of his unspoken feelings toward her. That said, the flashback we DID include worked better for the purposes of the immediate story.

And that’s the process of iteration, right? Like, I’ve had loose notions for characters with these traits for a few years now— but it only snapped into a future recovery-topia with mean demigod baddies about a year and a half ago. And at this stage? If the audience loves this story, there’s a LOT more planned for them! You just have to let us know by picking up this book and showing my publisher that they’re going to make money if we keep going.

We’ve got an arc teed up about ending the conflict with the Deywos, and if y’all are on board for it, we’ve got a lot of wins and more than a few setbacks ready for you to experience. We’ve also introduced the other members of the BRO squadron for a reason, and each of them will have an arc to go through that leads to growth… or failure.

I promise not to use cliffhangers to get the audience to come back, and I guarantee that, like Bro-D Can’t Be Broken, any future stories would work as a satisfying read on their own. The plan is for people to keep reading because the stories are good enough to keep wanting! But if we earn the whole journey, you’ll see things in the final tale that will reframe how you experience this first book. And the themes we play with here will be enriched and explored in greater depth. 

Bro-D Can't Be Broken

Rook: Very few people write and draw a comic in the west, but you wrote, illustrated, lettered, and designed the whole damn thing. How’d that happen? Were you bitten by a radioactive multitasker?

Ben: Oh boy. All of my favorite comic creators have both written and drawn their work at some point, so I’m totally chasing my heroes. But when it comes to making it, my wife is the expert multitasker; I STRUGGLE. What we’ve figured out as a couple is that there’s got to be defined space to make the work— it can’t just sprawl out into time that’s rightly reserved for us, for our kids, for our family as a whole, or for our obligations to work and to the community. That must come first.

So I make comics at night once the kids are asleep, and while my wife grades, or during mornings and rest-time on the weekends as my family is sleeping or streaming stuff. I can get in between eight to fifteen hours of work a week in that way, and when the deadline gets near, my family and I talk carefully about how to release a little extra time for a short duration.

The work doesn’t love me back, but they do. And when they have priority, the time that’s left makes me free to do comics out of a fully-lived life. The result is always better.

Rook: Bregghammer’s dad: big jerk, or biggest jerk? Also, where were those dudes napping for the last few millennia? C’mon, at least give us a hint.

Ben: Oh, the Sky Father. He’d tell you that he’s the brightest of the morning stars, but if you’re familiar with John Milton’s work…you’ll have a good idea of who we’re dealing with here.

I’ll make a deal with readers on this: I know where the Dewyos are, what they want, and why they’ve been sending demigods to do the dirty work while they themselves stay behind the scenes. If the characters that make it through this book earn another story, we’ll start to pull back the curtain.

Suffice to say that humanity’s push toward progress is quite literally its own undoing, and the revival of the Deywos’ threat is the consequence of our collective actions. As the book says: progress without cost is a rare thing…

…But you also can’t stop humans from trying something NEW.

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