Talking to Professionals: Ed Brisson

Ed Brisson is one of the hottest up-and-coming writers in comics. His first mini series is called Comeback. It’s a time travel/crime story, and issue one comes out on Wednesday. Ed is also also a friend of mine, dating back to the mid-90’s when I ran a record store down the street from the video place he worked at. I also owe him $5, which he probably thinks I’ve forgotten about.

He was nice enough to answer a few questions about Comeback, and his career in general.

A story about time travel and crime not named Looper.

Q: How mad were you when you saw the first trailer for Looper?

Steaming mad. Running down the street screaming, flipping over cars, burning down small villages angry.

When the trailer for Looper came out in April, we were already well into production of Comeback. The first issue had already been drawn and Michael was onto the second issue. So, when I saw this trailer, I kinda threw my hands in the air and was like: YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! It was funny because it didn’t feel like the concept was the same, but the opposite. In Looper people are sent from the future to be killed, in Comeback people are brought from the past to be saved. But even that was too close for me.

Thankfully, I’ve since seen the film and the two are completely different things. There’s very little that Comeback has in common with Looper, other than a gritty take on time travel. Even how past events affect the future are handled differently.

Q: I know you’ve been trying to land a creator owned series for a while now. How deliberately designed was your pitch? Did you have a dozen things that you threw at Shadowline, and this was the one that stuck? Or did you know how strong it was right from the get go?

I wouldn’t say Comeback was any less or more deliberate than any other pitch that I’ve done in the past. The primary thing is that the pitch has to be something that I’d want to read. I’ve approached all my pitches with the same process: what would interest me as a reader? What type of comic do I want to see that I’m not finding at my local comic shop?

With Comeback, it was one of those projects that, as soon as the pieces fell into place I thought: “This could be something really special.” Thankfully Michael Walsh (the artist on Comeback) and Jordie Bellaire (the colourist on Comeback) felt the same way.

Q:Tell me one thing about Comeback that no one else knows.

Right up until before we pitched it, it was called 67 Days. The title change was a last-minute thing.

Q: You decided to go full-time into comics a few years ago, and the results are starting to pay off, with things like Comeback. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the comic biz in that time?

I’ve learned just how small the industry is. It’s pretty amazing that once you’re working in the industry, you’re never more than one degree of separation away from anyone else in the industry. I’ve met and talked to a lot of people whose work I love and admire just because they and I have mutual friends and ended up hanging out at a convention.

As a creator, I’m starting to realize how much effort goes into promoting your work. I’ve been hustling for the past two months to line up interviews and reviews for the book and now, days before the first issue of Comeback hits stores, I’m doing 3-4 interviews a day. I’m not complaining, mind you!

Q: So far, your comic book stories are fairly finite. Any interest in a larger story? What are your next projects?

Absolutely. I’d love to do larger, 12 issue stories down the line. At this point though, I’m focusing on 5 issue mini-series and want to stay with that for a while. I am really only interested in working projects that have a definite ending. I don’t think it’s fair to a reader to keep stringing them along with cliff hanger after cliff hanger. If anything, I’d love to do a series of five issue minis where at the end of each fifth issue, we have what would be a satisfying ending if we decide to pull the pin on it.

But, for now, just five issue minis. If one is successful enough to warrant a follow-up, I’d be down for doing that – providing the series is one that has room for new stories. The last thing I want to do is force another series just for the sake of keeping things going, shoe horning in something that doesn’t really fit or retreading the same ground. It’d have to be something that works naturally. Also, I don’t think that I’d want to keep anything as an ongoing with 5 issue arcs. I’m more interested in the BPRD model where every new arc is its own series.

Q: Pro-Tip time: I think of you as a strong dialogue writer. With something like Comeback, what comes first: Fully forming a character, or dialogue, with character evolving from said dialogue?

It’s a combo of the two. I won’t start writing a character until I have a pretty good idea of who they are and what they’re about, but they never really come alive to me until I get in and start working their dialog. Once that happens, then they become more fully formed and the way that I write the dialog informs a lot of how I develop the character from then onward.

Q: In a lot of ways, Murder Book seems to have been the girl who brought you to the dance, comics wise. What’s next for Murder Book? Any plans to collect the whole thing?

I’m working on a couple of new Murder Book scripts that I’ll be sending out to artists soon. I’ve got one artist locked down for sure and will be on the search for another soon. My hope is that I can build it to about 200 pages of story and then see if I can’t find a publisher who’d be interested in collecting it all into one trade – would be amazing to get it out as a hardcover, but that feels like a bit of a pipe dream at this point.

Right now, I have approx 130 pages of Murder Book complete. I suspect that it’d be late 2013 before I have enough for the trade. It’s important to me that it’s a really thick book, that it’s a lot of bang for a readers buck.

Q: You’re also an in demand letterer for comic books. As someone who has to transcribe their words onto comic book pages, what’s the worst mistake you’ve seen another writer make. Please, name names.

I won’t name names, but the big thing I see with writers is over-writing. On average, you can fit about 35 words of dialog in each panel. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but 35 words fills a 9-grid sized panel full. With a lot of new writers, I’ll get pages that have something like 150 words per panel. Just not do-able. Also, a lot of writers tend to over describe with captions. In so many cases, you can remove almost all of the captions in a comic and still have it make sense (I’m talking strictly about new comic writers here). It’s a combination of not having confidence in your own writing and not trusting your artist’s storytelling abilities.

Another big problem is with new artists who don’t consider how much space text will take up in a panel or who is talking in each panel. Will get a lot of artists doing extreme close-ups in a panel that has 60 words of dialog or will place characters in the reverse speaking order, which causes a lot of issues when trying to letter in a readable way.

Q: What was the worst part about working at that video store on Broadway in the late-90s?

Ah…Primetime.

The boss was a weasel. He was always scamming us out of pay, never providing proper pay stubs and there was always this fear that the place would be seized for non-payment of taxes, rent, whatever. Always a lot of collection calls.

The parking lot behind the video store was patrolled by tow trucks constantly. I’m sure that the owner had a deal with them where he got a cut from every car towed from there. So, if someone parked there and went to another store: TOWED. Then we’d have to deal with the fallout. At least twice a day people would come in and scream at us about it. I once had this angry Russian dude who’d been towed lean over the counter and demand that I get his car back (which I couldn’t) because “he could make people disappear.”

Q: The best?

Working at a video store! I loved working at a video store. This was before I had any real world responsibilities, so I’d bring home and watch a couple of movies every night. Also, the store was never terribly busy, so I’d watch a ton of movies in store. I used to also get a lot of reading done there as well.

Comeback #1 is published by Shadowline/Image, and will be available at finer comic shops everywhere on Wednesday.  It’s quite good. You should buy it. 

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Wednesday Comics Woundup: Murder Book Vol. 3

Murder Book Vol. 3 by Ed Brisson, Johnnie Christmas, and Jason Copland

Full disclosure time. Ed is a friend of mine. Not a “Loan Each Other Money” type of friend, as much as I’m a “Watch Ed Get Really Drunk” type of friend. I know I’m that kind of friend, since I did it the other night. But I digress.

Up till now, Ed’s given away his Murder Book stories online for free, and then collected them as single issues. But with Volume 3, he decided to try something different, and used IndieGogo to fund the publication of his latest collection of crime stories in print first. It was a big success, and Volume 3 was officially released a few days ago

Now, if you’re saying “But you can’t be objective!”, I will say this….You’re probably right. But I think that once you read these mini-masterpieces for yourself, you’ll see that objectivity isn’t really a problem when you’re talking about storytelling as strong as this.

The Murder Book concept is simple: Unconnected stories about criminal events, all taking place in Vancouver. Or, if you prefer, terrible people doing terrible things to not-so-terrible people. There is somewhat of a shared world here, with characters in one story popping up in others, but you don’t need to read one volume to appreciate another, and they’re all of a stand-alone nature. Volume 3 features two separate stories: Fathers & Sons, pencilled by Jason Copland, and Midnight Walk, with art by Johnnie Christmas.

Fathers & Sons is starts out as a classic Murder Book story, in that the criminals here are of the mid-level, thuggish variety. They’re doing some collecting for Sandra, a crime boss we last saw in Volume Two. In Murder Books,  that the criminals usually accomplish what they’re trying to do. If they’re murdering, they murder. If they’re robbing, they rob. Fathers & Sons turns out to be a departure from that, and these two fuck-ups fuck up so fucking bad that you can’t fucking believe what they fucking did. Fuck.

The thematic concepts that Brisson is exploring in this aren’t exactly subtle (check the title for spoilers), but they’re brutally effective. There are at least seven different terrible things that happen in this 18 page story, but Ed’s methodical, deliberate sense of pacing ensures that things never get cluttered, and that we always have enough panels to be suitably horrified before the next awful piece of violence comes along.

Jason Copland’s work here was a pleasant surprise..not because I don’t expect great work from him (check out http://review2akill.com/2010/11/19/kill-all-monsters/ for more examples of his excellent work), but because I haven’t really seen him do anything this down to earth before. His style reminds me of a cross between Terry Moore and Carla McNeil, with a healthy dose of David Mazzuchelli’s early work thrown in. This was probably the most violent and despicable crime comic I’ve read so far this year. But then I turned the page.

Ed says that he’s never done anything to a character as bad as what happens to our “hero” in Midnight Walk, and I would say that’s an understatement. A drunken carouser named Ray is stumbling through Trout Lake on his way home when he comes across a dead body. And that’s the last good thing that happens to Ray that night. Midnight Walk is tonally quite different from Fathers & Sons, in that there’s a randomness to this story that is a little  atypical of most Murder Book shorts. It works on every single level, but there is definitely a tonal shift here, and because of that the stories complement each other nicely.

I first discovered Johnnie Christmas’ work in the first Exploded View anthology that came out a few years ago, and it’s nice to see how much his work has evolved since then. His backgrounds are absolutely creepy, and they sets a great stage for hyper-detailed, almost kinetic style. He seems to have shed some of the Paul Pope influence that I remember in the other work of his that I’ve seen, but that might just be the subject mater.

You know how when you discover writers or artists that you really like, like Ed Brubaker, or Frank Quitely? You try to track down everything they ever did. You keep going, farther and farther back. There’s some great stuff at first, but then you finally go back far enough and find their earliest work, until you can’t believe that someone whose work you love SO much could possibly turn out such dreck?

Well, that won’t be a problem here. It’s pretty obvious that all three of these guys are going to be talked about in the comics world for a long time, and if they’re doing comics at this level NOW, I can’t wait to see what they come up with when they’re grizzled veterans.

If you find a better crime comic in 2012, I’ll stumble around drunk in Trout Lake. After dark.

Rating: A+