Ed Brisson talks about Fan Expo Vancouver, the upcoming Murder Book collection, Sheltered, Sons of Anarchy, The Field, the difference between creator-owned and licensed comics, “pulling back” and trusting artists to tell the story, and more in our exclusive interview.
For certain comics readers, it may seem like Ed Brisson has burst onto the scene these past few years, fully-formed as a writer and letterer, from out of nowhere. Last week saw the launch of The Field, Brisson’s third creator-owned series from Image Comics in two years, coming on the heels of 2012’s Comeback (trade paperback reviewed here) and the acclaimed ongoing series Sheltered (issue #1 reviewed here, issue #3 reviewed here). In addition, Brisson’s self-published crime comic Murder Book has garnered him a Joe Shuster Award nomination. All in all, he has some 27 distinct writer credits in the Comic Book Database, which lists his contributions to titles ranging from Image Comics’ Dia De Los Muertos and Grim Leaper, to BOOM! Studios’ RoboCop: The Last Stand and RoboCop: Beta, to Marvel’s Secret Avengers, and over 150 individual letterer credits. Last month, BOOM! Studios declared March 8 “Ed Brisson Day” to coincide with the announcement that he would take over the writing duties on the company’s Sons of Anarchy spin-off and tie-in comic. Next week will also see IDW’s launch of the 24 comic (based on the popular television series starring Kiefer Sutherland), with Brisson at the helm.
While the trajectory of Brisson’s career arc may look meteoric, that really isn’t the case. Behind the current success and accolades are years, decades even, of honing craft and developing a following. Brisson’s Comic Book Database page may only recognize his work published from 2008 onwards, but the reality is that Brisson has been writing, drawing, lettering, coloring, and publishing comics for the better part of the last twenty years. For a time, Brisson even operated his own publishing firm, New Reliable Press, before closing its doors to focus on his comics work. More than a writer and a letterer, Brisson has worked in just about every capacity in comics production, from creative to prepress to publication, and it is that accumulated experience that informs his work now.
We caught up with Ed Brisson last week, as the comics creator was gearing up for his third straight appearance at Fan Expo Vancouver (April 18–20, 2014; Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver, BC).
The Comixverse: You’ve been a guest at every Fan Expo Vancouver event since the first one in 2012. What is it about Fan Expo Vancouver that has you coming back and what sets it apart from other conventions?
Ed Brisson: The thing for me about Fan Expo Vancouver is that, being that it’s a local show, it’s just awesome to have a show that size where I live. It’s literally door-to-door for me, it’s about a ten-minute bus ride. It’s awesome because I don’t have to travel, ’cause I tell you man, doing comics and traveling all over the place to do conventions every day, it just wipes you out. But yeah, it’s cool to have something local where you can show off your talent and actually see that there is a huge and thriving comics community here in Vancouver.
The first year they did Fan Expo, I was a little bit worried about how it would be attended… but the first day there was a three-block line-up to come in.
CV: With Comeback, Sheltered, and now The Field, you’ve strung together a number of series at Image Comics. What is it about the publisher that makes it an appealing platform for your creator-owned work?
EB: Well, I’ve always been a fan of Image Comics, since they first launched back in 1992—I was a teenager then—and I remember when they launched, I told one of my friends, “One day, I’m gonna have an Image book.” It only took twenty years, but I did it. Image has always been a place where I wanted to do a book.
I’m a huge fan of creator-owned, more personal stories, things that are sort of outside superheroes. Superheroes definitely have their place, but it’s good to see comics that aren’t necessarily about superheroes getting more attraction lately. It’s a great thing that [at Image Comics] you own what you do—that’s primarily what they’re based on—and for the most part, once your outline, your idea has been greenlit, they let you [do it with minimum interference]. So basically any time you pick up an Image comic, that’s fully what the creators wanted it to be. There isn’t some editorial influence or someone higher up the chain sort of making decisions for the creative team—it’s their vision, as you see it on the page.
CV: Will we ever see a Murder Book collection from Image Comics?
EB: There is a Murder Book collection in the works. It’s not from Image, it’s through another publisher. I can’t say anything about it right now, but it is in the works, and there are new Murder Book stories being worked on right now. We’ll start seeing new stories later this year and the collection will be out early next year.
I still have full creative control over [Murder Book], which is great. If you’ve read Murder Book, you’ll notice that all the stories are set here in Vancouver, and that’s something that’s real important to me. When I was doing [Murder Book], I felt like there’s just a handful of cities that are over-represented in fiction. I love Vancouver and I think it makes a great setting for stories. I started self-publishing those because I didn’t want to change that. I didn’t want it to be set in the closest Vancouver proxy—usually people will set it in Portland or Seattle or something like that. So yeah, the publisher for the Murder Book collection, which is a publisher we all know, is fully behind it and there will be new crime stories in Vancouver coming up and the collection will be out in March 2015.
CV: Besides your creator-owned work, you’ve also started branching into writing licensed comics with titles like Sons of Anarchy and Robocop: Beta for BOOM! Studios and the upcoming comics spin-off of 24 from IDW. How is working on a licensed title different from working on a creator-owned book? Is the process different at all?
EB: The process is completely different. With the TV show-based comics, in both cases, 24 and Sons of Anarchy, there’s a lot of interaction between us—myself and the editor on the series—and the showrunners. We have to make sure that we’re telling new stories, things that haven’t been tried on the show. It’s happened more than once where I’ve started down a path in a story and it turns out to be dangerously close to something they have coming up in the series, which is something I can never know while writing, because I don’t have access to their new material that hasn’t been produced yet. But yeah, it’s a lot more about trying to find something that works while not stepping on each other’s toes.
CV: Besides your work as a writer, you also letter comics. Does your experience as a letterer influence how you write dialogue? I’ve noticed that in certain comics—not yours—the reader has to wade through balloons and balloons of dialogue that cover up the art.
EB: It does. Lettering is kind of funny because it’s one of those things that I never considered I would be doing professionally. My background is actually in publishing and prepress and there’s a lot of crossover between that and lettering: A lot of letterers will get involved in the prepress work, especially with smaller publishers.
One thing I’ve always been into is trying to let the art tell as much of the story as the words, so I try and pull back. I think I’ve learned more about things to avoid [as a writer] from lettering. Like you said, you see writers who “overwrite,” some writers who over-explain, and when you’re lettering, you really see it because you’re seeing the art before there are any words on it. A classic example from a comic some years ago that really stuck with me was there’s a scene where there’s this guy trying to get out of a building for whatever reason, and he’s running up a flight of stairs towards the door and he’s got to reach his hand out to open the door and he’s thinking, “all I have to do is get up these stairs and I’ll be fine,” and I’m like, “I don’t think we need that.” We can already see that the dude is trying get up the stairs and that he’s trying to get out to escape the bomb in the basement or whatever it was.
When I started lettering for other people, that’s when I started to see how much some writers use captions and inner dialogue as a crutch rather than pulling back and letting the art tell the story. It made me more aware when I’m writing when I’m starting to work that way. I’m pretty sparse in my dialogue—I don’t know if I picked that up from lettering or not—but I’m just trying to make sure that all the dialogue counts and not just having superfluous amounts.
EB: Something some writers lose sight of when they’re collaborating [with an artist] is that the two of you are telling a story together, and you’re not just telling a story that an artist is providing pictures for. So trust your artist to tell the story, give them the space to tell the story and also trust your reader. They don’t need their hand held throughout the whole process.
I like to leave certain things unsaid or not explained, I don’t want to frontload a reader with information. In Sheltered, I’ve got a sociopath character named Lucas, and I want the reader to be questioning Lucas’s motivations all the time, and if I have inner dialogue, the reader can’t do that as much.
CV: In reading The Field #1, I noticed that one of the bikers in the book was wearing a vest with a huge patch touting the British Columbia town of Nelson. Can we look forward to more Canadian locales appearing in The Field?
EB: Actually, yeah, part of The Field—I don’t think I’m spoiling anything—a lot of it actually happens in the Saskatoon area of Saskatchewan. I like to incorporate Canadian locations as much as possible when I’m doing creator-owned work, so yeah, there will be more, a lot more.
I have a project that I hope to get off the ground in 2015 that is set around an Ontario town, Oshawa, which is where I grew up. The whole story is set in the Oshawa/Toronto area. I feel like, there’s no reason not to [set a story in Canada] at this point.
CV: Are Comeback, Sheltered, and The Field set in the same “shared universe?” Is there such a thing as a “Brisson-verse?”
EB: There is a kind of thing that ties all the issues. People who read my stuff will notice things like a chain of diners called Bernie’s Diners—which is actually a place I worked for in Kelowna [British Columbia] when I lived there—that seems to pop up.
There’s small little connections between all those stories. I’ve intentionally been trying to seed that throughout, so you’ll start to see it more. Some of them also exist where it’s almost like two different universes, where there’s the universe where the characters live, and then there’s the fictitious universe within that universe. So there’s stories that I’m telling that will actually be books the people in the other series might be reading or movies that they go see.
CV: Finally, where can people going to Fan Expo Vancouver find you on the Expo floor?
EB: Oh man, I wish I knew, let me look it up right now. It doesn’t look like it’s up yet. [The Fan Expo Vancouver site has now been updated and Brisson will be at table P17, check out the map here—ed.] But people who want to check me out on-line can go to EdBrisson.com or they can find me on Twitter at @edbrisson.