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Sunday, August 13, 2006

 
Five Questions for Ed Brubaker -- In the brief interview below, Ed Brubaker calls Sleeper "a challenging read." He doesn't mean it this way, but the challenge, in my opinion, was one to the taste and intelligence of the Direct Market, because Sleeper, by Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips, was one of the most brilliantly executed and tense, immersive comics ever created. It paid tribute to a number of influences and yet felt like nothing on the stands during the time of its publication, and its end has left a gaping maw in my reading habits that, thankfully, is about to be filled by Brubaker and Phillips's next joint project, Criminal, to be published by Marvel/Icon beginning in October.

I've bought and enjoyed a lot of Brubaker's recent work for Marvel, including Daredevil, Captain America and Books of Doom. But Criminal, set free of the constraints of the Marvel Universe (or any superhero universe -- this will be a pure crime book), promises to be a visceral distillation of everything Brubaker and Phillips learned from their Sleeper experience -- a delicious proposition as ever there was for readers who enjoy stories filled with compelling characters in tense, dangerous situations.

It's not often I go out on a limb and make predictions about books I haven't seen yet, but Brubaker and Phillips have earned my trust countless times, together and apart. Criminal is gonna be great comics.

1. I know from reading A Complete Lowlife that you may have (allegedly!) committed a crime or two yourself in your wayward youth. Certainly your portrait of an underground criminal organization in Sleeper was one of the most compelling and convincing in the history of comics. What so fascinates you about the criminal world?

I don't know, for sure. I grew up on military bases during the early part of my life, so maybe there's something subconscious about seeing this other world, that's so outside what I was raised in. But part of it, I'm sure, comes from my teens and early 20s, where I was basically, a lowlife, and knew a lot of small time druggies and criminals, and got a few distinct and memorable experiences with some more serious criminals and spent some time in jail. I don't want to be a part of that world, believe me, but it's a lot of fun to write about. I always want to write about the criminals who, as far as their morality goes, they steal, or kill, but they're good people somehow anyway. That's an interesting dichotomy, I think.

2. You spent a long time writing mostly for DC/Vertigo before moving to Marvel on such titles as Captain America, Daredevil and the forthcoming Criminal (among others)...what can you tell me about how different it is to work for these two giant comics companies?

Well, I think my experiences at DC really taught me a lot of things that have made my experiences at Marvel better, honestly. I know what it feels like to be in the trenches on a few monthlies, and I know how to deal with editors and letterers and the whole system. So, I think, because Marvel doesn't need to hold my hand, I've had a great time there. But this is not to be a knock on DC. I was always treated very well there, for the most part.

The main difference, looking at it, is that working at Marvel, I've just cut loose on the books more, because of the things I learned at DC. So I feel like I came in fully-developed and ready to go, and Marvel has allowed me to do that, to great success for me and them.

3. Sleeper seemed to go far into the extremes of human behaviour -- lust, greed, murder, betrayal. I'd expect we'll see more of the same in Criminal, but short of duplicating "The Sleeper Formula" (for lack of a better term), how will Criminal be different?

Criminal is casting a much wider net, in a way. Sleeper was very much about one man and the elaborate trap he was in, and Criminal is about a bunch of different people who all live outside the law, or under its radar, at least. And since they're all new characters, it's like I get to just unfold this whole new world in the pages of our book. But also, to go in a different direction than Sleeper, most of the characters are pretty realistic. I think even our first main character, Leo, is more realistic than most of the criminals you see in movies or comics, because he uses his head and doesn't want to be involved in violence, and he really doesn't want to go to jail.

CRIMINAL by Brubaker and Phillips; click for larger image.
CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE


4. I would have read Sleeper for the rest of my life, if you and Sean could have continued to produce it. How long do you see Criminal lasting, sales allowing, and what do you think is built into the concept to give it long-term potential?

Well, Sleeper was never designed to go beyond where it did. In fact, I originally intended it to only go 12 issues, but Jim Lee wanted us to do more of it, so I changed the ending of the story and came up with the twist of Lynch waking up, and then we had another run. The ending of the final issue was always the ending I was building towards, though; nothing was cut short, creatively.

But with Criminal, since the canvas is so unlimited, I could see us doing it for five or more years, at least, if it's successful enough, between US and foreign editions. I've got outlines for stories through to about 30 issues already, and more scratching their way out of the back of my mind all the time.

And honestly, I think the cast of characters and the 'world' of the comic is what'll give it those legs, if it gets them. I've been building up to this stuff for so long, so much of it is fully-formed in my head, and the characters in the first two arcs are so well-defined to me, that I think it's going to be a really unique comics experience. It's different than anything I've ever done before, I know that. It's this bizarre combination of twists on crime story plots, and this almost vérité-style comic writing, watching these characters go through their lives, and really fleshing out this underworld they inhabit. It's been a lot of fun, and I hope it's as addictive to readers as it is for me and Sean.

5. Clearly part of the problem with Sleeper was that it was being mainly marketed to superhero fans -- what efforts are you and Sean (and Marvel, one hopes) making to get the word out about Criminal beyond the Direct Market? And how can readers help?

I don't know that that was the problem, I think the problem was possibly that it was connected to a universe. It was a challenging read, with a non-superhero style of art, in a superhero universe that was on the wane at the time. It had a lot of knocks against it, and all credit to Wildstorm, they kept plugging away and letting us do the book because they liked it, and it got nominated for four or five Eisners. I think just not enough people saw the book at their stores, that it got sort of lost in the shuffle of other DC and WS books. I didn't honestly see it being marketed to the superhero fans. The only ads we had were in other Mature WS books, and once in a few Vertigo books. I wish it had been that simple.

So, knowing that going in, and knowing the DM is my prime target for the monthly book, the main thing I've been trying to do is just get word out about Criminal any way I can. I'm using and abusing the internet. I've worked for the past two years, working my ass off, building a bigger name for myself. I'm very lucky that Sean is coming off Marvel Zombies, which was a huge hit, too, because between us, Sean and I are known by more retailers than we ever were before, so now is the perfect time to try something new, I figure. I've been trying as much as I can to remind retailers of what we've done for them lately, basically, and that our overall fanbase has increased considerably. I mean, both Cap and DD are steadily climbing up the charts by thousands at a time, not drifting down it, which is the norm, and I want retailers to be thinking about that when ordering Criminal. I'm even pushing Criminal in the letters pages of DD and Cap, to make sure my newer readers know about the book, too, because I've learned you can never push a book enough. Bendis tells me he still meet people who claim they're his biggest fans, and they never heard of Powers. "Aauugh!" right?

So I've been asking fans all over the place to print out the PDF teaser we made for the book and bring it to their retailer, and talk to them about it, and so far I've heard a bunch have actually done it. Some of these fans have been printing the teaser in their college papers, even, apparently, which is even better. Oh, and Kirkman offered to run the teaser in this month's Walking Dead, in full color, even, so that'll get us in front of another 25,000 people, a lot of them retailers.

But beyond that, I'm lining up a lot of print and online interviews. I've got a big feature set-up with a pop culture journalist for the Seattle Times, and his stories often get picked up and run all over the country. With the way articles about comics go lately, I'm optimistic about those chances. And I'm working to get a lot of the weekly papers around the country to write features around the time we publish. It's a lot of hustling really, and asking readers and friends to do some hustling too. I honestly think we're going to do pretty well with the book, and I've already been fielding a fair amount of interest from Hollywood , but I figure better safe than sorry. So, if there are any journalists out there reading this, contact me at: edbrubaker@gmail.com and give me some coverage, man. ;)

Criminal #1 is listed on page 80 of the current Marvel Previews catalog. The Diamond order code for #1 is AUG06 2090 D4. It will arrive in comic shops in October, but to be sure you get a copy, tell your retailer NOW that you want Criminal. You should definitely check out the gorgeous preview art all over Sean Phillips's blog, and of course, many thanks to Ed Brubaker for taking part in the 5Q..

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