Have you heard of a book called “Comeback”? Or “Sheltered”? If so, then chances are you already know Ed Brisson, writer and letterer-extraordinaire. He’s a talented guy. And honestly, we’ve talked to/hyped up Ed and his work a lot at this site. Seriously. We have. Like, a whole bunch. And often.
But this latest interview? Well, lets just say that if you weren’t sold on his recently-announced book “The Field” before, you probably will be now. And, not too sound too self-important, but if you’re a fan of Ed Brisson’s general body of work, there’s at least one tidbit in this interview that you’re going to make sure you read. Trust us!
So read on as we talk to Ed all about his new book “The Field,” Repo Man including working with Simon Roy (who we talked to earlier, if you remember), and… the return of “Murder Book?!” The return of “Murder Book!”
(Also, for what it’s worth: the title of this post is a prime example of why grammar and punctuation is always important.)
Before we get too deep into it, and before I get the inquisition going, what is the pitch for “The Field?” Because I’d like to hear it from you to make sure I don’t have any of my information wrong.
Ed Brisson: You know I’m terrible with this, saying what the pitch is. Basically what it is is just the story about one day in the life of this guy who sort of mysteriously wakes up in the middle of a wheat field with no idea how he got there. He gets quickly befriended, I guess, by Christian, an ex-Bible salesman who pulls him along on a meth-induced crime spree. And, y’know, there’s people out to kill them, he has no idea what is going on, full on suffering from amnesia and not knowing why he’s there and why these people are after him. He’s just sort of a victim, dragged along from one crime scene to another.
There’s more to it than that, but it’s kind of like… I don’t know the best way to describe this succinctly or to put this into thoughts, but it’s kind of like in a lot of ways — I realized halfway through — it’s tonally sort of a lot like all the 80’s cult films that I grew up watching. Just that sort of, just craziness going on for all four issues.
When I talked to Simon (Roy), he sort of described it as having a Twilight Zone kind of feel.
EB: Yeah, I can definitely see that. Twilight Zone, sure, almost more like a Repo Man sort of feel to it. Stuff will come completely out of left field in the story. It’s all there and it all makes sense and wraps up in the end, but it seems like this crazy shit is just constantly happening to this guy.
And the story, if I am understanding correctly — which I know that I am — it comes off of these tweets that you made a couple years ago, where all of a sudden @edbrisson had said he’d woken up in a field and didn’t know where he was.
EB: Yeah, that’s right. What had happened was, I was out drinking one night with Jason Copland and a couple other Vancouver comic guys, and the day after… I’d gone out and hadn’t really checked my Twitter or anything until about midway through the day, and Jason had posted something along the lines of, “Missing and At Large: Ed Brisson. Last seen stumbling out of the St. Augustine’s pub. Current whereabouts unknown. If seen, please contact the police immediately.” And somebody else picked it up, I think Comics Bulletin ran with it as a news piece. [Laughs] But knowing it was just Jason screwing with me.
So I didn’t see those until about an hour later, and I figured that I was just going to go with it. So I just started tweeting about how I’d woken up in a wheat field naked and in the middle of Saskatchewan, which is about a thousand miles or fifteen hundred kilometers from here. And I just tweeted about all this crazy shit that was happening to me, how I had this cellphone and people kept calling me on the cellphone and threatening me and sending me text messages that my life was in danger. Then I got picked up by this guy who brought me on a crime spree. At one point he pistol whipped me in a diner because he’d ordered me prime rib and I’m a vegetarian and didn’t want to eat it. He took great insult by that and beat me.Continued below
It was a thing where I just didn’t break the fourth wall at all, I just kind of kept it going for about a day and a half, just having fun. But it was freaking people out around me. I didn’t even realize. My family started calling here to talk to my wife, to make sure that everything was OK. [Laughs] That I wasn’t actually trapped in a car. There were people sending me e-mails wondering why I didn’t call 911.
Really? That’s awesome.
EB: Yeah, it was just a weird couple days. What happend is, I was just planning out these tweets — I was just having fun with it, just goofing around. And at one point I was planning so far ahead, well, maybe I’ll sit on this. The story that was starting to form, I really liked, and I thought would make a really interesting comic. So here we are, a year and a half later, and it’s coming out as a comic.
Have other people picked up on that yet? I haven’t seen anybody make the connection.
EB: There’ve been a few people. Not a lot of people, but a couple people have e-mailed me after reading the listing and wanting to know if it was based around those series of tweets. My plan is, down the line, maybe in one of the issues, that I might probably just run all the tweets that I put out over that day and a half. I’ll probably wait for the last issue to do that, though, because I don’t want to spoil anything.
See, it didn’t click with me until I’d sort of heard it spoken outloud. All of a sudden it was just like, woah, I remember this, and of course, it’s all those tweets! So I imagine that, in terms of how you’ve done story creation before, this is probably a singular event. I can’t imagine or think of any examples of a story being born out of a series of first person tweets.
EB: I don’t know either. Maybe? Maybe it’s happened, I’m not sure. But it was interesting that it sort of came about that way. And that whole idea, of telling a story using Twitter, was kind of interesting. Obviously I stopped at a certain point, and when I stopped I just went cold back to normal tweets without any sort of explanation either. We’ll see. I don’t know if anyone has done that before. I don’t want to… It seems weird to say it’s the first time that was done, so I don’t want to make that claim. Who knows, right?
I think, there’s a Joe Hill eBook that’s done through tweets or something like that? Like a 99 cent eBook. That’s the closest example I can think of, but that’s sort of beside the point.
For you, in terms of how you started figuring out this story and developing the ride, this goes back a year and a half now. Translating it from a series of funny ideas on Twitter into a comic, how did that work out for you?
EB: I guess that basically what happened was, I kind of first started writing it out (since I was planning out the tweets, obviously), and I kind of just did a very rough outline and stuck it in a drawer for a while. Not too long afterwards, I was over in Victoria with Simon, and we were having coffee and I sort of mentioned the idea of a comic I wanted to do. At that point I actually hadn’t really taken it too far other than knowing it was something I wanted to do. It was kind of weird, because during hanging out I was telling him about how I was looking for an artist who would sort of suit this tone and it didn’t occur to me until after I’d left and gone back home that Simon would be perfect for it. So I hit him up, and once I knew who the artist was, we (Simon and I) sat down and had a lot of conversations about where it was going and that kind of stuff.
So it has changed from those tweets. Usually when I’m working on a creator-owned project, I try and talk with the artist I’m working and make sure that they have input and it’s not just me, but really a truly collaborative thing. Once I started doing that, the idea started to spiral and I just started getting the script down.Continued below
It sounds like what you’ve come up with, this kind of basic Twitter pitch (if we want to call it that), that’s maybe just an issue or half an issue’s worth of the story here, I’m guessing.
EB: Yeah, it’s not even a full issue that I ended up doing on Twitter. And there was a lot of stuff that was on Twitter that didn’t end up making it into the comic. Obviously I took myself out of the story and replaced myself with this amnesiac. Some of the stuff I had been planning was in the story, but stuff I hadn’t tweeted… Like, OK, there’s a biker gang I had been wanting to use in something for a long time called the Smoke Eaters, who are now in this as these guys chasing down our protagonist and Christian for reasons that we don’t fully know right away.
So I get the feeling, if there’s sort of a genre that you’re maybe known for, it’s somewhere in between science fiction and crime. If I’m gauging it correctly, this leans more toward crime, like your “Murder Books” and things like that?
EB: Yeah, for sure. It’s more towards crime, but it’s more like, in a lot of ways, a black comedy. It’s a dark comedy for sure. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to happen, there’s going to be a lot of bloodshed and stuff like that. But there’s a lot of characters with bizarre quirks, and things like that will be popping up. It’s one of those things where I’m kind of afraid to try and put it into one genre because I’m not 100% sure where it would even fit. That’s why earlier on when I mentioned Repo Man as something similar, that’s mostly in tone. It’s one of those things where it’s kind of hard to define that as being a crime film or a comedy or what have you.
Yeah, I get that. So, looking at the book and how much it has changed, you were talking about how with Simon as you brought him on board, you guys started doing it together. Was it from the ground up with the same basic pitch?
EB: The skeleton was still there, the same beginning, middle and end that I’d come up with back in 2012, early 2013. That’s still there. It’s just now, it’s more about how it plays out, some of the characters that come into it. Just while writing it, I’ve been trying to be a bit more… I don’t want to say loose, but kind of open to whims as they arise or while I’m writing it, adding in scenes that would be really interesting or fun or dark or whatever.
Since this is just four issues, I imagine how you’re sort of plotting it out and working on it with Simon is maybe a lot more direct than maybe what you do with “Sheltered,” since that’s an ongoing?
EB: I guess so. By direct, you mean towards a goal, or…?
Well, “Sheltered” obviously has a structure, but it seems like one of those books where, if you and Johnnie decide oh, now there’s going to be an alien spaceship to come down then that could just happen. But since “The Field” is just four issues, I get the impression that you guys probably made a more concerted effort about the beats you wanted to hit, the story aspects that you wanted to hit.
EB: Sure, but it’s still pretty rough. It’s a pretty rough skeleton of a story that we’re hanging the rest of the story on. We’re kind of allowing ourselves a bit of freedom to tweak as we’re going and do that sort of thing. I don’t want to say improv, we’re not just making it up as we go, but there’s definitely more room for when we want to try new things.
I want to look at this maybe in comparison to “Comeback,” since “Comeback” was also a miniseries. I remember you’d said somewhere that you had ideas to maybe do more in that world, but is “The Field” something you could pick up again?Continued below
EB: No, no. Absolutely, it’s four issues. There’s no way that it could go on any longer. When people read the final issue, they’ll sort of know why it can’t. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of things that are happening revealed throughout the story that are too spoiler-y for me to get into and there’s a lot of mystery around it, but once people have read the whole thing they’ll see why it has to end at four. It has a very definite ending to it.
Having done some work now, where maybe the future was more flexible, was it more fun to go back to something that has a firm, definitive end point?
EB: It’s weird to say that there’s a lot of freedom in that constraint, but there almost is. It helps guide you, right? It helps give you a bit of a rudder sort of, where you know where you’re moving. Whereas, if you have something that’s open — even “Sheltered,” with Johnnie and I, we know exactly where it’s ending and we’re building our way to that. I feel that helps a lot rather than leaving something completely open ended. It has definitely been helping me focus in on it and get where I need to get and not muck around too much.
Were you guys, when looking at the book — and I know it’s kind of this weird thing, where a lot of people are mini-shy and don’t really want to do a mini-series because fans tend to not to want to buy minis anymore, they always wait for trade — is that a concern that you guys have with the book?
EB: You know, I honestly don’t worry that much. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m some dude who is all, “hey, money, who cares, right?” because I’m not necessarily that guy. I gotta pay rent and everything. But I feel like, I don’t want to do an ongoing just for the sake of an ongoing, just so more people might buy it. It’s detrimental to the story. I definitely want to just do what is going to do the story and what is good for the story. To be honest, I prefer minis, and if I could — if there was more opportunity to do more minis or self-contained graphic novels? I would do that. I would prefer to do that, almost. I like stories that have endings and are building towards an end and not things that just start with an idea and then flounder for forty issues before they get cancelled or tack on some artificial ending to it. I prefer closed stories, and as much as possible that’s the kind of stuff I’d like to do. Whether that’s four issues, fifteen, twenty, whatever. I like that idea of just knowing that you’re going to have an end, and knowing that it was planned from the beginning.
Do you think, since you used to have your own little publisher and do your “Murder Books” through them and a couple other things, like with Simon in particular, I assume this kind of idea and work ethic builds out of that?
EB: Well, I guess so. I’ve been doing comics for, like, twenty years almost now. It wasn’t until just recently, until 2012, that I actually had publishers backing stuff that I was doing. But I’ve been doing comics forever, so I think over that time I’ve sort of built up my own interests, what I want to do and the way that I want to approach stories. All that sort of junk. You know, it’s not always in line with what the industry might want, which… I don’t know, I try not to get too worked up about that sort of stuff. I try to just keep my head down and do the stories I want to do. So it’s probably from just doing stuff for twenty years and having people not care for twenty years. I’m used to it. So people don’t care anymore and it feels like the good old days! [Laughs]
But obviously your audience has grown considerably.
EB: Absolutely, since 2012. And it feels weird to say that I have an actual readership now of people who would follow my work. Which is cool, I’m not dissing on that at all. I just don’t want to ever be in that position where I’m trying to cater to the whims of what I think the readers want. I would prefer to just keep the stories as shit that I want to read, you know? I think that when you see writers doing that, it just makes for better material.Continued below
OK, so, obviously there’s only so far we can dig into “The Field,” since I imagine anything past page 5 is probably a giant spoiler.
EB: Yeah, and I feel bad. I feel like the worst marketing guy ever. “There’s this mini-series that I’m doing, but I can’t tell you much about it, you just have to read it and figure it out.” It’s almost like I’m convincing people not to read it. [Laughs]
That’s actually probably a fair point, right? Having a book where you just have to sort of trust the creative team, where they say “We have a mystery book, it’s four issues and you have to figure it out.
EB: Yeah, and I hope people might find interest in that. Personally, that sort of stuff interests me as well, you know? I barely watch trailers anymore for films, I tend to not read previews for comics, just because I’m so tired of having everything spoiled for me all the time. It’s like we’re getting too much information all the time, and there are so few surprises left. I miss the days where, like, during the 80’s and I guess early 90’s, I would just watch whatever. I would put on the movie channel, since we didn’t have HBO back then in Canada, we just had… I think it was the Super Channel. And I would just put it on and just watch whatever was on. Half the time I had no idea what the films were and had no idea what to expect, and I watched a lot of turds but there were a lot of films that I discovered that I almost felt like films that no one else knew about. Not to be too precious about it or anything, but its like you were actually discovering something and it wasn’t something that was being sold to you, if that makes sense. I sort of miss that a bit with comics, with film, with everything.
And are we talking, like, Samurai Cop quality movies, or Le Samourai quality movies?
EB: Both. I’m a huge fan of B-movies and such, so I’m a huge fan of — I went through my entire video store’s horror section and just watched everything. So, you know, I would watch a Jean Luc Godard film and turn around and watch something like Street Trash, which I also really enjoyed. My tastes were all over the place, but I kind of liked that not knowing aspect all the time. And if a film sucks, you can always just turn it off, but at least you’d still get some surprises.
So it actually kind of sounds like you’re looking at “The Field” as almost a graphic novel, or at least a collected trade paperback, than necessarily a book that comes out in single issues?
EB: No, I actually like the idea of something coming out in single issues and coming out in installments monthly, and I’m trying to write this one in such a way that you get a good chunk of story every month. I don’t mind that sort of stuff at all. I don’t know if you remember, but way back in probably the early 90’s, when you were probably 3 or whatever. [Laugh] But Stephen King, I think it was “Green Mile,” and he put it out in small little 99 cent books that came out once every two weeks, or once a month. And that was kind of a cool way to get the book.
I still really like serialized works, so I’m totally cool with doing this serialized and seeing how people react to it.
Given that reaction, do you think this is something that you’d like to do more of than necessarily huge, sprawling, epic ongoings and things like that?
EB: Yeah, it would be great to do something like that. It would be great to do a series of minis from one to the next. I have some longer stories that I want to do, but I can’t see ever wanting to do anything, and I reserve the right to change my mind on this, but at this point I can’t see myself wanting to do anything longer than, say, twenty issues? Maybe just a whole bunch of four or five issues minis with contained stories, because some stories can’t go beyond four or five issues. You don’t want to artificially stretch that out just to say that you have an ongoing, and somehow give people a watered down version of the original story that you were going to do.Continued below
And there’s probably an aspect to this of just building a library, right? Where, here are these finished books that you’ve done throughout your career, the Ed Brisson collection. So I imagine that may be a positive aspect of focusing on shorter stories.
EB: Yeah, for sure. That’s always a good thing as well, to have all this stuff under your belt. But, I don’t know, I feel like I just like stories that end, and I feel like a lot of times that we just really aren’t getting that in comics. I get frustrated by that. Everything just goes on forever and, I don’t know, no one ever gets closure or satisfaction.
Another thing I’ve noticed about your work is that little things keep popping up. It seems like little easter eggs (a “Sheltered” reference in “Comeback”), and I’ve now seen Bernie’s pop up as a diner in three of your books (“The Field,” Sheltered” and your 215 Ink book “Black River”). Are you trying to organize all of these things into a shared space?
EB: No one else has noticed that before!
Yeah, in a lot of ways, all the stories occupy the same universe. Some that I’m working on are actually not within the universe necessarily but perhaps “adaptations” of books or films from the core universe, but all of the creator owned projects that I’ve written have had something… little nuggets… that tie them all together. Bernie’s, for example, is a chain of diners that characters will usually end up in if I’m writing something that requires a cafe or restaurant scene. Bernie’s, incidentally, is the name of a diner that I worked at as a dishwasher for about 5 years. It’s no longer around, but will live on in print.
Anyhow, yeah, I do like to drop those things in there — but never in a way that I think interferes with the story, just a little easter egg for those who might notice. It’s something I used to always dig when you’d see someone like Elmore Leonard or Quentin Tarantino doing it.
So, speaking of closure and satisfaction, I’d like to switch gears a tiny bit, because you’ve recently been teasing that you’re bringing back “Murder Books” in 2014. I don’t imagine you might give me the exclusive scoop on the return of “Murder Books?”
EB: [Laughs] I don’t think I can. What I can say is, it’s with a publisher who will be producing new “Murder Book” content. That’s about all I can say.
Are you excited to be bringing that part of your career back? Outside of your little Fred Grissom webcomic, “Murder Book” was your first big thing, right?
EB: Well, sure. I’d been doing stuff before that, I did a webcomic called “Sob Story” for years, which was sort of an autobiographical comic. Just a weekly thing I would do. But, yeah, “Murder Book” is the comic that started getting people interested in my work, it seems. It’s the one that basically landed me some publishing deals and writing gigs and stuff, and it’s one of those things where — “Murder Book” was this weird thing where I’d been publishing and trying to get projects picked up, and I just got really frustrated with it since I was doing five page pitches and working on all these outlines and then I would send them off to three or four publishers who would look at creator-owned projects and they’d always get turned down. I would get frustrated that it was just three people looking at this stuff that I’d spent so long working on that I just decided to give up doing that and decided to just do my own short stories and put them out there for free. It worked out better than I could’ve ever hoped, where people started to read my stuff, and it was somehow like a backdoor into getting publishers interested… which is probably not really a backdoor, it’s probably just how you should do it. [Laughs]
But, yeah, it was a really cool experience. Like I said, it got publishers interested in my work, so that was definitely great. Going back to it now is kind of awesome, but I think it’s one of those things where I think once I’m done with this stuff this year, I’ll be putting “Murder Book” on the shelf for an indefinite period of time and just focus on other thing. I do want to do another short story style book, but horror instead of crime this time. We’ll see if this opens up that avenue or if I ever do get a chance to do that.Continued below
So, looking at all of the stuff that you’re doing now — “The Field,” “Sheltered,” the return of “Murder Book,” your “24” comic — this is all coming up Brisson right now just a bit.
EB: Yeah, it’s been alright. I’ve gotten a lot of freelance work, work-for-hire and creator-owned. It’s been really cool. I have “24,” some “Sons of Anarchy” and I did some “Robocop.” It’s been pretty cool. I’m just going to keep plugging along and keep trying to do my own stuff and some work-for-hire and sort of just be there. I figure, it took 20 years to get to this point that I’m just going to jam my foot into the door as hard as possible and just not let go. As long as they’ll keep offering me stuff, I’ll keep doing that stuff. And it’s cool, because doing things like that is sort of pushing me to try some things that I maybe wouldn’t have tried. So, yeah, it has been an interesting year, that’s for sure.
“The Field” goes on sale in April. Look for it the next previews for the Diamond Order Code!