Breaking Bad Andrea Sorrentino Columns 

We Want Comics: Breaking Bad

By | September 16th, 2020
Posted in Columns | % Comments
[Banner art by Andrea Sorrentino, interior art by Francesco Francavilla]

Since it began in 2008, Breaking Bad has been a shot in the arm for long form television, quickly becoming one of the most consistently amazing shows in television history. Since then it’s morphed into the spin-off series Better Call Saul and the semi-sequel film El Camino. with that in mind, I think this series has huge potential to break into comics in a novel and creative way. Assorted spoilers ahead for Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and El Camino.

Hermanos

Of all the spin-offs people have pitched to the internet, this might be the most common, so I’ll try to be quick with it. A comic series starring Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring would sell an insane amount of copies. Now Breaking Bad obviously showed us Gustavo in his prime, and Better Call Saul has given us a lot of insight into his rise to power, but there’s still so much we don’t know about his upbringing. We never get to see just how Gustavo Fring broke bad.

The most interesting period of his life to explore would be his upbringing in Chile, as he and his close friend Max Arcinega (not be confused with the actor who plays Krazy-8) set up the first iteration of their Los Pollos Hermanos/meth distribution empire. The other really interesting period to explore would be the events in Mexico following Gus’s assassination of Don Eladio and the Mexican Cartel, followed by his own death at the hands of Walter White. We could look at the disarray left behind in the wake of Gus’s revenge, all while looking back at the man he was growing into being. It’s been hinted at that Gus Fring might not actually be his real name (seeing as no one could actually find him on the Chilean records in BrBa), which would be a really interesting character element to explore: these shows are full of dual identities (Walter White/Heisenberg, Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman), and having one for Gus in this comic would not only breathe new life into the character, but illustrate just how much this new identity has overwhelmed the man he used to be.

Gus would make a great protagonist just due to how much of an unknown quantity he is. Sure, we’ve seen the basic steps in his journey, but there’s so much more to explore in-between. All we really know is he was born into extreme poverty, met Max, started Los Pollos, emigrated to Mexico in ‘86, caught the attention of the Cartel, watched Max get killed by Don Hector, and spent the next twenty years on a mission for revenge. See how many directions you could go along the way? We could explore what Max meant to Gus, how he got a foothold in the criminal world, whether he had kids, what he left behind when he crossed the border — it’s just a really rich story that would be a huge departure from the comfortable southern hospitality of the other two shows.

Finally, there’s very few other characters that can bring the mindset Fring does. Gus isn’t Walt, he’s always been better. Even though Walt carries the vague principles of scientific theory in what he does, he’s never had self-restraint or discipline, every choice he made in the show was centered around him never having to compromise. Gus meanwhile, lives his life in constant compromise, constant accomodation and understanding, all so that he can steadily and subtly grow. His entire life is centered around long periods of discipline followed by quick, ruthless moments of destructive release. It’s such a transfixing character trait, and getting to follow a story from that point of view would be even more gratifying.

Apology Girl

Krysten Ritter’s Jane Margolis is one of the most interesting characters in BrBa, and really only gets one season on the show to prove it; she’s a great foil for Jesse, an interesting obstacle for Walt, and I’d say one of the most novel perspectives the show has had. She’s artistic and philosophical in a way few other characters are, gets to deal in deadpan while everyone luxuriates in melodrama, and also gives us one of the rare insights into the fallout that drug dealing actually has for the people buying the product.

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There’s this tendency on BrBa to abstract the drug dealing: meth is money and money is meth. We never really see the sore impact Walt and Jessie’s Blue Sky is having on people’s lives, I mean we see how it makes Jessie’s other problems worse, and how it impacts people caught in the fire like Combo and Tomas, but there’s never really a moment where Walt has to realize just how many thousands of people his meth has hurt. That’s where I think a story centered on Jane would be really interesting, it could show the painful reality underlying the male fantasy of high-stakes, high-profit drug dealing. I also think it would be really interesting to see how Jane approached rehab before falling back into old habits. We’ve seen Jessie and his other partner Andrea in rehab, and we know Jane got clean at some point, but it would be really unique seeing how someone who’s more self aware and existential handles rehab when put through the Vince Gilligan filter. Maybe she’s more resistant to the rigmarole of it, maybe she’s grateful for the procedure it gives? We’ve never really seen a character in this series who’s successfully held themselves to an external moral code, so maybe we can finally get close to that with Jane.

Out of all the ideas on this list, this is the one best suited to comics seeing as Jane is a genuine artist. You could create a really interesting, metatextual form of presentation where the art she consumes interacts with the art her story is rendered with, perhaps echo some Georgia O’Keeffe and put in some poetry by Elizabeth Bishop, something to make the comic feel like a dialogue with other female art. You also definitely have the chance to do something more abstract with the rendering of Jane’s drug addiction, and the way her worldview shifts when on heroin; it could create a really robust visual language for the book.

Jane just inhabits a really fun corner of the BrBa universe: Better Call Saul is great, but it generally sticks to the higher echelons of law and crime in New Mexico, drug lords and lawyers. Jane gets to live on a smaller scale, where people are more caught in the middle, and I think that would really show in a comic about a career as intimate as tattoo artistry. (Plus it could probably make for a fun cameo from Badger or Skinny Pete.) There’s just a great niche this show could fit in, where the creative team can throw us into her life and her stresses, how she makes her living above and below the law, who she’s hurt and loved before Jessie. That kind of empathetic stress is what this franchise has always succeeded at, and Jane’s story would be a perfect new avenue for it.

The Lamberts

The moment you start engaging with BrBa online you’re going to learn something pretty quick, generally speaking, the internet hates Skyler White (Anna Gunn). When you have a show framed entirely around the moral depravity of one man, I guess it’s pretty easy to hate the person who prevents that downward spiral, and keeps tugging him back towards mundanity. I don’t want a story to ‘redeem’ Skyler, she doesn’t need that, none of Walt’s family do, they’re supposed to be frustrating and needy and questioning, it’s why Skyler, Marie and Flynn all work as well as they do. What I want is a story that finally centers them as the survivors of trauma, rather than accomplices to it. I want to look at what happens when they give up the White name.

So what does this story add? Well for once it gives us a very public kind of social struggle, which we hardly see in these shows. Most of the main conflicts in BrBa are hinged on secrecy, people fight to maintain it while also being held back by their need for it. That kind of secluded lifestyle is now impossible for Skyler, Flynn and Marie. We see that after “Ozymandias,” Walt is an urban legend, Hank is martyred, and any normality for their family is gone. We would get to watch these characters try to live simple lives while also having their faces recognised all across Alburquerque for the wrong reasons. I think this series could work great in either the one-year gap between “Ozymandias” and “Felina,” or after the finale when Walt is truly dead and the family can face deconstruction and reconstruction over a number of years.

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Now I’m not looking for a story about Skyler becoming a master embezzler, or Marie going into cat burglary, I don’t think these characters need to ‘break bad’ like that. What is interesting is a story about culpability: are these characters tempered or tortured by what they went through? What do they blame themselves for? What don’t they blame themselves for? That said, there is a place for crime in their story — Skyler regularly cuts corners by breaking the law, while Marie uses petty crime as catharsis; those attitudes would be interesting to come back to, once they’re under new pressure, have their relationships strained, and don’t have the same safety nets they once did.

There are a lot of ways you could make this story unique to a graphical medium too, you could bring different kinds of styles and page layouts to the trademark montages of the series, you could have the book done in monochrome, like the post-BrBa Better Call Saul flashbacks, or you could change art styles depending on character POVs. Honestly, when you’re approaching a more personal story in a more interpretative medium, you have more chances to portray things non-linearly, and a comic could make this story far more engaging than it would be on-screen. Also, imagine how good Flynn’s breakfast would look if it was drawn in full cooking manga fidelity.

The New Mexico Phonebook: A Breaking Bad Anthology

One of the most endearing parts of BrBa was its willingness to build up this pool of side characters and minor criminals who pop in and out of the show, using their different skills and quirks to help out Walt and Jessie. In that vein, it’d be really interesting to look a little closer at these different accomplices in a point-of-view anthology book: maybe some origins, or just some day-in-the-life adventures.

‘Huell and Kuby’
Huell Babineaux (Lavell Crawford) and Patrick Kuby (Bill Burr) were Saul’s go-to guys in BrBa, and probably one of the most iconic duos to ever touch the show. They’re this perfectly in-sync odd couple that never got the time to shine that they deserved, and there’s so many great places you could pick up their story at; we could see how they first started working together, find out about Huell’s first arrest (as referenced in Better Call Saul), or figure out whether Huell ever did get out of that safe house. Honestly, I just want to find a way we can get another reference to Huell as the patron saint of Free Will Baptist Church.

‘Old Joe’
As the resident junkyard king of Albuquerque, Old Joe (Larry Hankin) comes in handy more than you would think. He helps with the RV, the magnet, he even helped Jesse with the titular El Camino in El Camino. Joe always seems like ‘Diet Mike Ehrmantraut,’ he has that same quiet assuredness, and is pretty down-to-earth for a guy who disposes of bodies by throwing them in a car compactor. We could see what an average day looks like for Joe, as he crosses between life as a junker and fixer on both sides of the law, and maybe even delve into the life of ‘Young Joe.’

‘Wendy’
Wendy (Julia Minesci) wasn’t the most constructive female archetype on BrBa, especially for a show lacking in compelling, autonomous women, but she does have some great moments on the show as Jesse’s accomplice. There’s definitely an interesting angle to be written when you’re looking at a sex worker addicted to Blue Sky. It fits into what I was saying with “Apology Girl,” and how we never get enough stories from the perspective of drug addicts in this world.

‘Lawson’
Lawson (Jim Beaver) first appeared in the beginning of season four of BrBa, working as a pretty heavy duty arms dealer, always been tangled up in a nifty corner of this world. While most of the BrBa cast are way too willing to resort to violence, many still avoid guns, so Lawson acted as a pretty good gateway for Walt and Mike into their newly violent careers. I think a story from Lawson’s perspective where he gets a peek into the lives of all these desperate people would be a great piece of character work.

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‘Barry Goodman’
One of my favourite minor characters in both BrBa and Better Call Saul (the exchange between him and Jesse about how “This man needs help!” but, “This man pays my salary” is one of the best on the show), Dr. Goodman (J.B. Blanc) shows what life is like for an average person entrenched in the Cartel. Plus, I like seeing how a doctor reacts to all the insane shit people on this show put themselves through: I’d love to see more about his relationship to Gus before he left Mexico, or see how he keeps his community afloat when he’s not pulling bullets out of Mike — maybe we could even figure out where his weirdly familiar name came from.

‘The Disappearer’
Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster) is damn good at two things:

1. Selling people affordable and reasonable vacuum cleaners.
2. Getting you off the face of the Earth as quickly and quietly as possible.

Funkily enough he’s the only character other than Mike to appear in BrBa, Better Call Saul and El Camino, which probably explains how he’s left such a strong impression; I just love characters like this who have such a specific and intricate skillset. How the hell did disappearing people become his trademark? Why does he do it? How does he even pull it off? I feel like most of the magic with him comes from knowing so little about him, but I also love the idea of following a character who only is introduced to people at their ultimate lowpoint; he’s the person they call when everything is irreparably shot to shit, and that’s a really compelling point of view. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns up in Better Call Saul one more time (maybe disappearing Lalo or Nacho or even Kim), but using Ed as the introduction to the rise and fall of Albuquerque’s previous would-be crime lords would be an amazing story that could even have some mileage past a single one-shot.

So there you have it, some of my favourite side characters from across the BrBa universe. I think these could work well in a huge variety of formats. You could obviously just chuck it all together in a one-and-done OGN, could space them out over a series of one-shots, or release it as one series with a single writer/artist pair who give the book some kind of thematic/artistic throughline. Still, any chance to delve back into the eccentrics of this world is more than welcome.

Anyway, I’d love to get people’s input on their own ideas or characters that they’d love to see make the leap into the comic book medium. By this point Gilligan and Co. probably feel like they can take us pretty much anywhere in this world and fans will follow, and you know what? They’re goddamn right.


//TAGS | We Want Comics

James Dowling

James Dowling is probably the last person on Earth who enjoyed the film Real Steel. He has other weird opinions about Hellboy, CHVRCHES, Squirrel Girl and the disappearance of Harold Holt. Follow him @James_Dow1ing on Twitter if you want to argue about Hugh Jackman's best film to date.

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