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Since they signed an exclusive five-year contract with Image Comics last year, the crime-comics duo of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been rolling out newer, weirder stories with the finale of Fatale and their latest Hollywood noir The Fade Out.
But at the end of this month, they’ll return to their biggest project, the anthologized yet interconnected neo noir series Criminal. Originally published though Marvel’s Icon imprint beginning in 2006, the series returns on Jan. 28 with a one-two punch of Coward, the first Image Comics trade collection, and an all-new magazine-sized one-shot titled Criminal: Savage Edition.
We caught up with Brubaker about the return of Criminal, the one-shot’s mix of prison life and ’70s genre comics, and the future of his partnership with Phillips.
ROBOT 6: You’ve spoken a lot about picking up new readers with each project you’ve launched at Image, and because it’s been a few years since you and Sean did a brand-new Criminal volume, I thought we’d start with the basics. How do you describe Criminal to those who haven’t read it? It’s a series with a high concept behind it, but it’s not one of those “It’s The Big Sleep … in Space!” kind of high concepts.
Ed Brubaker: It really doesn’t have a high concept, does it? I usually just lean on saying it’s won a bunch of awards and is critically acclaimed, because I don’t know how to “one-sentence” it. But let’s try …
Legal | Attorney Evan Stassberg finds two significant problems with Comic-Con International’s trademark-infringement claim against Salt Lake Comic Con over the use of the term “Comic Con”: There are a lot of shows called “comic con,” so it could be argued it’s a descriptive term that’s not specific to the San Diego event, and precisely because there are so many events that use that term, it could be argued that Comic-Con International organizers haven’t been policing their trademark. Strassberg adds, “The Salt Lake organizers’ steadfast defiance and ongoing gravitas has turned a simple trademark dispute into a national news story with mountains of free publicity for the Salt Lake event. If this was intentional, it is an astonishing display of marketing genius. If this was mere happenstance, it is the comic book convention equivalent of the accidental invention of Post-It notes.” [Deseret News]
“Everyone who’s ever written Captain America has wanted to bring Bucky back, and I was the first person who arrived at a time where they were willing to … The whole thing when Bucky died was a ret-con that Stan Lee did because he didn’t like sidekicks, and Jack Kirby went along with it because he thought it was this great way to add tragedy to Captain America […] But honestly, when I got the book, I was asked, ‘What would you want to do?’ and I said, ‘Well, I have this idea about how to bring back Bucky, where he is like a really cool bad guy who’s actually an adult.’ And Joe Quesada said, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting, because we just this big summit where we were arguing over whether we could bring back Bucky or not, because Captain America is not selling.’
I was working on a thing with Gene Colan years later — his last comic that he ever did; he drew Captain America, he co-created the Falcon — and I asked him, ‘How come you guys never brought Bucky back?’ And he said, ‘Oh, y’know, we were doing this story where Bucky came back and he turned out to be a robot, and I asked Stan, “Why don’t we have it be the real Bucky?” and he said, “Aw, sales aren’t low enough yet.”‘ Stan was always OK with [resurrecting Bucky], because he always left the door open — like when Bucky died, they always put the word ‘supposedly’ in there, so I felt like the door was left open. I got a lot of flak for it at the time, because it was a ret-con, but I also tried really hard to make sure the ret-con worked with the actual con, if that makes sense.”
– Ed Brubaker, in a wide-ranging discussion that touches upon his Captain America run, his collaborations with Sean Phillips and Steve Epting, and the five-year deal he and Phillips signed with Image Comics
Creators | Shaenon Garrity chronicles Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson’s recent return to the public eye. While Watterson stopped drawing the strip in 1995, he recently provided a painting for the Team Cul De Sac charity, did an interview and created a poster for the documentary Stripped, and contributed as a guest artist to Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine comic strip. [Paste Magazine]
Comics | Some bonus Calvin and Hobbes content: Adam Weinstein looks at the history of those “peeing Calvin” decals, with a short road trip into the “praying Calvin” variant. [Gawker]
Creators | Marc Sobel interviews Ganges creator Kevin Huizenga. [The Comics Journal]
Publishing | Spurred by the GoFundMe campaign launched last week by Dan Vado to get SLG Publishing “back on its feet,” Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture author Rob Salkowitz wonders whether a nonprofit model might make sense for some indie/niche publishers: “Contrary to popular perception, however, being a non-profit doesn’t mean you can’t make money. Lots of successful non-profits generate revenues in the millions and pay their staff, executives and contributors salaries comparable with those in the private sector. They can also pay contractors and contributors like performers or creators full market rates. They just don’t pay shareholders, and they plow any excess revenues back into their operations.” [ICv2.com]
Conventions | Organizers of the growing Asbury Park Comicon have announced that, after three years, they’re relocating the New Jersey convention to the Meadowlands Exhibition Center in Secaucus and renaming it East Coast Comicon. Founders Cliff Galbraith and Robert Bruce say the nearly 40-mile move was triggered by a sharp increase in rates at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel in Asbury Park, but the hotel’s manager thinks it’s because the venue couldn’t accommodate the dates requested by organizers. The inaugural East Coast Comicon will be held April 11-12, 2015. [Asbury Park Press]
Passings | Amadee Wohlschlaeger, who drew the comic strip Weatherbird for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 70 years, has died at age 102. Weatherbird, which debuted in 1901, is the oldest continuously published comic in the United States, and Wohlschlaeger (who went by just his first name) is one of just four cartoonists to draw it. He was named one of the top 10 sports cartoonists in the country, and his drawing of Stan Musial inspired the statue at Busch Stadium. [KSDK]
“Ed [Brubaker] got too busy, so Ed had to leave. Sales were what they were — it was Iron Fist. It was critically acclaimed, and not losing money was enough. But David Aja was going to stop because of the schedule and other work, and Ed was going to stop because of his schedule, and I basically didn’t want to be the Mike Love of Iron Fist, the only original member left ruining what you remember about the band. So I said alright, we’ll stop at #16. I knew what my twist was, what my end was, I thought I’d do that sort of West Wing thing where you end with a “holy fuck!” moment for the next guys, and let them have fun building everything up and finding out what the new status quo is. So it felt more important to go out on a high note with everybody happy, than to be the guy who ruined the book.”
— writer Matt Fraction, on why he left Marvel’s The Immortal Iron Fist with Issue 16, in an interesting discussion of his career from Rex Mantooth through The Order
Events | The second annual Black Comic Book Festival will take place this weekend at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. The lineup of guests includes Norwood Steven Harris, Grey Williamson and Tim Fielder. “It is the largest gathering of black comic book fans in the country,” says Schomburg Director Khalil Gibran Muhammad. “There is something for everyone from the aspirational 9-year-old illustrator, to the costumed superheroes, to the lifelong collectors.” [New York Daily News]
Creators | Ed Brubaker discusses the exclusive deal he and Sean Phillips signed with Image Comics, announced last week at Image Expo: ” It’s almost like having your own label or something. Just the fact that we can green-light our own projects and we have approval over format, everything. … I feel like we have such a core audience that seems to follow us from thing to thing, so let’s take advantage of that and really just experiment and go crazy and just be artists.” [IGN]
In three short years, Image Comics has turned Image Expo into the first big comics event of the year. Interest in the publisher’s announcements has reached the point where I wish there were live-streaming video of the presentation. Maybe next year. For now, we have to settle with live coverage, which was still pretty fun. Image Expo didn’t disappoint: It seemed as if every title announced caught my interest. There are a few that stand out, however, so here are my Top 5 picks of the announcements that went above and beyond.
1. Image signs Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to a five-year exclusive contract
The acclaimed collaborators have a perpetual green light at Image to do whatever they want for the next five years. That’s a big vote of confidence, and a real commitment to support Brubaker and Phillips. It must be quite a relief for them to not have to worry about crafting the perfect pitch and convincing someone to believe in their story. They just get to create. It’s an exciting arrangement, and one I hope will serve as a pilot program for others equally worthy.
A lot of big announcements came out of Image Expo today — among them, new projects from Grant Morrison, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Scott Snyder and Jock, and Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie — but the most significant may be an unprecedented five-year deal with frequent collaborators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.
The agreement allows the creators, in the words of the publisher, “to do anything they want with total freedom, total control, and total ownership over their projects.” Or, as Brubaker told The New York Times, “It really is like a movie studio gave you an overall deal where you could green light your own projects. If you wanted to do a four-hour Russian film, you could — you may not make a profit, but you could do it.”
The first project under the deal will be The Fade Out, which Brubaker said at the expo is “loosely based on things that happened in Hollywood in the ’40s.” It will debut this summer, following the conclusion of Fatale with Issue 24.
Brubaker and Phillips first worked together in 1999 on Scene of the Crime, and reteamed for Sleeper, Criminal, Incognito and Fatale.
Image Publisher Eric Stephenson explained the deal with the Eisner Award-winning duo was easy to approve, telling The Times, “Whoever is looking back at comics history is going to be looking back at the work of certain creative teams and Ed and Sean is one the biggest teams we’ve had.”
Given the project’s title, it’s certainly understandable that fans might draw a connection between the newly announced Fox drama Gotham and the former DC Comics police procedural Gotham Central. However, as far as Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka know, one has nothing to do with the other.
I don’t know anything about that Gotham show, and I have no idea if it’s anything to do with Gotham Central in any way. I’m guessing not,” Brubaker, who co-wrote the comic with Rucka, said on Twitter shortly after the announcement. “[…] I only point this out because people keep congratulating me and as far as I can tell, this show has nothing to do with Gotham Central. And it’s weird to be congratulated mistakenly.”
But even if the show did have a connection to Gotham Central, Rucka wrote on his blog, “that wouldn’t matter, because DC owns the rights and the characters, as they should. This was work-for-hire, something all of us knew at the start.”
Gotham, which has been given a series commitment by Fox, is said to explore the origins of Jim Gordon and some of the city’s villains. Developed by Bruno Heller (Rome, The Mentalist), it centers on Gordon as a detective with the Gotham City Police Department, before he ever met Batman.
Manga | As part of the 45th-anniversary celebration of Weekly Shonen Jump, legendary Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump creator Akira Toriyama will launch a new manga series called Ginga Patrol Jaka (Galactic Patrol Jaka) in the magazine’s July 13 issue. Teased only with vague declaration “The ‘legend’ of hope for the entire world returns here!!,” the series marks the 58-year-old artist’s first manga since the 2010 one-shot Kintoki, created for Weekly Shonen Jump‘s “Top of the Super Legend” project. [Anime News Network]
Creators | Carol Tyler speaks frankly about her struggle to finish the third book of her trilogy You’ll Never Know while taking care of her dying mother and her seriously ill sister, who are characters in the book: “I literally had to do the back end of Book III in hospitals, nursing homes, at the chemo place and in waiting rooms. It was insane.” She also discusses her style choices and how the finished books differed from her original art. [The Comics Journal]
When comics entrepreneur Marc Arsenault announced almost a year ago that he had bought defunct Alternative Comics in order to relaunch the publisher, a lot of fans (me included) were thrilled. Under founder Jeff Mason, Alternative introduced readers to creators like Graham Annable, Brandon Graham, James Kochalka, Ed Brubaker, Scott Campbell (of Great Movie Showdowns fame), Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld. So with Alternative and comiXology announcing today that the publisher’s catalog is becoming available digitally on the app, I was eager to talk to Arsenault about their plans.
Michael May: For those who don’t know you, what’s your background in comics?
Marc Arsenault: Wow. Where to begin? I’ve been a pretty behind-the-scenes guy for most of my time in comics, but this year I’ve hit the quarter century mark for working in them.
I figured out that I wanted to make comics somewhere around eighth grade when I discovered RAW, Warrior and Heavy Metal. When I found out about the comics program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) my path was clear. I didn’t even apply to any other schools. I got to study with Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Joe Orlando, David Sandlin, Jerry Moriarity, Marshall Arisman and the very influential Jack Potter.
That experience was very relevant to Alternative Comics’ past and present because it was there that I met Sam Henderson and Tom Hart. I shared a studio space with Tom, and he and Sam had started an off-campus comics anthology called Tuna Casserole. By the fifth issue I became co-editor and we founded the first incarnation of my company Wow Cool. I ended up becoming an illustrator instead of a cartoonist, and did that freelance on and off up until about a decade ago.
I didn’t talk about the first issue of the new, more NOW! Secret Avengers last week for a few reasons: First off, I try to keep things positive as I can here at The Fifth Color; I can’t say I always succeed, but being fair is good goal to shoot for. Secondly, I would have wanted to talk about the ending of Rick Remender’s run on the title way more than Nick Spencer’s new gig. Seriously, how amazing was that last issue? Remender really pulled out all the stops on his fascinating robot revolution and really made me sit up and take notice toward the end despite what was more of a expositional start. I hope he has time to come back to his philosophical super-science take on man vs. machine, but I’m guessing it’ll be awhile before Deathlok is back under his employ. Then again, the Uncanny Avengers are specifically the “non-discriminatory: Avengers group, so maybe Deathlok will be sneaking into a few more pages- and see? I told you.
Lastly, it was the day after Valentine’s Day and I am a huge sap.
Thankfully, the esteemed Michael May was dashingly handsome enough to compare the new NOW! Nick Spencer spy story with the similarly cast new storyline in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Avengers Assemble. Comparing their sp-ytastic stories against one another, it was easy to see where one had suceeded at being a movie-like throwback to secret agent action and where one sadly failed.
Below, I’m going to talk about how Secret Avengers drew the short straw in comic storytelling and how that cool new ‘indy look’ for Marvel comics can fall flat on it’s face. Join me, won’t you?
WARNING: We’re talking about Secret Avengers #1 and Winter Soldier #14, so grab your copies and read along!
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.
If I had $15, I’d be tempted to blow it all on the recolored Death of Superman collection for the ’90s nostalgia. But then I’d probably flip through it and come to my senses, and instead get something new like Fatale #12 ($3.50) by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, which looks like it’s going to be a trip, flashing back to Medieval times but self-contained as a good entry point for new readers. That’s smart comics. Speaking of smarty-pants, I’d probably get The Manhattan Projects #9 ($3.50) by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. It’s the first part of a two-part story about scientists trying to take over the world. There will probably be lots of words that leave me dizzy. I likely wouldn’t be able to resist Matt Wagner writing The Shadow: Year One #1 ($3.99) because, you know, The Shadow knows. I haven’t been following IDW’s G.I. Joe universe but G.I. Joe #1 ($3.99) by Fred Van Lente and Steve Kurth seems like a good opportunity to try it out. And I’d finish it off with Cyber Force #3 by Marc Silvestri and Koi Pham because it’s free.
With $30, I would add to the above. Darkhawk is on the cover of Avengers Arena #4 ($2.99) by Dennis Hopeless and Alessandro Vitti, so I’d be compelled to buy that. I’ve been meaning to check out Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening’s Ghostbusters since I hear it’s real fun, so the relaunched Ghostbusters #1 ($3.99) is a perfect opportunity. Morning Glories #24 ($2.99) by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma seems too intriguing to pass up. I am so behind on the X-books, but I’d be real tempted to try Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo’s Uncanny X-Men #1 ($3.99).
My splurge item would be tough. I’d be real tempted to get either the Iron Man Omnibus collecting the entire run of David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Romita Jr., including the famous alcoholism story, or Counter X: Generation X – Four Days by Brian Wood. But I’d probably end up instead getting the Daredevil By Mark Waid, Vol. 1 hardcover for $35. I don’t know, do I need to justify this purchase? It’s probably the most beloved superhero comic of last year, maybe for the last couple of years. It paved the way for similarly rejuvenating series at Marvel like Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, and Young Avengers. The art by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin is swoon-worthy. And it wants to be on my bookshelf, dagnabbit!