As one of the hardest working men in comics, Ed Brisson seems to always be juggling a number of promising projects. We chatted with the gritty Vancouverite earlier this year about his trippy super hero epic The Mantle so we were happy to talk to him again about his new urban noir work The Violent. Where The Mantle was a sprawling affair that covered a number of destinies, The Violent is devoted to the story of a couple with legal issues who are desperately trying to go straight, both for their own sakes’ and for their young child. Brisson filled us in on the development of that series, what it says about Vancouver’s own legal issues, how working in a number of roles has helped improve his comic management skills and much more.
Nick Hanover for Loser City: Your upcoming series The Violent is pretty much what its title promises: a gritty look at the struggles of a few criminals who are trying to go straight. There are a lot of comics on crime out there, but yours takes an almost domestic approach to the subject– it’s about as far from noir glamour as you can get. Did you intend it as an antidote to the wave of sexy crime comics that have come out in the wake of Criminal and similar works?
Ed Brisson: I don’t think that I intended it as an antidote to anything, no. The Violent is more a product of my own interests and experiences. While I think that most people will equate crime fiction with ‘40s-era noir, I’ve always preferred late ‘70s neo-noir. Stuff like The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Straight Time, Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, etc. Stories about people– not necessarily gangsters and detectives, but blue collar people who find themselves in terrible situations, sometimes through their own fault, but not always. That’s always been the type of crime fiction that’s resonated loudest with me. Those are the films that I go back to over and over again.
LC: You made the choice to set the comic in Vancouver, BC, which might stand out odd to people who are unaware of the city’s massive crime and drug problems. Did you choose Vancouver as the setting in part because its criminal element is hidden from the outside world so well?
EB: That’s part of it, for sure. Part of it is that I was a little tired of seeing the same settings over and over and over again. How many more NY based stories do we need? LA? Chicago? So, yeah, part of it was that I wanted to switch it up a little. A larger part of it was that I live in Vancouver. I love Vancouver. But there’s a lot of fucked up stuff that happens here and I think that it makes a great backdrop for a story like this– especially for a family who’s trying to scrape by in an environment where rents and property values are constantly sky-rocketing.
And, as you mentioned, Vancouver has some pretty serious crime and drug problems. The Downtown Eastside, for example, is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in all of Canada. Drive through there and it’s just blocks upon blocks of drug addicts shuffling down the street or set up on the sidewalk selling salvaged and/or stolen goods. The unemployment rate in the DTES is roughly 65%. On top of that, we’ve got plenty of gangs here– there was a pretty intense and bloody gang war waging just a couple of years back. Things have been quieter recently, although, that said, just two weeks ago, there was a dude shot execution style just a couple of blocks from where I live– broad daylight and in the parking lot of a busy stripmall.
LC: Adam Gorham’s style in The Violent reminds me of Darick Robertson’s work in The Boys, but obviously without as much visual humor. Did you develop The Violent together or did Gorham’s work on more crime-oriented series like Zero and Dead Drop help convince you that he would be a perfect fit?
EB: I’ve actually known Adam for quite a few years. I think we first met and hung out back in 2011, when Michael and I were working on Comeback (which would come out a year later). Adam and Michael are close friends, and so when I was in town, usually for Fan Expo Canada, we’d generally all hang out. He was an artist who I was keeping my eye on and had always hoped to work with one day.
I don’t recall the exact moment where I thought he’d be a great fit, but it was probably sometime early in 2014. He and I had talked quite a bit about books and there was a lot of overlap for the type of stuff that he and I read. He recommended a few authors to me– William Gay, Craig Davidson, etc– who I’d never read, but enjoyed immensely. Knowing that his sensibilities were in sync with mine is why I approached him about doing a crime book together. At the time, the series didn’t have a name though, I kept referring to it as a Murder Book ongoing series. In many ways, The Violent is the sister series to Murder Book.
LC: One of the things that struck me most about this first issue is how confident you are in Gorham, allowing him to take the lead in a number of sequences where there is little or no dialogue. It pays off because he is excellent at conveying complicated emotions, like the anxiety the two leads have over switching from a criminal life to something closer to “normal.” The move away from intense crime dialogue stands out in the comics field, but that seems like an especially cinema-influenced decision, almost a holdover from Gorham’s Drive connection, for which he did gorgeous covers.
Last time we spoke, you and I discussed your feeling that since you’re not a “name” you have to grab readers immediately in your first issues, were you ever concerned that this might be a barrier for crime comic fans used to rapid fire dialogue? What are some of the tricks you use as a writer to keep the interest of short attention span comics readers?
EB: Yeah, there’s still some of that fear. The Violent starts slow, but it’s like a snowball, once it starts rolling it gets bigger and bigger and harsher and harsher. But, yeah, there is that fear that some readers might read the first issue and be bummed by there not being one HUGE scene or cliffhanger, but at the same time, this is really the story that we want to tell and we’re just going to have to hope that readers have faith to come along for the ride, I guess. I mean, I’m immensely proud of how the issue came together and I think that there’s a lot going on in it, so, let’s hope readers agree.
As for letting Adam’s art breathe…I think that’s part of just being comfortable with one another and trusting that the other knows what they’re doing. I mean, those silent pages…that silent open, that’s the sort of stuff I LOVE. I mean…have you seen Blue Ruin? The first 10 minutes of that film are silent and it’s perfect. Any narration would have ruined that. Same goes for those pages in this book.
LC: A lot of the message of The Violent in the first issue centers around the cyclical nature of crime, the way the underclass are punished for trying to go straight, as is the case in a scene where the co-lead Becky finds out her corporate bosses have stiffed her on her paycheck yet again, which seems to push her towards considering going back to her old life again. Do you feel this is something people lack empathy for? Do you think superhero comics in a way help sustain that lack of empathy by treating crime as a black and white issue that is usually resolved with fists and criminals of every stripe always getting the same punishment?
EB: 100%. I think that we have this idea that people are going to go to prison and they’re going to learn their lesson and come out and be productive members of society. But, we’re ALSO going to make them put that they’ve been to prison on their job application so that no one will hire them. We’re going to deny them access to public housing. We’re going to repeatedly penalize them and make it so hard and so difficult to survive that we’re essentially pushing them right back into criminal lifestyles because there are so few options left to them.
The prison system in the United States is a fucking joke. It’s broken and I’m not sure that most the population knows how it’s supposed to work or how it’s failing the lower class. I could literally launch into an essay on this, but I’ll spare the reader. Canada’s system is better– we don’t have privatized institutions– but still incredibly flawed.
With Becky, the issue is addiction based, but still…it’s a very similar cycle.
LC: Becky is one of the most complicated characters in The Violent and I have to say that initially I was worried she was going to be another cliche, shrill wife, so common to these kinds of stories. Instead, she gets basically equal narrative time as her husband, Mason, and while she is frequently the voice of reason, we get to see her self-doubts and anxieties handled with fairness. Was it important to you to avoid the cliche of the nagging partner to a low level criminal? Did anyone help give you feedback on her dialogue and plotline?
EB: I wanted to avoid any cliches, of course. Becky is going to be one of the major driving factors in the story– although at times it may not seem this way (have faith!). She’s the one who’s pushing change. She’s had her lows, she’s sympathetic and knows that it’s probably going to be harder on Mason, with him having been to prison. But, she’s dealing with her own shit too and is going to deal. I think sometimes the “wife” or “girlfriend” is treated as the co-star, so you don’t get equal development or screen time. But, Mason and Becky are here as partners. They’re equal in this and you’re going to see that going through the series.
As for feedback, the only people who’ve seen it are the creative team and, now, reviewers and retailers. I tend to not show scripts to too many people, to be honest. I’ll write and then usually revise until I’m happy and then send the script to my collaborators– in this case Adam– for their thoughts and then revise again if needed. Obviously, with other publishers, there’s an editor in the mix who’ll often provide feedback that I’ll use when rewriting. But, other than that, no.
My wife will read my writing, but tends to wait for the trade. I don’t think she’s ever read anything of mine in script form. Also, she’s still mad at me for what I did to the dogs in Sheltered.
LC: With all that in mind, why pick the name The Violent? Given that it’s “violent” and not “violence,” it seems like you intended it to have some class connotations, or for it to at least refer to a group since it’s seemingly presented as a noun. Is it commentary on the way we view former criminals as violent dangers, regardless of the crimes they actually committed? Or am I reading too much into it?
EB: That’s EXACTLY the rationale behind the title. I mean, damn, I couldn’t have said it any better. It’s all about society’s perceptions of those who’ve been convicted of a crime and how we tend to treat them.
Also, there’s always going to be this underlying tension within the book, the possibility of violence at any point. Obviously, that violence is going to be coming from our cast, so we wanted a title that gave the reader that feeling of unease right up front.
LC: Last month at NYCC, it was announced that you would be releasing a new series with Boom! in January called The Last Contract. The copy from Boom! references John Wick and details a story of a retired hitman trying to track down the blackmailer who forced him out of retirement. There seems to be a thematic connection to The Violent there as the characters are forced back into lives they’ve tried to escape, but the preview art and the tone of synopsis make it seem like this will be a grittier crime book, in the vein of Parker or even some of the Sin City stories. Do you view The Violent and The Last Contract as sister works, occupying different ends of the crime spectrum? Was one easier for you to write than the other?
EB: If anyone goes in hoping for something like John Wick, they’ll be sorely disappointed. I sort of winced at the comparison. On a very surface level, it’s about a hitman and he does have a dog, but that’s where any comparison ends. The Last Contract is about an 80 year old ex-hit-man and his old, incontinent Bassett Hound. He’s not some super hitman with a huge cache of high tech weaponry. He doesn’t drive fast cars. There’s ZERO flash in this series. He’s an old broken man, who just wants to be left alone to live out his final years. He only comes out of retirement in order to stop what’s happening.
Compared to The Violent, I’d say that The Last Contract is more of your classic crime series– you’ve got hitmen and gangsters, blackmail and double crosses. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun to write. It’s gritty, but does have a dark humor streak that runs through it. The Violent, on the other hand, is pretty unrelenting. It’s intense, start to finish and is less your classic crime story and more a tale of everyday people just trying to make it under really, really shitty circumstances.
In terms of one being easier to write than the other, I’m not sure, to be honest. Each presents their own unique challenges. I would say that each script for The Violent probably takes less time to write, but only because I’ve had more than a year to work out this first arc (the series was initially greenlit back in 2014). The Last Contract has four issues to tell a lot of story, so there’s been a lot of shuffling and figuring things out.
LC: The Last Contract also continues your streak of working with lesser known but exceptionally talented artists, with Lisandro Estherren contributing interiors. What I’ve seen of Estherren’s work is incredible, he hits the sweet spot between Ben Templesmith and Sean Murphy. What do you think makes him an ideal fit for this particular script?
EB: Yeah, Lisandro is amazing. Eric and Cam had shown me a bunch of portfolios for artists that they’d wanted to work with and there was NO QUESTION that Lisandro was 100% the right artist for the book. He’s got this perfect euro-style to his art that I really, really love. He did a couple of mock up sketches and just NAILED The Man so perfectly.
Lisandro is incredible at portraying emotion, mood and character and has some surprisingly great comedic timing as well– not that this is a funny book by any stretch. He often will add these little moments on the page that sells the scene so much harder and better than if he’d just following my scripts to the T.
LC: You have a knack for finding incredible up-and-coming artists to work with, but who are some artists you’ve always wanted to collaborate with but haven’t yet? Likewise, though you’re best known for your crime material, what are some genres/settings you’d like to explore that people might not associate with you?
EB: Oh man, the list of artists I’d love to work with is never ending. I’d like to do more with everyone I’ve worked with already, especially the Murder Book crew. But, aside from folks who I’ve already done a series with, I’d love to work with JP Leon, Tonci Zonjic, RM Guéra, John Romita Jr., Declan Shalvey, David Lapham, Annie Wu, Goran Parlov, Marcio Takara, Eduardo Risso, Chris Samnee, James Harren, Guy Davis, Afu Chan, Matteo Scalera, Wes Craig, Gabriel Hardman, Becky Cloonan, Gabriel Bá, Jason Latour, Marco Rudy, Emma Rios…dude, I can go on for days.
Beyond crime, I’m really interested in exploring subject matter that has the feel a ‘80s B-movies– something I think that both Cluster and The Field share. I’ve got a couple projects coming up that fall into this vein as well. I’m a huge film fan and B-movies, cult movies, I love. Really love. I don’t want to do anything that feels derivative in anyway or something that’s a film as a comic, but instead would like to do projects that sort of nod to that era, that have that feel, while also being both original and engaging.
I also really want to do a horror comic. I’m working out ideas for a few and with any luck will have SOMETHING in the works in the next year. I want to do something that can ONLY be a comic, vs. say a movie where you can add a quick edit or sound fx to make the audience jump. I really want to create something that will cause readers to leave the lights on at night. Something that relies less on shock and more on atmosphere and genuine creepiness. Nothing gory, just…unsettling.
LC: This year has been pretty tumultuous for comics, especially on the creators’ rights front, with more and more professionals speaking out about mistreatment in the industry. As someone who has worked in a few different capacities in the industry, do you think things are improving? Has your status as a letterer influenced how you approach collaborations on the titles you write?
EB: I think that the more that information about mistreatment gets out there, the better it is for us all. Transparency never hurt anyone.
I do think that things are improving, although it may not always seem that way. Seeing mistreatments talked about publicly is, to my mind, a sign that thing are improving, that people aren’t going to stand for shit any more. The more that companies, and even other creators, are put on notice, the less likely that sort of behavior is going to be tolerated on a higher level.
That’s not to say that things are where they should be. Far from it. It’s going to be a constant struggle. But, fighting to improve an industry shows that you love that industry and want to see it strive, you want to see it be better than what it is.
And, I’ll be honest here…most of my experiences to date have been pretty pleasant. There are a few things that have happened that have really pissed me off– for example, being offered a book and putting work into an outline, only to find out that I was in a bake-off with four or five other writers. I mean, if I’m told up front that I’m competing with other writers, that’s one thing. The publisher/editor should be upfront about that. But, when I put in the work because I’m led to believe that this is a book I AM writing and am told that there was another take from another writer that they liked better, well…fuck that. That’s some deceitful shit.
I’m happy to pitch on a book with a publisher. But, I need to know what I’m up against. If you’re asking 10 people for pitches, I’m probably not going to do that. If I’m pitching against one or two others, then I probably will. 10+ pitches tells me that the editor doesn’t know what they want, two or three makes sense– that editor is asking specific people that they think fit the book.
As for my own experience as a letterer, I’d say that it does have an impact on how I try to manage creator owned books that I’m involved with. I try REALLY hard to keep the trains on time, because I know full well that if one thing comes in late, everything after that gets less time than it needs and everyone is rushed, which is unfair to them.
As a letterer, I was/am generally the last in the production line. My deal was usually that I’d have a week to letter a book– not that it takes a week, but I’m often dancing between 10-20 projects and can’t drop something just because another late project comes in and needs to be done ASAP. A week gives me time to work it into my schedule and put in the time needed. But, what ends up happening a lot is that a project will come across my plate that needs to be lettered within 24 hours because the script came in a few days late and then the artist was a week late and by the time it hit the colourist, they had another crucial deadline and so they have to work around the clock to get me a book that’s already late and it’s all of a sudden on my shoulders to turn it around next day. Now…it usually only takes a day to letter a comic, but let’s say you said that you’re going to get me a book on the first of the month and you need it back for the seventh, and so I slot you in for that time. Then you drop the book on me on the tenth and say you need need NEED it for the 11th…well, I’ve got OTHER things that were already scheduled for the 11th, something else that’s JUST as crucial and was delivered to me on time. But, in order to keep it on time, I’ll generally pull an all-nighter and get it done. It’s just a one time thing, right? NOPE. Once I letter a book within 24 hours, that becomes the expectation and not the exception. And not just with one or two projects, this happens on nearly EVERY project where I have to turn a book around super fast. It becomes the norm and just about always comes with the apology “last time, I swear!”
So, being a guy who’s been subject to that over and over and over, I try not to subject anyone else to it. I don’t want to have art coming in so late that the colourist has to work through the weekend to meet a deadline. I don’t want to have an artist waiting on a script. Etc. Etc. I mean…these things still happen. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I really try not to let that happen.
I feel like I’ve gone off on a tangent from the original question here, but…yeah, fuck it.
Basically, everyone needs to a) not be an asshole and b) be respectful of each other’s time. If everyone could do that, comics (and the world in general) would be a much better place.
LC: What are some personal creative milestones you’re hoping to reach next year? Do you have any projects on the horizon that you’re particularly hopeful for?
EB: I’m really hoping that The Violent does well enough that we can keep doing it forever. That’s first and foremost. Beyond that, I’ve got The Last Contract from Boom, which I’m excited about. I’m working on Captain Canuck, which is thrilling– Captain Canuck is the first comic I read as a kid and something that I’ve been telling people for years that I was going to write one day. I’m writing and the original series artist, George Freeman, is drawing, so that’s cool.
I’ve just wrapped on my last Batman & Robin Eternal script and am hoping to do more at DC in the near future. We’ll see how that pans out though.
I’ve got a couple of pitches in the works, as mentioned above, that we’ll hopefully see in the next year. Ultimately my hope is that I can land a couple of regular titles with DC or Marvel while also constantly working on one or two creator-owned books at the same time.
I’m also exploring the idea of doing some non-conventional style projects– maybe a Kickstarter OGN or doing a series as single issues for a year or so, before moving over to annual trades in place of the single issues. Maybe digital single issues collected to trade once a year? I dunno.
Just going to try to keep it interesting.
The Violent comes out next Wednesday, December 9th, through Image Comics.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover