With Four Eisners, two Harvey Awards, and acclaimed runs on everything from Daredevil and Batman to his own original stories, Ed Brubaker is a true heavyweight in the world of modern comics. But in case you haven't been initiated into his uncanny cult, Brubaker, often with long-time creative partner Sean Phillips, specialize in all things hard-boiled, whiskey-soaked, sexy, and violent. Picking up a copy of Fatale is finding a lost Dashiell Hammett novel, if Hammett had been inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and The Shadow.
Brubaker is having an especially big summer this year, with the conclusion of Fatale and kicking off his new Hollywood thriller The Fade Out. It was also recently announced that Brubaker and Phillips have just signed a five-year deal with Image Comics, the current high water mark for creator-owned titles. Complex caught up with Brubaker to talk about saying goodbye to Josephine, Fatale's heroine, the explosively surreal sex of the penultimate issue (a personal favorite of mine), and what's to come for The Fade Out.
When you started writing Fatale did you know how Jo’s story would end?
I always know the ending, but I don't always know how I'm going to get there, and lately, I don't even try to figure out how many issues I'll need to tell a story, I just let them be as long as they need to be. Fatale was originally announced as 12 issue, but ended up being 24 instead, so now everything I do it just ongoing until it's over.
But yeah, I knew the last scene in Fatale before I wrote the first issue.
Is it hard to say goodbye to your characters when you finish a comic?
By the time you finish a long run on a book or finish a long story, you're just happy to have finished and get to move onto the next thing. If you're lucky, you're proud of the final results. I'm really proud of Fatale, but I feel more relief from ending it the way I wanted to all along, and to now have time to get onto the next project.
What’s the creative process like between you and Sean?
Our process is the same as it's always been. Sean never wants to know what's coming next, so he finds out one issue at a time, sometimes in a few chunks of pages, when we're running behind. I never really dictate camera angles, or not often, but I'll occasionally suggest something being a full tier, or a sequence of panels all from the same angle, or something. But other than the odd thing here or there, Sean just runs with whatever feels right.
You and Sean have worked together for so long now—how do you keep from becoming complacent?
You answered your own questions there. We work well together because we refuse to become complacent. Every project we do is different from the last one in some major way. Even the Criminal books are different from each other, generally. It gives us creative space to grow and push ourselves to keep getting better at what we do.
Issue 23 of Fatale is easily one of the most beautiful comic books I’ve ever read in my life. How did you decide to incorporate the trippy space imagery into the Sean's usual noir-ish style?
I just felt like those scenes should imply the eternal cosmos, similar to where the sleeping gods might wait, and I wanted that whole issue to feel like some kind of acid trip sex dream. So I wrote it to be double-page spreads and gave Sean some guidance, and then he just went off and made it look amazing. I wanted the moment where Nick finally has sex with Jo to be this mind-altering cosmic awareness moment.
Why did you decide to sign the five-year deal with Image?
The amount of freedom and support at Image is something you won't find anywhere else in the industry, and our five year deal gives us even more freedom, because we get to do whatever we want. We don't have to pitch ideas or wait for approval, and we get total control over publishing and design, too. It's the best deal anyone in comics has ever had, honestly.
How have you seen comics change over the years?
That's a lot of questions in one. I'm not sure I'm an expert on the comics landscape of [the last] 20 years ago. But the biggest change I notice from when I broke in to now is that the big two's sales seem to be on the decline again, and retailers and readers seem to be willing to support good books from Image in numbers they didn't use to. And it feels to me more like Image has become a company aimed at readers, not collectors.
I don't think any of this has changed my work, though; for the majority of my career, I've had at least one creator-owned type of project going on. Even when I was doing Captain America and Daredevil, I was doing Criminal. And when I was doing Batman, I was doing Sleeper, which Sean and I have a big percentage of.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you have in store for The Fade Out?
Tell you what's coming? That'd be spoiling the story. As for why this era appeals to me, it's a lot of things. The glitz and glamor, the fact so much of that world was all lies and masks and fake names, and it really feels like post-World War II Hollywood was almost a gold rush. So many people rushing to L.A. dreaming of fame and fortune, and willing to do anything to make it happen.
Nathan Reese is a News Editor at Complex. If you want to talk comics, he's on Twitter.