Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fireside Chat with Ed Brisson from Comeback

Hello to all and sundry, and welcome to yet another of our splendiferous Fireside Chats! This time around we're fortunate to have writer Ed Brisson taking some time out of his busy schedule for an in-depth talk with us about his new comic book series, Comeback. You may recall I had some pretty positive things to say about issue #2, which hits comic book shops today. Brisson is going to be going places, people, so you should get in on the ground floor.  Join us, won't you, as we talk about comics, Brisson's background, and lots more.  Pull your chair close to the hearth, sit back, and enjoy the discussion. We'll see you on the other side.

Ed Brisson is a relatively new name in the more mainstream comic book scene, but this Comeback is far from his first rodeo. He's been writing his own comics for years, has built up a mighty impressive resume as a comic book letterer, and even ran his own small press publisher - New Reliable Press - for a good bit in there. A few years back, he started teaming up with different artists to create Murder Book, a series of short crime stories that are well worth checking out. You may have caught a few in the backup feature of Jay Faerber's Near Death or Kurtis J. Wiebe's Grim Leaper, and you can still see a number of them over at the Murder Book website. Comeback is his first series from one of the bigger publishers, but based on his talent and dedication, I'm confident that it won't be his last.

Grant McLaughlin: How are you doing today? 

Ed Brisson: Good. I think? Busy, as always. But, yeah...feeling good. Just uploaded the final lettered version of Comeback #3 and am really happy with it. So, yeah. Good. 

GM: That sounds pretty good, all things considered! To kick things off, would you be able to walk us through where the idea for Comeback came from?

EB: Basically, I was looking at time travel as a story telling trope and trying to figure out why, for the most part, time travel stories did nothing for me as a reader. The most basic issue I had/have with time travel is how expansive it generally is.While that might be the appeal for some, it really turns me off. So, I started looking at how to make it more interesting (to me) and limited it to only two months so that I'd have these tight restrictions to work with. 

Initially, it wasn't a pitch or a story, just me thinking about it. Then as I thought about it more, I started creating a list of different rules for time travel, and a story started to spin out of that. 

GM: Very cool idea.  Following that, how would you describe Comeback to those who may be unfamiliar with the series? 

EB: Basically, it's a time travel/crime story. It's about an illegal time travel organization called Reconnect who will, for a hefty fee, go back into the past and save a loved one from an untimely demise. However, there's more going on with Reconnect than even its agents know.

The story focuses in on two Reconnect agents, Mark and Seth, who have a rescue mission go sideways on them, which sets off a series of events that could mean bad news for Reconnect. They're stranded in the past by their employers and have to figure out how to get back to their own time, while trying to deal with information they uncover about their own employer. 

GM: And could you elaborate on how time travel works in the Comeback universe? What are the limitations and how has that impacted the writing of the story? 

EB: They're limited to 67 days and it's always used to travel BACK in time and back to present, but never to go forward in time. You can't travel when you're sick (as anyone who's read issue #1 already knows). There are other limitations that I don't want to get into here for fear of being spoilery, but I'll say that I've got a document on my harddrive that's just 4 pages on how it all works. Rules, limitations, etc... 

It's impacted the story only in that I took the concept and looked at it with a thought to how a criminal enterprise might use it. Basically, the limitations are what drove the story and concept initially. 

GM: How do you keep track of all the time traveling in the story - is there a big chart hanging on your wall to help you track where people are and when? 

EB: I printed out a calendar with three months, side by side. I've been using that to track everything. However, because I'm really only using two set points after issue #1 (the present and 66 days in the past), it hasn't been as hard as I was initially worried it might be. 

GM: Okay, cool.  Then who would have access to time travel in the world of Comeback?

EB: To the public at large, time travel is thought of as nuclear weapons in a way. Governments have them and the ability to manufacture them, but do not use them (or so they say). However, some criminal enterprises do have and use them and that's something that the FBI tracks. In the world of Comeback, there are three levels of time travel threats that the FBI cares about (this is NOT in the comic, but in the document I mentioned above) – that's time travel for politics and/or war; for financial gain (i.e. using time travel to screw with financial markets, stock trading, etc) and last, and most certainly least, for personal gain – such as saving a loved on from dying. Since that last one has the least amount of global impact, as it typically does not pose a threat, it's the one facet of time travel that the FBI does not monitor as heavily so these are the people who can fly under the radar a little more easily. 

GM: Tell us about the book’s lead characters. Who are they? What makes them tick? What are their favourite foods? 

EB: Well, there are basically two leads, Mark and Seth -- the two are partners and each have their own functions within Reconnect. 

Mark is the man who handles the rescues -- he transports them from wherever they're snatched from and cares for them from the time they're taken, until they're transported back to the present and handed off to Reconnect. He's a non-threatening and friendly sort of dude, but is all about following protocol and trying to make sure that things go as smoothly as possible. He does the job because he genuinely wants to help people, although the money is pretty awesome. 

He loves Thai food. 

Seth is a little more loosey-goosey. His job is to recreate the death scenes, so has to be a little morbid in order to pull that off. He's a little less stable and more likely to do something impulsive than Mark is, but is still a good dude. He tends to question authority more than Mark, and as a result, uncovers some things. 

He's a steak and beer man. 

GM: The first two issues of this book have been incredibly tight, filled to the gills with twist after twist after twist. What kind of prep work went into Comeback to get it to read so well? 

EB: Thanks! 

Honestly, I outline pretty loosely. I have a general idea of what needs to happen in each issue, I'll usually write a line per page and then work from there -- always leaving room to drop and add as I feel the story needs. I do a couple more passes on the script and then do one final dialog revision when I'm lettering everything. I tend to spend a lot of time tightening up the dialog at this stage, although lately I've gotten into a flow where other than dropping words or lines here and there, things are staying fairly close to what you see in the script (that said, I just COMPLETELY rewrote dialog on a page in Comeback #3)

GM: Haha.  I'm sure those changes will be well worth it.

At what point in the creation of the book did artist Michael Walsh come in? I know you two worked together previously on a Murder Book story, and you clearly have some strong chemistry together, but was Comeback conceived with him in mind or was he brought in after the fact? 

EB: Michael has been involved since just after I came up with the concept. He and I were in the middle of working on another pitch when I came up with the idea for Comeback and was talking to him about it on IM (we talk almost daily) and he really dug the idea. We decided that we'd work on it if the other pitch didn't get picked up, which is exactly how it went down. 

GM: And what’s your process of working with Michael? With you based in Vancouver, B.C. and Michael in Toronto, that’s an awful lot of Canadian countryside between you too. What kind of rapport do you two have going on? 

EB: Michael and I have been working together in one capacity or another for over 2 years now. We first started working together when he hired me to letter a pitch he'd written and drawn. In that time, I think that we've found a good rhythm. He's always got a lot of great input on scripts and is always open to any notes I have on the art. I don't think we've ever once had a disagreement between us – we're generally on the same page on almost everything. Honestly, could not ask for a better collaborator. 

GM: Very neat.  Sounds like you two have a pretty good thing going.  That being said, it’s not just you and Michael on this book. It would be criminal to forget about Jordie Bellaire’s brilliant colour work on Comeback. She absolutely killed it in the first issue (I’m thinking especially of the time travel of Mark and Mr. Fields, laying down some strikingly unnatural blue tones that really made the scene sing). How / when did she get involved in the project? And how involved is she in the book as a whole? 

EB: Jordie came on board while Michael was still drawing the pages. Finding a colourist, a good colourist, is so hard. Michael and I had spent weeks (probably even longer) looking at portfolios and combing through colourists, but couldn't find one that we thought was suitable. During this process, I had picked up Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko's first run on Planet of the Apes for BOOM! and I really dug Jordie's colours. I showed Michael her site and he was equally impressed. We knew that she had a lot of higher profile gigs going on and assumed that there was no way that she'd come on board for Comeback, but we lobbed out a Hail Mary email, hoping against hope. We showed her some of what we were working on and much to our surprise (and delight), she agreed to come on board and complete the Comeback creative team. Michael and I squealed like a couple of school girls. 

Beyond amazing work between the pages, Jordie has had a lot of input into the look of the covers. She always provides some great input and direction on where we're taking them. 

GM: That's quite serendipitous! Let's focus a bit more on you here. What has your trajectory in comic books been like? Where did you start and how long have you been working at it for? 

EB: I started WAY back in 1994. I self-published a short anthology comic with a couple of friends and we managed to get pretty decent distribution – back then there were something like six comic distributors, not just Diamond. 

From there, I discovered zines and DIY style publishing and started pumping out these auto-bio mini comics that were heavily influenced by Joe Matt's Peep Show and Chester Brown's Yummy Fur. I'd photocopy them and sell them out of my back pack and at local record shops for 50 cents each (they cost me 53 cents each to make!) I did this for years, and then took about a year or two for doing comics before eventually hopping back in with webcomics. 

Over the years, I have done three different webcomics – meaning that I both wrote and drew (and lettered and coloured) them – each running for anywhere from two to about six years. 

Then in 2010, I started up Murder Book. I had reached the point where I finally admitted that I liked writing comics far more than I did drawing them. Plus, my style is fairly cartoony and doesn't really fit with the style of comics that I wanted to write. 

I'd done a couple of short strips where I'd written and someone else had drawn before this and really dug that collaboration. So, I decided to just drop drawing and focus on writing. It was in doing that, that I think I finally started to gain some traction and here we are today. 

GM: Has the lettering work you’ve done informed your own writing? 

EB: Absolutely. It's made me much more aware of just how much dialog you can fit into a panel. I've found that I'm now pretty thrifty with words and will often cut chunks of my own dialog because I want the art to do a lot of the storytelling. 

GM: What about your time running New Reliable Press, your small publishing company? 

EB: Through that process, I learned so much about how the distribution end of comics works. Additionally, although I already had training in how to deal with printers, doing it on my own made me really look at printing and paper stocks and costs and all that good stuff. It's funny how you become more hyper aware of all of that when it's your own money on the line. 

GM: Additionally, how useful is it to be able to letter your own work? Does it change your process at all? 

EB: Yes! I often change and tweak dialog as I'm lettering. I treat it as a last edit on my own work. There are some cases where I've dropped dialog from panels because I think that the art tells what I need to get across just as effectively without it.

I can't see myself ever letting anyone else letter my work. 

GM: I’ve found that in your books there’s always a very terse and deliberate manner to your writing. You give the reader only as much information as they need to understand what’s going on – no more and no less. Where does this style come from? 
EB: It comes from a complete disdain for exposition. I hate it. Hate it more than I hate just about anything in life. There's nothing worse than a scene where you can see that the writer is clearly spoon-feeding the reader information to make sure they know what's happening. 

GM: Do you have any writing / lettering habits? Music you like to listen to or a particular place you like to be? 

EB: Yep. I can't letter and write on the same computer. Hell, I can't even write in the same room that I do all my work in. I have two computers – one that's in my office and is where I do all my lettering and production work. The other is a laptop that I keep upstairs, near the kitchen table. I do all of my writing at the kitchen table when no one is around. 

When I'm lettering, I'll either listen to music or to a podcast. When I'm writing, I need silence. I've tried listening to soundtracks while writing – soundtracks with no vocals – but it makes me too anxious. I need the quiet. 

Also, when I'm lettering, I sit down and I'm nose to the grindstone the whole time. Just power through my work. When I'm writing, I get up, I pace, I stare off in the distance and just tend to pluck away at panels. It's a very long and, sometimes, frustrating process. But, it's the only way I know how. I can usually only write one or, at most, two scenes a day (which translates to about 3-6 pages). 

GM: I imagine you must be incredibly busy with Comeback and everything else going on right now, but when you can find time in your schedule, what kind of things are you reading at the moment (comics or otherwise)? 

EB: Right now, I'm hunkering down to reread all of Scalped. Love that series and now that the last trade is out, I'm going to read it through from start to finish. 

All my book reading time is devoted to research right now. I can't really get into it without getting into my next project, but lets say that it's depressing as hell and I'm pretty sure that I've put myself on a couple of government watch lists. 

GM: Speaking of everything else you have going on, what projects do you have on the horizon? Are there any books from you coming that we can start getting excited about? 

EB: I'm working on putting together a fourth volume of Murder Book right now. It will collect all the colour back up stories that ran in Jay Faerber's Near Death this past year, plus one from Grim Leaper. Twenty-five pages of story all in glorious colour.

Beyond that, I have one project due next summer that I can't talk too much about at the moment and have three pitches in various states of development – including a project that Michael and I are talking about to come out after Comeback. 

GM: I'd definitely be down with a collection of those Murder Book stories.  And I'll happily put down my cash for more comics from you and Michael, but as much as I'd love to go on about those things, we’re zeroing in on the ends of the interview here. All that’s left is our Literary Rorschach Test. I've got ten words for your reading pleasure and your job is to respond with the first thing that comes to mind for each one – it can be anything from a word to a full blown paragraph. The choice is yours. Ready? 

Genre – Sci-Fi (Sci-Fi isn't my favourite genre, but is forever tied to the word because sci-fi was the first thing I ever remember being referred to AS a genre when I was a kid).
Crime  Night. 
Time – Aging. I'm always thinking about aging and my own mortality. 
Rhyme – Time (ha, see what I did there?).
Dues – Cub Scouts (dues always reminds me of having to pay 25 cents in dues every week at Cub Scouts).
Success – Happiness. 
Conflict – Fight. 
Collaboration – LOVE IT! 
Next – Always planning, never knowing. 
The End – On to the next thing. 

GM: Thanks a lot for taking the time, Ed. It’s much appreciated.

Comeback #2 is out at comic book shops everywhere today, so don't forget to pick yourself up a copy while you're out and about.  And if you're dying for more Ed Brisson goodness, you can check out issue #1 of Comeback free of charge at Comixology and read plenty of Murder Book tales for the same low price at Ed's website.

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