Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fireside Chat with Ed Brisson

It's time for another Fireside Chat, as we sit down with writer Ed Brisson co-creator of breakthrough series 'Sheltered'. Debuting in July from Image Comics, “Sheltered” is a collaborative pre-apocalyptic tale from Ed Brisson (w) and Johnnie Christmas (a), with Shari Chankhamma on colouring duties. The story is set in a survivalist compound know as Safe Haven, and what happens when the youth of the community turn on the adults; taking over very violently.

With issue #3 released just the other week, Ed was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to me. So sit down and get comfortable as we continue after the jump. 

Ed Brisson is a Vancouver-based writer and letterer, whose credits include Murder Book, Comeback, Sheltered, Secret Avengers, among others. He's also a Gangsta napper.

William Tournas: Hi Ed, thanks for taking time out of your schedule to have a chat to me.

Ed Brisson: No worries at all, happy to chat.

WT: I've read a little bit about the inception of this series between you and Johnnie, did it come about around the same time you were working on Comeback?

Ed: Yeah, this came about before Comeback hit the shelves. Between the time I signed Comeback with Shadowline/Image and when it was released was nearly ten months I believe? So it was in that time while Michael (Walsh) and I were working on Comeback, that Johnnie and I came up with the idea for Sheltered. We started putting it together and we pitched it, and got it picked up about a month before Comeback came out.

Johnnie and I have wanted to work together for years. We live in the same city, quite close to one another, and used to have studios in the same building.

WT: You worked with him on Murder Book as well.

Ed: Yeah, he and I worked on a Murder Book story together. We actually had a pitch before Sheltered that we'd been shopping around, trying to get picked up. We had some interest, but nothing really came out of it.

WT: Is that project still a possibility in the future?

Ed: We're actually looking at it and seeing what can happen. We definitely want to do it, there are just some things that we might want to re-tool and redo.

WT: Speaking of re-tooling, has Sheltered changed much from its initial inception?

Ed: I think going forward, it probably will change. Some stuff from what we initially conceptualised, we've sort of been adding a little bit more in. There's definitely going to be some characters you haven’t met yet. So it's changed a little bit, but not a whole lot. There are definitely extra sort of layers that have been added on. When we first conceptualised, it was a much smaller story, and through talking about it and working on it, it's gotten larger.

WT: How deep have you two gone in terms of doing research into Prepper’s for this series?

Ed: We've been reading as much as we can get our hands on the topic. I've been listening to a lot of podcasts that are by Prepper's for Prepper’s, just to sort of glean information. We've been watching as many documentaries as well. Initially we didn't know at first what the kids would be afraid of, so we've been watching documentaries on different end of the world scenarios.

WT: Have you been contacted any at all? Have any contacted you since the series started?

Ed: We haven't been contacted, but I’ve contacted a few. I was actually supposed to go out at one point to this guy who is a Prepper. He was actually one of the guys featured on the Doomsday Prepper series on National Geographic. I was going to spend a couple of days, and camp out in the bunker and get a decent feel for it. Unfortunately, he lives across country, quite a distance from here and things didn't quite work out. I've found so far for most people that I’ve tried to contact, have been a bit skeptical of us.

WT: As was previously mentioned, you and Johnnie worked together for a couple of Murder Book shorts. How is it working on something longer than a short with him?

Ed: It's really good. I think he and I are kind of on the same page. I mean we both like the same stuff, and we both have the same habits. So it's been a really good process. Working on something longer has been insightful. I don't really know how else to describe it. Neither of us want to wear out the welcome with the book, you know keep the story going for the sake of sales being incredible, and they have been really good so far. We have a definite end; he and I are on the same page with that. There are some bits of storytelling that he and I want to get into. I realise that sounds kind of vague, but it’s been really good working on a longer story.

I found that was the one thing with Comeback as opposed to Sheltered. With Comeback I was limited to 5 issues, and I think that was the first time that it hit me, the difference between doing short stories and a 5 issue mini. That made me sort of sit down and reevaluate things. With Comeback we still told a complete story, but there was a lot of back-story with some of the characters that I to cut for interest of time. With Sheltered, we're taking a bit more time and hopefully letting people get to know the characters a bit. Some of the characters are being soft introduced in the first three issues, and they may seem to be background characters but they will have their own story to tell as well.

WT: Speaking of Murder Book, will there be a fourth?

Ed: There is more than enough material to do a fourth, but I have been talking to some publishers about the possibility of putting out a Murder Book Omnibus. That would collect everything and include new material. I’ve also been talk to other people about doing more short stories and then possibly waiting and then collecting them. So there is still going to be more Murder Book, I just can't say when.

WT: Well you have my money ready for the Omnibus.

Ed: I appreciate that.

WT: You're also a Letterer as well. Do you have a different process in regards to how you approach writing or lettering? For example different music or a movie in the back ground, or doing the work in a certain place?

Ed: I actually have two completely different computers. One that I’ll do all my lettering or production work on and one I do all my writing on in a separate room. When I’m writing I generally can't have any music on, especially music with lyrics or any TV on. Every once and awhile I’ll get to a point where I can't write with a TV on in the background, it has to be very silent. But yeah two separate computers, two separate rooms.

WT: Is there anything in particular you listen to in the background when working?

Ed: When I’m writing not really, sometimes I’ll listen to soundtracks but that can be distracting, I tend to go more for silence. When I’m lettering I tend to listen to podcasts more than music and it serves a dual purpose because I might be doing research on a particular subject. Sometimes I might get an audio book out on that topic and listen to it while lettering. I find with the lettering, I’m still involved with the work I’m doing just not sort of using the same brain waves as I am writing so to speak.

WT:Does being able to letter your own work change your process at all? Is it like an extra edit?

Ed: Absolutely. When I've handed over the scripts to Johnnie or Michael it's obviously the final draft, but then when the art comes back in and I letter I’m constantly editing the dialogue. I enjoy having that final pass. So in the few instances where I've written something and somebody else is lettering, I get a little anxious because I’m not getting that final pass.

WT: Do you prefer to letter you own work?

Ed: Oh absolutely. With all my creator own work that I’m working on with various people I will always letter it. Obviously working with publishers, generally it's not an option. They generally have their own letterers on hand to do it.

WT: You're on board for two upcoming issues of Secret Avengers for Marvel. Seeing as how this is during the Infinity Cross-Over Event, are there stricter guidelines as opposed to what you can or can't write?

Ed: Yeah there were some guidelines. There's a particular event on at the time that the Secret Avengers will have to deal with, and there was a huge list of the characters that I couldn't use, because of the crossover they were off doing something else. So I had the characters I could use and the backdrop that was sort of happening at the time, and I just kind of went from there. Lauren Sankovitch, my editor at Marvel was great and let me know if there was something I could or couldn't do. For example I found I couldn't completely destroy the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellicarier.

I didn't find it stifling at all in any way. You've got these characters that have this long history, and you have this that's already happening. It's almost easier creatively to have a good jumping off point for sitting down and figuring out the story.

WT: If you were given the option of picking a character to work on at Marvel who would you choose? I could see you writing a Moon Knight series.

Ed: You know it's funny; I would love to write Moon Knight. He's always one of those characters that seems to be a favourite for people, but he never really clicks for some reason. Whether I’m the guy that could make him click, I couldn’t say. Top of the list though for me would be Daredevil and Punisher, those are two books I would enjoy.

WT: Excellent. You do tend to border the Sci-Fi/Crime/Horror genres a bit.

Ed: Yeah it's funny. Initially my stuff was more crime based. When we did Comeback, It was frustrating because I had been pitching a lot of crime books and none were getting picked up. I kept getting told that Sci-Fi was an easier sell. So what I did with Comeback was come up with a crime story that had some Sci-Fi elements to it. This is not to sell the story short or anything. We just wanted to do something crime related, and we mixed the genres to see if we could get publishers interested that way, which ended up being the case. Also I’ve said this a few times before; I'm a huge fan of Time Travel as premise, but just generally not a huge fan of how Time Travel stories are handled, if that makes sense?

WT: I understand completely. I feel the same way as well. Have you seen the movie Time Crimes?

Ed: I have actually. When I was writing Comeback that came up on Netflix. I remember being worried thinking "I hope this is nothing like Comeback is", and thankfully it wasn't. I really like it though; it’s a very clever little film.

WT: Back to Comeback for a moment. The ending with Mark and Kelly, I was wondering if that was left to the reader’s discretion as to what happens, or if it was a happy ending with them getting together?

Ed: Yeah, that goes back to what I mentioned earlier about having to jettison due to the 5 issue constraint. There was this whole thing between Kelly and her husband in the initial draft, which kind of got hinted at during the series with a couple of lines, but never was fully explored. Initially at the end of the series she was going to leave her husband, but for good reasons. I wrote the happy ending because I thought people might expect a down ending due to my Murder Book work, so I thought I would try something different. A happy ending in at least one thing I write. I also wanted to leave it open for the possibility of revisiting the series.
WT: So possibly a Comeback 2?

Ed: Hopefully. I can't say for sure, but we're in talks.

WT: Excellent. Back to issue 3, I know lots of people are afraid of various end of the world scenarios. In this issue we get to hear more about one that Lucas is most afraid of. Is this the actual apocalypse for this series, or just one in many a possible scenario.

Ed: That's the scenario that they believe is about to happen. I don't want to get into it too much so as to not spoil anything, but that scenario is the one that has pushed the kids over the edge. If anyone is reading the back ups in Sheltered, it goes through what would actually happen if the Yellowstone park super volcano would erupt. It's devastating and terrible. Most people in North America would die, and the whole continent would be plunged into a volcanic winter. It would last for years and kill crops, wildlife, and anything on the surface basically.

WT: Victoria doesn't believe in the Yellowstone Park theory.

Ed: She doesn't believe in any of the Prepper stuff. She's been kind of dragged there by her father and the whole time been and unwilling person in the community.

WT: We also get to see more of Lucas’s charisma in the latest issue. I've noticed he has got quite the silver tongue.

Ed: The one thing I wanted to do with Lucas is that given the way he was raised and the information he has, I thought it would be too easy to have him be wrong. So he really believes that this stuff is happening, and he does some shady stuff from time to time, but ultimately he is doing this for what he believes is the greater good. He can be really Machiavellian at times, which I really like writing. Conniving characters are great to write I guess.

WT: It also seems Victoria is his polar opposite. The way I looked at the series so far it's like an insider’s view with Lucas and an outsiders view with Victoria.

Ed: That's absolutely correct and the goal with each character. He's the guy who's father created Safe Haven and he's been raised with this his entire life, whereas with Victoria, this is something new. Her Father has been into the Prepper stuff for about a year, so she’s' not been raised around it. She’s from the city and these are all country kids, so she definitely one of them and has quite a different view to them.

WT: I know issue 3 focused mainly focused on Lucas and Victoria, as the series progresses will we see more character focused issues?

Ed: That's actually something we really want to get into. There's an issue coming up where basically Victoria isn't in it at all, and Lucas makes a brief appearance. So it's something I really want to focus on with each person and their view and perspective on what happening. Especially going beyond the first 5 issues. The first 5 issues is basically setting it all up and putting most of the players in place, and then moving on from there.

WT: What can we expect from issue 4 in a few weeks? I read somewhere in an interview that this issue is apparently quite gruesome?

Ed: I don't want to spoil anything, but it just doesn't bode well for one of the residents of Safe Haven who knows a little too much.

WT: That does sound ominous. Now just to finish up, I was wondering if you any advice for any budding Letterers or Writers?

Ed: For budding Letterers I wish I really had good advice. I really stumbled into this, so the only thing I would say is check out sites like Ninja Lettering. It has great tutorials to get into lettering. Once you're starting out I would say just volunteer on some books or pitches, just to get practice with that, and just kind of go from there. That’s how I started. But yeah, get in there and learn how to do it, learn Illustrator, Photoshop production, InDesign, etc and just find people looking for letterers like on twitter, etc.

As for Writers, what worked for me is starting out small, like 5 or 10 page short stories. Don't start writing your epic 500 part series. Everyone has thing they want to do, but its best to start small, to just get the storytelling down. It's easier to find artists for shorter stories, so financially the burden is less because you're paying for fewer pages. My advice is not to worry about making your money back on comics that you are producing, if you're producing. Just put them online. Get a website with the domain as your own name, Like Ed which I got. Even if you have a really cool comic name in mind, get your own name as the domain. You can use that other comic name, but the problem is once you go onto your next project you have that comic name hanging around as the domain. So it's easier to have your own name and act as a central hub.

Put the comics up there. I would have them available for free. Just put the entire short story up there. Don't do a page a week or anything like that. Just put it up. At that point if you are trying to break in, what you want is eyeballs on the comics and people just reading your work. You shouldn't be worried about making money. You shouldn't charge for example a $1 to read it if it's your first couple of things, because what you’re doing is locking people from seeing it, and that is one thing you absolutely don't want to do. You want people to see it.

For me I started putting up Murder Book for free and one night somebody had read them, put it on Reddit and all of a sudden I had like 10,000 hits coming through like every day for a month. It was crazy, and because the comics were up there in full for free it just spiraled out from there, with other comic creators reading them and building up a readership.

That's sort of my disjointed advice I guess. Just do that, and be cool to people. Don't be a jerk. If you want to be a comic book writer, just write comics. It sounds like the simplest thing, but there are so many people that don't do that. Just write, do short stories and focus on becoming a better story teller. Also hire good artists, don't just settle on an artist because they are available. Get an artist that looks amazing, as good as you can get, because the first thing people will look at is the Art. If the art sucks, the people won't stick around for your words.

WT: Thank you very much for you time Ed.

Ed: My pleasure.

Sheltered #4 will be on sale October 9th. You can find it and the previous issues digitally from the Image Comics Store, comiXology, or from your local Comic Book store.

Murder Book can be found and purchased from here:
Comeback can be found digitally at comiXology or your local Comic Book store. More information on the series can be found here:

Ed Brisson can be located Twitter and his Site
Johnnie Christmas can be located on Twitter and his Blog
Shari Chankhamma can be located on Twitter and her Site

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