Two weeks ago at Image Comics Expo, I had the great pleasure to talk with Captain America and Fatale writer Ed Brubaker. Though Mr. Brubaker was running slightly late, we were able to have a nice chat about the differences in approach between writing for yourself and writing for Marvel, why he’ll never abandon comics, and the nature of serialized storytelling.
You started out as an artist, as a cartoonist. Is it something you still dabble with in your spare time?
Ed Brubaker: Not really. I wanted to be a penciller when I was a kid. And then I started writing stories for myself to draw, and then at some point in my late teens I started to have friends who wanted me to write stories for them to draw. Then, like around my late twenties, I was doing more of that then drawing my own stories. And you know, just sort of slowly evolved into a writer more than an artist. I haven’t really drawn for ten years or so, other than phone doodles, you know? And I’m pretty happy about that. (laughs)
Did your experience as an artist help the way you write scripts for other artists?
EB: Oh yeah. Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think visually. When I was a kid, all the way through junior high/high school, I would make films and stuff. I always thought of words and pictures at the same time. I think the way that I write scripts… I’ve always had all the artists I work with tell me it’s very easy for them to visualize my scripts. And I don’t give them too much detail or too little detail and they can easily see the way the page is supposed to look in their head when they read the script. So I think that’s definitely helped, at least with my relationship with artists. They liked my scripts. I’ve even had letterers tell me they like my scripts.
The increase in digital market share and it’s ability to potentially be an easier entry point for the masses — has that altered your writing at all? Do you feel the need to be more accessible with an individual issue? Or are you just interested in the story as a whole?
EB: Well… no. It hasn’t really altered my thinking on anything. I mean, there is nothing I’m working on right now where I think about the digital side more than the print side. Because the print side — we’re still selling ten times what the digital side is, so obviously that’s our main audience. I love print so much that I don’t ever want print comics to go away. You know, everyone acts like it’s inevitable that it will. I’ve heard a couple people say that they can see a time where, five or ten years from now, all the monthly books, the single issues, are all digital and then a lot of the collections are nice big hardback art kind of things. Which, you know, I’d be semi-OK with that future as long as they sold well enough. The way I’ve always approached everything I do is to make sure each issue is worth whatever you’re charging for it, if it’s part of a longer story… I’m a fan of serialized fiction. You know, it worked for Dickens. It worked for the Bible. (laughs)
One tablet at a time.
EB: Yeah, one gospel at a time. But yeah, I like TV and my favorite TV shows are serialized shows. Nobody complains about, Game of Thrones. And then you complain that you can’t get it for free on the internet. (laughs) But you know you can.
You jump back and forth between more corporate comics and personal projects with great ease and success in both. Are they two different mindsets? Do you have to really swap gears or is writing writing for you?
EB: It’s a little bit of writing is writing for me. I mean, you’ve got to know what you’re doing when you’re doing a superhero comic. It’s pretty rare for me to write a superhero comic without an action scene. When I’ve written issues of stuff I own where nothing happens as far as comic fans are concerned, they’re like, “I don’t like this issue because nobody punched anybody.” My goal as a writer on the stuff that I do just for myself, I’m just trying to make a really good story.
I often look at everything from the “Did something exciting happen this issue? And if it didn’t, why not? And am I OK with that?” Whereas in an issue of Captain America that goes by without Captain America punching someone or throwing his shield — you’re failing to some degree. You have to know what you’re doing. I always look at the old Bruce Timm/Paul Dini Batman cartoons as the example of the best way to do that stuff. Each episode was a great Batman story where Batman did different stuff in all of them, but in each [show] you saw him be Batman at some point. That was what you needed. I think about that a lot. I don’t think I always succeed in it, but writing is writing. When I get to the point with any of the superhero stuff where it’s more of a struggle or I’m not doing a good enough job with it, I usually quit the book. Like X-Men or Secret Avengers or something that I feel is just not in my wheelhouse, really, and it’s taking longer than it needs to take and I’m not happy with how it’s turning out. If I can’t really just let the characters take the story through.
Going along with the two things you mentioned, do you prefer working on a single character book or an ensemble, a team book?
EB: I think everything I write is an ensemble book, but I think it’s the same thing. When you’re writing an issue of Captain America, you know Captain America, unless there’s a specific reason he’s not in that issue, you need some kind of cool action scene. I wrote an issue of Captain America that was primarily focused on the Falcon once and I got to do all the cool Falcon moments that you want to see. He’s talking to birds! He’s flying! He’s kicking people’s asses! You got those moments in. But I think with a team book, what happens to me is that I feel like with each issue or each arc you need to show each team member doing something really cool. Whereas on a single character book, everybody gets their moments and there’s always a supporting cast, but you know which main character is really driving the train through the story. It’s somehow just a mental thing. It’s much easier for me to have one sole focus.
Fatale is completely ensemble, and we haven’t even met half the cast that’s going in the book because they haven’t been born yet! (laughs) We’re in the Fifties! We haven’t met any of the modern characters other than the guy we met in the beginning. I’m OK with an ensemble, it’s just like, not to go back to Game of Thrones but Game of Thrones is an ensemble cast, but each chapter is narrated by someone different so it feels like you’re reading about just those people while they’re the star. So that’s what you can do. With a single character book, I’m much better with that.
You’re working on the film adaptation of Coward. How’s that going?
EB: Good. I should have been done with the script in a couple weeks. I’ve given the first chunk of the script to the director to look at and I’ve gotten really good feedback from him on it, so full steam ahead. Really enjoying that. Moved down to LA to work on it and to pursue some other options that are out there. But I’ve written a number of screenplays and I did a TV pilot for Fox last year and I’m familiar with that.
What was the pilot? Are you allowed to talk about it?
EB: Uh, I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about it actually.
OK, fair enough.
EB: They didn’t end up filming it. It came down to mine or The Breakout Kings. They made Breakout Kings instead. But a lot of people liked my pilot a lot. That’s the difference between comics and TV, everybody can love a product in TV and still not make it, where in comics if everyone loves something we’re definitely publishing it. There’s always room for another one. (laughs)
So you’re not planning on departing comics?
EB: Oh no, I’ll never quit comics. You wouldn’t believe the amount of screenwriters I know that wish that they could make a living in comics. Just so people would see what they do! Because there’s a lot of bitter millionaires who get paid a lot of money to write scripts that never get filmed. Which to me sounds like a great job! (laughs)
Yeah, I’m not going to turn down the money.
EB: Yeah, exactly. They’re not turning down the money, they’re just bitter. It’s a great outlet and I’ve been doing comics my whole life, so I’ll never stop doing comics.
One more. Anything on the horizon with Greg Rucka? You’ve worked together very well in the past.
EB: Greg is really busy. I tried to do a project with him just recently. I tried to get him on board for something and he just does not have the time to do it right now. No, I love working with Greg and he, Michael [Lark], and I have talked from time to time about getting the band back together for some sort of Wings-esque sort of a thing. (laughs) My Paul McCartney reference.
Dare I ask who Linda is in this?
EB: No, no. (laughs) There isn’t one. Stefano. (laughs) Matt Hollingsworth is the Linda McCartney. No.
EB: Yeah, I would love to do something else with Greg. It’s just that both of us are incredibly busy, but you know Michael, I’m working on something with him right now on something that hasn’t been announced yet. A Marvel thing. But yeah, we always talk about trying to do something. I joked around with them recently about trying to do more Gotham Central at some point down the line, like a graphic novel or something. I was the only one that wanted to do that. Yeah, their separations from DC were much harsher than mine. (laughs) I left DC under very… I was working at Marvel and DC at the same time for about a year, so I didn’t really leave under any dark clouds. A lot of people that have left that place have been chased away and are not interested in going back.
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Written by Steven Sautter (@bohemboy)
Steven Sautter is a punk ass book jockey. He looks quite dashing in a frock coat. His work has appeared in The Terrible Zodin, I'll Explain Later and the fiction anthology, Red Phone Box. He has experienced profound moments with cephalopods. More »
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