Interview with Ed Brubaker

Jon: Ed, you and Sean Phillips have been working together a long time. How has your collaboration evolved and what are the advantages to a partnership like this?

It’s hard to say how it’s evolved. It’s still basically the same as it’s always been. I sent Sean some pages and he never wants to know what’s coming next, so he’s like a first reader. The advantages are uncountable. We trust each other, and we know what the other can do, and we know that we both like to do different things a lot. When I write a script for Sean its much less detailed than when I write one for someone else, because I know what he needs, and I know that he’ll get it right. That’s something I will always be thankful for, having a collaborator this amazing who is also so reliable.

Jon: Reading your work it is easy to see your love of comics and crime fiction. Who are some of your favorites?

Oh god, too many to name. Some of my all-time favorite crime writers are Ross Macdonald and Jim Thompson and Patricia Highsmith. Richard Stark’s Parker books, of course, especially the first run of them. And my favorite comics coming out now are probably Sex Criminals and Southern Bastards.

Jon: I know BAD WEEKEND is a piece of fiction, but being set in a world of real creators and events makes me wonder about late night conversations at comic conventions. Have you been able to spend time with some of the old school creators?

Oh yeah, and some of the ones I met as a kid are the old timers now, so I’ve watched this progression firsthand. I was always fascinated by that part of the comics community, even as a kid, so I’d loiter around the artist alley areas and just listen to them all talking shop. A lot of great artists complaining about asshole editors or talking about how some famous artist or another got ripped off by the companies.

Jon: I’ve spent time with a number of comics creators and heard stories of the 70s and even 60s in the industry. It seems like things are better now, are they?

Not as much better as you’d think they are, really. There’s “thanks to” sections at the end of the movies now, and sometimes the creators whose work is being lifted from or adapted get some kind of nominal fee, but it’s nothing compared to the billions of dollars the companies are making now. And now it’s not just Marvel Comics or DC Comics, it’s Disney and Warner Bros. so I don’t imagine it’s going to get better for the creators, honestly. It’s always going to be work-for-hire, so artists and writers need to remember that going in.

Jon: Hal Crane actually is written so well it feels like I should know his work. Where in your head did he come from?

He’s from that generation that Alex Toth and Jack Kirby and Gil Kane and Joe Kubert came from. Guys who were journeymen in the early days of comics, who did some standouts here and there. Many of them went to work in animation in the 60s and 70s, to get health insurance as they got older. He’s meant to feel like a guy who would have been hanging out at the bar with any of them, and complaining about the bosses at Hanna-Barbera or wherever they were working at the time.

For a while, in that era, it felt like there was a regular progression from comics to animation for some of the bigger name artists, which I felt like I really wanted to touch on a bit in this story.

Jon: Some of the story actually feels familiar to me. Stories I’ve heard first hand or through interviews with people in the business. Would it be safe to say while this is fiction it could be a real tale?

Oh, absolutely. Almost everything in it has actually happened, just to other people and not the exact way it is in the book. But even little details like the counterfeit animation cells that Hal takes money to sign, stuff like that really did happen at convention, and probably still does. And a lot of Hal’s history is borrowed from a few different real life cartoonists, just with the names and meanings changed. I gave him one or two more tragedies than the average great artist of his generation had, maybe. But just barely.

Jon: Most of the story revolves around trying to find some original art work. Are you by chance a collector? From the story it feels like you might know a bit more about the market than an average fan.

Oh no, but I have several friends that are in that world. Like the guy that David Mandrill is based on, David Mandell, actually has the largest collection of comics art of anyone I know. But he’s a big movie and TV writer, so he can afford Kirby and Ditko pages, and full issues of things. I’m really thankful I never got infected with that collector’s bug. My book and comics habits are bad enough.

Jon: Like most things it seems like there is a darker side to comics fandom that most people are unaware of. I know in the mystery community of authors and fans there are things spoken of I would never talk about in public. And while I am not asking you to give away any secrets, are there stories that circulate among creators?

Oh yeah. I think a lot of it has been coming out the last few decades, but there are a lot of crazy stories about the old days of this industry that you only hear from insiders. Little tossed off lines in the book, like about an inker that hired prostitutes to come to industry parties, stuff like that is based on stories I heard.

One of the things that I find really interesting about being in this industry is that just about everyone in it, from the 60s onward at least, is there because they grew up being fans, so that side of them, that fan love of the medium itself, and the desire to be part of it, always hang over the decisions they make in their career. That’s part of what I was thinking about when writing BAD WEEKEND.

Jon: My favorite thing about the book is that it appealed to both the comic fan and crime fiction fan in me. It was both kind of sad and yet fun, hitting just the right notes. This is something that a lot of your work manages to balance very well. Is it still an effort to achieve that or has it become easier the more you write?

Oh no, everything is that constant see-saw between “this is really going well” and “oh fuck I forgot how to write again” until I am done with whatever story I’m writing. I think I just have to accept that it’ll always be like that. I’m lucky in that because I’m a crime writer, I always have that part to fall back on when I start to get lost in the weeds on a story. But with this one, I really felt like it came across more as a character study than a crime story at first… and then I realized that this guy’s entire career is a crime. So that made me laugh.

Jon: What would be one thing you hope people take away from reading this book?

Mixed feelings. I’m honestly not sure. I am just happy if anyone takes anything with them from one of my stories, that it means something to them. But yeah, mixed feelings is probably right for this one.