By Michele Brittany, West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent
A couple of years ago, I came across Ed Brubaker when I asked one of my comic book retailer friends what should I be reading. He mentioned Saga, Mind MGMT and Ed Brubaker's Fatale, which was around issue 10 by the time I started reading the series. I was intrigued by the storytelling and the accompanying art by one of Brubaker's regular collaborators, Sean Phillips (they have just re-teamed for The Fade Out). However, I became hooked when Brubaker and another of his regular artist collaborators, Steve Epting, released Velvet. Since then, I have been hoping to catch Brubaker at a speaking engagement and/or a book signing, so I was thrilled that there was a WonderCon panel this past weekend that spotlighted this amazingly talented and very busy comic book writer.
Hosted by Ben Blacker, co-creator of Thrilling Adventure Hour, Blacker asked Brubaker about his writing process. Brubaker related that he uses a notebook for each story idea that he feels has potential, which is not unlike the process that crime writer Ross MacDonald used in his day. Brubaker said he writes by hand in this initial phase of the process and does not use a computer because of a little thing called Internet. He knows fairly early on what medium he thinks the idea will fit well in – movie, television or comics.
He'll stay with his notebook, working out all the facets of his story. For example, if he anticipates the medium of the story will be a comic, Brubaker will outline the events and scenes for each issue and the characters, which Brubaker stressed writes/leads the story. At this point, he'll continue the writing process on his computer and commence working on the script. His script includes the setting, dialogue that is indented, and any details that will assist his artist. Brubaker added that since wordiness has been an issue for him, he strives to limit his dialogue to no more than one full line and if going onto to a second line, only a couple of words on that second line.
Blacker asked Brubaker what were some of his early comic book mistakes. He immediately said it was long dialogues and not breaking up the texts. In addition, he stated it hindered him to not know the ending first when going into his series. At this point, Brubaker revealed that his artist collaborators, Phillips and Epting, prefer not to know where the story is going since they are Brubaker's first readers. Blacker asked how does Brubaker ensure that important visual details are not lost in the panel. He replied that he makes a note to keep certain details in without revealing upcoming story details unnecessarily.
Brubaker was asked about his acting experience in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) in which he had a cameo, playing a doctor. One of the first takes, Brubaker mentioned he rubbed his chin as though in deep thought – cut! The actor next to Brubaker told him to not move his hands. "What am I supposed to do with my hands?" Brubaker asked the other actor. Just don't move was the response. So, he didn't move his hands, and as he watched the other background actors, he realized he was really expected to be part of the background setting. Brubaker stated he didn't want to do any more acting again.
Blacker opened the floor up to questions. An audience member asked Brubaker to talk more about his Captain America Winter Soldier writing experience. He said Bucky was his favorite character in his teens and at the time, he developed the story, which he thought was unknown territory. Fortunately, it was fortuitous for him to write the story of Bucky, in fact 125 issues worth! He was then asked if he reads a series after he has left it and he said it doesn't. He said it doesn't feel right to do so.
Brubaker still hates to "kill his darlings" so he regularly gives Phillips issues that are anywhere from 24 to 28 pages long. He said that comic books are around four dollars now, so he wants to give his readers a solid story to read and takes them a bit little longer to read than the typically 22-page comic. When asked about deadlines, Brubaker said he would rather be late and have a great story, than to get the issue in on time and not have the story be up to his standards.
He was asked what he is working on. He is currently working a day job working as part of a writing team for a yet to be announced project. He has also been writing the Maniac Cop script and no, it will not be campy. He would like to revisit Incognito, but he hasn't figured out a story in which to continue this series.
He fielded a question about his feelings towards his writing. Brubaker responded, "I feel like what I am writing is what I should be writing. Be a fearless writer." He added that writing is therapy for him.
If there is a change to be made on an issue, would Brubaker ask his artist to change the panel, or will he change his text? He replied that generally he would not ask his artist to make a change, especially if the page has already been inked and lettered.
What was his greatest regret? Well, Brubaker said as a person, of course he had some regrets, but as a writer, he figured that perhaps it was not having started writing earlier. However he feels fortunate with the opportunities he has experienced thus far.
The last question: what is he currently reading? Brubaker is currently reading William J Mann's Tinseltown, Newton Thornburg's Cutter and Bone, Sex Criminals, Southern Bastards, The Wicked + The Divine, as well as a variety of titles related to his ongoing non-fiction research.
Brubaker has several titles out on the stands, both new and reprints: Velvet, The Fade Out, Criminal Special Edition (One-Shot), as well as Fatale, Incognito, Captain America Winter Soldier, and many others.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company). She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies and can be followed at Twitter @mcbrittany2014.