Ed Brisson may be better known in his role as a letterer in several successful comics including Image Comics' "Prophet" and "Peter Panzerfaust," but he's been a writer far longer, helming the online comic series "Murder Book" and providing back-up content for Jay Faerber's "Near Death." This week, Brisson combines both his comic book roles as writer and letterer on his own comic: the recently-debuted five-issue miniseries "Comeback" from Shadowline. Alongside artist Michael Walsh, Brisson tells a story of two agents working for an illegal time travel operation called RECONNECT, which rescues a recently-deceased loved one for an exorbitant amount of money.
Brisson spoke with CBR News about the upcoming miniseries, paying his dues, learning the ins-and-outs of lettering and the inception behind his time traveling romp.
CBR News: Ed, on the credit pages of "Prophet," "Debris," and "Peter Panzerfaust" it lists you as the Letterer, but you're also writing the mini-series "Comeback" from Shadowline. Tell us more about the book, and its inception.
Ed Brisson: "Comeback" is about an illegal time travel agency called RECONNECT. For an enormous sum of money, they'll go back into the past and rescue your recently deceased loved one. There are limits though -- travel is limited to about two months and they can only rescue someone who's died of unnatural causes. Also, because time travel is illegal, those rescued have to go live a witness protection style life -- new identity and no contact with anyone from their past.
The series follows two agents, Mark and Seth, as they try to deal with a rescue that goes sideways, which tips the FBI to their illegal activity. Things go from bad to worse as they start to get pressure from both the FBI and their own agency. Through the whole thing, Mark and Seth start to learn that RECONNECT might not be everything that they seem on the surface.
Over the past few years, I've mostly been writing crime comics, and wanted to branch out a little. I have a bit of a soft spot for the idea of time travel, but have a beef with time travel stories where there seems to be a lack of limits. If people can travel anywhere and to any time, there's no real excitement in that for me. It's too vast. Too big. Instead, I liked the idea of reeling it in, placing limits on the travel and trying to examine what people would use such a limited form of time travel for. Also, I really liked the idea of how the agents would handle having to restage deaths that should have happened. Obviously, they need bodies to replace those they're saving. Where do those come from? How do they fudge the paper work? How do they make it all look like the deaths happened as they normally would?
I started putting everything together, spending about a month plotting it out. I told the idea to Michael Walsh, who'd already worked on one "Murder Book" story with me and another pitch that, unfortunately, didn't land with a publisher. He really dug the idea, so we hopped on it. We managed to convince Jordie Bellaire to come on board for colors and it all came together beautifully.
We pitched the pages to Shadowline/Image. I'd already been doing some work with them and knew that at the very least the pitch would get looked at. Luckily, Jim [Valentino] dug it and signed us on.
You mentioned what doesn't work about time travel. What does work? What other types of source material are you drawing from for "Comeback?"
I prefer to read, and by extension write, stories that are really about the people more than it is about some crazy intergalactic battle or that ilk. Obviously, the background can be something larger (space battles, fighting dinosaurs), but if the focus becomes that over characterization, then I lose interest. I like to set limits for the characters and then work within that. It forces more problem solving and for me is more interesting than these guys being able to be time cowboys and just show up all over the place without consequence. Along with the time constraint, there's also health considerations that go along with the time travel in "Comeback," something readers get treated to almost right away.
One of the initial stories that probably got me thinking about the story that would eventually become "Comeback" was an article that was reprinted in the 2010 edition of "Best American Crime Reporting," about a funeral home that was selling bodies to organ harvesters. Initially, I was thinking of using the premise for a "Murder Book" story, but could never make it fit. It’s a little too far out there for Murder Book. Once I started getting into the time travel mind set, it seemed like the perfect mash up -- time travelers buying corpses to take the place of people who should have died.
When writing, is it difficult for you to constantly challenge your characters or make them suffer? Are you always looking at the internal versus external struggle?
I wouldn't say that it's always my goal to make them suffer (although readers of "Murder Book" #3 may disagree), but you definitely want them to be pushed. In "Comeback," Mark believes that everything he's doing is right, even if illegal. He's trying to help people. When he starts to realize that this might not be the case, then he's left to examine everything he's believed and this dictates what he does moving forward. So, yeah, I'm always looking at that as a way to keep the characters motivated and the situations interesting.
While you've been working as a writer for years, you're very well known for your lettering work. How did you fall into that role and get on track for a career as a letterer?
When I started lettering, I just blindly stumbled in and figured out my way as I worked. At the time, I was lettering my own webcomics, so the only person I had to impress was myself. Then in 2006 a friend mentioned that the manga publisher he was working for needed a new letterer, so I applied using my webcomics as my portfolio. They had me do a test and, having never read manga in my life, I flubbed it pretty hard. I just didn't have the knowledge of manga and how it was read. I didn't know what an "aside" was, and that it was in a different font from dialog. The right to left was confusing as hell, but they must've been desperate. The editor gave me a bit of guidance and then hired me on to my first book that same month.
After that, I managed to start picking up some more North American style work. I was lettering lots of pitches from ads I was responding to on Digital Webbing. My first "big" gig was lettering a series of Avril Lavigne graphic novels in late 2006/early 2007. The first, "Make 5 Wishes", was written by Josh Dysart and illustrated by Camilla D'Errico, and was actually pretty damn good. I was prepared for an Avril Lavigne comic to just be some throw-away garbage, but Josh and Camilla did an amazing job. The story is so dark that I'm still a little surprised that the label gave it the thumbs up.
That project is the first time I really remember grabbing comics and studying how they were lettered. I just looked at everything coming out of the Big Two at the time because I wanted to be able to create that sort of look for the publishers. I still have a binder somewhere of pages that I ripped out of comics for reference -- robot voice style, and SFX that I thought were good or interesting.
Now that I'm looking at letterers and deconstructing their work (it's a habit that drives me nuts), I'd say that my favorite are those who're able to maintain a natural look to their work. At the top of my list is Clem Robins. I love his work on "BPRD" and "Hellboy." It's nice and simple, non-intrusive. It's just really nice to look at. Nate Piekos's work on "Umbrella Academy" is amazing as well. I remember reading that book (and loving the hell out of it) and then going back just to look at the lettering. The stuff that Dustin Harbin has been doing on "Casanova" is also some top-notch lettering -- and all by hand!
For a project like "Comeback" where you're pulling double duty, how do you balance writing and lettering?
This is a tough one and not something that I ever do as well as I should. Since lettering is what pays the bills at the moment, I can't turn down much lettering work, which often doesn't leave as much time for writing as I'd like. Even right at this moment, I'm writing a short for a project that I was hoping to have finished last week. Pushing myself to get it done in the next couple days between lulls in lettering deadlines. I'm going to be taking a month long break soon so that I can focus just on writing.
Hopefully, if I can get some traction with writing, I can start to find a more equal balance between the two, but until that time, I still have bills to pay!
Since you're lettering your own work for "Comeback," you've got the final say on how your dialogue looks and have the ability to edit at the last minute.
Absolutely. That's one of the biggest benefits of lettering my own work: I get to do one last revision to dialog as I'm laying it all in. It's not uncommon for me to completely drop chunks of dialog if I think that the art gets all the vital info across. I'll often tighten dialog and, in at least one case, have completely rewritten a conversation between two characters.
I can't imagine ever letting anyone else letter my work
Is there anything else that you're working on besides "Comeback" waiting in the wings?
Currently, I'm working on a couple more "Murder Book "scripts that will probably go out in the next few months. I'm writing two 12-page stories for Riley Rossmo's "Dia De Los Muertos" mini-series, which will start coming out from Shadowline/Image in January. Riley's illustrating all the stories and organizing the project. I've got another series that I've signed to do with Shadowline/Image called "Sheltered." It's with artist Johnnie Christmas, who I've previously done a couple of "Murder Book" stories with and will hit shops in July 2013. I'm not going to say too much about it right now, only that I'm really excited to get to it. It's a pretty dark book, which is the type of stuff that I love to write.
Beyond that, I'm always working away on pitch ideas. I'm trying to plan another right now that I can get to work on once I've finished writing "Comeback." But, details on that one will have to remain a secret until I have more done on it.
"Comeback" #1 is available now from Image/Shadowline