‘Comeback’ Writer Ed Brisson On His 19-Year Career And The Upcoming ‘Sheltered’

Ed Brisson recently hit mainstream comic audiences like a kick to the jaw (metaphorically in most cases) with his recent five-issue run on the Image title Comeback. While his name may be new to some, Brisson has been working in comics since the 90s as a letterer, writer, artist and publisher.

If all of that still isn’t impressing you, Brisson has new title with Image dropping in July 10, 2013 titled Sheltered. It’s shaping up to be one of the most innovative books of the year, especially as Brisson has an incredible sense for dramatic tension, which more often than not, is built at the end of a loaded gun.

I caught up with the comic maven recently to talk Sheltered and the mysterious (or not so) circumstances that lead to getting a book picked up by Image Comics.


Okay boring question first, how did you first get into writing comics?

Not boring at all!

I’ve been making comics for about 19 years. Back in the 90s, I used to make mini comics that I’d photocopy and sell through record shops and out of my backpack. Initially, I wanted to be an artist and only wrote comics so that I’d have something to draw.

From there, I just kept on. I did mini-comics, zines, comics for college papers, webcomics, you name it.

At some point around 2007ish, I started to cut back on illustrating comics and focused on writing. I didn’t have time for both and, by then, was more interested in the writing side of things than I was illustrating.

You started a small press, New Reliable Press, in 2005. Why dive into publishing?

Looking back, I’m not sure. I guess I was fresh out of school, where I’d gone to learn publishing (from technical to promo) and thought that I’d try publishing other people’s work for a bit.

However, it was tough going and I folded it a few years later because it was hard to get retailers interested in a newer publisher and because I wanted to focus on my writing.

Murder Book is an extremely interesting project. How did that first get started?

I’d done a few pitches that hadn’t made it through with any publishers and was frustrated with the process. With pitching, I was expending a lot of energy on something that only a few editors would see and ultimately pass on. I didn’t want to keep doing that.

So, one year (on my birthday), I decided that I was going to stop pitching and just start writing. I’ve always loved crime as a genre (books, comics, film, everything), so decided that I’d try my hand at writing it. I sat down that day and wrote most of the first draft of Catching Up. From there, I just kept going.

The important thing, for me, was that I was just doing what I wanted to do. Writing stories that I’d want to read. I think that showed through because it wasn’t until I started doing Murder Book that I started to get attention from publishers.

Was Murder Book in any way a successful means to get your work out there?

In a lot of ways, posting short stories was almost like having a writing portfolio. If you want to be a comic writer, you need to have something to show and you’re not going to get very far by just posting your scripts. Having completed comics helps get the word out there. As mentioned above, it’s MURDER BOOK that seemed to have put me on the radar of publishers and editors.


You write the stories for Murder Book and other artists illustrate them. As a writer, how do you typically approach an artist to work on your scripts?

I don’t think that there’s been a “typical” approach, to be honest. I knew Simon Roy from my New Reliable days and approached him about working on the first couple stories. Vic Malhotra and I met through a book he’d illustrated and I’d lettered. Michael Walsh had initially hired me to letter something of his. I really liked his work and we got to talking and really hit it off. Jason Copland is a local artist who I’ve known for years and we were basically just looking for an excuse to work together. Similar with Johnnie Christmas.

You just finished a five-issue run on Comeback with Image. How did that project get picked up by Image?

I wish there were a sexier story beyond “I pitched it to them and they picked it up”, but there isn’t, really. I just followed the pitching guidelines for Image/Shadowline.

Michael and I had been grinding out some pitches. Comeback just happens to be the one that happened to catch Jim Valentino’s attention.


You have a new book coming out, Sheltered, the premise seems extremely innovative and a step away from the true crime genre you primarily worked in. Can you tell us anything about it?

It’s a book about survival and living with consequences of your actions. SHELTERED follows the children of an off-the-grid survivalist community. Their entire life has been about training to survive any sort of apocalyptic scenario – from nukes to societal breakdown. I wanted to put them in a situation where they’re faced with a potential threat that they’ve prepared for, but then realize that they’re not as ready as they thought. They won’t all survive and they have to make some choices, quickly, about who will and why.

I don’t want to give away too much right now, for fear of spoiling the first issue.

You’ve lettered several issues of Prophet. Do you ever read the scripts for that insanely good space opera and think “what the hell is going on here?”

Haha. Nope! I know Simon and Brandon, so usually know what’s coming up well ahead of time. I really love working on that book.


Any last minute advice for aspiring comic creators?

Worry less about getting a publishing deal and more about making comics. Get your work out to as many people as possible. Don’t pander. Put your work online for free. When you’re starting out, there’s no money to be made anyway. Do it for the love of creating.

Where can people catch up with you and your work?

My website is www.edbrisson.com. People can find me on twitter as well: @edbrisson. Obviously, be sure to pick up SHELTERED at your L.C.S. on July 10th!

James Asmus & Jim Festante On Hell, Heaven And ‘The End Times Of Bram & Ben’

Sometimes, being a weekly comic reader can get a little heavy. Currently, with the exception of books like Skullkickers and The Goon (which in itself has gotten pretty dark), the best comics on shelves right now are extraordinarily dark or offer some type metaphysical commentary on the human condition that leave us, the readers, feeling very Kafkaesque. That is to say, most comics right now are kind of a bummer.

The End Times of Bram & Ben might just be what is needed to help shake off our collective 2013 existential comic crisis. Created by veteran comic writer James Asmus and actor/writer Jim Festante, The End Times… is a breath of light-weight comedic fresh air that couldn’t come soon enough.

The Rapture has come, and 20 somethings Bram and Ben were not among the lucky few to ascend to heaven. This of course, has left them dealing with life after the end times, which sometimes is a drag, but most of the time its business as usual. The mini series’ third issue drops on March 13, 2013 and will mark the second to last issue in this four part series.

Jim and James are two writers with an infinite love of comics. I caught up with the duo, who shared some insight into exploring uncomfortable territory like religion and working together as a comedic writing team.


First off, how did you guys end up working with each other and eventually Image Comics?

JIM: James and I met through a mutual friend in comedy while doing improv in Las Vegas and LA. We discovered a shared love of End Times stories and began collaborating on a web series that eventually became END TIMES. We originally sought to publish the first book ourselves, using Kickstarter to raise funds for an artist and printing, but were extremely fortunate to have interest in the book from Image.

Jim, you have a long resume as a host, actor and writer for television and the stage. Why comics?

JIM: I’ve written a lot of scripts for TV and web projects, but was always interested in comic books. Ultimately, the freedom to do whatever you want is a huge draw — an angel/demon fight that ends in an apartment building collapsing like something out of Rampage would require a budget. A very large budget. Also, it’s such a collaborative endeavor, since you have an artist interpreting your script to realize your world. My comedy training is based in improv so I’ve always believed that a give-and-take between several creative people can lead to something really amazing and unique — Rem Broo’s art for END TIMES, I think, proves that.

James, you’ve written on Dark X-Men and Gambit, how did you first get started in comics?

JAMES: I had been working as a playwright in Chicago, and once we took a crazy little show I wrote to the New York Fringe Theatre festival. I knew a few folks working at Marvel and invited them to see the show, just hoping I could geek out with them. Soon after, though, they offered me the chance to write a short comic for an X-Men anthology book. I guess they were happy with the results, and continued hiring me from there! I know it’s not the most helpful breaking-in story on the surface, but I think it still highlights what you need – the dedication to actually create work, initiative, and your own voice.

The End Times of Bram & Ben is written in such a way where religion, specifically, isn’t mocked for no reason. Why was it important to write this comic without falling into easy territory of poking fun at something that is arguably easy to poke fun at?

JAMES: To me, the whole benefit of exploring uncomfortable questions through a fictional narrative is that they (can) become wrapped in a coating that makes them easier and more appealing to engage in. The truth is, I want as many people to engage in this story, and the ideas lurking within it, as possible. The hope is, our different characters reflect different ideas – and the conflicts between them raise the questions that we find most compelling. Every character is going to have their blind-spots and foibles called out, but that (in my opinion) is when satire is at its best. If your lead character is just a cipher for your opinion, and he’s always right, then you’re just a bully. And not only is that not funny, but if you really did want get someone to consider a new idea – too bad, they stopped listening to you the minute you were kicking sand in their face. Besides, our beliefs in the unknowable Truth of Existence are so personal, that if I made a story about what I actually believed, very few people would agree with it. Instead, we can poke at the kinds of questions we think are important (and too often not asked), and it engages and has value to many, many more people. The sex jokes help with that, too.


Jim, as a newer comic writer, what things surprised or were tough for you when it came to writing a script?

JIM: The pauses! I love pauses, beats and silent reactions between characters, but you’ve just given up a panel of limited space to do so, so it better count. Also, learning how to structure your book properly, like setting up a page turn or landing on a good cliffhanger to keep the readers’ interest piqued. The arc of a mini-series is different than the arc of a TV show, so learning how to adjust your storytelling can be frustrating learning experience. Fortunately, I had James’ expertise to lean on and learn from. If you’re not reading his other books, you’re missing out — the guy is a fantastic storyteller!

James, both you and Jim are comedians, how did you get jokes into The End Times… that you were both happy with, but spoke uniquely to your own voices?

JAMES: I actually think there’s a very big overlap in our senses of humor. And the nature of improv is that you work to find the combination of your brains — not just trade off from one POV to the other. In the end, we both just kept flinging jokes until something genuinely made us both laugh.

JIM: We have a similar sense of humor, which lead to us wanting to work together. Writing the book was a blast — basically, whatever made the other person crack up was a good indication we were going in the right direction. It’s like getting an instant second- or third-pass on your writing, a constant punch-up for your jokes so they land strongly and clearly.

Any advice for aspiring comic creators who would like to put our their own creator-owned work?

JAMES: Especially when you’re starting out — make the thing you love, not the thing that you think will ‘sell.’ The truth is, your passion and idiosyncratic choices will be far more compelling to people than your thinly veiled Batman fan fiction. And by creating something no one would have, you define yourself so much more clearly. Especially early on, you’re better served by a smaller passionate audience than a larger, ambivalent one. Also — don’t underestimate putting your work online. Web comics, PDF sales on your site, or digital comics vendors are all great ways to get your work out and in many cases those get bigger audiences than a lot of stuff published and solicited to shops.


If someone hasn’t read The End Times… why should they start reading it now?

JIM: It’s a unique book and I’m so grateful that there was a publisher out there like Image willing to take a chance on it. I think it’s the kind of book you can read a second or even third time and get more from beyond your initial reading. So… you get your money’s worth? That’s a very grown-up reason! You can feel good knowing you’ve helped support independent comics and your parents can feel good knowing they raised a conscientiousness consumer.

215 Ink, Footprints, IGN, Joey Esposito

Mark Andrew Smith is an Eisner and Harvey award winning author who has has worked with Image Comics for several years. His work in comics includes The New Brighton Archeological Society, Sullivan’s Sluggers, The Amazing Joy Buzzards, Popgun, and the wonderful Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors.We are all huge fans of Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors here at Panel Bound and it was a pleasure to talk to Mark about his work in comics. We spoke about the comics that inspired him and his process of creating Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors.

How did you first get started as a graphic novel and comic writer?

I went to UCSB and studied film.  When I was there my faculty adviser recommended ‘Understanding Comics’ to me.  I read it and a light clicked.  I’d always been a comic reader but fell out of it.  I went to the comic shop and caught up on everything I’d missed.  From there I started writing.

As a creative writer was it always your intention to write for comics?

It’s always been my intention to write for comics.

How did you first develop the concept for Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors?

Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors started with the title.  From there I brainstormed 20 characters, and then took that list down to the main 6.  When Armand came on board and did the concepts for them, they were easy to write because I knew what they looked like.

What made you want to work in the all ages genre?

I think it’s a lot of fun, and I want to make comics that everyone can read and enjoy.

How did you get Gladstone’s picked up with Image Comics?

Gladstone’s is my fifth book with Image Comics, so it’s as simple as I e-mailed them and they said, “Okay.  Let’s do it”.

What pitch process (script, sequential art) did you use when presenting to Image Comics?

I think you should have a good ten pages or so of art done to show the style and the tone of the book.  Also have an outline of the series, and perhaps a character sheet.  The submission guidelines are up on the Image site, anyone interested in pitching to Image can go there and follow them.

As a writer do you typically leave most of the art direction to the artist or do you write specifics for panel lay out, character design, etc?

I don’t write Alan Moore style where I describe everything, and I don’t write Screenplay style where there is only dialogue.  I write someplace in between those two.  If it’s a new scene, then I’ll go heavy on the description, or if there’s something vital to the story.  I think a lot of my writing is more pacing and beats for the artist to draw to.  For character designs, the characters will all be designed before the book is done, so they’re written on another sheet of paper and sent off to the artist, but for a new character or bad guys, those go into the scripts, and often I’ll include photo references of things that I want to help the artist out and to save them time.

What comics inspired you to want to write for comics?

Too many to name haha.  I think the work of Scott Morse, and Jim Mahfood got me inspired to write for comics.  With Morse, he was using a lot of silent panels, and his pacing was excellent, and I hadn’t seen anything like that before.  It was really interesting to me, and he’s been a large influence on my work.  Powers also inspired me to write for comics, and the work of Mike Allred, and Paul Pope.

What’s next for Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors?

The next story arch is starting in early summer and they find out there’s some big trouble headed their way.

 Any last advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t be so committed to your craft and stubborn that you miss out on life and friendships.

[End Interview]

I want to thank Mark for taking the time to answer some questions for us at Panel Bound, Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is really a fantastic all ages title that is definitely worth picking up. You can find links to buy it in trade paper back below.

Interview With Jim Zubkavich

Jim “Zub” Zubkavich is the writer and co-creator of Skullkickers currently out with Image comics. We recently featured Skullkickers as one of the 5 comic that change the way we read and buy comics. Since Skullkickers hit stands it has found it’s way into my pull list. By now you have had to of noticed the absolutely gorgeous covers gracing your comic shops shelves, the art work throughout the comic match if not exceed the cover art making this one of the best looking comics Image is putting out right now. But Skullkickers isn’t just a pretty face, the writing and story are equally brilliant with a tone and style that match the artwork. Jim Zub is the man behind the brilliance, we caught up with him and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for Panel Bound. We were able to speak about how Skullkickers was developed, working with new editors, and the importance of creator owned comics in todays marketplace. I hope you enjoy it.


First off how did you develop Skullkickers and how did you get the fantastic art team of Edwin Huang and Misty Coats on board?

Skullkickers was co-created with Chris Stevens, a ridiculously talented artist, for Image’s Popgun anthology series. Chris was invited to contribute to the anthology and we came up with a short story about two nameless monster hunting mercenaries who caused trouble and kicked ass and it was printed in Popgun V2. Erik Larsen, who was Image’s Publisher at the time, quite liked the story and asked us if we’d be interested in expanding it to a mini-series at Image.

The original mini-series (which became issues #1-5 of the ongoing series) was written with Chris in mind as the artist, but scheduling and financial problems lead to him having to bow out. I figured the series would never get done and put the story away until I met Edwin Huang over a year later. Edwin and I hit it off well. He was just getting ready to graduate from the New York College of Art and was looking for a way to get his foot in the door with the comic business so he ended up jumping onboard Skullkickers.

Christina Strain, a friend and professional comic colorist, recommend Misty as a good option for the kind of coloring I was looking for on the series and she worked out fantastically well. The two test pages she did on the series are actually in the first issue. That’s how on target they were.


Did you use a traditional pitch procedure when presenting SK to Image, or something less traditional? 

Although Erik Larsen had ‘approved’ Skullkickers, enough time had passed between that initial pitch and Edwin coming on board that Eric Stephenson was now the Publisher in charge at Image. In turn, I didn’t want to assume that he would approve us too so I ended up compiling a full pitch package containing the story outline, full first issue script and completed first issue artwork to show Eric. He was impressed with the package and gave us the go ahead on the mini-series.

By the time sales figures came in for issue #3, Eric asked if we’d like to make the series an ongoing and we happily accepted, expanding the story idea and building a much larger overplot than I’d originally planned.


Skullkickers takes the action fantasy genre and adds a unique humor violence element to it. As a writer how did you first develop this tone for SK?

I write Skullkickers as a book that I as a reader would enjoy. The violent/cartoonish tone of it, the banter and the strange situations are things that amuse me and, I hope, will also entertain our readers. Writing humor and continually trying to pull out unexpected situations that work well and keep the reader guessing is a challenge and I thoroughly enjoy it.

Skullkickers, when it’s working well, should feel sort of like Army of Darkness meets Red Dwarf or a D&D game where the players are having a good time at the Dungeon Master’s expense. If I can maintain that attitude than it all seems to come together.


You have spoken in great detail about the importance of publisher integrity especially in creator owned books, what has SK taught you about creator owned comics?

Creator owned comics, especially in this market, are a labour of love. Very few titles make enough money to provide enough income to make it a job, but you’re still competing on the exact same store shelves as titles from major publishers, so you can’t scrimp on quality. You have to work harder and push yourself further in order to stay on that level, with less time and a much smaller budget. That’s exactly why Marvel/DC hire people who are able to stand out in the creator-owned market. They know you’ve proven you can deliver under extremely difficult conditions.


When did you first decide that you wanted to write and create comics?

Although I’ve been a comic fan since I was young, I didn’t actually think it was a viable job until relatively recently, the last 4-5 years. My original intent was to stay in the animation industry because so many people are needed for animation production. The frustrating part of animation that I didn’t anticipate was that I was also going to be a very small part of a very large production pipeline and it would be extremely difficult to have creative control or contribute ideas in that field. Comics are much more immediate and I can put my ideas out there much more quickly.


What comics can you recommend to someone looking for inspiration especially from a writers stand point.? 

It’s an incredible time for creator-owned comics right now. There are a ton of great books that are establishing a solid foothold in all kinds of different genres. Some of my favorite ongoing series that inspire me lately are Atomic Robo, Casanova, Chew, Locke & Key, Invincible, The Sixth Gun and Orc Stain.


Most writers I speak with have a great deal of trouble finding an artist to draw their comic, what advice do you have for them?

There are a lot of outlets where artists gather: Penciljack, The Drawing Board, deviantART, ConceptArt.org come to mind. Put together a professional pitch and then personalize your messages to artists who are available and fit the tone of the work you’re going for. Expect that it’s going to take a while to find a good artist who is available and looking for collaboration. Also expect that the less money you have to offer them, the more flexibility and input they’ll want in the process, ownership and scheduling.


Writing a book with a humor tone can be really hard for writers, do you ever read a joke or gag you put in SK after it’s printed and think “what was I thinking?”

I think the toughest part is that you come up with a bit of banter or visual gag and then you’re going to see it dozens of times at each stage (writing, sketch, line art, color and lettering) before it’s in print. It’s hard to remember how funny it originally was and that readers will see it for the first time and, ideally, have that spontaneous reaction rather than the feeling you have now that you’ve seen it so much. You have to trust your instincts a bit, knowing that it was funny originally and that it will probably still be funny later on to the reader.


  Any last minute advice for aspiring creator owned comic writers or artists? 

Don’t try to create a comic based on trends. Don’t write creator-owned material you’re not personally invested in. The best way to make your mark is to put out something you believe in rather than hoping to piggyback on the market at large. If you’re not intensely inspired initially you won’t be able to keep dedicating yourself to it when the hours are long and rewards are distant at best.


[End Interview]

I want to thank Jim again for taking the time to chat with me about being a comic writer and creator. You can check out links to Skullkickers website as well as a link to purchase the book.


Buy Skullkickers

Panel Bound Recommends: PHERONE

Here at Panel Bound we are huge fans of Blue Estate and it’s creator Viktor Kalvachev. I spoke with Viktor and Blue Estate writer Andrew Osborne a few months ago about their creator owned comic out with Image, and we also have posted reviews for past Blue Estate books. What I was unaware of is the fact that before Viktor was creating Blue Estate and doing covers for Men of War he released a graphic novel called PHERONE. As supporters of both Blue Estate and pulp crime books we have to recommend this title. If you head over to Viktor’s website you can find a ton of great sketches and sample pages. Below is a promo trailer that was put together for PHERONE, check it out it will make you go out and by this graphic novel.