Interview/Review: Criminal One-Shot
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Criminal has been around for almost ten years now, starting first on Marvel’s ICON line and now with Image Comics as part of the 5-year exclusive deal Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips signed with them. It was a monumental deal and now we’re really starting to see some of the benefits of their work exclusively at Image Comics. Image has announced plans to reprint all the trade editions of Criminal, so those who might have missed out can jump into it, and it’s also been announced that there is more Criminal on the way. First and foremost, this special one-shot sort of re-introducing, and introducing for some, this world that Brubaker and Phillips have created.
All-Comic.com: I guess the first thing that immediately comes to mind after hearing Criminal is coming back and that Image Comics is going to reprint this fantastic series, is what kind of challenges did jumping back into this world have for you as a writer? Was this something that was always kind of there, just behind the other projects you had, or did you actively have to sit down and go, “Okay. Let’s get back to Criminal,” before you could being again?
Ed Brubaker: No, it was very much like riding a bike, going back to writing CRIMINAL. I’d missed it, over the years. It’s just a very natural voice for me, that world.
For such a long book, with two completely contrasting styles and stories, Ed Brubaker is able to effortlessly shift between the 1970s Magazine style comic and back to his own “real world” story. Even the way he cuts the last panel off when he gets interrupted is smooth as butter. It really feels like Brubaker is giving you just enough pages to start to get into the story before pulling you, and Teeg Lawless, out of the story so Teeg can go deal with one problem or another. It’s hard to come up with a comparison book that has done something like this, let alone done it this effectively, but what do you expect from a book with the name Brubaker on the cover? As great as this issue is, regardless of already knowing the answer, the issue ends completely open. As if to say, “Here is your start (or welcome back), prepare for more” and nothing is more exciting than that prospect.
Where did the idea to not only bring up the classic magazine form comics, but to also use them as part of the story, come from? Was this, aside from being a great story, more of a homage to that time and those books?
Ed Brubaker: I’ve always been in love with the “story within a story” concept. From the time I was a little kid, reading the Dwarf’s Tale in the 1001 Nights. And we’d done that a bit in the last CRIMINAL book, THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT when we had all the main character’s flashbacks in the form of old Archie-style comics. This idea, though, came from something I was told a long time ago, about how Savage Sword of Conan and Heavy Metal and other “adult” comic mags had a lot of subscription sales to prison inmates in the 70s and 80s. When we were planning to bring CRIMINAL back in these new editions, I knew I wanted us to do an “annual” or something like that, to celebrate it, and give retailers something brand new and different to sell, too. And I thought it would be a lot of fun to do something experimental, that could have a special variant edition, and the idea just kind of hit me… the image of Teeg Lawless in a cell, reading an old barbarian comic… and all the pieces just kind of fell into place from there.
Ed Brubaker: We just love doing them. There are a lot of retailers who don’t carry magazine size comics, who just order the comic size version, but from the ones I talked to that had done well with THE FADE OUT magazine variant, it seemed like our readership really responded to the format, and to us making the entire package a part of the story. It’s just a format we really love.
In the $5.99 Magazine variant, the vision of the Zangar story and the original magazine feel is more complete, including all the extras in the back. Is this the preferred method for reading this issue? If you had your choice, would you just release this one-shot in this format?
Ed Brubaker: Well, I don’t know, honestly. I do think the comic size and the magazine size editions are two different reading experiences in some ways. There’s behind the scenes stuff about the creation of the story in the comic size, while the magazine size is kind of an art object in itself, complete with fake ads and fake letters page. It really depends on what the reader is looking for. There’s an extra layer of nostalgia maybe, with the magazine variant.
Are we ever going to get more Zangar?!
Ed Brubaker: I don’t know. Maybe? I don’t think I could get away with doing this same storytelling device a second time, or that it would be as much fun. But never say never. I had a lot of fun writing those pages, and Sean did a fantastic job on them.
This question was from a friend, and I was curious what your answer would be. Is there any interest in doing an OGN in the Vertigo Crime format, even though the line is now defunct? An annual Brubaker/Phillips crime OGN in that format? 100% sold.
Ed Brubaker: You know, I’ve thought about it, but for now, it makes more sense to serialize our books in single issues first. We have a big readership, which keeps growing, and we like to give them something every month or two, so they don’t forget about us. Those readers are the ones who’ve made it possible for us to get this 5-year deal at Image.
Artist extraordinaire Sean Phillips really puts his skills on display as he not only shifts between styles, from the magazine format to the style we’ve all come to know and love from him, but at one point Teeg is drugged and we end up getting an almost Moebius-esque set of insane, trip panels. Being the kind of artist the he is, everything works together as if it were as natural as peanut butter and jelly and it not only makes for a fantastic looking comic, but a unique one as well. Out of all of the great artists that Brubaker has worked with, Sean Phillips has left the greatest impression and arguably had the greatest impact on the stories and the worlds that Brubaker is crafting. If you need any more examples of that, simply check out The Fade Out. It’s easily some of Sean’s best work, as is this issue, and considering his catalogue that’s saying a lot.
After all this time working with Sean Philips, do you still get surprised by the kind of work he’s able to pull off on a month to month basis?
Ed Brubaker: Yeah, absolutely. I think that Sean is actually doing the best work of his entire career right now, on this CRIMINAL one-shot and THE FADE OUT. I’m floored by his pages when they arrive, and this is after 15 years of working together. It’s really exciting for me, and I feel very lucky.
These two are synonymous together, and work like this one-shot is not only proof that they’re a fantastic team, but also that we need much, much more of this in the world of comics. Criminal is one of those books that we need right now, and that’s not to say the world of comics is particularly lacking, because it isn’t, especially from Image Comics, but Criminal is something special. Nobody does a crime comic like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; hell, nobody does comics like these two. If you’ve never read Criminal, pick this and all the upcoming collections up—you won’t be sorry. If you have, then welcome back and strap in for more crime comic perfection.
It’s hard to ask this, especially in the secretive spy-world of comic books, but what else is on the horizon for Criminal? How much more can we expect, or do you even know? Are you simply taking it one story at a time and seeing where it goes, at this point?
Ed Brubaker: Well, we’re back to THE FADE OUT for now, and when that’s getting near to being done, I’ll figure out what we’ll be doing next. I definitely want us to do more CRIMINAL, but there’s a few other ideas percolating, for some shorter projects, that we may do before that. I always wait to see what idea is trying to force its way out of my brain.
If people like this book, and maybe haven’t tried some of your other work, what would you recommend they try as a gateway into the “Brubakerverse”, aside from more Criminal?
Ed Brubaker: Well, if they’re looking for more from me and Sean as a team, there’s FATALE, which has five trades available from Image, and SLEEPER from DC may still be available in some format or another, and INCOGNITO which we’ll be bringing back to print later this year from Image, as well. And my other Image series, VELVET, which is just about to wrap up its second arc, which is a spy comic set in the early 70s.
What else do you have on deck coming up in the next few months we can look forward to?
Ed Brubaker: Just more VELVET and THE FADE OUT. That’s all I can manage these days around my non-comics writing work.
Well, thanks for taking the time out to do this for us, Ed. It’s an absolute honor. Not only am I a huge fan of your work, but when i started out with another site a few years back, you actually retweeted something I said (looking for followers, or some such) and my Twitter blew up and we’ve just grown from there. So, thanks for that. It meant a lot to me. So thank you, and here’s to much more from you and Sean, whether it’s Criminal or The Fade Out or whatever else that’s on its way.