We’re almost at the end of “Palmer’s Picks,” folks! This profile of Ed Brubaker from Wizard #73 was the next-to-last “Picks” and was one of the few that features a solid choice for a lead interview followed by two top-notch comics for the “Recommended Reading” section.
In most cases, I’ll look back at these old columns and question what I was thinking when I decided to spotlight a certain comic for the sidebar. No offense to its creator, but Sheba (chosen for the “Reading” spotlight in Wizard #72) is not a comic that has withstood the test of time. But for this issue of Wizard, the recommendations are spot-on. Ariel Bordeaux‘s No Love Lost and Debbie Drechsler‘s Nowhere are two books that I would have no problem giving a seal of approval today. It’s a good thing that I was two for two this month because this column actually marked the final appearance of “Recommended Reading.” The section was replaced with a farewell note in next issue’s final “Palmer’s Picks.”
It’s funny that the last few paragraphs of this Brubaker interview explain how he’s going to hunker down and make sure that he’s spending time at the drawing board every day so he can maintain a regular schedule for his new regular series Detour. The first and only issue was published in the fall of 1997. In fact, it was the last comic that Brubaker would both write and draw. He started getting more writing assignments from Vertigo as the decade closed out and he eventually landed a gig at DC writing Batman comics. He then jumped ship to Marvel in 2005 to write a bunch of comics including a long run on Captain America that led to the creation of the Winter Soldier. He’s also written several critically-acclaimed crime comics with artist Sean Phillips, including Criminal, Fatale, and Kill or Be Killed. More recently, he’s been busy with some TV work including HBO’s Westworld and Amazon’s Too Old to Die Young. All in all, I’d say things definitely worked out well for Brubaker, even if the launch of Detour didn’t happen as planned.
Dazed and Confused
By Tom Palmer Jr.
On the road of life, cartoonist Ed Brubaker has taken a Detour. Best known for his semi-autobiographical comics series Lowlife and various writing credits from Vertigo, Brubaker is hoping to give his work a new sense of maturity and sophistication with his latest efforts, the one-shot At The Seams and the upcoming regular series Detour. In fact, Brubaker might just be creating reality-based comics that, as strange as it might sound, could possibly rival the work of contemporary short-fiction writers.
“The stories are realism-based, but there are elements of non-reality in them,” Brubaker explains. “The first issue of Detour is a story about a guy who lives in a city that is basically San Francisco, but in a world where there are earthquakes every day.” Fans of Brubaker’s earlier comics will recognize this move for what it is—a definite change of direction.
Brubaker was moved to add new elements to his comic work when he began to feel the limitations of autobiographical comics. With a series named Lowlife, people made some assumptions about Brubaker and his work that he’s currently trying to disprove. “I felt kind of trapped by the name Lowlife and the whole slacker feel. Anytime anyone saw my comic they immediately thought it was going to be about guys hanging out and whining about how pathetic their lives are and how no one loves them. You can only put up with that for so long.”
In his new books, Brubaker plans to use elements of fantasy as a way to explore various themes in his stories. The difficult thing is keeping the non-realistic details in the background. “These are all just little elements. If you’re reading the story and weren’t paying too close attention, you wouldn’t even notice it wasn’t taking place in a normal world. The symbolism of the story is sort of a fear of the future and the way things seem to be going. I’m trying to use physical things as metaphors for the way people get detached or the way the outside world keeps creeping in and in.”
While this may sound a bit heavy and depressing, Brubaker plans to lighten up each issue of Detour with a series of back-up stories that relate personal memoirs about growing up obsessed with comics. “They’re actually not as bad as that may sound!” Brubaker laughs. “They’re going to be bittersweet memoirs about life in the ’70s that all involve comics somehow. One of my earliest memories was my dad plopping down a big stack of comics he’d gotten from some friends at the office. These stories will probably be the most autobiographical things I’ve ever done.”
Brubaker is well aware that stories about comic books might alienate some readers who didn’t grow up immersed in four-color superheroes. “I think the elements of the comic-collector aspect of it are downplayed enough where they boil down to just memories about being a kid and the innocence of the time period compared to the way the world is now. I’m mainly doing them to please that side of myself that did grow up reading a bunch of Marvel and DC comics. This is who I am as well. I’m a little turned off by how cynical and dismissive most alternative cartoonists are about the stuff they actually grew up reading.”
Perhaps Brubaker’s intimate knowledge of comics has tipped him off to the enormous potential of the medium. “In comics you can pretty much do whatever you want. It’s free! If I want to [create] an earthquake every day, I don’t have to actually go out and videotape it or pay millions of dollars to simulate it; I can just draw some wreckage on the page.”
Doing this convincingly has forced Brubaker to focus more on his art. He claims the biggest improvement came when he switched inking tools. “Using a brush has made my art get a lot better. I tried inking with a brush when I was a teenager and gave up when I realized it was too hard to master. I tried picking it up again two years ago and I wish I never quit. I’m just getting to the point where I can look at a page I just finished and go, ‘This looks pretty good.'”
Using a brush has also forced Brubaker to reevaluate other aspects of his art. “Once I started inking things with a brush I realized how much stuff I didn’t know how to draw. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before to go out and actually shoot photos for reference and go out and draw stuff from life, or look through magazines and look at people’s faces and try to draw different kinds of people. I guess I was just incredibly lazy. I’ve been forcing myself to work a little harder and get better.”
Surprisingly, Brubaker has found that all his research doesn’t take that much effort. “I think one of the reasons I put it off for so long was because I thought it would take so much extra time, but it really doesn’t. I have to draw a lot of pigeons in the first Detour, and it wasn’t that big of a hassle to get a camera and go to this park near my house and take a roll of film with pigeons.”
Brubaker also plans to improve his art through some good old-fashioned discipline. “I’m pushing myself to draw five days a week for at least four hours a day. It doesn’t sound like very much, but on a day when I feel like crap, if I force myself to draw I’ll end up getting a lot done on a day where I would have just watched TV or read a book and then felt bad the next day because I didn’t do any work.”
Its a good thing he’s committed to drawing so much, because Brubaker has a lot planned for his new series, including a serialized graphic novel. “Hopefully the comics industry won’t go bottom-up in the next three years! My commitment with the comic is to get it out three times a year. I figure that even at my laziest I should be able to get a comic out that often.”
Before becoming a freelance writer, Tom Palmer Jr. lived among a family of wild pigeons. Insert your own bird poop joke here.
FYI: At The Seams is on stands now from Alternative Press. If you can’t find a copy, drop them a line at
611 NW 34th Drive, Gainesville, FL 32607 (sample issues are $2.95 plus $1 for shipping). You can also give them a call at (352) 373-6336 or check out their website at www.indyworld.com. A collection of Lowlife, titled A Complete Lowlife, is due out from Black Eye Productions. Write them at 1030 St. Alexandre Suite 5, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2Z 1P3 or catch them on the Web at www.blackeye.com.
Ed Brubaker’s Picks
“Of course, I read stuff like Eightball, Acme Novelty Library and everything Jim Woodring does. I also like Pickle, Smell of Steve, Berlin, The Sands, Nowhere, Palooka-Ville, Black Hole, Dirty Plotte, Spectacles, Yikes and whatever Joe Sacco is working on.”
No Love Lost: Ariel Bordeaux got her start in mini-comics, and No Love Lost is her first full-length work in the world of full-size comics. This little story is quite an impressive effort. Inside the pages of this book you’ll meet Emma and Jed, a couple stuck in a relationship that is going absolutely nowhere. The interesting thing about the story isn’t where their relationship ends up, but in the way that Bordeaux conveys their tale. She has a knack for conversational dialogue and at times her comics can be brutally honest. Don’t miss out on this intriguing comic from a promising newcomer. For more information, write to Drawn & Quarterly Publications,
P.O. Box 48056, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2V 4S8 or go to www.egcite.com/quarterly and check out the company’s new website.
Nowhere: This series has got to be the best-looking comic on the stands. Debbie Drechsler illustrates her comic entirely in two colors (green and sepia), giving the series a unique and very unsettling feeling. The story deals with the life of Lily, a young girl who feels lost and isolated after moving to a new town, so Drechsler’s distinctive art is all the more appropriate. Nowhere is also published by Drawn & Quarterly, so check out the ordering information above.