Interview conducted by By Rob Vollmar
Independent comics are the life-blood of the comic industry. Whether or not actual sales ever reflect this truth is irrelevant because, like or not, just about everyone's favorite writer has either gotten their start there or retreated to publishing their "good" work through one due to the inflexibility of the corporate structure.
RV: Detour also utilizes some of the same ecological themes that haunt the pages of Deadenders. Is this theme you find yourself returning to in your work based on your personal interest in environmentalism?
EB: They aren't actually ecological themes, they are about a fear of the end of the world, not trying to save it. I'm not much of an environmentalist, really. And the main character in that comic is just a zealot, but he happens to be a very politically active zealot about recycling and overpopulation, and such. He's based on a really annoying roommate I had. The real story is about hypocrisy, something we're all guilty of, usually. And fear.
These magical horrible weather ideas do cross over into Deadenders, though, which I see very much as a combination of Detour and Lowlife, but more commercial than both of them.
RV: How did you make the jump from alternative press publishing to writing for DC/Vertigo?
EB: Lou Stathis, who died a few years ago, wanted my friend Eric Shanower(Age of Bronze) to do work for Vertigo, and Eric and I were up for a few Eisner awards at the time, so I kind of had an "in". Our first work for them was Prez. The book we were up for the awards for was a crime comic, An Accidental Death.
RV: Who published An Accidental Death and is it still available?
EB: Eric has all the available copies and usually advertises it in the back of Age of Bronze. It was published in DHP, and collected into one edition by Fantagraphics.
RV: Scene of the Crime was, I think, many people's introduction to your writing. How did the creation of that come about?
EB: It was an attempt to get Shelly to stop bugging me to pitch ideas to Vertigo. I decided to pitch a real mystery comic to them, unlike the non-mystery Paradox mysteries. I figured they'd never go for a book about the aftermath of crimes, but I was wrong. The main idea for me was to do a really good mystery, and to update the themes and feel of Ross Macdonald, my favorite mystery writer. I also had a big interest in crime scene photography for a while, so that's where it came from.
RV: I have been able to turn quite a few people who don't normally read comics on to Scene Of The Crime because the story is so compelling. Seeing as how you have lived in San Francisco and Seattle, did you ever have any brushes with less-than-ideal commune situations that inspired the backstory here?
EB: Not personally, but the backstory of that mystery is based on the real experiences of two girls I knew in my late teens, who did grow up in a cult/commune.
RV: Jack Herriman has a lot of hang-ups that one does not normally associate with a private eye, as seen most clearly in the contrast between him and his friend, Steve Ellington. What was the lure of writing a person so at odds with their role in the story?
EB: Every other detective had been done to death. I was much more interested in a guy who was good at his job, but not a tough guy who loved guns. I always like the fractured people in my stories, they're more real.
RV: Are we to see more Jack Herriman stories or even [gasp], an ongoing Scene of the Crime series in the future?
EB: I hope so.
RV: Are there any proposals already submitted for new Scene of the Crime stories?
EB: Not yet, but it was sort of an open-ended deal to begin with. A lot of why we haven't pushed for another one has to do with scheduling problems with Michael and I.
RV: Just when everybody in the industry has Ed Brubaker as the go to man for crime stories, you made a left turn with Deadenders. Given Beezer's pharmacological preferences and larcenous tendencies, are you still writing crime comics here?
EB: Not really. But like a mystery, this story follows a lot of the same mythological structure points. It's basically a fractured hero-quest. There is a lot more searching in the upcoming issues. It's definitely got a lot of mystery elements, but told at a much slower and varied pace. Focusing more on characters than plot, which may be its flaw, or maybe its virtue.
RV: One of the obvious strengths of the book is its strong supporting cast, a group of cast-off kids who orbit the satellite family core at varying distances. Do you feel this reflects a possible future, given the dynamic changes in the American family structure in the last 20 years?
EB: It's more of a reflection of my own adolescence, living in a small So Cal town, virtually unsupervised, along with all my friends. I think the best thing about the world of Deadenders, and the thing I wanted from the beginning, is that it feels emotionally like the truth, even though its got a lot of weird sci-fi elements, it feels like everyone's real life.
RV: It's interesting that you would make the comparison between Deadenders and your own adolescence. Without getting over-analytical, the similarities between the Sector where the kids live and the bases where you grew up have a lot of similarities, the fences, the guns, the isolation from the "civvies". Would you agree that some of this story is channeling that atypical upbringing?
EB: I honestly don't know. I thought of it as more of like a metaphor for the way life in Eastern Europe is, as if it was transplanted to New York, where a lot of people look at Manhattan their whole lives across the bridge but never go there.
RV: Your handling of Sophie and Beezer's relationship is heartbreaking and seems painfully familiar from memories of my own less-than-gracious youth. I find his character particularly archetypal given the difficulty post-adolescents males have in expressing their feelings. Is this element of the story an extension of your Indy work hidden within the sci-fi / messianic meta-structure?
EB: Not necessarily, I'm just more concerned with character interaction than plot usually, and he's the star of my book. I will admit though, that in a lot of ways Deadenders is simply an alternative comic published by Vertigo. It has more plot than it would as a black and white indie book, though.
Beezer's main focus for the first 6 or 7 issues is very narrow, he's pissed that his life is falling apart and things will never be the same, so he's whining about it. It cracks me up, because people keep saying he's unsympathetic and unlikable, and I agree. Who likes teenagers who are feeling sorry for themselves?
RV: How quickly do you plan on resolving the plot strands that are currently flying in Deadenders? How soon should we expect to understand the role that Beezer's visions play in the long-term aspect of the story?
EB: Pretty soon, actually. You'll have a good idea about most of this stuff over the issues from about 9 thru 13 or 14. But I, of course, open new threads that pull in another direction. Beezer's whole story goes to about issue 25, if we get that far.
RV: Is there a Deadenders past the end of Beezer's story or does the series terminate with the end of his quest?
EB: That kind of depends on sales, and on Warren's and my interest in the series at that point. If it was doing well, I have a lot of ideas that would happen after that.
RV: As much visibility as having an ongoing series with Vertigo provides, being named as the head writer to Batman is about as big-time an assignment as I can envision. I am really looking forward to read your take on the Dark Knight. In your mind, who wrote the Batman you love best?
EB: My personal favorites are the old Batman's from the 50s. But the ones I look at as an example of the good that can be done on the modern version character are probably Miller and the few times Alan Moore did him. A lot of others have done good Batman, too, notably Steve Englehart's run, which I haven't read in about fifteen years, but I remember liking.
RV: What kind of guy is Ed Brubaker's Batman? Is he crazy? What does he regret most? What hope does he have for the future?
EB: He's Batman, you know. He's not much different than anyone else's Batman, I guess. He regrets almost every move, because he can't help but think of the ramifications of his actions, and he knows he's fighting a losing battle.
RV: What is still out there for you that you want to write or draw? Is there more superhero work that you are interested in?
EB: I want to do more crime stuff, another Scene of the Crime, hopefully. I'd like to do some cop stuff, too. As far as drawing, I have three projects on the horizon, that'll probably take me the next ten years to do.
There is no particular superhero I have any affection for, but almost all jobs have a certain appeal, if you look at them as a craftsman, trying to find the angle that appeals to your sensibilities. My Batman is probably much more of a crime comic than a superhero comic, but that's my interest. It's a challenge to find the balance between what I enjoy, and what Scott will enjoy drawing.
I also would love to write young adult comics, and even kids comics. There is no end to what I would like to try my hand at, I guess.
RV: What do you think a comic actually aimed at the young adult audience might look like? Is there anything on the market right now that you see as a good product for teens that is just not reaching their hands due to limitations in the current distribution system?
EB: I think that Deadenders is actually the perfect teen comic. I wish it was hitting places they shopped. I also like the Batman animated books, but I think those are more for kids than teens. I wrote an inventory story for Gotham Adventures and it was a hoot. Hopefully it'll get printed next year at some point. But its inventory, so who knows?
The real problem I see with aiming comics at teens is that comics packaging doesn't appeal enough. If we took three issues of Deadenders, repackaged them to look like a big video game magazine and charged 5 or 6 bucks, we'd move a ton of them out of newsstands I think. But comics are too thin and inexpensive to compete properly on the shelves outside of the direct market.
RV: Thank you for your time. Do you have any non-series work coming out that we should keep an eye out for?
EB: Yeah, I'm just about to start work on a mini for Vertigo called The Dead Boy Detectives and the Secret of Immortality which should be out early next year, as should my Elseworlds Gotham that Sean Phillips is drawing. Another crime comic.
And something secret that is going to blow peoples heads off and really make them think I'm crazy, too.
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