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.

Take Ed Brubaker, for instance. Brubaker is living every fankid's dream right now as he not only pens one of the few remaining on-going series from Vertigo, Deadenders, but also is slated to take over the writing chair on Batman beginning in August. Like so many of the "hot" writers right now (with names like Bendis, Rucka, and Mack coming to mind immediately), he didn't get there working on fan scripts of established DC characters or letterhacking his way into an editor's long-term memory. Instead, Ed Brubaker paid his dues working in relative anonymity (that is, he got reviewed in the Comics Journal and not Wizard) for a number of well-respected indy companies, some of whom are no longer in business to due dwindling markets and retailer apathy, and honed his craft of spinning compelling stories driven by realistic and meaningful dialogue, as evidenced by such early works as A Complete Lowlife, Detour, and At the Seams.

Now, after more than ten years of hard work, Brubaker finds himself at the cusp of what may yet be his greatest writing adventure, but definitely working for the man. I was interested to find out what inspired a 15 year old punk rocker from San Diego who read Firestorm in 1983, see below for details, to go "legit" and become, perhaps, one of the greatest new voices in comics. As it turns out, Ed hasn't changed much at all.

Rob Vollmar: First of all, thank you, Ed, for taking the time to speak with us today. We'll start off with a modicum of biographical information, to satisfy my personal curiosity. How old are you and where were you born?

Ed Brubaker: I'm 33 and I was born on November 17th, 1966 at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

RV: Most comic creators and fans have vivid memories of their first experiences with comic books? Could you tell us what the first memorable interaction you had with comic books was and about how old you might have been?

EB: When I was two, in 68 or 69, my dad asked all the guys at his office on the base if their kids had any comics they didn't want anymore, because he wanted my brother and I to get into reading young, so he came home one day with a huge stack of stuff, all in awful condition, but I never cared about that. The first ones I pulled off the pile were early Fantastic Four and Spider-Man #4. There were a lot of Marvels, some DCs and even a few ECs.

RV: How did your reading tastes evolve as you got older? What was your favorite book from the 80's? The 90's? Does your schedule permit you to read anything being published now?

EB: I read mostly mainstream stuff until I was about 15 or so, and then discovered Cerebus and Love and Rockets, and from there went pretty much into alternative comics, eventually giving up mainstream stuff entirely. I still followed Alan Moore, but that was about it. I read a roommate's Sandman sometimes, but I think I was too old to get the kick out of it a lot of people did. Swamp Thing and Miracle Man were my Sandman,. Watchmen and V for Vendetta, too.

It wasn't until I borrowed some comics from a friend in the mid-90s, on the verge of getting more work from DC and Dark Horse, that I started to be aware of current mainstream stuff. For the record, I think Starman and Marvels, and Astro City are top flight stuff for the mainstream, as is Planetary. Those are the books that are coming out currently that appeal to the old fanboy in me. The only other mainstream books that really knock me out at all (and that's a strong phrase, really) are the crime books. On the whole, I still prefer things like Eightball and Acme Novelty Library to most of the mainstream stuff, but there is some quality work being done.

RV: You began your career in comics as a cartoonist, though you are now better known for your script writing. Between the writing and the drawing, which skill was more dominant as you were growing up? Was your family supportive of your interest in the arts in general?

RV: Actually, I was much more of an artist as a kid. I never even considered writing something for someone else to draw until the late 80s. I still make a separation internally about writing for myself or someone else, but its kind of weird that I have become more of a writer, currently. The stuff I write for others to draw is not usually stuff I would ever want to draw myself, but my mind is filled with stories and ideas that I can easily envision others drawing, or making movies out of. My family was about as supportive as can be expected. My dad was very supportive, and my mom was glad I finally started getting regular writing work so I'm not always broke.

RV: OK, here's the surprise I mentioned. I have in my hand a copy of the Fury of Firestorm #18 from November of 1983. In the letter column, a young firebrand named Ed Brubaker from San Diego rips Gerry Conway a new excretory orifice for allowing the readers of the time to refer to Doreen Day's new "look" as "punk rock", which, unquestionably, it was not. The letter goes on to offer that the letter writer was an aspiring creator himself. Any comment?

EB: If you ever find Lowlife #4 I printed that letter on the inside cover. I was just glad I found it before someone from the Comics Journal did, at the time. I also won a No- Prize in an issue of Captain America in the late 70s. Congrats on finding that, though. I've never had anyone else point that out to me.

The interesting thing about that letter was that the editors at DC edited out the names of Lee Ving, Darby Crash and Sid Vicious, and replaced them with the phrase "all the punk idols", which really pissed me off when I was 15.

RV: The earliest of your work I was able to lay my hands on was Detour #1 from Alternative Press. I was irritated to find that the Overstreet Price Guide couldn't be bothered to offer a listing for this, were there more issues available past #1?

EB: No. The stories that would have made up the next two issues are being worked on in my disappearing spare time, and hopefully the whole thing will be released as a book of about 100 or so pages in a year or two.

RV: I was also intrigued by offers in the back for At The Seams and, especially, A Complete Lowlife, which sounded like a warm-up for your later work for DC on Scene of the Crime. What were the circumstances surrounding the publication of those two works and (oh please) are they still available anywhere that you know of?

EB: Neither of them are in print currently, but Top Shelf is re-releasing the Lowlife TPB sometime in the next year, I believe. It's a classy looking book, so it'll be nice to have it back in print. Lowlife is a semi-autobiographical comic that I did in the first half of the 90s, and At The Seams are three connected short stories exploring the theme of betrayal among friends.

RV: Going back to Detour for a moment, it was my first introduction to your cartooning work. I was really impressed to find this side of you that I would never have guessed existed, considering your publishing success writing crime noir for Vertigo. "Life on the Faultline" was an interesting combination of the Pekar school of confessional cartooning but filtered through a sci-fi filter, reminding at times of Carla Speed MacNeil's work on Finder or, perhaps, Eddie Campbell's Bacchus. What are your memories of working on this and do you have any plans for future works featuring your cartooning abilities?

EB: I was inspired in creating that story by life in San Francisco, and also by my favorite contemporary author, Steve Erickson, read Days Between Stations. It was a big departure for me, trying to tackle different story-telling ideas and pure fiction, using my imagination more. It's a very SF book.

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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