In recent years, writer Ed Brisson has manned a number big-time Marvel books: Iron Fist, Cable, Ghost Rider, and the excellent New Mutants. (Brisson has also penned projects for DC, Boom, and IDW, among many others). But there’s no denying that he’s best known for his work as work in the crime genre, most notably the excellent Murder Book series that helped launched his career over a decade ago. With his Marvel-exclusive contract now over, Brisson is returning to crime comics for the first time in five years with a new chapter of the Murder Book saga.
Catch & Release: A Murder Book Story is currently being funded via a Kickstarter campaign. (Brisson’s first such step into crowdfunding, the project reached its $10,000 goal in just six hours). According to press for the book, Catch & Release follows how a “stolen car and a botched robbery” forces one man to come face-to-face with an impossible choice between “the life of his closest friend, and that of a complete stranger.” Brisson is joined on the project by artist Lisandro Estherren and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.
Ahead of the Kickstarter’s December 16 end date, I touched base with Brisson about the series, his grand return to crime fiction, working with his collaborators, and the appeal of a great crime story, among many other topics.
(The Kickstarter campaign had reached well over $19,000 as of publication. To contribute, click here.)
AIPT: What was it like for you to return this genre/style after five years away? Was there quite an adjustment period? Have you learned anything new while “away?”
Ed Brisson: I fell right back into it quite easily. I felt right at home.
I think while away from Murder Book and crime comics, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really incredible editors who were great at holding my feet to the fire on story. Through them, I’ve learned to be more critical of my own work, to step back and ask “why?” more often and to hone scenes so that they have as much impact as possible.
AIPT: In recent years, Kickstarter has become a huge entity in comics publishing. What was your first experience actually like? Do you see yourself continuing with the platform?
EB: So far, so good. Though I know that the actual campaign is only half the battle, there’s still the production of the book and the order fulfilment. Thankfully, I’ve enlisted Nate Cosby and Laser Malena-Webber in to assist and they’ve been making the process much simpler, allowing me to focus more on the creation of the book while they handle setting up the campaign and the fulfilment side of things.
My hope is that we knock it out of the park on this campaign and set ourselves up so that we can come back in about a year and do another, with the goal of making this an annual tradition. A hardcover, stand-alone Murder Story Book once a year is something I’d love to do.
But, for now, we’re just focusing and making this campaign as big a success as we can — both for us and for backers.
AIPT: How does this book/project fit into the larger Murder Book “universe?” Do you need to be familiar or up to date before jumping into Catch & Release?
EB: Readers can jump in here without having any knowledge of past Murder Book stories. As with all Murder Book stories, Catch & Release is a stand-alone tale.
Murder Book is essentially an umbrella title for crime stories/books that I’ve written. From the start, the goal was always to create content that was one-and-done. Something readers could pick up and get a complete story without having to wait for the next issue or having to hunt down past stories.
AIPT: What’s your elevator pitch for this book? How does it compare to other similar crime-centric stories that you’ve told?
EB: Catch & Release centers around, Andrew, a man behind on his bills, who steals a car, but since he doesn’t have papers to sell it properly and doesn’t want to wait to piece it out, he and his friend Chris, come up with an idea to list the car for sale, lure buyers out to a remote location, put a gun to their head and take the money they’d brought to buy the car with. They figure that if they can get away with it a few times, then they might be able to rake in three times what they could otherwise.
On the other side of the story we have Samar, a student who’s about to head West to continue his studies when his car breaks down on him. He scrapes together some dough and, along with his friend Alex, they start shopping around for a new set of wheels. This, of course, leads to a collision between all four of our participants.
The story is largely about the fall out of this event and how it forever alters all four lives in very tragic ways.
AIPT: What was the collaborative process like with Lisandro, Hassan, and Nate?
EB: Lisandro and I have worked together in the past, so there is a familiarity there. Lisandro and I also have very similar taste in fiction and comics and we both lean into that while working together.
For this book though, I wrote it in solitude. I hadn’t approached Lisandro before I wrote it, but did write it with him in mind — meaning that I leant into scenes, pages and panels that I knew Lisandro would love to dig his teeth into. I gave room for him to show off his skills and build mood. Lisandro has some incredible fine arts and European sensibilities that really shine though here.
Hassan, I’d worked with on a pitch project that I was shopping around a little earlier this year. Used to be that I lettered all my creator-owned work, which I liked because it gave me the opportunity to fine-tune dialogue without feeling like I was inconveniencing someone else, but the last couple years have made clear that I just don’t have the bandwidth to take it on anymore, so started looking around. I’d seen Hassan’s work on a few projects and really liked his approach to lettering, so reached out. He’s been incredible to work with and puts a lot of thought into the style of lettering for each project, which is great.
Nate and Laser both came on board to help me with the Kickstarter side of things (as mentioned above). Without them, I would probably be tearing my hair out every day. They help keep me sane.
AIPT: How have crime comics changed since 2015, and has it been for the better or worse?
EB: I don’t know that they have changed that much in the last five years, to be honest. For the past several decades, they’ve been a niche genre and that very much is still the case in 2020.
AIPT: What is it about crime stories that still interests you after all this time and why do you still feel such a need or desire to tell them?
EB: I’ve always been interested in crime stories.
My father is a retired police officer and my mom was a nurse, but she was, for a time, part of an on-call unit that worked in victim services. I grew up listening to them talking about work. I was always hearing these true-life stories, harrowing stories. So, for me, it was just there, always.
Beyond that, there were plenty of the types of characters I write about who populated the area I grew up in and my own day-to-day life. I’ve watched friends take some very dark paths.
Plus, I really was a bit of a juvenile delinquent when I was younger. I mellowed out when I was about 17, but still had my fair share of run ins before that really informed who I became and I guess that writing about crime is a way of processing that.
All of that is why I’m always more intrigued by and drawn to telling grounded stories of people and personal stakes. I’m fascinated by morally complicated people doing things for survival that maybe work against others or their own best interests. I find myself far more interested in stories about people in morally complicated situations who’re trying to make the best of it and not always succeeding.
AIPT: You mentioned this being the longest of the Murder Book stories. Does that change what happens or the scope or vibe of the story at all?
EB: Having more space gives me the opportunity to get into the lives of the four characters in Catch & Release. We get to see their lives leading up to the robbery and get to spend plenty of time with them afterward as they each try to process and cope with the fallout of what’s happened.
With past Murder Book stories, we didn’t have that luxury. Those stories were each five to twenty pages and so we only get a brief glimpse into their lives. They’re more about the moment of the crime, whereas this new book is about the impact of the crime.
AIPT: Is there a special challenge to penning crime stories given the “wackiness” of 2020? I feel like things are weird and scary enough that it might be somehow harder.
EB: Yes and no. I didn’t want to write a story that was dependent on the pandemic — though did flirt with that idea early on in a shorter script that I eventually abandoned — but I also didn’t want to ignore it completely. And so, part of Andrew’s money troubles are related to the pandemic. He’s out of work and he’s broke. But, we don’t dwell on it.
AIPT: Why do you think physical books, like this fancy hardcover, still matter?
EB: I have a large collection of digital books and understand the benefit…but let’s be honest, there’s nothing like sitting down with a book in hand, cracking it open, smelling those pages.
I think that in this case, if we’re putting out a book and have the opportunity, we want to make sure it looks beautiful on someone’s shelf, which is why we opted to go for a hardcover edition of Catch & Release.
AIPT: How do you balance what to show (like violence/fighting) without going overboard? Is there a conversation in your head about being overly graphic or intense, or trying to be more suggestive? I only ask because of how inherently important violence (emotional, physical, etc.) seems to be to proper crime fiction.
EB: I think that if you look at most of my Murder Book stories, there’s a tendency to not focus too much on the violence of the crime, but instead on the fall out or lead up to. The stories are almost always what happens around the crime.
I can’t think of any instance where I’ve been overly graphic and think I can get much more through the suggestion or threat of violence.
This is a bit of a tangent, but I was just talking about it with someone last night, so it’s on my mind. The two most unsettling bits of violence I’ve sat through in film were in the movies Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Benny’s Video. Both have a very similar scene where the protagonist(s) kill their victim(s) while filming the scene on a camcorder, but in both instances the victim(s) are dragged out of view and you only hear what’s happening. You don’t see it at all. Yet, your mind fills in the blanks and makes both scenes nearly unbearable in how upsetting they are. And that is 100% through suggestion, nothing is shown. Maybe not the best examples as Henry is a pretty ugly movie, but Benny’s Video, which is also extremely uncomfortable, does a great job of examining the impact of the crime mentioned above.
Now, there’s nothing in Catch & Release that is as unsettling as those scenes and I’m not really a fan of violence for violence sake. Generally, what I’m trying to do is examine the why of it and/or the consequences of it (or both). I have no interest in lingering on the act itself, whatever that act may be.
I think if you’re just lingering on the violence and brutality, then it’s not crime, it’s torture porn and that’s not something that appeals to me nor is it something that I want to put out into the world.
AIPT: Why should anyone contribute and/or read this project?
EB: Because I think it’s a great book! These are the kinds of stories that we’re passionate about and I think that comes through in the final product.
Also, we have plenty of rewards! We’ve got the Kickstarter Exclusive hardcover edition of Catch & Release, of course; there’s also a signed or sketched reward tier; original art; and script reviews from myself and Kelly Thompson, for any aspiring writers.
And, in the end, I think that is a book that could only come about because of Kickstarter.
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