This LA Writer Turned Comic-Con Into A Crime Story
San Diego's Comic-Con International starts Wednesday night, which makes this the perfect time to talk about Bad Weekend, a noir set against the backdrop of a fictionalized version of the now famous comics convention.
Writer Ed Brubaker described the graphic novel — with art by Brubaker's longtime collaborator Sean Phillips and colors by Phillips' son Jacob — as a weird love letter to comics, being a fan, and the strangeness of the comic book industry.
Brubaker splits his time between Los Angeles and Northern California's Carmel-by-the-Sea. He keeps busy, writing for both comics and television (including writing for HBO's Westworld and co-creating Amazon's Too Old To Die Young).
Bad Weekend is the product of filing away stories he's heard around the comic book industry for the past 20 to 30 years, according to Brubaker — stories of who screwed over whom, of success not bringing happiness, and of comic companies getting rich off their work with movies and TV shows without the creators sharing in that wealth.
"A lot of my generation in comics, that's their fear of the future, and a lot of the guys I grew up reading, that's their reality," Brubaker said. "If they didn't go off and work in animation and TV, they probably don't have health care."
Brubaker felt that story burning to get out, so he serialized it in issues of his long-running comic Criminal. Bad Weekend expands on that comic and tells the story of legendary artist Hal Crane and his onetime assistant-turned-minder, who makes sure he actually shows up for his scheduled comic convention events rather than drinking away the time at the hotel bar.
Crane's a broken man, treating people poorly and feeling like his life has been cursed by his time in comics, while still harboring a quiet, nostalgic love for the medium. A big part of the story was also inspired by one of Brubaker's friends, who shared with him the haunting way that the creator of Flash Gordon died — maybe an accident, maybe not.
"[The comics industry is] filled with so many people full of love and passion for the artform, who all know full well what a racket the business can be — and they all throw themselves into it anyway, because on some level, what else are they going to do? Go work in animation?" Brubaker said.
WRITING GIRLFRIEND COMICS
Brubaker has seen the industry diversify over the decades he's spent in it, both on the creator and fan side. He's especially seen a growth in the number of women at places like Comic-Con over the years.
He feels like his own work has benefited from this shift. When he was working on a Catwoman comic with artist Darwyn Cooke 20 years ago, all the male comic fans would come up to him and say, "I love this book, because I can show it to my girlfriend."
"I just thought, 'OK, so I'm the guy who writes the comics that the comics fans' girlfriends like,'" Brubaker said. "It's no longer 'Oh, I give this to my girlfriend' — it's 'my girlfriend buys this comic.'"
PARTNERS UNTIL THEY DIE
Brubaker grew up going to Comic-Con himself, starting in the 1970s. Phillips' Bad Weekend art shows real-life locations that San Diegans and comic fans who've been to the convention will recognize, from the exterior of the San Diego Convention Center to the distinctive design of a nearby hotel bar, as well as the lively Gaslamp Quarter.
Brubaker eventually partnered with Phillips, and the two have become a mini-industry, creating popular, critically acclaimed crime comics. They first worked together 20 years ago and have been putting books out for the past 15 years straight. They're such a dependable team that they have a unique deal with their publisher — their contract requires Image Comics to publish anything that they come up with.
"We have this lifetime pact to keep working together until one of us dies, at this point," Brubaker said.
The secret to Brubaker's productivity is working with Phillips, he said.
"He will always need more script," Brubaker said. "If I don't make these decisions, Sean's going to run out of pages to draw."
They've written about L.A. together in the past — their book The Fade Out was loosely inspired by Brubaker's real-life Academy Award-nominated uncle who faced persecution during the Hollywood blacklist period. It's a noir story set in a time when noir dominated the film industry.
"If I had to pitch The Fade Out to someone, I don't think I could have pitched it in a way that made them think it was going to be a huge success, even though it actually was one of the most successful things we ever did," Brubaker said. "And so we had just signed our initial 'we-can-do-anything-we-want' contract, so I wanted to just do something really ballsy out of the gate, and totally different from anything else that was on the market."
Brubaker loves being able to finish writing a scene and, once he's happy with it, sending it to Phillips. Once it's drawn, it's basically done. That's as opposed to the more complicated process he faces when working in television, and even working on characters owned by bigger companies like Marvel and DC Comics.
HIS LAST MARVEL STORY
One of Brubaker's most widely popular characters is Marvel's Winter Soldier, which he co-created — and saw go on to be a major part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has generated billions of dollars for its corporate owners.
He doesn't plan to write any more superhero comics. Brubaker has an idea for one final Winter Soldier story — but that doesn't mean he'll end up writing it.
"There's a reason Bad Weekend exists, and Hal Crane isn't just an amalgam of other people — he's also this tiny little voice inside me, that always feels a little bit like, 'Hey, that wasn't a good deal,'" Brubaker said. "It's great to have kids come trick-or-treat at your house dressed as the Winter Soldier, and it's great to have a ton of people sending you Steve and Bucky slash fiction ... but somebody else has gotten rich off of it, and not me."
Brubaker said that sometimes he finds himself swearing about it, but mostly he just feels that the life of a creation like the Winter Soldier is amazing — and gets people to read a book like Bad Weekend.
Bad Weekend is available as a hardcover collection in stores now. Brubaker will be appearing at Skylight Books in Los Feliz on Aug. 1 doing a Q and A about the comic, with special guests comedian Paul Scheer and director Nicolas Winding Refn, who co-wrote and directed Brubaker's show Too Old To Die Young.
Read the first five pages of Bad Weekend below: