Updated: Jan 24, 2020
Ed Brubaker is one of the most critically acclaimed writers in the comics. He's won five best writer Eisner and Harvey Awards in the last ten years. He's had amazing runs on characters like Batman, Captain America, and Daredevil. Some of his best work has come with his frequent collaborator Sean Phillips (Fatale, Criminal, The Fade Out, and Kill or be Killed). He has always been one of my favorite writers, so I decided to reach out to him and see if I could get an interview. To say I was shocked when he agreed is an understatement. Anyways I hope you guys enjoy, if you haven't read any of the books I've mentioned above do yourself a favor and check them out you won't disappointed.
1. Who was your biggest influence as a writer?
Hard to say. When I was a little kid, I used to write and draw my own comics, usually knock-offs of Spider-Man or Iron Fist or something like that. I think my first comic was about a superhero Werewolf, which is why I created Fang the Kung Fu Werewolf in the Criminal books. So probably when I was very little, Stan Lee or Kirby or Ditko would have been creators that had a huge impact on me. But in my teens, Alan Moore came along, and Frank Miller, and that really changed the way I looked at comics a bit, and then I got into the undergrounds, looking at Bijou and Weirdo and the Freak Brothers, and the alternative press comics, like Love and Rockets and American Splendor... all that stuff had some influence, I'm sure.
When I first started getting published regularly, I had spent about ten years working as a cartoonist, and reading a lot of fiction and crime books and mysteries, and writers like Jim Thompson and Ross Macdonald were favorites, as well as lots of lesser known crime writers. I used that crime writing influence as a way into writing things like Batman and Gotham Central (which was influenced by the book Homicide, by David Simon, actually, to the point where we named a character after Simon and his wife Laura Lippman) that hopefully made them stand out a bit.
But influences are a funny thing. Most writers can tell you what their early influences were, but once you start getting published, all that stuff moves way to the back of your mind. You're just concentrating on writing the story you're telling, and anything that you've read or been influenced by, or any writer you used to want to write like, that just goes away. You find your own voice, and the influences are buried under that, just like how every experience of your life becomes an influence.
Like, take Peanuts, the comic strip. Charles Schulz's biggest influence was a strip called WASH TUBBS AND CAPT EASY, according to him. Nothing about any of his work looks like the work of Roy Crane, who did Wash Tubbs.
So, my influences are writers and artists like Linda Barry and Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez and Alan Moore and Johnny Craig and Peter Bagge and Milan Kundera and Ross Macdonald and Steve Erickson and Patricia Highsmith, but that's just stuff I read and liked at a formative age. I'm probably influenced by Prince Valiant, too, I just don't remember it much. And Peanuts. And Catcher in the Rye.
2. What made you want to get into comics?
I can never remember a time when I didn't want to do comics. I got a big box of comics when I was three or four years old, from my dad, who had gotten them from the guys in his office on the base (I grew up partly on Navy bases because of my dad's career), and from the time I could hold a pencil, I was writing and drawing comics. Not very good ones, but it was basically the only thing I ever prepared for in life. I got very lucky, and kept at it and started getting published in my teens, and just stuck with it, working side jobs at book stores and gas stations and stuff like that until I was making a living from my writing.
3. You've had award winning runs on comics for Marvel and DC, would you ever write for them again?
Never say never, but I spent about 13 years of my life in that monthly grind, doing superhero stories, and I got pretty burned out on it. There's still a lot of good comics published by both of them, but all superhero comics end the same way, and as a writer, that starts to get to you.
Also, not getting a fair share from stories you wrote and characters you created being turned into multi-billion dollar franchises doesn't really make it appealing.
4. What project that you've worked on, would you say is your favorite?
It'd be easier to say what my least favorites are, probably.
But I think THE FADE OUT maybe, because it's the first time I set out to write something as complex and long as a novel in comics form, instead of breaking everything down into smaller arcs. But hopefully something else will become my favorite soon.
5. Kill or be Killed is one of my favorite books of all time. Would you ever revisit those characters?
It's hard to say right now, because I just finished it. I feel like that book is done, and that it ended how I wanted it to, so probably not.
6. What was your inspiration for "My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies" ?
I think it's a story that's been percolating for a while in the back of my mind. A lot of people will say your next book grows out of the one you just finished, and I think in this case, the 8th issue of KILL OR BE KILLED, which is all told from Kira's point of view, sort of kickstarted this one in my brain a bit. I started thinking about telling a crime story from a young girl's point of view and using that as a way to write about some of my own obsessions.
When I was a kid, my mom joined AA and she took me and my brother to her meetings for years. It's a big part of my childhood, listening to alcoholics and junkies tell stories in smoke-filled rooms, so I wanted to write about that stuff somehow, and as a writer you always write about your own stuff through other characters. Or, I do, at least. And so do most writers.
7. What do you think makes your collaboration with Sean Phillips so successful?
We keep putting out new books year-in and year-out, and trying to push ourselves to grow as artists. We're never satisfied with falling into a groove and doing the same thing over and over again.
But mainly, I would guess it's the fact that we don't quit. We are very productive.
8. Lastly, do you have any advice for a writer trying to get in the business?
Man, I don't know... Read a lot. Read stuff that isn't comics, and read the history of comics. Try to understand the language of the medium. Look at newspaper strips from the past, read EC comics from the 50s, read Eisner's books on storytelling. Watch movies that leave you with an emotional impact, and ask why that movie impacted you more than a Death Star blowing up or something like that. Read nonfiction, read literary fiction and pulp fiction and everything in between.
Then figure out what you need -- not want -- to write, the story that needs to come out of your brain... and write that.
If you do that, you can find what you're good at, what means something to you to write about, and you can use that to write any kind of story you want, whether it's an issue of Captain America or a graphic novel about a teen girl obsessed with rock stars and junkies.
Don't forget to check out "My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies" by Brubaker and Phillips out Oct 10.
Available at your local comic shop.