Interview: Brisson and Company get Violent in Vancouver

This week, I had the chance to have a conversation with the team on The Violent, the new Canadian neo-noir book coming from Image in December. In the world of The Violent, we follow Mason and his wife, two young parents with haunted pasts just trying to do their best in the face of their own shortcomings. Needless to say, for as great as it is, I don’t think we’re in for a happy book—and I love it. Writer/letterer Ed Brisson, artist Adam Gorham, colorist Michael Garland and designer Tom Muller were all kind enough to answer some questions about this gritty love letter to Vancouver that they’ve dropped like a hammer on the comics world:

TheViolent_n01_cvrNICK PHILPOTT: The Violent is equal parts home-drama/crime-drama/ode to Vancouver. What brought all those elements together? What was the root of The Violent's story?

ED BRISSON: I'm a huge crime fan and have been desperately wanting to do a straight crime story for years. I got my break by self-publishing Murder Book, but it's been a struggle to get a straight crime book greenlit. This story is one that's been percolating for a few years. At it's root, it's about being a parent and the fear and anxiety that goes along with that. Both Adam and I have daughters -- as do Mason and Becky in The Violent-- so I think that there's a real connection for the two of us in that element of the story. As a parent, you basically worry about fucking up all of the time. When you're someone who already has the deck stacked against you, that fear is multiplied 100 fold.

Another thing that's important, for me at least, is that I want to spotlight where I live as the setting for the story. Usually if you pick up a crime book or comic, you get the same settings—LA, Chicago, NYC, Miami. But, each city has its own identity and Vancouver, with its astronomical housing and rental prices, drug addiction and frequent gang wars, is, to my mind, perfect for this type of story. I wanted to set the story somewhere I knew intimately and somewhere readers might not know a lot about. It's a cliche to say at this point, but I wanted the city to play a character in the series and I think that people will be surprised when they read about the shit that goes down in Vancouver.

NP: There isn't a real high-concept to this book-- what would you give it as a logline?

EB: Desperate people doing desperate things to escape desperate situations. Which, I think really drills down to what this first arc is about. It's about people who are being pushed out of a city they can no longer afford, while trying to hang on and scrape out a living and be the parents that they want to be, but maybe don't know HOW to be.

Violent-n01-p01-ltrsNP: Homegrown noir is a tried and true genre for Ed, but what's it like flexing these very street-level, interpersonal muscles for the rest of the team?

ADAM GORHAM: Like Ed, I've long loved crime fiction, true crime, stories stranger than fiction. Working on this title with Ed, I get to sink my teeth into things that really interest me in crime and criminals. From a story perspective, it's quite gratifying. We aim to depict realistic characters in real-world settings who are pushed and molded by the city they live in, the people they know, the jobs they have.

Drawing the book, I do my best to capture Vancouver and make our characters believable. Our story is populated by people of different ages, ethnicity, and body types. People you'd pass on the street or stand behind in line at the market. Hopefully those efforts transports the reader to a grounded, even familiar place.

MICHAEL GARLAND: I’m loving it. Though honestly, it's an adjustment. I’m a huge fan of noir stories—in all media—but this is the first pure crime book I’ve colored. Setting the right mood and tone is arguably the most important part of my job, and every story demands it's own approach. A lot of the books I’ve done recently, like The Manhattan Projects and The Dying and the Dead, have been set in worlds with a much more heightened reality, and the color reflects that. With The Violent, I’m crashing back down to street level.

TOM MULLER: For me it was a chance to experiment and work within a very well-defined world. There have been issues of Zero that had a very street level/violent/gritty feel, but this is a much more explicit noir drama where I could really sink my teeth into the vernacular of crime fiction.

Violent-n01-p02-ltrsNP: What makes Image the right place for this series?

EB: I love working with Image—The Violent is my fifth Image book as a writer. What makes them the right place is the freedom. This story starts pretty low key and then snowballs and I know that not all publishers are going to let us get away with something like that. With Image, we can take our time. Tell the story we want and see if there's a readership out there for it.

MG: Control and collaboration. In my experience, with other publishers the work is always filtered through an editor. Which isn’t a bad thing—most editors are great and just as excited to put out a quality book as you are. But it’s a purer form of collaboration. When I startedThe Violent, it occurred to me that this will be the fourth time I’ve worked on a book with Ed—the previous three all at Boom! Studios. But I’d never actually communicated directly with him until he emailed me about this book.

TM: The fact that I’m able to work directly with the creative teams and can be involved from the ground floor and help to shape the series. Image is fantastic in that respect that there’s no overarching editorial edict in terms of publication design; which I think on Image books as a whole really helps to push the medium forward.

At Image, I answer only to Ed, Adam and Tom.

Violent-n01-p03-ltrsNP: What’s the most exciting aspect of the book for each of you as creators? The most challenging?

AG: I'm excited to be working at Image with a series by Ed Brisson, Michael Garland, and Tom Muller. Having a published creator-owned title has been a big goal of mine since starting out in indie comics. Having a goal become reality is incredibly thrilling. Perhaps the most challenging thing is executing the tone for the book. I want to keep things gritty and street level, not overly dynamic but exciting nonetheless. It's not a book driven by action, but the book is called The Violent, and when violence takes place I want it to hit like a hammer to the senses.

EB: For me, I'm excited to finally write larger crime stories. The work I did on Murder Book is really close to my heart. That was pre-Image, pre-being published by anyone. Just me and the different artist scrapping it out and trying to tell stories that we could really be proud of. WithThe Violent, there's finally the opportunity to work on a genre I love.

MG: This is true of every book, but the answer to both is learning how best to work with a new artist and tell a new story. Every artist has a unique style. In my mind, colorists shouldn’t have a "style.” What I’m trying to do is make your forget that I’m here. Coloring is strange in that it’s a process that shouldn’t really exist. (Just don’t tell the people who sign my paychecks—oh, wait...) It’s a product of both a monthly schedule and a tradition in comics based on outdated printing limitations.

Don’t get me wrong, I have an ego and I want people to give me praise and credit, but, ultimately, the goal is for the book to feel like one seamless piece of art. Getting to that place is both difficult and exhilarating. Especially because Adam is a god damn dynamo. It’s why I do what I do.

TM: I think with any book I work on, the challenge is always to try and get into the right mindset of the story and design something that meshes with the art and vibe of the book—a unique visual voice that stands out on the shelves.

Violent-n01-p04-ltrsNP: What was the design process like for the book, for Tom especially, but for everyone else as well?

EB: Other than having a few conversations with Tom early on, shooting over some references to some of my favourite crime books, it was pretty hands-off. I've really liked the work that Tom has done on Zero and Drifter, so figured it's better to just let him loose on it. And he delivered!

TM: Like Ed says, early on we had a few discussions on what the series was going to be, and what visual reference points we’d touch on in terms of noir fiction. Once I had enough information, I went off and created a few rough lockups of the logo and the creator names. I had a pretty clear idea of where we needed to go with the branding—it needed to be blunt and very unapologetic. One thing I wanted to make work was that the creator names have an almost equal weight on the cover as the series name, at once hinting at classic noir fiction and also giving the masthead a filmic (pulp) quality. Once Ed and Adam were happy with the direction, it was a matter of fine-tuning the lockup and visual treatment and designing the cover layout. While Michael was working on the interiors, we pushed out the first 2 covers for Previews and we had settled on a stark red black and white colour scheme which did the job, but wasn’t 100% there—so Michael dug deeper and created the gold and blue scheme that's actually rooted much closer in crime fiction and that is now running on all the covers, creating a much stronger unified look

MG: Design in comics is something I find hugely important, and Tom is making us look so much more professional than we have any right to. As it relates to me, specifically, if you saw the first Previews solicitation for issue 1, we initially had a different color scheme for the cover. In talking it over further, we decided that changing up the approach to the color might look more unique on the stands. So I messed around with it until we came up with the high contrast blue and gold scheme on the final cover. I think it turned out fantastic and was a really fulfilling collaborative experience. If you’ve seen any of the later covers, we’re going to be repeating that scheme across this first arc, so it feels like a cohesive unit. And we’ll be switching that up for subsequent arcs, so every story has its own identity and differentiates it from the larger whole that is The Violent.

AG: I had the pleasure of working with Tom on Zero, albeit somewhat indirectly. His work on that book was phenomenal and I believe set a new standard for how comics are presented. So I was beyond excited he joined us on The Violent. One of my favourite things about the book so far are the covers. They really are a group collaboration, but it's really Tom and Michael who make them sing. After I draw the line art, I sit back and wait to see those two do their thing. The results have been top fucking notch.

Violent-n01-p05-ltrsNP: This being a creator owned book, how much input does everyone get into everyone else's work? I.e. does Tom give feedback on lettering, does Adam give Michael input on coloring?

EB: Adam and I will talk story. He'll give feedback on script. I'll give feedback on art. We've known each other for a bit, so it's usually pretty casual. When it moves on to color, I generally step back and let Adam and Michael have those conversations. Adam's going to have a better idea of how he wants to be colored and I'd rather not stand in the way of that. With design, I think we had some conversations pretty early on, but Tom knows what he's doing and any notes we give are usually small notes. Lettering-wise, I handle that and send them off to everyone to proof, but again, it's pretty casual. I think that we all trust one another enough that there's never been any conflicts.

AG: What Ed said. It's an aspect of making comics that's I find most rewarding when things really get cooking, just falling into sync with your co-creators, seeing eye-to-eye that you're making something cool. I feel awesome every time Michael or Tom turns something in, and I'm equally proud of the work I'm putting forth. The moment where I've opened an attachment from these guys and being blown away by what I'm seeing is a moment that can make my whole day.

MG: It’s pretty loose. We trade emails back and forth and if we have thoughts and opinions, we’re free to share. I read the script first in case there are any specific color notes and to get a sense of the emotion of each scene. If I have time, I’ll sometimes do a quick, rough, color job on a page or cover which I’ll run by Ed and Adam to make sure we’re all on the same page. Then, as I finish pages, I’ll send them to the guys for feedback, notes, and (ideally) that praise I was talking about before. I’m pretty easy about making any necessary changes. The way I see it, as much as I feel a lot of pride and ownership with the book, I’m here to fulfill their vision. Not mine.

TM: I usually don’t get involved too much with colouring on interior pages. I don’t want to interfere with what Adam and Michael are creating—and often (when I’m colouring covers) I will adapt the cover colours to reflect the interior pages if there’s too much dissonance.

NP: How long will The Violent be running, in an ideal scenario?

EB: Forever.

MG: Forever sounds good to me.

TM: Looks like it will run forever.

NP: Without giving context, what three words best describe your favorite part of issue 1?

EB: Not the kid!

MG: You’re never free.

TM: Its just 2 for me (sorry!) “I promise”

The Violent will available wherever fine comics are sold on December 9, 2015.