10 Things We Learnt From Ed Brubaker About Writing for TV And Comics

10 Things We Learnt From Ed Brubaker About Writing for TV And Comics

Master Of Comics Noir

♦ Ed Brubaker is a comic writer with a very impressive pedigree that includes years of collaboration with artist Sean Phillips on series like Criminal, Kill or Be Killed and Incognito. He has also made the move into television as he was one of the main writers on the first season of HBO’s Westworld in 2017. Brubaker and Phillips have a new original graphic novel, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, and GQ just spoke to the writer recently, so here’s 10 things we pulled out from that chat…

  1. He found his time on Westworld interesting: “I actually left season one before we were done with it, just because I was getting behind on my comics. I had been working in this pilot with Nick Refn before I took the job on Westworld, and I said, “Hey, I’m going to do this job, it’s supposed to be four or five months…” Then, nine or ten months into this four-month job I was like, “I’m starting to lose my mind. I can’t keep track of timelines and the Man in Black…” It was an intense experience, but it was like a crash-course for me in a big way.”
  2. It was very productive for him as a writer: “The last two years really taught me more about screenwriting than the previous twenty years that I’ve been doing it. I’ve been trying to break into this field, filing TV shows for ten or eleven years now that haven’t gotten made. But, when you’re actually getting stuff made, you hit this moment where there’s just so much work that needs to be produced that you just stop getting in your own way and just start writing. And on Westworld, there was just constant rewriting and changing things and chasing the changes. So I learned a lot about what screenwriting really is. And I also feel like I learned why a lot of writers go into that field and feel like it’s not a field for writers. A lot of it feels technical. When you’re doing draft eleven of something, it starts to feel very technical. But it’s just the way the business runs because it’s a factory system. You get in there and you can make a name for yourself and you can make good money and good stuff, but ultimately everything needs to happen quickly once it starts happening, and that’s really the most important thing.”
  3. Brubaker is working on another TV show currently, Too Old To Die Young, with Nicholas Winding Refn, but he has been more involved with that than he was on Westworld: “Nick and I created the show together. He directed the entire thing. And 60 percent of it is shot by Darius Khondji, who is my favourite living cinematographer, probably. He shot Seven and City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, and invented a style of cinematography that other people have been aping for twenty years.”
  4. The elevator pitch sounds intriguing, as he explains what it’s about: “It’s about two different guys in Los Angeles, a young Mexican guy whose mom is a cartel leader, and a cop whose partner is corrupt. Their lives intertwine and sort of bring each of them separately into new worlds where they sort of see the dark reflection of 21st-Century America. It’s the most Nick Refn-y thing that has ever existed.”
  5. He admits that having written for TV has altered the way he writes comics a little bit: “A little bit. For years now, I’ve been trying to get a little bit of a handle on how much narration I will put in. To some degree, it’s by design, because I want to layer extra stuff into the story and make the comics take longer to read, because comics are not cheap. To another degree, as a writer, you always just try not to have anything people notice. And the thing I notice when I read back over my comics is, “Boy, did I need that caption? Was that understandable?” More and more, I feel that I’m able to rely just on dialogue to carry through a scene, and I think that might come at least a little bit through working on screenwriting and TV shows and stuff. It’s the rare TV show that’s going to allow anybody to have voiceover narration or anything like that.”
  6. Brubaker had an unusual upbringing, he recalls: “My childhood was pretty strange. I remember early memories of moving around a lot as a Navy brat, and then, when I was a kid, my parents divorced. My mom joined A.A. and took us to her all her meetings. I have all these vivid, almost tactile moments of memory, of being in these rooms full of adults talking about their drug addiction and alcohol addiction. All these things that they’d done. Cars they’ve crashed. Friends that have died. I just remember hearing about stuff like that. I guess because I was exposed to it at such a young age—or maybe it’s just in my nature—but I always feel very sympathetic to that kind of person who would end up strung out on drugs or alcohol. I also romanticize it a little bit, because my mom was part of that group so I felt like it was some sort of family tragedy, or something.”
  7. He sees the latest book with Phillips, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, as a character-driven story: “A lot of the book is a character study in two stories—the story of her childhood winding around her entry into the world of crime, where she grew up—in that world. And, so, for me I felt like, you know, there was some conflict there. She was trying to figure out a way to accomplish her goal without hurting anyone, and thought everything would be blissful and wonderful, like those brief, fleeting moments of pure memory.”
  8. He hopes that My Heroes… is a book that people will reread: “It’s that sort of druggy haze and also based on colours from ’60s-’70s romance comics and. Yeah, I hope it’s a book people will read a few times, because I feel like it’s a really layered story. And I know a couple people who have read it, like friends of mine, didn’t want to talk to me for, like, the first day…they were like, “it made me feel sad, but then it made me have all these memories of my own childhood.”
  9. Brubaker spent a number of years writing superheroes but he doesn’t seem that keen to return to that world:”I haven’t written any superhero comics since 2012, or something like that. So yeah, it’s like…six years ago. I wrote so many that, at the time when I finally quit Marvel, I felt like I was just exhausted by the genre. And for years, I didn’t read any superhero comics at all. Only in the last year or so have I started picking up books again. I started reading [Brian Michael] Bendis on Superman and I was like, “this is surprisingly good.” And I’m not even a huge fan of Superman. I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is doing a really good job on Captain America, actually, and I think his Black Panther is even better right now. There’s a lot of stuff going on in mainstream superhero comics going on right now I actually think is pretty good.”
  10. Even though he is obviously a successful writer, he still has that nagging doubt in the back of his mind:” I don’t think Image Comics will ever sell to some larger corporation, hopefully. I keep waiting for that moment where I feel successful. And I’ve been doing this for almost my entire life, and I’m relatively successful compared to most people. But…I just always feel like the bottom’s about to drop out at any moment.”read the whole chat here
    GQ Ed Brubaker interview

    Here’s our review of the book


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