Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Velvet Out This Week, The Fade Out Process, and More!

One of these days, we'll wrap up our extensive look at The Fade Out, but until then...

On Twitter, Ed Brubaker confirms that his other creator-owned comic arrived in stores today:  Velvet #13 continues the third chapter of the espionage tale, "The Man Who Stole the World."  We noticed that the two-page "trailer" for the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special was published at the end of the book, and artist Steve Epting recently treated Twitter followers with a fantastic piece of black-and-white art from the series.

Looking ahead, Sean Phillips announced that he received his comp copies of The Fade Out Act Three, which strongly indicates that the book will reach retailers next week; ComicList's latest extended forecast for Image still has a release date of February 17th.

Brubaker and Phillips have also given readers an inside look at their process behind The Fade Out, with the writer pointing out a page on the artist's blog, detailing the creation of a single page from script to the final artwork.  A monochrome reprint would be appropriately moody, but Bettie Breitweiser's colors are an amazing addition to Phillips' lines -- and scrolling through the full-page slide show of the artwork in-progress is kinda mesmerizing.

That's not the only webpage worth checking out this week:

  • Ed Brubaker recommends a great story from The Atlantic, about the search for a single archetype that encompasses all storytelling, excerpting John Yorke’s book, Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story.
  • I saw that The A.V. Club posted a lengthy essay on the road movies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, a series of movies mentioned in The Fade Out, which we highlighted in December.
  • Finally, this week sees the release of the Coen Brothers' latest, Hail, Caesar!  The New Yorker has a lengthy, well-written review that makes me want to see the movie even more.  Fans of The Fade Out might find parts of the movie's premise familiar, with a studio fixer working in Hollywood in 1951, not unlike Brodsky in 1948 -- but evidently the movie is played for a few more laughs, and the subject of faith is apparently quite prominent. 
If there are more connections between the Coens' comedy and Brubaker & Phillips' latest noir, I might revisit the film here.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Batman by Brubaker -- and Free Books by Lawrence Block!

I didn't realize it until I saw a copy in my local shop, but today DC Comics has released Batman By Ed Brubaker Volume 1, presumably the first in an ongoing collection of Brubaker's work on the Batman comic, similar to his recently released Catwoman collections.

Ed Brubaker’s legendary run on Batman is collected, starting with stories from BATMAN #582-586, 591-594 and BATMAN: OUR WORLDS AT WAR #1, in which the Dark Knight faces The Penguin, Deadshot and more!
The trade paperback collects ten issues for $19.99, skipping the first chapter of the "Officer Down" crossover by Greg Rucka (#587) and the story "Close Before Striking" by Brian K. Vaughn (#588-#590).

I liked the stories collected here, but they don't stand out compared to his later DC work on Catwoman and Sleeper.  On Twitter, Brubaker jokes that you can see the collection as a lesson in writing:  "Watch me learn not to overwrite."


In other book news, other fans of Brubaker and Phillips' crime comics might also enjoy the crime fiction of Lawrence Block, one of the writers most frequently featured by the Hard Case Crime imprint, including the movie tie-in paperback for his classic novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Yesterday on Twitter and in his email newsletter, Block announced that five of his books are being made available for free in Amazon Kindle format, one for each of the next five days.

The clock's running out on the first book, but we wanted to let our readers know:  on Twitter, Block is reminding his readers which book is for free today, and we haven't yet read a Block book that we haven't enjoyed thoroughly.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

30 Days of The Fade Out: Where Angels Fear to Tread.

(...and, we're back.)

Released on October 21, 2015, following a five-page previewThe Fade Out #10 marks a long-expected turning point in the story, in which Charlie and Gil finally work together to get to the bottom of the murder and cover-up.

The Movie. Filming has completed for Shadow of the Valley, and as the film moves to post-production, the cast and crew celebrate with a wrap party, evidently at a studio facsimile of the "mountain cabin hideout" at Al Kamp's old ranch.  The production had left Ojai early because of Tyler Graves' car accident: not part of this film's production, Graves is still a Victory Street contract player, so the studio ordered them to wrap the location shoot early.  That last day at Ojai, the director Franz Schmitt had gotten in an argument with the writer Charlie Parish -- Charlie had stonewalled to cover for his missing ghostwriter Gil -- and the old man got payback at the wrap party, starting and winning a one-sided fist fight with Charlie.

The Murder. Determined to learn more about Val's murder before confronting the studio bosses about the subsequent cover-up, Charlie convinces Gil to call Phil Brodsky and clear out his office with the continued threat of blackmail.  As the fight with Schmitt gave him a solid excuse to leave the wrap party, Charlie has an unexpected opportunity to confront Earl Rath -- an apparent mistake -- and he then searches Brodsky's office.  He stumbles across the security chief's thin file on Drake Miller and is then caught by Dottie Quinn.  He explains himself to Dottie, who tries and fails to convince him to drop the whole issue:  he picks up Gil, and the pair head off to Ojai and Al Kamp.

We learn an awful lot in this issue.

  • In Brodsky's file on Drake Miller, we find a photo of the group that left Earl's party for Val's bungalo -- presumably taken by Stevie Turner, since murdered as part of the cover-up -- and an innocuous head shot of Val Sommers, when she was young Jenny Summers, a child actor in the Krazy Kids films.
  • Dottie Quinn confirms that Drake Miller is working for the Feds, blackmailing people while hunting Communists.
  • Dottie also confirms that she was lying when she said, in issue #6, that she didn't recognize the description of Drake Miller.
  • And, we find out that Charlie cannot apparently remember what happened with Maya Silver on Halloween night just a few short days before:  shockingly, he doesn't remember helping her find her strung-out ex-husband. 

And, I believe this is the last time we see Earl Rath in this story.

One of the recurring complaints of modern comic books is decompression, telling too little story in each issue.  For too many publishers, the cover price keeps going up, the page count keeps going down, and the number of incidents in an issue continues to shrink.

That's certainly not the case with the comics by Brubaker and Phillips:  each issue is quite dense, and the benefits (and often the necessity) of rereading the book means that it's one of the best values at the local comic shop.  But, for The Fade Out in particular, the story takes its time as we explore the large cast of psychologically complex characters and vignettes that capture the corruption of Hollywood's own Gilded Age.

In the series' debut issue, Val Sommers is murdered and the crime is covered up as a suicide, and Charlie Parish tells his writing partner Gil Mason.  It takes until issue #6 for Gil to talk with Dashiell Hammett and begin provoking the studio's co-founder Victor Thursby.  Now, in issue #10, Gil and Charlie have finally teamed up -- and this is about the closest they get to classic detective work.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Two Pairs of Interviews -- and Criminal in Production!

In the wake of Wednesday's conclusion to the noir epic The Fade Out, both two-part post-mortem interviews wrapped up on Thursday.  We see that, in the second part of his interview with Comics Alliance, Ed Brubaker alluded to our humble blog!
"There’s a guy who does a blog about all of the comics Sean and I do together, and he’s been doing this intense re-read and posting recaps of the issues. He’s been putting together all these little stories, and there’s a lot of things that you can pick up, bits and pieces of the story of Thursby and Valeria. You can pick up Dottie’s story, and Maya’s story. You have to piece some of it together yourself, but the details are there. They’re not just in the correct order."
We've had fun digging deeply into this serialized graphic novel, and we hope our readers have been encouraged to take their own long look at The Fade Out.

And we're not done yet!  We have perhaps a half-dozen more posts or more in our increasingly misnamed "30 Days" of looking back, but we'll continue writing as our quite hectic schedule permits.

In the meantime, it may be worth summarizing the highlights for all four articles below, as we recommend everyone to follow the common Internet adage and "read the whole thing."

Newsarama Interview with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Part One

  • Brubaker says the complex story was tough but fun, and he urges readers to read it again for the details, background storylines, and moments that may resonate more:  all their books reward additional readings, and here there are not extraneous details.
  • Brubaker is thankful for the team's faithful and growing readership, as it allows them to experiment and try new things, and it lets them end each series at its natural conclusion without filler.
  • Phillips bought a stack of movies that might be useful but didn't get around to watching any of them -- an unusual approach to research, to say the least.
  • The story's origins were in the idea of the writer and veteran with writer's block, the blacklisted best friend and ghost writer, and the aspiration to create art compromised by the economic need to survive.

Newsarama Interview, Part Two

  • Brubaker tried to keep Chandler in mind, that he wrote "who cares who dunnits," with the mystery serving as the framework around which everything else hang -- the characters, their reactions, and what people are willing to do in the aftermath of a movie star's murder.
  • Phillips thinks Val and Maya look totally different (we agree), with the former being more realistic and based on a specific actress from the period, while the latter was slightly more cartoony and a more obvious bottle blonde.
  • Brubaker has been wanting to do one long piece that is focused toward one ending -- perhaps confirming our take that the trades' three-act structure isn't obvious -- and the last half of the finale "was almost exactly" how he pictured it prior to writing the very first issue.
  • Brubaker wrote from a huge notebook of outlines and chapter ideas, and after finishing each issue, he would outline the next few chapters, but doing so would "constantly alter" the overarching, running outline.
  • "A noir about the people who made the noir films," The Fade Out is intended both to evoke the era and to feel more realistic and harsh.
  • Brubaker doesn't want to discuss the ending because it's important for the reader to figure things out on his own:  getting inside Charlie's head, he might see what was left unwritten and "understand what [Charlie is] going through."
  • Phillips relays that Brodsky and Dottie were the most fun to draw, and he reveals the inspriations behind both.
  • Brubaker has had a loose idea of the film being produced, Shadow of the Valley, but "suffice it to say, it wasn't a masterpiece."  (We might piece together what we can in a future "30 Days" essay.)
  • Brubaker recommends two podcasts, You Must Remember This on Hollywood history and Charlie Manson's Hollywood on true crime.
  • As fun as it was for Brubaker to write dialogue for him, we might see more of Brodsky, as he's starting on an idea for a story starring Brodsky, set in the 1950's.

Comics Alliance Interview with Ed Brubaker, Part One

  • Part of the allure of Hollywood as a setting is the temptation of moral compromise for fame and fortune in an industry obsessed with youth and beauty, still controlled by a few large conglomerates.
  • One real-life inspiration for the murder mystery is the sexual assault at a party held at Hal Roach's ranch and the susbsequent cover-up by "the studio fixers."
  • One central relationship is between Charlie and Gil, which survives despite unforgivable acts and constantly getting in trouble.
  • Throughout the series' run, readers would email their firm conviction that Charlie killed Val while he was blackout drunk.
  • Brubaker's favorite characters to write were Dottie, Brodsky, and Gil:  she's a nerdier Hepburn, Brodsky sees the world as it is, and there's probably more Gil in the writer than Charlie.

Comics Alliance Interview, Part Two

  • The back cover movie stills were the last thing Phillips created for each issue, and they ended up doing more than world-building:  they showed a young Val Sommers in the background of a Krazy Kids film and -- for the last issue -- a partial review that hints at where things ended up for Val and Maya, with the former's death being forgotten and overshadowed by the latter's star turn.
  • The "Cast of Characters" page was partly the result of the comic's structure in print:  there was an extra page between the two-page title page and the chapter itself, opening on a right-hand page.
  • For Gil, Sean Phillips was instructed to draw a very young Raymond Burr, only fatter, and Brubaker points out how much happier Gil seemed when he resolved to stand up to the system.
  • Before launching his next big project, Brubaker wanted to do more Criminal, and after the sprawling story of The Fade Out the upcoming one-shot felt like "a breath of fresh air" -- and then he decided to write the story from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy, presumably Tracy Lawless.
  • The interaction of the Lawless boys promises to be hysterical, since Teeg is so bad at being a father to Tracy.
  • Brubaker wants readers to know that they'll keep coming back to Criminal, with longer runs eventually:  he has at least three years of stories he could do, with a look at Leo in prison -- the long-awaited sequel to "Coward"? -- and the orphaned Greta, all grown up.

(More Criminal?  We can't wait!)

As with that last article, we're looking ahead to the next project, the tenth anniversary Criminal one-shot.  In the first part of the Newsarama interview, Phillips relayed that he had taken a couple weeks off between projects, he had just received the script for the next book, and he was easing himself into it.

On the same day these interviews wrapped, Phillips released [TK] a detail of work in-progress, noting that the Criminal one-shot won't draw itself.

The line from the Rubaiyat holds true for the writer and the artist, as well as this blog:  the Moving Finger writes and, having writ, moves on!

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Thursday, January 07, 2016

30 Days of The Fade Out: Living in a Memory.

The Fade Out #9 was released September 16, 2015, following a four-page preview, and it marks a turning point in the series' pacing.  The main plot in each issue tends to cover a quite compact span of time, but there tends to be a larger passage of time between each issue -- from the film's halted production in issue #1, to the review of the current cut of the film in issue #2, to the more-or-less pro forma auditions in issue #3, etc.

But here, the plot picks up immediately from the cliffhanger revelation at the end of the previous issue:  just enough time has passed for Charlie to leave his apartment to drive to his ex-wife's house, later that same Halloween night when he went trick-or-treating with Gil's family and attended the Victory Street party on the studio lot.

It's a common approach to time in storytelling: as the tension ratchets up, time becomes compressed.

(This is probably why so many in the audience were thrown off by the pacing in The Dark Knight Rises.  The scope of Nolan's film expanded to a kind of modern-day riff on the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror, so days and weeks were passing when the viewer was probably expecting only the passage of hours.  The sequential chronology from scene to scene in the movie's conclusion actually does add up, but it doesn't feel that way.)

But for those readers of The Fade Out who wait for the trades, this change in pacing will probably be felt even more strongly, as the beginning of Act Three follows very hot on the heels of the end of Act Two.

The Movie.  The Victory Street Halloween party probably continued well into the night, but presumably no real progress was made on the film's production, as the main narrative takes place over a single night.

The Murder.  Understandably terrified by the realization that Gil is evidently blackmailing Thursby, and that Brodsky's men may soon come down hard on the both of them, Charlie retrieves his military-issued pistol and waits in his apartment, where he and Gil do their work writing.  When Gil shows up, Charlie confronts him and starts a long-overdue fist fight, and he learns what Gil has really been up to.  "Rattling the cages," Gil follows Thursby to the studio's original offices, and that Halloween night, he had just followed Brodsky's men and snatched one of the envelopes of sordid photos that they retrieved from the offices and were destroying at the beach.  Knowing that it's a terrible idea, Charlie still decides to help Gil solve the murder "even if it gets us both killed."

Gil's explanation fills in the gaps of what he's been doing since just after the end of issue #6, when he sent the first blackmail note to Victor Thursby. Assuming that each scene in the "main narrative" is really sequential, he presumably went trick-or-treating in issue #7 after stealing the incriminating photos from Brodsky's men.  He and Charlie were together with Gil's family, so he had a chance to tell him about the photos, but he had already determined to act alone in his almost explicitly quixotic pursuit of justice.

Gil had typed the blackmail notes in Charlie's apartment, so maybe he returned there late that night to review his progress, plot his next move, and compose his next note.  Maybe he told Melba he was going to work with Charlie, but he clearly didn't expect him in on the night of the studio's big party.  But Charlie had found his draft blackmail letters and was waiting to confront his friend and partner.

On the technical side of things, this issue gives a kind of master class on how to provide flashbacks without losing the reader; we still want to dig up our back issues of Duncan Rouleau's 2007 Metal Men mini-series to try to make heads or tails of its time-bending and mind-bending presentation.

There seem to be at least three rules that Brubaker follows:

  1. You can have multiple flashbacks in series, even in a single issue as we see here, but you should avoid the nesting-dolls structure of flashbacks within flashbacks.
  2. Within each flashback, each event should occur chronologically, not out-of-sequence, even if -- as is the case here -- the series of flashbacks cover events that must be shuffled together.
  3. Within each flashback, present all the scenes from a single character's point of view, relaying his thoughts and perspective even if the story uses an omniscient third-person narration.

Here's the issue's structure, page by page:

  • 1-3, Charlie retrieves his service pistol from his old house, still occupied by his ex-wife Rebecca and evidently her husband Fred Franklin
    • 3, flashback to Rebecca visiting Charlie recovering from the war
  • 4-8, Charlie returns to his apartment -- the reader is shown parts a scene from the film Shadow of the Valley -- and he picks a fight with Gil
    • 8-12, flashback to Gil's time in Hollywood, from his arrival and his meeting Charlie to their being coerced into an exclusive seven-year contract with Victory Street
  • 12-13, two panels of Charlie and Gil fighting, with Gil fighting back
    • 13-17, flashback to more of Charlie's experiences during the war: his reconciliation with Gil after Pearl Harbor, his living with Gil and Melba after being discharged from the army hospital, and his watching Gil unravel, culminating with his self-destructive testimony before a House committee
  • 18-19, gathering themselves at the end of the fistfight, Gil shows Charlie the photos he was carrying and begins to explain himself
    • 19-21, Gil narrates a flashback of his trailing Thursby following his first note
  • 21, Charlie asks whether Gil broke into the studio's original offices, now used primarily for storage
    • 22-23, Gil narrates a flashback of his trailing Brodsky's men following his second note, resulting in his stealing some photographs before they were incinerated
  • 24-26, Charlie explains that he hasn't given up, and he decides to help Charlie get to the bottom of the murder and cover-up
(That House committee was presumably the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was a permanent committee from 1945 to 1975.  Nine days of hearings in 1947 led to the blacklisting of the Hollywood Ten and other artists.  We see part of presumably the same hearing in flashback in issue #2, where we learned, "Gil had been one of the first to be blacklisted after the Hollywood Ten.")

The issue presents series of five flashbacks across 21 pages, almost all in chronological order -- the first brief flashback takes place between the second and third -- and covering the writers' time before The Fade Out and Gil's actions after issue #6.  None of the chronology is unclear, and we find every revelation to be riveting, even if we don't ever quite learn Charlie's experiences during the war, exactly what he saw and what injuries he sustained.

Along the way, we discover more and more about Charlie and Gil.

Charlie suffers from an explicit survivor's guilt, and it emphasizes the point Ed Brubaker made in one of the recent interviews, that the character is "trapped by his tragedies," keeping on because he has to.
"Would he even be able to pull the trigger if they came for him?
"Was he that much of a survivor...?"
Just a couple pages later, we learn that, early in his Hollywood career, Gil was tasked with rewriting an evidently fictional screenplay An American at Cambridge, already revised by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1937: neither would get credit for their work upon its release.

Here we learn that Fitzgerald was Gil's favorite author, and way back in issue #5, we find Gil thinking that the famous author was right when he said, "The rich were different than us."  It appears he slightly misquoted one of Fitzgerald's most famous paragraphs from the short story "The Rich Boy,"  originally published in 1926.
"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves."
Gil then thinks to himself, "But they end just like the rest of us, sitting in their own piss, wondering where all their time went."

Fitzgerald really was a Hollywood screenwriter, working exclusively for MGM between 1937 and 1939, where he received no screen credit for work on Madame Curie and an unfilmed draft for Gone with the Wind.

It couldn't have helped Gil's grudge against Hollywood's powers-that-be, that he and his favorite writer suffered the same indignities.  Fitzgerald died in 1940, mocking himself as a Hollywood hack, and Gil was on his way to his own fate.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Breaking: THE FADE OUT Post-Mortem and A Tenth-Anniversary CRIMINAL One-Shot!

We've reached the grand finale to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' most recent noir comic, and with The Fade Out #12 in stores today, we have interviews and news to wrap up the series and to announce the team's next big project.

Newsarama conducted an interview with both creators, and in the first part of the interview, the pair elaborates on how their five-year deal with Image Comics allows them to move from one project to the next, with each project being a serialized graphic novel.  Myself, I see their collaborative work as a kind of anthology series, and instead of each issue containing multiple stories, each story spans one or more issues.

The partners also discuss the story's partnership of Charlie and Gil, the award winner with writer's block and his blacklisted ghostwriter.  Brubaker says, "There's a line in Double Indemnity about how when people cross a line together, commit a crime together, they're bound together after that, and I think in some long-term friendships, you can find the same thing."

For Charlie and Gil, they crossed a line first when they concocted their ghostwriting scheme, then when they chose to live with the cover-up of a friend's murder, and then when they decided to confront the studio bosses responsible for the cover-up.  It's no wonder that Charlie's torn up by all the death and deceit with which he's been complicit.

Comics Alliance also conducted a two-part interview, just with Brubaker, and in its first installment, the writer explains that Charlie is "trapped by his tragedies," and even at the end he's trapped "because he has to go one.  Everyone's depending on him."

Like any good noir, the series doesn't have a happy ending, but it avoided the obvious tragic end of the hero's death, and we can't help but be impressed.

Both articles have more on the series' origins and background, and they're both well worth reading.  We're sure to have more to say when the second half of each piece is published.

In the meantime, the other big news was announced in the letters page of The Fade Out #12, in almost the very last line by Ed:
"Sean and Bettie and I will be back in a few months with a new CRIMINAL one-shot, so keep your eyes peeled for the solicits (including a special magazine variant of course) and we'll announce our next bigger project soon, as well."
Just today, Image Comics released the details for that Criminal one-shot, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the team's first creator-owned series -- and what remains our personal favorite series all-time.

The Criminal Tenth Anniversary Special is a 64-page one-shot due on April 13th, with another story set in the 70's, this time pairing Teeg and his adolescent son Tracy Lawless, and featuring another comic-within-a-comic, this time even more bizarre than the Conan pastiche.

In a perfect complement to last year's Savage Sword magazine variant, this issue's magazine variant features the sensational character find of 2016, Fang the Kung Fu Werewolf!

We'll certainly have more to say on The Fade Out and the upcoming Criminal one-shot, but for now it suffices to say we couldn't be more pleased with today's comic book and announcement.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

THE FADE OUT Conclusion Out Tomorrow!

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' noir period piece set in Hollywood's Golden Age, The Fade Out concludes with issue #12, which reaches stores tomorrow.  We see that Image Comics (and Comic Book Resources) has just published a three-page preview of the grand finale.

Our schedule being more hectic and less predictable than we had hoped, we're still working through an issue-by-issue look at the series, with three more posts up today -- on Charlie and Gil's silent rift in issue #6, the ambivalence about a truly transparent relationship in issue #7, and the secondary vignette appearing in issue #8.

Our "thirty days" of The Fade Out will end up being closer to forty, as we'll continue to look at the series through this week.  In the meantime, it sounds like we can begin looking ahead to the pair's next project.  On Twitter, Ed Brubaker relays that the project will be announced in the pages of The Fade Out #12, as a treat to their fans.
Brubaker mentions that it always seems that small group of newer fans doesn't realize that his work with Phillips is an ongoing collaboration that transcends any one project, and he reminds us of the special deal with Image Comics that allows the pair to move seamlessly from one work to the next.

What's next on the horizon?  We can't wait to find out and document the announcement here.

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