Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bullets: New Velvet, Phono+Graphic in Toronto, and More.

Velvet #14 in Stores Today!  Ed Brubaker's other creator-owned series -- the Cold War espionage thriller with art from Steve Epting -- is hopefully getting back on schedule just as the third story arc builds to its climax.  Part Four of "The Man Who Stole the World" is in stores today, and late yesterday Image Comics posted a three-page preview, which people might find easier to read at Comic Book Resources, where the preview was reposted.



More Coverage for Criminal -- and The Fade Out.  Over the last couple weeks, we've seen a good bit of press surrounding the publication of the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, often through retweets by Brubaker and Phillips.
  • Geeks World Wide published a brief ten-question interview with Ed Brubaker.
  • The Outhousers posted a good-sized review of the issue, describing it as a tragic and heart-wrenching tale from long-established "masters of crime noir comics."
  • At the (UK) Guardian, the one-shot is included in this month's brief list of the "very best in hand-drawn entertainment."  Graeme Virtue writes that the issue shows "a grim revenge quest along lonesome desert highways with pages from Fang’s authentically 70s adventures, a riot of street slang, generous flares and thought bubbles bursting with heroic angst."
We actually didn't find the GWW piece to be the most informative interview we've read, but it reminds us to tell readers that they should buy the standard version of the "Deadly Hands" one-shot, even along with the magazine variant.

Why?  The standard version has an exclusive essay by Brubaker looking back on the series' origins, with information about its pitch that we haven't seen anywhere else.  It's a great, almost personal note to the fans who have supported his work over the years.

And, it's not recent and not closely tied to Criminal, but we just saw that, back in November, the British genre magazine Tripwire published a list of Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin's all-time favorite comics, and alongside Watchmen and Hellblazer and Judge Dredd, we find The Fade Out

We previously mentioned that Rankin wrote the introduction to the first trade collection for "The Sinners." Here, he writes, "I could have gone for Criminal or Fatale," but he went with the period piece even before it wrapped up, praising it for being "a hell of a ride."

Sean Phillips' Album Art Exhibition at TCAF Next Month!  Coinciding with last year's Lakes International Art Festival, Sean Phillips curated an art exhibition in Kendal, England:  Phono+Graphic, showcasing album covers created by comic artists.  As the exhibition concluded, we noted Phillips' hint that it might be touring other venues, and at his blog he recently announced its scheduled appearance in Toronto.



Coinciding with the Toronto Comics Art Festival, the Phono+Graphic exhibition will be at the Nuvango Gallery May 12-25, with a reception on the night of May 14th.  As we reported earlier this month, Sean Phillips is attending TCAF, which runs May 14-15 and is generally free to the public -- and we believe this is the first time the exhibition is making an appearance on this side of the Atlantic.

Michelle McNamara, R.I.P.  Last Friday, April 22nd, news broke of the death of Michelle McNamara, true-crime writer, wife, and mother of a young daughter.

(Her husband Patton Oswalt may be familiar to readers beyond his stand-up comedy:  he wrote the essay for Blast of Silence in 2007's Criminal #4, and he wrote the intro to the first trade collection of "The Last of the Innocent.")

Ed Brubaker has been re-tweeting links to a few articles online, by and about McNamara:  there are very personal memorial essays by Los Angeles Magazine's editor Mary Melton and true-crime journalist and producer Bill Jensen, and there's the writer's first feature for Los Angeles magazine, about a California serial killer from forty years back, still at-large.

We only learned about the writer with the news of her passing, but our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.

Houston Bookstore, Flooded and Needing Sales.  Finally, Ed Brubaker has forwarded a story from the Houston Chronicle, about a local bookstore that has suffered damage from the recent, devastating flooding in the area.  Murder By The Book is an independent store specializing in mystery, crime, and fantasy, and its owner is hoping an influx of online sales could help mitigate the losses from missed sales and cancelled events.

Owner McKenna Jordan is asking supporters to buy a book or gift card, and gift cards are discounted through the end of the month.  Purchases can be made at the store's website, MurderBooks.com.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bullets: CRIMINAL Tomorrow, Eisner Nods for THE FADE OUT, and Work Begins on KILL OR BE KILLED!

We begin with four of our favorite words in the English language: new Criminal this week!

Criminal Tenth Anniversary Special, In Stores Tomorrow!  Our favorite series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips returns with an over-sized one-shot, we see that Image Comics just posted a five-page preview of the issue, and Brubaker tells readers that the 56-page comic is a "full novella."

(UPDATE: The same preview at Comic Book Resources might be easier to read.)

Things had been pretty quiet since "The Last of the Innocent" wrapped in 2011, but that changed last year with the "Savage Sword" one-shot commemorating the series' returning to print under the Image banner.  This new one-shot is a kind of companion piece, once again focusing on the Lawless family's criminal exploits during the 1970's.  As before, there's a comic within the comic, and the issue's magazine-sized variant once again emulates that fictitious work of literature, in what Brubaker recently described as a "meta-variant."

Last year, the "Savage Sword of Criminal" featured Zangar the Valandrian.

This year, the "Deadly Hands of Criminal" features the astounding new character find of 2016, Fang the Kung-fu Werewolf!


Although we mentioned the Final Order Cutoff date for the book, we failed to emphasize why that date was particularly important:  late last month, Bleeding Cool reported a bookkeeping issue with Diamond distributors, one which resulted in the entire advance order being lost and the book subsequently having significantly more advance reorders than expected.  On Twitter, Brubaker predicts that the issue might quickly become hard to find especially since a one-shot is a hard sell.

More than that, retailers tend to be less likely to shelve the over-sized magazine variant, and this variant will almost certainly be too cost-intensive for more than a single printing.

In short, get it while you can!

The book was delayed one week from its solicited April 13th release, but that might be fortuitous:  we're not one to fixate on stoner culture, but it's a happy accident that this book and its kung-fu werewolf are reaching stores on 4/20.

...and it's not the only book that seems just perfect for the unofficial holiday for stoners.  Three of my all-time favorite books are all coming out tomorrow, and they're all appropriately trippy.
  • Brubaker and Phillips have the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, with the 70's kung-fu comic.
  • Layman and Guillory are concluding their trilogy of Chew one-shots featuring their cyborg luchador rooster (and secret agent), Demon Chicken Poyo!  Image Comics has a four-page preview up online. (So does CBR, possibly easier to read.)
  • And Tom Scioli with John Barber are releasing the penultimate chapter of the brilliant and bonkers Transformers vs GI Joe, which has been more fun than any licensed comic has any right to be. IDW has provided a five-page preview to Comics Alliance.

Go by your local retailer and grab a copy of each.  Sit back, take 'er easy, and enjoy -- and you can thank us later.

Eisner Nominations for The Fade Out, Brubaker, and Breitweiser!  It's breaking news, trumped only by a new Brubaker/Phillips comic, but the 2016 Eisner nominations were announced today, and once again we find nods for the pair's most recent collaboration along with some of the creative talents behind the series.
  • Best Limited Series: The Fade Out, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)
  • Best Writer: Ed Brubaker, The Fade Out, Velvet, Criminal Special Edition (Image)
  • Best Coloring: Elizabeth Breitwiser, The Fade Out, Criminal Magazine, Outcast, Velvet (Image)
The awards will be announced on Friday night, July 22nd, at Comic-Con International in San Diego -- and in the meantime, Image Comics just announced a digital sale for their Eisner nominees.  You can get all three trades of The Fade Out for less than $15 -- or all twelve issues for less than $12 -- and Velvet is similarly on sale with $4.99 collections and $0.99 single issues.

We extend hearty congratulations to Ed, Sean, Bettie, and everyone who was nominated.

A Second Volume of Image Firsts.  Along with the release of last year's Criminal one-shot, we noted the publication of the first Image Firsts Compendium. The trade paperback included NINE first issues, including The Fade Out #1, all for the low price of $5.99, and we can confirm that the Image Firsts Compendium Volume Two was released just last week.


It's a great introduction to just a few of the off-beat creator-owned titles that Image is producing.

Kill or Be Killed, Now In Progress.  Finally, we have an update on Brubaker and Phillips' newest project, the ongoing series announced two weeks ago at the Image Expo.  I would say that we have more information, but I suspect that the creators are holding a lot back:  after the initial announcement, Brubaker tweeted that the book is "one of those simple concepts that's actually a bit hard to describe without spoiling all the twists of the first issue."

Or as he intimated prior to the Image Expo, it's "That thing when you're doing press for your upcoming book and realize anything you say will spoil the first issue, so you go vague."

So, there's no new info, just an update.

Sean Phillips has posted a few things on Twitter, including what appears to be the cover art for the first issue, very similar to the promo image, but in a portrait layout.

Phillips has made himself a sketch book for the project, he's already working on layouts, and he began shooting reference photos last week.


I think we can safely say that the cover won't have the only firearm in the book.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

KILL OR BE KILLED: Announced Today, Coming This Summer!

As we reported earlier, Ed Brubaker has been planning big news at this year's Image Expo in Seattle, and the announcement was made earlier this afternoonKill Or Be Killed, his next project with Sean Phillips and Bettie Breitweiser, coming this summer.


In a press release on its official site, Image Comics has summarized all the new projects and provided promo images, including the one shown above.
KILL OR BE KILLED by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser 
Bestselling writer Ed Brubaker (THE FADE OUT, FATALE), artist Sean Phillips (THE FADE OUT, FATALE), and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser (THE FADE OUT, FATALE, OUTCAST BY KIRKMAN & AZACETA) reunite for KILL OR BE KILLED, the ultimate pulp crime comic.
KILL OR BE KILLED is the story of a troubled young man who is compelled to kill bad people, and how he struggles to keep his secret, as it slowly begins to ruin his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones.
Both a thriller and a deconstruction of vigilantism, KILL OR BE KILLED is unlike anything Brubaker and Phillips have done together in their long partnership.
KILL OR BE KILLED is set to launch in Summer 2016.
Comics news sites covered the event, providing other details.
  • Comic Book Resources posted an lengthy, initial article with updates in real time, and they followed up with a brief post focusing on Kill Or Be Killed; in both, they reported that the book is an ongoing series affording a return to serialized, monthly comics.
  • Bleeding Cool notes that the book is evidently about the ripple effects of the actions taken by the protagonist, a vigilante who kills bad guys.
  • Comics Alliance provides the longest list of the title's influences, saying that the book is described as "Breaking Bad meets Death Wish," and it's also influenced by the Spider-Man comics of the Seventies and Ed Brubaker's own anger at the troubled present day.
  • In just the last few minutes, we've noticed a brief, bulleted report from The Outhousers, calling the title "a deconstruction of vigilantism" which debuts in August with the goal of "50 issues at least."
The Punisher has also been mentioned as an influence, and Ed Brubaker apparently describes the book as "almost a soap opera about murder."

[UPDATE, 4/7:  Ed Brubaker responded by Twitter to offer a minor correction, that "the Punisher, nor any other vigilante hero type was not an influence. If anything, the opposite."  We gather that's where the "deconstruction of vigilantism" comes in.]

And, courtesy the recent output of Image Comics' Twitter feed, we see that USA Today has the "exclusive" scoop on the series.  The story confirms that the title is an ongoing monthly, and the main character is evidently a good guy coerced to do terrible things, an introverted NYU grad student in his late twenties who is "forced to don a mask and kill one bad person every month," though a victim of his own choosing.

I'd say more from the USA Today story, but I'll invoke the cliché to encourage everyone to "read the whole thing."

The only other thing I'll add for now is our noting something new to the credits listed in that promo image, absent from the announcement and indeed the front covers for The Fade Out: alongside Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is Elizabeth Breitweiser.

The CBR piece notes Brubaker's praise for the colorist: '"I think she's one of the two or three best colorists in comics. She jumped on to help us with 'Fatale,' and almost immediately meshed with Sean. We basically said, 'Be our colorist forever.' She's pretty much a full-time member of our team now."

We're glad to see her officially join the team and get more credit for the often astounding work that she does.

As always, we'll post more information as we find it -- and as we look forward to Kill Or Be Killed.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Bullets: The Calm Before the Storm.

We've finally wrapped up our extended look at The Fade Out, and none too soon:  April promises to be an exciting month for fans Brubaker and Phillips. 

Ed Brubaker will apparently announce their next project tomorrow at the 2016 Image Expo in Seattle.

...on a related note, Brubaker has just tweeted that copies of the magazine variant for last year's Criminal Special Edition will be available at the Image booth at the Emerald City Comic Con, this weekend in Seattle.


Later this month, the next one-shot will be released, the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, which has its own magazine-sized variant featuring Fang the Kung-Fu Werewolf!

The creators have been releasing a few glimpses of the artwork for this done-in-one story, including the image shown above, a work-in-progress panel of Teeg and Tracy Lawless on the road and possibly on the run.

And, hilariously, Ed Brubaker has shown fans a detail from the one-shot, of a cover to the "Deadly Hands" comic from the 1970's.


We have a few items that we'd like to cover as briefly as we can, as we clear the decks for this busy month.


• A Comprehensive Retrospective. Early last week, David Harper at SKCHD posted an extensive essay called "This Noir Life," looking back at Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' long and successful partnership through DC Comics, Marvel's Icon imprint, and now Image Comics. 

Harper talks with Brubaker about the origins of what Harper praises as "the finest and most consistent creative partnership in modern comics," and the wide-ranging discussion is worth reading by everyone.  Newer fans can learn about what books they need to hunt down, long-time fans can recommend the essay to friends to expose them to Brubaker and Phillips, and there are insights that even I didn't know.

For instance, I learned that Sean Phillips designed Holden Carver even though the character was first drawn by Colin Wilson for Point Blank, the WildStorm comic that led directly to Sleeper.  Proud as he is of the series, Brubaker's not sure that he'll return to the world of Incognito, and he still hasn't met the newest addition to their team, the fantastic colorist Bettie Breitweiser.

I was heartened to see Ed Brubaker acknowledge the fact that, while many of us dig every project they do, we have a special place in our heart for their purest crime comic: "I'm sure a lot of them would be happy to see us put Criminal out every month."

But looking ahead, "Brubaker said their next project 'has an even more complex narrative than The Fade Out did,' before adding, 'but it’s very different.'"

We're looking forward to it.


• Brubaker Interviews, Recently Collected.  Courtesy of Sean Phillips' Twitter feed, we see that the University Press of Mississippi has recently expanded its Conversations with Comic Artists Series to include a book on Ed Brubaker.  The series features an impressive list of artists -- including Walt Disney, Chuck Jones, Will Eisner, Charles M. Schulz, Carl Barks, Alan Moore, and Art Spiegelman -- and it says something that the series now includes Brubaker.

Published in early March and edited by Judson University professor Terrence Wandtke, the 172-page hardcover on Brubaker features "often little-known and hard-to-find interviews, worthwhile conversations in their own right as well as objects of study for both scholars and researchers."

Going by the back cover preview, the cover art was from a portrait of Ed Brubaker by Sean Phillips, which first appeared on the cover of the Comics Journal #263, published in October/November 2004.




• Under the Radar: Sonic Noir by Ed Brubaker. We mentioned everything else that's on the horizon, but we had completely missed a new series from Brubaker, a licensed property for another publisher with art from unlikely collaborator: Sonic the Hedgehog: Noir, from Archie Comics, by Brubaker and Bill Sienkiewicz.

The first issue was evidently released on the first day of this month -- a Friday, oddly enough -- and on the same day Comicosity published just about the only (spoiler-filled) review I could find online, but it is more than enough to pique my interest.
"You will not look at the world in the same way after reading Sonic The Hedgehog: Noir #1. There are life changing experiences in comics, and this is one of them. Brubaker and Sienkiewicz have crafted something that is equally beautiful and horrifying and while I am scared to read the next issue, I can tell you right now, I won’t be able to avoid it. You thought you’d seen noir with The Fade Out or Criminal…they are nothing compared to this epic story."
I'm not sure my local shop ordered any copies of Sonic Noir #1, but I'll be sure to ask them about it.


• Velvet in Recent Solicitations.  In the middle of March, Image Comics released its most recent solicitations, for the month of June.   Our guess is that the books announced at the Image Expo, including the latest Brubaker-Phillips collaboration, will be released no earlier than July.

In the interim, we can expect a few releases of Brubaker's other title Velvet, the creator-owned spy comic with art by Steve Epting.  ComicList's most recent extended forecast has issue #14 out on April 27th, issue #15 out on May 25th, and the third trade paperback advance solicited for July 20th.

Velvet Volume 3, "The Man Who Stole the World," collects issues #11-15 for the discounted price of $14.99.


• Sean Phillips' Art for Arrow Films.  Regular readers will already know that Sean Phillips has created striking artwork for several movies, including six home video releases for the Criterion Collection -- most recently for two films on colonialism by Bruce Beresford -- and the poster for We Gotta Get Out of This Place, a crime thriller that debuted at the 2013 Toronto International Film.

In our post on the Beresford artwork, we linked to Sean's announcement on his blog. There he included preliminary and final artwork for the first of apparently three projects for the British distributor Arrow Films -- artwork for a DVD and Blu-ray release of an old spaghetti western.

Sean has now worked on at least four Arrow projects: we're linking to his blog posts below, where each post features work by the artist.


Phillips also submitted cover artwork for Takashi Miike’s Audition; it was rejected for different artwork, but he hopes it will be used in some other way, and meanwhile he's given fans a look at his submission.



• Sean Phillips' Convention Appearances.  We saw the Sean Phillips was present at the London Super Comic Con in late February, with a few prints from The Fade Out and Fatale, shown below -- and we also saw that Ed Brubaker was at LA's WonderCon just a few weekends back.



Since the LSCC, several more scheduled appearances have already been announced for Phillips, for later this year.
Only the first few guests have been announced for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal, England, October 14th-16th, but we wouldn't be surprised if Sean returns to the festival: he's made appearances there for the last three years, and last year he curated an exhibit of album covers created by comic artists.

• Recommended Reading and Viewing. Finally, we have a short list of online articles and videos that our readers might find worthwhile.

Sean Phillips retweeted a link to an blog post about the disturbing trend of unpaid work in media, with Phillips noting that the phenomenon "applies to illustrators and designers too."  The UK editor-in-chief for the Huffington Post had made the absurd and self-serving argument that paid content is inauthentic, and the essay's writer strongly suggests that artists should never provide others with content at no charge -- at least, not unless it's for charity or they can afford to.

(A commenter to the blog entry pointed to a short video clip of the irascible, often entertaining, and here quite astute writer Harlan Ellison -- NSFW.)

The author of numerous essays in the back of the Brubaker and Phillips' comics, including The Fade Out, Devin Faraci is also editor-in-chief of his own website Birth.Movies.Death.  He's recently written two very interesting pieces, one on the death of Superman as a truly heroic character, and one on the death of Jesus of Nazareth, prompted by the non-believer's visit to the popular holy sites in Jerusalem -- both articles are somewhat frustrating but well worth reading.

Faraci's best article I've seen is probably his defense of George Lucas as an auteur.  His opinion echoes my own in light of the recent Star Wars sequel by J.J. Abrams, that the vision behind the prequel trilogy -- deeply flawed films, apparently based on undercooked scripts -- is still more interesting than the mimicry driving that near pastiche of a sequel.

Fans of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian -- and Zangar the Valandrian, the warrior from last year's "Savage Sword of Criminal" -- might be very interested in the article published two weeks ago in Science magazine, about a "colossal" pre-historic Bronze Age battle, the remains of which were recently discovered.  The battle took place along the Tollense River in northern Germany, near the Baltic Sea, and an archaeologist at the dig reports, "They weren't farmer-soldiers who went out every few years to brawl. These are professional fighters."  He doesn't say so, but they seemed much like the fictional Conan.

At the end of last year, on the twentieth anniversary of the film's release, Rolling Stone published an extensive essay on Heat -- my all-time favorite crime movie -- where writer Jennifer Wood presents a first-person recollection by now 73-year-old director Michael Mann.  Among other aspects of the film, he discusses my favorite scene -- the confrontation in the coffee shop where, at the movie's halfway point, Pacino's cop and De Niro's master thief reveal more about themselves to their adversaries than to their partners or lovers.  Mann talks about how the scene was discussed but not rigorously rehearsed, about the characters' motivation for talking with a known enemy, and about the key insight that is learned in that scene which pays off in the climax.

On the subject of thoughtful and extremely well-made heist movies, Ed Brubaker recently highlighted a piece by The A.V. Club on how, through very clever movie-making techniques, director Christopher Nolan hid in plain sight the secret of his 2006 film, The Prestige.

(Both pieces, on Heat and The Prestige, heavily involve SPOILERS, as one might imagine.)

Finally, Brubaker retweeted a short but profound quote from author Salman Rushdie, posted by Jon Winokur.
"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."

As cited by Wikiquote, the statement was quoted in a 2004 BBC article, on a subject that remains distressingly current.

I'm sure that these two of my favorite writers would agree on much regarding politics -- perhaps more regarding culture, including Frank Sinatra and the "Great American Songbook" to which both have alluded -- but I find that, here at least, Ed Brubaker shares common ground with the profound (and profoundly funny) Mark Steyn.

On a recent Australian tour, Steyn gave a speech in Melbourne, defending the crucial right to free expression.  On his website, he points out that a slightly edited video of the February 19th talk has been posted online.  At the 19-minute mark, Steyn points out the importance of the seemingly trivial joke.
"A joke is a small thing but a large, profound loss."
We have lost some of the liberty to tell jokes that might cause the wrong people to be offended.  That kind of suppression of speech is what was found in the Soviet Bloc, and it should not be found in the supposedly free West.

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Monday, April 04, 2016

30 Days of The Fade Out: Alienation and Memory.

I intended this increasingly misnamed series -- "30 Days of The Fade Out" -- to follow the pattern I set with Fatale in July, 2014, having a month-long look back at the latest series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, concluding with the release of the series' grand finale.  Instead, a shockingly busy personal life caused this series to run just more than four months.

On the one hand, I have written more than thirty posts in this series -- by my count, this is #33 -- but, on the other hand, there are quite a few topics that I haven't really covered.
  • The wonderfully complete experience in the magazine-sized variant for the debut issue.
  • The possible meaning behind each chapter's title, as most titles were evidently allusions to song lyrics from the ear.
  • The fascinating bonus essays written by Devin Faraci, Jess Nevins, Megan Abbott, and Ben Godar -- and, accompanying the essay in issue #10, the striking artwork of The Wizard of Oz by Sean Phillips' son Jacob.
  • And, the letters pages, and the conversations they facilitated between Brubaker and his readers.
About that last subject, in issue #3, Brubaker asked readers about their favorite actor or actress from the 1940's.  I didn't write in, and I don't think anyone mentioned who I would have picked:  Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs and Daffy and the rest of the classic Looney Tunes characters.

--

Wrapping up, I'd just like to highlight what seems to be two main themes of the story, namely alienation and memory.  Charlie Parish in particular feels alienated from his fellow man and perhaps even himself, as he runs from his own memories and even obliterates what he can in a bottle of booze.

Many of the story's characters remain opaque to the reader, sometimes frustratingly so:  Drake Miller's presence is frequently felt, but his only real dialogue is in one of Charlie's memories of the night Val died.  We learn about Earl, Melba, Tyler, and Valeria Sommers herself only through their actions and through others' descriptions.

For other characters, we're afforded a more intimate glimpse of their interior life.
  • Victor Thursby feels like he lost part of himself in the hills with that hedonistic cult, and after Val's death he wonders what his life's work was for.
  • Maya Silver finds herself excited at the thought of her ex-husband being beaten, and she hates herself for it, but she soon "sleeps like a baby."
  • Gil Mason decides to turn against the power of the studio system because of how Brodsky intimidated and humiliated him, acting as if Gil was "just a fool pretending not to be a coward."
  • And Dottie Quinn had learned in her own life about the power of secrets, how to keep them, and how the world would always rather have a good story than the honest truth.
(We even get a glimpse of Phil Brodsky, who knows he's being played by "some fucking joker" on "Hallo-fucking-ween.")

But, ultimately, The Fade Out is Charlie's story.  It begins and ends with him musing on the phantom planes during the war, and we follow the character from his discovery of Val's body to his discovery of what "maybe" happened that night.  Along the way, we see memories and movie scenes play behind him, and we see the impressionistic images of the fragments of memory from the night of Val's death. He tries to forget her death, then unearth what really happened, and finally find a way to survive the consequences of that (almost explicitly) quixotic mission.  Charlie piles one lie on top of another, and his life lurches from misery to despair as he learns the extent of his complicity in Val's death and the corrupt studio system.

Having read the series a few times and having learned the twisted and sordid context of his life -- as much as the creators tell us, explicitly and between the lines -- I find it interesting to focus on Charlie's inner life, to read through the narration text for all of Charlie's scenes.
"Charlie didn't care one way or the other about funerals.  They were just another of life's rituals that he felt removed from." 
"But after a week, Charlie began fantasizing about sneaking into the costume trailer... and becoming an invisible man himself.  He imagined it would be a relief, to have a mask everyone could see... but that made them all look away at the same time."
"Of course, it hadn't slipped Charlie's mind... he'd purposely locked away those years.  And now they were trying to break free again, like they always did..."
"But that Charlie, that young hotshot... he feels like a distant cousin now... like someone he only ever vaguely knew, at best."
"Charlie never felt more removed from humanity than he did at events like this.  The mob of screaming voices... crushing each other for an autograph..."
"Why can't he be more like her, actually appreciating the moment... instead of always being caught up in the past?"
"Not just that there's someone who truly sees you... truly understands you... to your soul... but that you event want them to.  That's the sweetest lie, the one you tell yourself."
"Charlie could only think as far as the next drink anymore... could only exist on the edge of oblivion."
We discover that Charlie's father was a junkie and that he'd seen plenty of violence from "trouble boys" in his youth, but how much could be explained by his upbringing?  We learn that he saw -- and apparently did -- terrible things during the war, and yet he always seemed to say and do the wrong thing with his ex-wife Rebecca, who left him shortly after Pearl Harbor.

How much was Charlie's life a trap of his own making?

Whatever the answer, we see his alienation with others and even himself, his running from both his past and his future, and his attraction toward vulnerable women and his simultaneous disbelief that he could be truly vulnerable with anyone else.

His is a tragic state of affairs, which too many of us probably find all too familiar, and it is this shared misery -- and the shared capacity for anguish and despair -- that connects us with Charlie Parish even as most of us will (thankfully) never find ourselves entangled in quite so terrible a crime.

Charlie's story evokes our sympathy even as it crushes our hope for him -- and perhaps it is this shared empathy, even with fictional characters as irredeemable as him, that gives us hope for ourselves.  Though I believe that the greatest hope comes from God, I also believe that, if we can turn from the comic's page to the person beside us, perhaps we can become a friend to our neighbor and find a measure of peace with ourselves.

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30 Days of The Fade Out: Glimpses of the Shadow.

We noticed a pair of two-part interviews with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, published at the conclusion of The Fade Out, and in the second part of Newsarama's interview, Brubaker commented about Shadow of the Valley, the noir movie that Victory Street Pictures was producing throughout the story.

Zack Smith asked if that film was fully plotted out, and Brubaker responded, "That one I had a loose idea of what it was, but suffice it to say, it wasn't a masterpiece."

That opinion was shared by its audience, at least going by the clipping of the movie review on the back cover of issue #12.  The review has much higher praise for its stars -- Earl Rath and his "riveting dark side;" Maya Silver and her "gravity and depth" as the character Gracie -- than for the dialogue they were given.

We're not told much about the movie itself by its (fictional) reviewer Eileen Theo, except that it was based on a short story written a "legendary" (and fictional) writer who was rediscovered in death, Jacob Thacker -- or perhaps Jacob Thakeray? -- and published by the real-world pulp magazine Black Mask.  Founded in 1920 and peaking in the early 1930's before ceasing its original publication run in 1951, the famous magazine published works by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner, and other writers of hardboiled fiction.

We don't see much of the film that Charlie was writing, either in the original cut that was being produced with Valeria Sommers or the new cut with her replacement, Maya Silver.

Here's what we know, from the first five issues.
  1. The director Franz Schmitt mentions scene 74-B, apparently set in a dining car.
  2. We see part of a rough cut that studio head Victor Thursby reviews:  the two main characters argue and then embrace inside a boarded-up building, as they're "too far gone" and "may die tonight;" Earl's character has his face covered in the bandages we see on the issue's cover; after that scene we see Val's version of Gracie standing, arms folded, in an empty field.
  3. Maya and Earl dance during an apparent screen test; Earl isn't wearing the mask of bandages.
  4. We see Gil dictating dialogue to Charlie -- "Then she says, 'You don't really think you can hide like that?'" (possibly alluding to the bandages) -- and filming takes place on a studio set that resembles a rustic log cabin (again, no bandages).
  5. Location shooting takes place in Ojai, on a small-town Main Street set and in a "mountain cabin hideout;" on Main Street, an old scene is reshot with new, substandard dialogue, but the same action takes place:  Earl's character (no bandages) and Gracie enter a bank to commit armed robbery.
After issue #5, very little new information can be gleaned about the film.  In issue #9, we see fragments of a later scene in that same boarded-up building -- "Looks like they're here" -- and we learn that Earl Rath's character, now bandaged, is named Bill.  On the back cover, we see a promo photo for the film, with Gracie embracing Bill, possibly wearing a robe with his face covered in the familiar mask of bandages.

Then, in issue #12, we learn that Victor Thursby has had a personal cut of the film made, with Val's performance kept intact:  we see a single frame of the movie, Val in the foreground with bandaged Bill -- probably played by Earl's double Morty -- standing in the background, framed by the light of an open doorway.

What was this movie about?

My guess is this:
  • Bill and Gracie fall in love and into a life of crime, like the real-life love-struck bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, who were gunned down in 1934.
  • After dancing in a fancy nightclub and robbing one or more banks, they escape to the country; at one point maybe they travel by train (complete with dining car), and they end up in a rustic mountain cabin.
    • UPDATE: Schmitt wanted to work around Val's scenes by filming the dining car scene:  maybe Gracie wasn't on that train after all.
  • Eventually, trouble catches up with the pair, and Bill's face becomes horrifically scarred, forcing him to wear a mask of bandages, which Gracie knows won't hide his identity.
  • The pair are cornered in some boarded-up building; Gracie perhaps has had several opportunities to run from her life with Bill -- in the urban alley seen in issue #12 and then in the field outside the condemned building, seen in issue #2 -- but she's with him even as their pursuers arrive.
(I do wonder how much our surmises match Brubaker's working concepts.)

Like any good noir, the movie almost certainly avoids a happy ending for all involved, but is it a good movie?  That question depends less on what is being told as how the story is told, and we could never glean that from the fragments we saw in the comic.

Even before Val's death and the reshoots that it necessitated, the script was being ghostwritten by Gil Mason, and in his most honest moments even he would admit that Charlie was the better writer, at least before the war and his writer's block.  With a new actress, the new scenes were being written by a distraught and distracted Gil, who was more self-destructive than usual; if the one scene in Ojai was any indication, the new material was worse than the original script.

It makes me wonder about that private cut of Victor Thursby's.  There were still at least eleven days of shooting left in the original production schedule but was a more-or-less complete story told in the edit of the incomplete footage shot with Val Sommers, along with any non-Maya scenes filmed after her death?  With the original script and her apparently transcendent performance, perhaps this cut ended up even better than what was released to theaters.

If that cut ever escaped Thursby's private possession, perhaps it might have become a cult hit in Hollywood screening rooms and then become a critical success when it was released decades later:  it could be like the 1998 edit of Orson Welles' 1958 noir Touch of Evil, which received wide acclaim for approximating the writer and director's wishes as expressed in an early memo to the studio.

It certainly wouldn't atone for Val Staples' murder, and presumably the cover-up is never disturbed, but the existence of Thursby's film points to the possibility of a very thin silver lining for a very dark cloud.

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30 Days of The Fade Out: One Possible Glitch in Continuity.

After our fourth or fifth read-through of the comic, we've stumbled across what may be a continuity error in The Fade Out -- a minor glitch in the backstory, fortunately nothing central to the main story's murder and cover-up.

It's hardly worth mentioning, but in our wrap-up of our lengthy look at the series, we do want to take a moment to document what we've discovered.

In Charlie's encounter with Drake Miller -- both the apparently imagined talk in the Formosa bathroom in issue #7 and their actual conversation in Val's kitchen, recalled in issue #11 -- the produce and FBI plant tells Charlie that At the End remains one of his favorite pictures, and that it would have had a best-writing Oscar "in the bag" if he hadn't gone up against Citizen Kane.

The chronology that's established in issue #9 doesn't quite add up: in an extended flashback explaining their "shared spiral down the booze-hole," we find out that Charlie and Gil got in trouble with the mob on the night of Charlie's Oscar nomination.

"They barely spoke the rest of that year... until Pearl Harbor.

"Holding a grudge felt petty in the face of war..."

Orson Welles' Citizen Kane was released in 1941, and it was awarded Best Writing (Original Screenplay) at the 1941 Academy Awards.

The problem is, the 1941 Academy Award nominations were announced on February 9, 1942 (see footnotes), with the awards given out on February 26, 1942 -- both more than two months AFTER the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941.

Somewhat famously, Stephen King's first Hard Case Crime book, The Colorado Kid, had a seeming continuity error that was surprising for a carefully plotted and confounding murder mystery:  Starbucks Coffee was mentioned as present in Denver in 1980, which was historically inaccurate.  Responding to a review in USA Today, King wrote that Dark Tower readers might find that the detail was a clue rather than an error, and the comment seems to point to parallel universes.

Perhaps this dilemma could be explained the same way, that we're reading a story set in a universe that's not quite our own.  Beyond the existence of Victory Street Pictures, the people who worked with the studio, and the films they produced, the universe of The Fade Out differs in that the 1941 Oscar nominations were announced prior to Pearl Harbor.

...or, perhaps more simply, Charlie Parish was nominated for two consecutive Best Writing Oscars, first for an unnamed film released in 1940, then for At the End, released in 1941.

The problem could be addressed in subsequent printings of the book -- maybe the big news could be changed to some important reviewer's declaration that Charlie's film was the movie of the year, published upon the film's release and prior to Pearl Harbor -- but it wouldn't bother us if this hiccup remained.

After all, plenty of great works have their tiny flaws, including Citizen Kane.

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