Wednesday, February 14, 2018

KILL OR BE KILLED: New Undertow Podcast on #15 -- and #16 In Stores Now!

It's Valentine's Day, and comic fans can celebrate the holiday -- or ignore it entirely -- with a new Undertow Podcast and a new Kill Or Be Killed.

On Monday, episode 20 of The Undertow Podcast was released, with a focus on Kill Or Be Killed #15.  Robert and I also discuss the latest news about the future releases of Brubaker and Phillips -- the end of KOBK will evidently come later this year, preceding the follow-up to The Fade Out with a "romance comic" novella in between, which likely began its life as a Criminal story.

We both happened to recommend works from five years back.  Robert recommended a futuristic noir comic originally released online, The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin.  I recommended Locke, a film written and directed by Steven Knight and starring Tom Hardy -- almost entirely by himself, driving down an English highway as his life comes unglued.

I do think viewers should discover for themselves what's going on, with the central dilemma revealed very early on in the movie:  the trailer was more than enough to catch my attention.

On Tuesday, Image Comics released a three-page preview of Kill Or Be Killed #16.  The issue apparently begins with a true full-page splash page -- perhaps the first one of the series, without any white column of narration, with the iconic costume of the series' vigilante but without its being worn by our "hero" Dylan.

KOBK #16 is in stores today!

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Upcoming Work: Second Printings, Solicitations, Variant Covers, and Very Revealing Interviews.

We missed this in our last post, but on January 25th, Image Comics announced a second printing for the most recent issue from Brubaker and Phillips, Kill Or Be Killed #15.  The issue features a new cover, shown below, a black-and-white rendition of the first printing's artwork with the series' familiar blood-red title.

Image frequently produces multiple printings for the first few issues in a new series, as retailers try to gauge what could be growing interest in an unexpected hit.  Far less common is an additional printing more than a year into a series' run:  this second printing indicates a growing readership for KOBK's monthly releases in analog, and we wonder what's driving that growth. 

Perhaps people have been making the leap from digital comics back to hardcopies or from trade-waiting to monthly reading.  The news of a possible film adaptation from the John Wick crew certainly couldn't have hurt, and perhaps it raised the comic's profile.

This second printing of issue #15 is scheduled to reach stores on February 21st, just a week after the first printing of issue #16, for which we expect an online preview very soon.


Readers looking to catch up with that second printing will need to put issue #16 on hold, but they should also be careful looking at the solicitations for later issues.

I'm a technical writer in real life, and I do not envy the task of writing good comic solicitations, undertaken by marketing staff, editors, and -- as I believe to be the case for most creator-owned comics, including those by Brubaker and Phillips -- the writers themselves.

Each solicitation must briefly describe the book's contents, enticing prospective buyers without spoiling the story.  For a continuing series, the goal is even more daunting due to the delay between a single issue's solicitation and its subsequent arrival:  ideally, no future issue solicitation should spoil the contents of a previous issue, at least not before that early chapter's release.

The debut of Kill Or Be Killed presents us with a striking example:

• May 18, 2016, Image releases its August solicitations, including Kill Or Be Killed #1, with a scheduled release date of Aug 3rd.
"The bestselling team of ED BRUBAKER and SEAN PHILLIPS (THE FADE OUT, CRIMINAL, FATALE) launch their new monthly series: KILL OR BE KILLED, the twisted story of a young man who is forced to kill bad people, and how he struggles to keep his secret as it slowly ruins 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 & PHILLIPS have ever done."
• June 23rd, the September solicitations include issue #2: "Every killer has to have his first kill, and they're never easy."

• July 18th, the October solicitations include issue #3: "As our hero is drawn deeper into the shadows, his secret vigilante life begins to put everything he cares about in danger."

• Aug 3: KOBK #1 is released to local retailers.

Prior to the debut issue's release, every description of upcoming chapters avoided that issue's big reveal, that the protagonist is "forced to kill bad people" by a demon, real or imagined.  In fact, I don't believe that the "curse" is mentioned until February, 2017, with the May solicitation for issue #9, and the demon isn't explicitly named until the June solicitation for issue #10, featuring the antagonist on the cover.

We see a similar dynamic with recent solicitations hiding the big reveal for issue #15.  The new arc found Dylan institutionalized, and the cliffhanger revelation was that (SPOILERS) vigilante killings were still taking place in the outside world.

We believe this reveal was entirely held back from the solicits until after the issue's release on January 17th; the April solicitations came out on January 23rd, and here the surprise makes it to the description for issue #18, due April 18th.

"While Dylan's been locked away inside, the vigilante has been running wild on the streets—but how is this possible? Featuring the return of Detective Lily Sharpe, who is hot on the trail of the masked man!"
It's an intriguing development.  We wonder if this second killer has anything to do with the demon, is merely a deranged copycat, or is something else entirely -- and we wonder how this will affect the NYPD's search for the vigilante, since Dylan now (presumably) has an airtight alibi for at least one killing.


In the meantime, we have two more issues on their way, and -- alongside the second-printing variant for issue #15 -- we'll see an extra special variant cover for issue #17, with both versions due on March 21st.

Posted just this Thursday in a second round of announcements, Sean Phillips joins four other artists in creating virgin wraparound covers as part of Image's #WeBelieve campaign, bringing the total to 14 such covers on sale in March, "in celebration of artists and the importance and impact they have in defining the comics medium."

(We would express some skepticism about how artists' work is among "the important, lately overlooked contributions to the comics industry," but then again, most of the news coverage about the KOBK film adaptation focused on writer Ed Brubaker and barely mentioned -- or entirely ignored -- co-creator Sean Phillips.)

At his blog, Phillips includes a quote from Image publisher Eric Stephenson, from an apparent press release that -- alongside the Image news release -- details exactly what each cover will include and omit:  "Without titles, endorsement quotes, names, logos, or jacket copy, these wraparound covers feature solely the jaw-dropping artwork that fans won’t want to miss."

Shown below, the virgin cover features entirely new artwork from Sean Phillips, quite different from the standard cover's scene of Dylan unmasking in the padded room:  walking out from the mental hospital, with the straitjacket unbound but still on, our hero looks truly mental.


These virgin variants will highlight the work of the artist, and in a recent interview Sean Phillips points to a few important books by other, influential artists.

In an interview by The Reading Lists, devoted to "publishing the #readinglists of amazing people," Phillips reveals a few recommended titles and authors in his favorite genre -- crime fiction, no surprise -- and for those interested in working in comics, he recommends Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.  We thoroughly recommend the book as well, a comic book on the principles of comic books, but Sean adds, "there’s no substitute for making your own comics. You learn best by doing!"

Asked what book humanity needs right now, Phillips gives a great answer:  "A new Calvin and Hobbes collection."  Indeed -- and either that or a new daily calendar of The Far Side would make me a very happy man.

Most interestingly, Phillips was asked, "What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?"  His answer points to the follow-up to The Fade Out, as well as other work:
"For two different work projects, research on World War One and television in the late 1950s. And lots of comics!"
And the question leads naturally enough to another item from January 25th, from the French site  On Twitter, the great Kevin Sels pointed us to the story and offered a brief summary:  at the Angloueme festival, Phillips announced that he and Brubaker are planning two stories following The Fade Out -- each a six-issue mini-series -- and a "romance" series for sometime in the fall.

(Thanks for the heads-up, Kevin!)

What does this mean for the long-term plans for Kill Or Be Killed and the upcoming Criminal novella?  Is it possible that, between Phillips' answers, the French-language news item, and Kevin's overview, something was lost in translation?

We would almost say that we'll have to wait and see, but just yesterday the same site posted a 21-minute video of the interview, with Phillips' answers in English, with optional French subtitles.

In the wide-ranging interview, the artist discusses whether he misses licensed work for the bigger publishers and why there's a long-term economic appeal in creator-owned work.  Phillips mentions how Ed Brubaker's wife pushed him to do creator-owned work, how the success of Marvel Zombies allowed Phillips to take a chance on such a project, and how the pair communicate while they work.

The artist says he assumes that Image's exclusive five-year deal will be extended, but he also mentioned what would be the team's dream project, where he and Brubaker spend a year on... [EDIT:] well, people should watch the video and find out for themselves.

Phillips discusses the violent but sympathetic protagonists in Kill Or Be Killed and their other titles, and he mentions the beauty of the comic-book medium, where the text and the picture need not always correspond.

He mentions that it might not be important whether the story's demon is real, but he admits not knowing in advance where these stories are going:  Brubaker told him what the ending would be, but he has since changed his mind, and even the script for an individual issue is almost always sent piecemeal.

He has no info on the KOBK adaptation beyond what's already been announced online, and he mentions how other projects have fallen through, including the Criminal adaptation.  Brubaker takes the lead on working with Hollywood, with Phillips always to be listed as an executive producer with no real need for control over this sort of project:  the real aim is -- and has always been -- to make great comic books, and the greater purpose of an adaptation would be in its enabling the team to make new books with an even higher profile.

And Sean Phillips did reveal quite a bit about the team's upcoming schedule, including their current project.

  • For KOBK, "the end is in sight," with the book to conclude sometime this year.
  • The next project is a "romance comic" out by year's end: October was explicitly mentioned as a release date.  Work on this book will take place between his drawing issues of KOBK, and the result -- title to be announced -- will be a "one-off" 60-page hardcover, to see if the format sells in the U.S.
  • After that will come the first of two sequels to The Fade Out, with a few carry-over characters, a setting of television production in the 1950's, and a story that probably involves murder:  two sequels are currently planned, the length of this first sequel might only be six issues, but the team generally doesn't determine a book's length in advance.

Phillips praises the breadth and quality of the French comics scene and its industry's preference for well-made graphic novels, when trade paperbacks in the U.S. are frequently printed as cheaply as possible.  He says that he would prefer producing one or two hardcovers every year -- one with Ed Brubaker and one with Delcourt or another French publisher -- but he doesn't think the American readership is ready to change their buying and reading habits.

And, looking even further ahead, Phillips mentions that there are two sequels planned for The Fade Out and "more ideas" for Criminal, but we note that, in both its production schedule and its format, that "romance comic" sounds exactly like the Criminal novella that was mentioned last summer.

We wonder if the Criminal novella is a "romance" story of sorts, or if that story has supplanted the earlier plans for the next chapter in their longest-running series.

And we suspect that, either way, that novella revolves around World War I.

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