The rumors circling the web turned out to be true. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are bringing their award-winning crime stylings to Image Comics in January 2012 with an all-new longform series called “Fatale.”
Word hit at Image Comics’ “Creator-Owned Comics with Robert Kirkman” panel at New York Comic Con where a Brubaker-made video trailer was aired. The writer also spoke first with CBR News about the book, which matches the style he and Phillips built on series including “Criminal” and “Incognito” to a much darker kind of supernatural fictional world.
“I’ve been wanting for a while to do something with a more supernatural element to it,” Brubaker told CBR News. “So ‘Fatale’ mixes what we do and all the ways we’ve poked fun at the noir genre. If ‘Incognito’ was us doing ‘What if Doc Savage, Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler had all existed in the same universe?’ then this is a weird combo of James M. Cain and Lovecraft. It’s got a real horror element to it — the first time I’ve really tried to do anything with horror — but it’s also got this really epic story to it.
“In a weird way, this is a lot of what we’ve been building towards. It gets to the heart of the idea of the femme fatale as an archetype. The story involves all these characters that spin around a woman who may or may not be the living incarnation of the femme fatale. Parts of the story are told from her point of view. One of the things I thought would be interesting was to do a story about somebody who has this curse. The femme fatale is always such a plot device in stories more than a character. I wanted to make a sympathetic character out of that archetype, and then there’s a whole story that grew around it about a guy in modern times who finds an ancient secret and gets hunted by people for it. I wouldn’t say it’s like a Vertigo comic because this is Sean and I doing our thing, but in a lot of ways I looked at what Neil Gaiman did successfully or what Stephen King does successfully and tried to see if we could take what Sean and I do successfully and marry pieces of that kind of world to it. There’s an otherness to the series.”
The series will launch with a set of “Beauty And The Beast” covers which reveal the eponymous femme fatale and the darker monster side of the comic. Both covers will be available for retailers to order in equal numbers with the split-cover aspect continuing for at least a year’s worth of single issues. And for a project this big, unsurprisingly, the seeds of “Fatale” were planted long ago. “I’ve been picking away for almost ten years at an idea that plays with horror,” Brubaker said. “This is something that started out as a pitch years ago for the thing we were going to do after ‘Sleeper.’ I just liked certain elements of it so much that I kept coming back to it, and while most of what that story was isn’t in ‘Fatale,’ there are a couple of parts that kept sticking in my head.”
The series will draw on a number of influences, though the writer isn’t quite the devotee of horror the way he has been of crime fiction. “I was partly influenced by how much I loved reading Joe Hill’s novels. I’d never been a real horror reader except reading Lovecraft in high school. I’m not a guy who watches slasher movies or anything, but I love Hellboy and Guillermo del Toro movies. I wanted to find a way to do a horror thing that still feels like everything Sean and I do. I also wanted to do something really ambitious. It’s a 12-issue story at this point, and it might get bigger. It’s told in chapters with different narrators and jumps around in time a lot. It starts in modern times and then goes back to the ’30s, the ’50s and the ’70s depending on who’s telling the story. It’s got monsters in it and it’s got this weird death cult, and — well, it’s super fucked up.
“The one thing that survived from the original pitch was a scene of this mobster in the ’30s questioning this guy, and then when you finally see the mobster’s face, he’s got a horrifying tentacle beast face. That was the thing that jumped out at me: the idea of blending those two worlds. That was eight or nine years ago when I wrote that into a pitch for Scott Dunbier. That was the part that really stuck with me, and all these real spooky images from different eras of crime fiction with a slightly horrific, supernatural feel and a mythic overtone.”
Although, readers who have followed the creative duo from their earliest Vertigo work or on to their recent run of acclaimed series for Marvel’s Icon imprint can look for similar elements to their previous work in this new genre. “It’s pretty much the weirdest thing I’ve ever written, but if feels like everything we’ve done. Fans of ours will recognize it instantly as one of our books,” he said. “I’ve been trying to take the creepy stuff I love for a long time and find a way to do where it still felt like me. And Sean started out drawing ‘Hellblazer’ so this is old news for him.”
Brubaker’s working relationship with Phillips is a continually evolving one even as the pair stick with certain storytelling style and modes in each new project. “I never want to stop doing ‘Criminal.’ Sean and I will always be working on that book. But I like to stretch what we do. That was what was so much fun about ‘Incognito’ — it was different than ‘Criminal’ while it felt like it was being done by the same guys. I like the fact that Sean and I have become this known quantity. Our sales on ‘Criminal’ have been good, but we’ve got to keep pushing ourselves to try new things, or the creative relationship won’t have the same flow. Right now we challenge each other. I never tell Sean what anything is going to be about. I just send him pages, and he’s essentially my first reader. And whenever we aren’t working together — we haven’t in about two months as he’s been working on this European graphic novel — I send him pages, and he says it’s weird because not working together feels strange.
“Sean and my wife are the longest relationships I’ve had in my life,” the writer laughed. “I realized that the first script I wrote for Sean with ‘Gotham Noir’ I wrote the month I started dating my wife. And what’s weird is that ‘Gotham Noir’ was colored by Dave Stewart who’s now our colorist. We’ve come full circle, and it’s really strange to have worked out that way.”
Most importantly, that long collaboration means readers have been willing to follow the pair’s experimentation. “We’ve build up enough of an audience that we can do different things, and our audience follows us,” Brubaker explained. “I want to make sure that people who like what we do always get something out of it. And after the last volume of ‘Criminal’ that we did, I couldn’t go right back into that series. ‘Last of The Innocents’ was one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, and if I was to follow that up with just some prison break story…well, I just need to see something else in between and then come back for another ‘Criminal’ arc. You need a palate cleanser. Of course, my palate cleanser is the longest thing we’ve done since ‘Sleeper.'”
Obviously, shifting to Image is a new step for creators who have done the majority of their work at Marvel Comics in recent years, but Brubaker said the match of “Fatale” with the creator-owned powerhouse is no sign that they’re done with the House of Ideas. “I’ve been promising [Publisher] Eric [Stephenson] and [Robert] Kirkman that I’d do a project at Image for years,” he said. “Really, it was one of those things where I love my relationship with Marvel, and I’ll do more books at Icon for sure, but I felt it was time to fulfill that promise so I could get them to stop calling me all the time. A lot of friends of mine seem to be having good success over there. It’s a good time to be at Image, and really, Kirkman has promised me that he’ll give me advanced looks at the new episodes of ‘Walking Dead’ if I do a book there.”
Ultimately, Brubaker hopes “Fatale” will present the next phase of his and Phillips’ continually expanding body of work and their growth in popularity as a creative brand. “Really, we also wanted to do something that was mainstream in a way because of the supernatural elements. I love ghost stories and things that are legitimately scary. Anything with the devil in it, I’ll watch. I’m not into slasher movies, but I’ll watch the original ‘Omen’ any day of the week. So this is great for us because every time we finish a ‘Criminal’ we get really excited to try something different, and then when we’ve done that, we’re ready to jump right back into ‘Criminal.’ And it’s great that our fanbase supports us in that. A lot of other people can experiment around and stretch. This allows me to grow as a writer, which I really appreciate.”
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on New York Comic Con 2011 and all the news from Image Comics.