Brisson Goes Off the Grid in Image Comics' "Sheltered"

When the children of a fringe group of survivalists are convinced that the end is much nearer than even their parents believe, they take out the adults in one swift, murderous rampage that leaves them in charge of their compound, Safe Haven. Under the authority of Lucas, a conniving and influential teen, the group prepares for a move below ground to avoid the fallout of an impending natural disaster -- at least, impending according to Lucas. Only Victoria, a headstrong, capable skeptic who refuses to buy into the paranoid prepper lifestyle, manages to escape and seek help. But dissent sets in amongst the group as more and more of Lucas' plan reveals itself, calling his motives into question and challenging the leadership structure the teens have established. With Victoria missing and a small group of outsiders stumbling into the compound, conflicting ideas about right and wrong further divide the group, making it clear that even though they're "Sheltered," no one is safe.

Writer Ed Brisson and artist Johnnie Christmas' ongoing series from Image Comics enters its tense second arc with an absentee heroine, crazed teenagers armed with automatic weapons and an innocent outsider fleeing for his life in the woods -- and this is all before issue #7 even hits stores! Brisson joined CBR News to perform a plot autopsy on the first 6 issues, breaking down the characters remaining in Safe Haven and what readers can look forward to in the upcoming issues -- including some exciting speculations about the "Sheltered" film adaptation!

CBR News: There was plenty of mayhem in the conclusion of the first arc of "Sheltered" -- what is the current population of Safe Haven? I tried to count and I think it's around 18-20?

Good question! Johnnie and I had to sit down and hash this out a few issues in. We realized that we'd had all the main players, but sometimes I'd just write, "kids in the background" and we'd have new kids.

We finally did a census poll and the population of Safe Have currently sits at 20.

Brisson & Christmas Hide from the Apocalypse in "Sheltered"

Are there any other characters living in Safe Haven that we haven't met yet?

I think that we've met most of the characters who are going to have any sort of effect on the story. Some that we've only met briefly are going to have larger roles moving forward. Well, not so much "larger roles" as their moment; a spotlight briefly thrown on them. You'll see a bit of that in #7 and then again in #8 for sure.
It seems like the kids are breaking off into smaller groups -- who are allies at this point?

Well, clearly Victoria and Hailey are on one side, and Lucas, Joey and crew are on the other. Mitch and Tab are pretty much aligned with Victoria and Hailey at this point, and there will be continued fracturing in upcoming issues as the others are forced to question what it is that they're doing and why they're following Lucas. Even though we're eventually going to split into two sides, these two sides won't always see eye to eye internally.

At this point Lucas' plan is clearly starting to erode. Was he prepared for a mutiny, or did he think they'd all be below ground by now?

They all think that they would have been underground by now and he's worried that he's losing control. A lot of the things he's done lately -- or even since the beginning -- has really been about maintaining control and creating an atmosphere of us vs. them. Us being Lucas and his supporters and them being both the outside world and Victoria and Hailey.

We're seeing Lucas manipulate the other kids, even going so far as to dictate who they can and can't have relationships with, and then asking them to police one another. Is he trying to create bitterness and peer animosity, or is he just cruel?

I'll just say that not everything is as it may initially appear. Lucas sometimes has his own agenda in mind. That scene [with Justin and Nancy in #5] plants a seed for things to come.

Let's talk about some of the emerging heroes. When you're writing this, what kind of characteristics come to mind that would keep someone alive in this sort of environment?

Well, it's tough. Aside from Victoria and Hailey, we can assume that EVERYONE else had a hand in killing his or her parents. So, how do you turn someone who did something so horrific into a hero? How do you convince these people that maybe Lucas is wrong? Because if Lucas is wrong, then you killed someone -- not just someone, but your mother, your father -- for nothing. Admitting that he's wrong is akin to admitting this terrible, terrible thing about you, and I imagine that those kids would look past a lot if it meant hanging onto the belief that they did what they did because they had to. So, for them to stay alive, they have to maintain a blind faith in what they're doing, despite conflicting evidence.

With Victoria, it's not so much a choice as it is something that's been thrust on her. She has to adapt in order to survive. Now she has to convince others that Lucas is wrong, which, as just mentioned, is problematic.

Returning to an established good guy, we haven't heard from Victoria in a bit. Is she coming back?

Yeah, and very soon. We hadn't intended to shift the focus from her as much as we had in the last few issues. But we also wanted to build up this idea of who the kids of Safe Haven believe that she is. Wanted to build her myth, which will put further obstacles in her path.

Moving forward, she very much drives much of the story.

What drives her, though? Through most of the first arc, we see her taking control and exercising her strong convictions, when in the first issue she just wanted to get away from Safe Haven. How does she stay so sharp?

Basically, I feel like she's in a nightmare. She's in this place that she never wanted to be. Her father brought her there (that is something that will also be further explored in an upcoming issue - the how and why) and now he's dead and she's completely trapped. She's never bought into the prepper culture, but is completely surrounded by those who buy into it wholesale. She's at odds with these people and is in many ways alone (aside from Hailey, of course).

It's really her anger that's keeping her sharp at this point. She and Hailey hid out only because of Hailey's twisted ankle. They couldn't leave. But, now that things are escalating, she's not going to sit around anymore.

Have you seen "You're Next?" It came out last year and had an amazing female lead that reminds me a lot of Victoria. If you haven't seen it I don't want to spoil it for you, but I was curious...

Not yet. It's one of those films that I want to watch, but based on the trailer, my wife is completely skeeved out by it and doesn't want to see it. So, I'll have to find a night when I'm up late and don't have a deadline looming and sit down to watch. Now that you've said that, I'm even more curious.

The trailer reminds me a bit of "The Strangers," which I enjoyed. Those films -- houses in the country besieged by killers -- tend to really do a number on me. I've suffered from insomnia since I was 15 and one of the initial contributing factors was a film called "Murder One," which I watched alone one night right after moving to Kelowna. The landscape in that film looked a lot like the city we'd moved to. I was so terrified that I couldn't sleep.

With Victoria's exit, we saw some outsiders come into Safe Haven. They didn't fare so well, but one of them has made his escape. Will Cliff be a part of this arc?

Yep. Cliff is on the run and a large part of this arc is watching him trying to escape and trying to get back to his wife and kids. There's a moment in issue #7 where the full weight of what's happening dawns on him and it's a hard moment for him.

I think that having his perspective this arc is important. Not only this outside view looking at what Safe Haven has devolved into, but also just seeing how the kids react when the outside world starts to encroach on their community.

When you and Johnnie were conceptualizing "Sheltered," did you visit any preppers or do any kind of field research?

I interviewed a few through e-mail and was supposed to go out and spend a few nights in a bunker. However, the bunker trip fell apart due to circumstances beyond my control, which is too bad as I was really looking forward to it.

Thankfully, there are a lot of prepper blogs and podcasts and I've spent a lot of time reading/listening to them.

Stories set in dystopian or apocalyptic worlds have been huge in films and books for the past couple of years, and your book is pre-apocalyptic, which makes for a really nice shift. What do you think the appeal for these kinds of stories is?

We're constantly surrounded by messages/warnings about how everything that we do is destroying the planet, so I think that there is a natural curiosity for what that would look like. There was a lot of Mayan Calendar nonsense leading up to 2012 that probably helped to put the idea of the end on a lot of people's minds as well.

For me, I've always been a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, be it comics, movies, whatever. I grew up as a kid in the '80s where there were so many of those films available. Initially, I had been thinking about doing a post-apocalyptic story and was researching it when the idea for a story about preppers presented itself. It just seemed to me to be an area that hadn't really been explored and had a lot of potential.

Image's "Pre-Apocalyptic" Thriller "Sheltered" Heads to Big Screen

Can you tell me about "Sheltered" being optioned for a movie? In an ideal world, whom would you cast in some of the main roles?

Sure! Johnnie and I were approached by Jesse Peyronel (the writer/director of the "Sheltered" adaptation) at SDCC last year. "Sheltered" had only been out for a week at that point, so we didn't really think about it too much. He seemed like a nice guy and I managed to put him in touch with my agent who also happened to be at the show. From there, it was pretty straightforward, we had a few talks about the book and where it was going and then, here we are today, a "Sheltered" movie in development. I'm pretty excited to see where it'll go.

Not sure who I'd see in the Victoria role, to be honest. Before this very moment, I hadn't even thought about casting. Maybe Emma Watson? I can see her kicking ass.

When you and Johnnie were creating it, did you ever speculate about film potential?

No. It never crossed our mind. When we were putting it together, we weren't even sure it'd get picked up as a comic.

I can't imagine starting a project and thinking about film potential. I mean, it's great that Hollywood is interested, but I'm really just interested in working on comics and telling stories that I want to tell. I don't have any interest in producing a proof-of-concept comic, something clearly meant for film. That always bums me out when I see it. That thought process and approach to comic making, places comics in a lesser role in story telling. Like comics are somehow the minor league farm teams for the big league film industry.

And, don't get me wrong -- I love film. Like, capital L-O-V-E. We're thrilled that someone is going to be adapting "Sheltered." It's just that I hate when comics are treated like a back door into the industry and feel sad when someone is putting together a project and talks film potential right from the start. "Sheltered" was never that.

What portions of your story do you hope carry over into the screenplay?

I'm not sure. Ideally, I'd like for it to stick close to the comic, but understand that the comic and film will be two separate things. Which is good. "Sin City" stuck so closely to the comic that it was embarrassing to watch. Each medium has its strengths and weaknesses, and storytellers should play to each.

Johnnie and I are not sweating it. I'd like to hope that the film won't shy away from some of the more brutal elements in the comic and, from what I know so far, they're not -- although I am curious to see if the dog scene makes it or not.

Speaking of dogs, I noticed that Cliff has a dog in issue #6. Please tell me this one gets to live?

You'll have to talk to Johnnie about that one...

"Sheltered" #7 is available 2/26. Here's hoping the dog makes it this time.

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