Brubaker On Lovecraft, "Criminal" and his Femme "Fatale"

Last week saw the latest step in the evolution of comic book writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips' long-time collaboration with the release of "Fatale," the duo's latest endeavor from Image Comics (and winner of CBR's first Cover of the Week award). While many fans are familiar with Brubaker and Phillips' crime comics -- "Criminal" and the super villain-inspired "Sleeper" and "Incognito" -- "Fatale" gives readers a twist on the usual Brubaker/Phillips formula, adding elements of horror, H.P. Lovecraft and demon mobsters to the mix.

"I had been wanting to do a suspense or horror thing for a long time -- I just couldn't figure out a way to make it feel like me," Brubaker said, who spoke with CBR during his "Fatale" book signing at the House Of Secrets comic book shop in Burbank California. Explaining that he wanted to examine the concept of "immortality," Brubaker told CBR his initial attempts at writing about this theme were radically different from "Fatale," and equally unsatisfying, both for himself and Phillips.

"It ended up too much like me trying to be like Neil Gaiman or something, so we put it aside and we came up with the idea to do 'Criminal' instead," Brubaker said. However, the writer could not let go of the idea of immortality, or of writing a horror/crime mash-up.

"At some point in the last few year,s I realized if I did this weird mix of James M. Cain and H.P. Lovecraft, that's more my voice. So, that was where the idea sprang from," Brubaker said.

"Fatale's" inaugural issue, which quickly sold through it's first printing, begins with the story of Nicolas Lash, the grandson of hackneyed crime writer Dominic H. Raines. Lash finds himself swept up in the affairs of a beautiful and mysterious woman named Jo, the granddaughter of a woman once involved with Lash's grandfather. However, after fleeing from mobsters, demonic creatures and a smattering of explosions, car chases and flashbacks, both Lash and the reader begin to realize Jo is not all what she seems.

"That's one of the mysteries of this woman -- who is she? Is she immortal or is she the daughter of the woman from before? The tagline for our ad is 'Fatale: Every Blessing Is A Curse,' and that's what it is. This power you can have over people ultimately becomes this curse," Brubaker said.

Pointing to Jo as the center of his story, Brubaker explained that along with the concept of immortality, he wanted to explore the noir trope of a femme fatale in a way that hadn't been done before.

"I read an interview with one of my favorite crime writers, Christa Faust, and she was saying that the femme fatale is just used as a plot device -- she's never a fully-developed character. I really wanted to do something that sort of did that, where she was a fully-fleshed character who you actually root for. Normally you don't root for the femme fatale -- she's the bad guy," Brubaker said. "I wanted to make her the sympathetic lead, to some degree."

Brubaker confessed that while he read a lot of Lovecraft in high school, the horror that is influencing the writing of "Fatale" was not Cthulu stories, but what he termed "devil horror."

"Like the original 'Exorcist' or 'The Omen' -- I prefer weird horror where it's our world, but it's one step off," Brubaker said. "Some of it is -- living in San Francisco, there's Satanists, and growing up in Southern California and reading about the Manson family as a kid and stuff like that. That was all influential."

To that end, Brubaker stated that the ideas behind Lovecraft's stories, more so than the stories themselves, are what drew him to the mythology for "Fatale."

"I like Lovecraft a lot more in theory than in reality in some ways. There's no dialogue in [his stories]. It's rough going, as a modern reader. But what I like is, he created this mythology, and he made the stuff that you're not seeing the stuff that's the scariest. The idea of Cthulu arriving is what drives people crazy, and I love that."

Chuckling, the writer continued, "I was at lunch with Robert Kirkman yesterday, and I jokingly said that Lovecraft was the new Zombies. It seems like everybody is doing some sort of Lovecraftian thing in comics right now -- everybody did zombies a few years ago, and "Walking Dead" is the only one that sold!"

Comparing "Fatale" not just to Lovecraft but also to the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and "epic romances," Brubaker believes the story is outside anything he and Phillips have attempted in the past.

"Structurally, it plays with time a lot. There's a lot of narrative structure stuff that's coming in upcoming issues that's a lot different than anything we've done before," Brubaker said. "We're playing around so much with structure, there's a lot of stories within stories."

"Fatale" is not the only departure from the norm for Brubaker as he recently announced a deal with Hunting Lane Films to adapt the first story of his and Phillips' "Criminal" comic book series, "Coward," into a movie. Though still in the contract phase with producers and director David Slade, Brubaker said he's already working on the script, opting to adapt his comic's story into a screenplay himself.

"I already wrote the story once, so I'm not attached to any part of it. I'm working with people who I trust, who like the original material, so in some ways, parts of it are easy because everyone's like, 'That scene is perfect, let's just adapt that scene,'" Brubaker said. Despite this, the writer warns fans to be prepared to see some departures from the source material.

"There's a couple things we're doing that weren't in the book, and there's some things in the book we took out. Conveniently, it's my world and my characters, so I'm comfortable moving things around."

Calling the screenplay format "freeing" after working in comic books for so long, Brubaker joked that the most liberating aspect is being able to write lengthy dialogue without having to take a letterer into consideration.

"There's a freedom in screenwriting that's different from comics in that, you don't have to isolate each moment, you don't have to worry about how long the dialogue is, because you don't have to letter it. I mean, if [Quentin] Tarantino wrote a comic, the word balloons would make [Brian] Bendis' word balloons look like they weren't a lot!"

Saying the "Coward" movie is on the "fast-track," Brubaker remains cautiously optimistic about his chances to adapt the rest of the "Criminal" stories into movies, noting that 20th Century Fox optioned "Incognito" in 2010.

"We've had a lot of interest in these over the years, but I've always been attached to write the screenplay, and that makes it harder to sell. You have to have someone who not only wants to work on the original source material, but work with me," Brubaker said. "We've had a lot of interest in the other books, but we're just waiting to see how this one goes, first."

Bringing the discussion back to "Fatale," Brubaker acknowledged that while things could change, he does have a definite end point for the story in mind and sees the series lasting about fifteen issues.

"It's like a novel, basically, sort of like three interlinking novels, and each arc is about five issues," Brubaker said. "My favorite comics are ones that have an end. I'm always going back and re-reading 'V For Vendetta' and 'Watchmen' and 'From Hell' and 'Y: The Last Man.'"

Pausing, Brubaker grinned and amended his list. "'Y' is such a bigger idea than I think I would ever have. I'd never have something that lasted that many books. There's a reason why every 'Criminal' book is five issues and the next book stars a different dude!" the writer said with a laugh. "['Fatale'] is one of the biggest stories I've wanted to tell."

"Fatale" #1 is in stores now; issue #2 drops February 1

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