One of the perks of working with Robot 6 is often getting to see a glimpse at a new project before it is available for purchase. This past week (thanks to the project's colorist, Rico Renzi) I was able to read the first issue of Loose Ends, a four-issue southern crime romance miniseries by writer Jason Latour and artist Chris Brunner, which goes on sale this Wednesday, July 13. As a native of the South, it is not often I get to read comics set there--so the comics caught my attention purely on that level at first. But then, when I started reading the issue, I realized it reminded me on some level of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal. That's not to say Latour and company have done a wannabe story, far from it, as the creators have their own distinctive voices/styles, that mesh quite well. If the remaining three issues are as strong as this first one, I expect it will land on a few best of 2011 lists (at least mine, for sure). Latour and I discuss the first issue and other aspects of the series in this email interview. If you want a preview of the miniseries, be sure to enjoy the one CBR posted a couple of months back.
Tim O'Shea: The opening page of the first issue is all art, no narrative boxes or dialogue. Was the script always that way, or was that a creative choice you made after seeing Chris Brunner's art for that page?
Jason Latour: Well as an artist myself I’ve worked on a few stories where I was dying to stretch a moment or let something play out visually and it just wasn’t possible. So from the start there was always an allowance for some organic growth in this script. The simplest reason for that is because I trust Chris. We’re collaborating. His point of view is equally important as mine is. If I’m doing my job then I’m inspiring him, not fencing him in. The medium itself, the page limit already does that. I tried to give him a script that communicated the tone, the pace and specific details needed to tell the story within that space. From there it’s on us as a team to communicate. If he has an idea, I listen. If he nails a scene and I’m in the way... I try to move. If he needs me to pick him up, hopefully I’m ready and able.
I think that’s the basic approach that informs choices like that first page. It was just the right choice. One we made as a team, Coach. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.
O'Shea: What is it that prompted you to want to tell a Southern Crime Romance in the first place? Had you grown tired of waiting for Ed Brubaker to focus on the south in Criminal? I partially kid, but would I be right in thinking that you admire the collaborative work of Brubaker and Sean Phillips?
Latour: I do very much admire their work. Books like Criminal, 100 Bullets, Scalped and Stray Bullets re-opened the doors to this genre. But the inspiration for it came from a lot of places. I can’t really write a story that doesn’t have a lot of me in it in some for or another. I’d long been a fan of crime fiction and I just happen to be from the South and happen to make comics. So hence... Southern Crime Romance, ladies.
But yes, The South is sort of underused to some degree in crime fiction. Stories set here tend to seem very much about places removed from time, or separate from a larger society. Hill people and such. Which is fine, but in some ways the hope here is that our comic reveals itself to be more universal than just a story with twang in it’s voice. People often think of crime as something exclusive to big cities. But it’s so much more pervasive. Our big set pieces are rural North Carolina, Atlanta, Miami and Iraq. We cover a big world full of common threads.
O'Shea: I loved that the need for a payphone was a major catalyst at the start of the story. Did you initially consider the character using a cell phone and then realized a payphone was the better way to go?
Latour: It actually was always a pay phone. It just seemed visually compelling and as things evolved it turned out to be integral to his character and the story. Sonny’s a guy who is very disconnected. He’s not the kind of guy who checks in on his Facebook page. He’s not the Mayor of a Pinkberry.
O'Shea: A few weeks back when I interviewed Rus Wooton, he expressed admiration for your lettering on this project. I tend to agree and would love to hear how you arrived upon your lettering approach. Also, could you talk about why some of the dialogue was placed in traditional word balloons, while others were left to pop off the page in the art (an element I love)?
Latour: Ah, well I’m really flattered you guys noticed. If I could I’d letter everything I do. As a writer, I’m very hard on my own dialogue. So forcing myself to hand letter the words I so “easily” typed into a word document gives me cause to really re-consider what words are necessary. I find it helpful to see how the words relate to the actual art. I tend to believe you can play off of it and sort of imply meanings or at least influence how writing is processed by the way it’s written. That’s why some balloons are missing, some are exaggerated, on and on. It’s basically just drawing.
Chris also has a good amount of say in the final look. After all he’s the one who’s designed the pages.
O'Shea: Were the light blue tones that dominate the flashback scenes at your or Chris Brunner's suggestion, or was that suggested by colorist Rico Renzi?
Latour: That was completely Chris and Rico. I think I wrote something to the effect of “lets separate this visually somehow” . They more than figured that one out. So well in fact that it quickly became a big part of the larger story.
O'Shea: How early in the development process did you realize that Brunner was the perfect artist for this story?
Latour: He was always the guy. This is not a story I’m capable of drawing. He’s in its DNA. I can’t say enough about his work. His instincts, his artistic intelligence, they’re off the charts. Together he and Rico have an amazing capacity for creating these sugary pop art visuals that still have a tooth to them. To my mind that balance is at the core of this story. It helps delineate our territory. Yes it is a dirty gritty crime story, but it is also a comic book. We wanted to take full advantage of that.
O'Shea: In the middle of the first issue, Brunner has Sonny sporting a Police (the band) Ghost in the Machine t-shirt and at one point as he gets more drunk the digital red LED of the shirt changes (or I assume changes in his increasingly drunk perspective). Did Brunner have to sell you on doing that, or were you onboard from the start. And are we supposed to read any subtext from the fact that Sonny is wearing a POLICE shirt?
Latour: Little flourishes like that really underscore just how much Chris brings to the table.
There were a few times he did have to sell me, but generally I’m all for that stuff. I feel that visually interesting, story related moves like that encourage the reader to read visually. It’s criminally reductive to think that story is just words.
It also fleshes out our world. Chris is originally from New York but he’s down here [in the South] now, and it’s really key to the story’s point of view that when he looks around he sees things like Police T-Shirts. It’s not just Lynyrd Skynyrd.
O'Shea: Is the story partially set in Atlanta (sorry, as a native of the city, The Vortex kind of caught my attention)?
Latour: It is. So we wanted a really recognizable Atlanta landmark. Chris suggested the Vortex and I thought that was perfect. I love that place. I love cheeseburgers. I love to eat. I’m hungry.
O'Shea: If response to the miniseries is strong enough, would you like to do more stories with Sonny, or is Sonny's story told at the end of the four issues?
Latour: This is very much a one and done kind of story. We tried very, very hard to make each chapter work on it’s own as a single issue but in the end it’s more or less a serialized graphic novel. As for what that means for Sonny and the cast? We’ve discussed some possible future routes, some ways to spin out of it. But those would be more along the lines of how Elmore Leonard or James Ellroy create whole worlds that are interconnected but not always directly so.