Monday, April 20, 2020

FRIDAY and the Rest of 2020: New Podcast, Newsletter, Deluxe Editions, AND a Digital Book from Brubaker!

Early April saw the release of the latest Undertow Podcast, featuring our review of Criminal #12, the explosive finale of the sprawling "Cruel Summer" arc.  We hope our listeners enjoy the discussion even half as much as Robert and I did.

During the podcast, we raised some questions we had about Amazon listings for upcoming releases, and we happened to get some answers last week from an email newsletter sent out by Ed Brubaker.

That newsletter opened with bigger, MUCH more immediately pressing news, and we'll follow suit here, with the Criminal news at the end of the post.

Ed Brubaker's Brand New Comic FRIDAY

In the last few years, a handful of high-profile creators have released works suddenly, without any prior press or announcement.  Beyonce famously did this in December, 2013, with her self-titled "visual album," and U2 infamously did something similar the following September, "gifting" their album Songs of Innocence to a half billion iTunes customers.

With hardcopy comic books generally requiring solicitations and retailer pre-orders, such surprise releases are quite rare: the only example that comes to mind is Robert Kirkman's July, 2018, release of Die! Die! Die!

(Kirkman avoided the usual process by giving copies of the debut issue to retailers, matching the number of copies ordered for March's Oblivion Song #1. The writer followed up the surprise debut the very next July with the sudden end of The Walking Dead at issue #193).

Digital comics are an entirely different animal, and on April 15th, Ed Brubaker announced the immediate release of the first "chapter" (or issue) of FRIDAY, a new series with Spanish artist Marcos Martin.

Marcos Martin has spent more than twenty years in the industry, primarily for the Big Two publishers.  Martin and writer Brian K. Vaughan created Panel Syndicate to distribute "digital comics directly from creators to readers."  In 2013, the pair debuted the first title for the site,The Private Eye, with coloring by Muntsa Vicente.  The series won both an Eisner and a Harvey, and the site has since expanded to feature other series, other creators, and a one-shot for The Walking Dead.

Now, Martin and Vincente are joining writer Ed Brubaker to create FRIDAY.

In his newsletter, Brubaker relays that he's been working on this project for nearly a year: "Close readers will have noticed me mentioning a secret project with one of my favorite artists here and there, and this is it."

(We're not sure what's become of the "top secret" project with Steve Epting, post-Velvet, mentioned almost five years ago this month.)

Along with Ed's email newsletter, a few news sites announced the book Wednesday morning. The AV Club includes the same four-page preview found in the newsletter and at Panel Syndicate.  Meanwhile The Hollywood Reporter quotes Brubaker on how the series originated in a request from Martin to work on "his next big thing for Panel Syndicate," followed by Brubaker's immediate and enthusiastic response.

That same Wednesday, CBR published the official press release, the source of those quotes from the creators.  Martin elaborates that the pair previously collaborated for a Captain America annual (evidently the 65th Anniversary Special), a brief but satisfying experience.

The press release also gives us the title of this first chapter: "The Girl in the Trees."

CBR has since posted a few more articles on the new series.
  • Thursday, Aaron Fentress provides a spoilery look at the first chapter, suggesting that the series aims to deconstruct YA fiction much the way Watchmen deconstructed costumed superheroes, causing the characters to age and leave their comfort zone in a manner similar to the humorous Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Bros.
  • Friday, Sam Stone previewed an "upcoming exclusive interview" with Marcos Martin, explaining that the recent health crisis briefly delayed the series' release and simultaneously motivated its immediate publication: the quarantine "was a determining factor to put it out now instead of waiting around until later because we felt it would be good for the industry and most definitely, our mental health."
  • Saturday, Collier Jennings previewed an upcoming interview with Ed Brubaker, discussing the Young Adult genre and its strange but comforting trope of "kids just living this endless youth as the decades around them change."  In what the writer has coined "post-YA," Brubaker is "just taking those same types of teen heroes, and allowing them to grow up and exist in the real world around them, to allow the strange occult mysteries they investigate to become actual horror stories."
  • Sunday, Fentress drops even more spoilers to compare the series to True Detective, with both evidently having roots in the same kind of horror stories.
(Also, on Friday, CBR published Ed Brubaker's response to the rumor that Shang-Chi's parentage has been changed for the upcoming MCU release.)

Just today, CBR published the complete interview they previously teased, an exclusive, joint interview with Brubaker and Martin.  Brubaker traces the lineage of horror and occult stories in YA fiction and children's stories, and he elaborates that the pair's earlier collaboration was very brief indeed:  "He and Javier [Pulido? Rodriguez?] jumped in at the last minute when an artist blew a deadline on a Cap annual, and they saved us by alternating chapters."

The process for the new book has been much more deliberately paced, and Martin says that he especially enjoyed "the mixture of the Lovecraftian New Englandish town and the early 70s," the latter caused Muntsa Vicente to change her approach to coloring "with no use of gradients at all and limiting her palette to just 128 colors like the old comics of the late 70s."

The interview closes with Martin's hopes for Panel Syndicate, and we can't help but think Friday will help the site expand its readership.  Yesterday, Brubaker sent out a "quick note of thanks" for the overwhelming response to the book -- and he linked to two additional stories.
  • Calling the book a "gripping read" with special praise for the artwork, Volume 1 Brooklyn apparently conducted their own interview with the creators: Brubaker notes the freedom in page length which the digital format affords him, and Martin relayed the positive response to Panel Syndicate, even from retailers and publishers who can "make more sensible and informed decisions in regards to the product they wanted to print and put out physically.
  • Giving a rating of 10 out of 10, Comics Bookcase calls Friday "damn good," and "the best debut issue of any comic I’ve read this year."

The Bottom Line on FRIDAY

There's a lot to read about Brubaker's new series, but it may be useful to highlight the main points.

The Panel Syndicate page for the series provides an excellent summary of its premise (emphasis mine).
Friday Fitzhugh spent her childhood solving crimes and digging up occult secrets with her best friend Lancelot Jones, the smartest boy in the world. But that was the past, now she's in college, starting a new life on her own. Except when Friday comes home for the holidays, she's immediately pulled back into Lance's orbit and finds that something very strange and dangerous is happening in their little New England town...
This is literally the Christmas vacation from Hell and neither of them may survive to see the New Year.
What do we know about the comic's format and availability?
  • Chapter One, "The Girl in the Trees," is out now, in multiple formats -- "No DRM, no encryption, just plain files optimised for on-screen viewing" -- and is available in English and in Spanish.
  • In line with Panel Syndicate's publishing model, you PAY WHAT YOU WANT for the book, including the option of not paying at all: PayPal used for payment, and you do NOT need a PayPal account to complete the purchase.
  • This first issue is listed at 30 pages, with 26 pages of story and concluding with a two-page note from the writer.
  • Per Ed Brubaker, "The plan is to release the chapters digitally as we finish them, and then put out the whole graphic novel from IMAGE in a beautiful hardback edition (with lots of extras) for comic shops and bookstores."
We suspect that the title alludes to the 1995 comedy starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker the 1940 screwball comedy His Girl Friday.  Citing a book of essays on the director Howard Hawks, Wikipedia helpfully explains that the title is ironic "because a girl 'Friday' represents a servant of a master, but [ace reporter] Hildy [Johnson] is not a servant in the film, but rather the equal to Walter [Jones, editor and ex-husband]."

And this isn't the first time that Ed Brubaker has riffed on Encyclopedia Brown -- or YA fiction for that matter, if you count Archie Comics.  "The Last of the Innocent" introduced Britt Black, but since Lancelot Jones is different prodigy P.I., all grown up (or growing up), we might not be in the same world as Criminal, and we certainly can't be sure who might or might not make it to the story's conclusion.

CRIMINAL Collections, Coming Soonish

In that newsletter from last week, Ed Brubaker relays that the upcoming hardcopy books are "sitting in limbo" at the printer, both Pulp and the "oversized hardback of CRUEL SUMMER."

While we're waiting for Pulp, Brubaker has treated newsletter readers with a new but brief, three-panel preview of the story, but it's the "Cruel Summer" collection that intrigues us most.

So far as we know, that book has not yet been officially announced.

As we mentioned in the Undertow Podcast, James Joshua Hall reached out to us through Twitter to direct our attention to a few new listings on Amazon.

For posterity's sake, and in case the listings change, here's what we currently have:

Cruel Summer hardcover
expected July 21, 2020
list price $34.99
BRUBAKER and PHILLIPS' CRIMINAL epic, collected in a gorgeous hardback edition.
In the summer of '88, Teeg Lawless comes home to plan the biggest heist of his career. But Teeg's son Ricky and his friends are starting down the same dark path their fathers are on, and this is about to become the worst summer of their lives.
An epic tale of tragedy handed down from generation-to-generation, CRUEL SUMMER is a crime comic masterpiece from the most-celebrated noir masters in the industry, creators of CRIMINAL, FATALE, KILL OR BE KILLED and THE FADE OUT.
Collects CRIMINAL issues 1 and 5 - 12 in a beautiful new hardback edition, with additional behind the scenes material.

Criminal Volume 8: Three Sharp Knocks paperback
expected December 29, 2020
list price $16.99
The debut appearance of one of the most important characters in CRIMINAL history, RICKY LAWLESS, in three heartbreaking tales of crime and family.
Collects CRIMINAL (Image Comics) #1-4.
The June solicitations were (and still are) the most recent solicits for Image Comics, and the list of upcoming books did not include any advance solicitations for Criminal books, for July or later.

We found these two Amazon listings quite odd.

We're not sure why the "Cruel Summer" collection would include the untitled issue #1 but not "Orphans" from issue #4: both served as a kind of prologue to the "Cruel Summer" arc, explicitly looking forward (or backwards) to the violent death of Teeg Lawless.

We also can't quite understand why the next numbered TPB for Criminal would overlap with this "Cruel Summer" collection (with issue #1) and the "Bad Weekend" expanded hardcover (issues #2-3).

While we pondered those questions, JJH reached out again last Monday, pointing us to yet another new listing on Amazon, albeit one with "no image available":
Criminal Deluxe Edition, Volume 3 Hardcover
expected October 27, 2020
list price $49.99
BRUBAKER and PHILLIPS' hard-to-find CRIMINAL hardbacks are finally back in print, and joining them is the long-awaited CRIMINAL: DELUXE EDITION, VOL. 3.
This oversized deluxe hardback collects several short stories and novellas from the most award-winning team in the history of comics in a fantastically-designed book full of extras -- illustrations, selected articles, interviews, behind the scenes looks, painted covers... and much much more! Collects the SAVAGE SWORD OF CRIMINAL and DEADLY HANDS OF CRIMINAL magazines, the novellas MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES and BAD WEEKEND, and issues 1 and 4 of the newest run of the CRIMINAL monthly series, two full length short stories about the LAWLESS family.
A true collector's edition must-have for any fan of the best in crime comics.
Effectively, the book would appear to collect Volume 7 ("Wrong Time, Wrong Place"), Junkies, the forthcoming Volume 8, and presumably the ten new pages in the Bad Weekend hardcover.

(Would the book also include the extra material from the two magazine-sized variants for the "Savage Sword" and "Deadly Hands" one-shots?)

If we were compiling the next deluxe edition, we're not sure we would separate the stories in issues #1 and #4 from the "Cruel Summer" arc since, again, we find that they serve as excellent prologues to the sprawling death-of-Teeg story.

Presumably the "Cruel Summer" arc is too long for inclusion in the third deluxe volume, and since a return to the world of Criminal has already been promised, perhaps the story would kick off an eventual fourth deluxe edition.

In the meantime, Brubaker's newsletter has shed more light on the upcoming releases, even if there's still some uncertainty.

Ed writes about (quote) "our oversized hardback of CRUEL SUMMER" and we wonder if this larger size matches the deluxe editions rather than the slightly smaller hardcovers for Junkies and Bad Weekend.  If so, and if the Amazon listing is right that the book includes "additional behind the scenes material," this hardcover is EFFECTIVELY a thinner Deluxe Edition, Volume 4 -- or perhaps a Volume 3 1/2, a placeholder for the next few years.

(It may be a while. The oldest story expected in Volume 3, the Special Edition "Savage Sword" one-shot, was originally released in early 2015. It's taking more than five years for the story to find its way into a deluxe edition.)

And, Ed treats fans to Sean Phillps' brand-new wraparound cover art for Criminal: The Deluxe Edition Volume 2, shown above.  It's gorgeous, a montage combining elements from the volume's three story arcs.

He confirms that these new editions are scheduled for the fall, and he confirms Volume 3: "We've got new designs [emphasis mine] and covers for the first two books (out of print for nearly a decade now) and a new third volume to join them, finally."

So, two out of the three Amazon listings have been partially confirmed by Ed Brubaker to one degree or another, with the 8th TPB "Three Sharp Knocks" not yet addressed.

We can't wait to open up the new deluxe editions and see what's changed.

In the meantime, we'll keep an eye out for any new information on these collected editions, and we'll pass them along as quickly as our hectic lives allow.

UPDATE, 4/23:   On Twitter, Sean Phillips kindly answered the lingering questions we raised here.

First, he tackled the mysterious Amazon listings:
That paperback listing is incorrect, we don’t have another Criminal trade planned. Cruel Summer is out first followed by the three Deluxe Editions, all over-sized hardcovers.
Then, he answered my follow-up question about the relative sizes of the upcoming hardcovers:
Cruel Summer is the same size as the Deluxe Editions
That does make the "Cruel Summer" hardcover a kind of Volume 3 1/2.

So, in summary, Brubaker and Phillips will release four oversized hardcovers in the remainder of 2020.
  • Criminal: The Deluxe Edition Volume 1, 2nd edition
    • Includes a new design AND a new cover
    • Collects Criminal (2006) #1-10 & Criminal (2008) #1-3
      • "Coward" 
      • "Lawless" 
      • "The Dead and the Dying"
    • Likely still includes the short story "No One Rides for Free"
  • Criminal: The Deluxe Edition Volume 2, 2nd edition
    • Includes a new design AND a new cover
    • Collects Criminal (2008) #4-7 and two mini-series 
      • "Bad Night" 
      • "The Sinners" 
      • "The Last of the Innocent"
    • Likely still includes the short story "21st Century Noir"
  • Criminal: The Deluxe Edition Volume 3
    • Brand new collection 
    • Likely collects two one-shot issues, one OGN, and Criminal (2018) #1-4
      • "Wrong Time, Wrong Place" (Special Edition & 10th Anniversary Special)
      • "My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies"
      • Untitled Teeg & Ricky story, set in 1987
      • "Bad Weekend"
      • "Orphans"
    • Not clear how much will be included from the one-shot magazine variants and the expanded OGN HC edition of "Bad Weekend," which included ten extra pages
  • Criminal: Cruel Summer
    • Brand new collection
    • Collects Criminal (2018) #5-12
    • Might also collect at least one of the related prologue issues, #1 & #4
All four hardcovers will be the same size, comprising a complete library of the first 18+ years of the Criminal comic book.  The "Cruel Summer" hardcover will come first (possibly late July), followed by the three deluxe collections perhaps around October.

And all this is in addition to the brand-new collaboration Pulp, a hardcover, original graphic novel originally scheduled for May 20th.

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