Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fatale: A Preview of the New Arc, and a Look Back at the First Arc.

It appears that this Wednesday, June 27th, sees the release of the first trade paperback for Fatale -- "Book One: Death Chases Me," collecting the first five-issue arc -- and the release of issue #6, kicking off the next arc, which is set primarily in the festering Los Angeles of the 1970's.

Comic Book Resources recently posted an exclusive five-page preview of Fatale #6.  It includes Sean Phillips' reworked cover art, and it focuses on the prologue and Nicolas Lash's present-day obsession over the mysterious Josephine.

To promote the release of the first trade collection, Brubaker and Phillips will each make a public appearance on their respective sides of the Atlantic.  Ed Brubaker will appear at Meltdown Comics on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, on Tuesday night, June 26th.  Sean Phillips will appear at Gosh! London on Saturday night, July 7th.  The trade paperbacks on sale at both events -- at Meltdown and Gosh! -- will feature a limited bookplate with new art by Phillips.

The bookplates appear to be identical except for the location's URL and the limited numbering, both at the bottom.  It appears that the Meltdown bookplate is limited to 100 copies and is available to those who pre-purchase the book, and the Gosh! bookplate is limited to 200 copies.

"Death Chases Me" was the subject of an essay by Abhay Khosla at The Savage Critics, and I think it's worth a read even though I don't agree with everything he says.

Khosla wonders whether the five reprints of the first issue reflects a deliberate attempt to generate buzz by underproducing, but that theory is completely undone by the interview Brubaker gave CBR last month.

Each issue of Sleeper sold around 13,000 copies, with a maximum of about 17,000.  Criminal stabalized at around 17,000.  The first printing of Incognito #1 was set at 25,000 and still sold out, but its sequel didn't maintain the high numbers.

So when we did "Fatale," I didn't know what to expect. We got in the orders, and they were higher than I expected them to be. Then [Image publisher Eric Stephenson] and I went back and forth trying to set a print run because I didn't want to get stuck with tons of copies, but I also didn't want to sell out. And we noticed between initial orders and the final order cutoff, the orders were going up by like 20%. So we did a pretty big overprint on the first issue, and that was sold out through Diamond before we got to the stands. There have been a ton of backorders, and I know there are still stores that ordered enough of #1 where they probably have the first printing on the shelves. But that book is selling for like $15 or $20 on eBay right now, so I know we've been selling out at some stores. My local store couldn't keep #1 in stock and still can't. That's really bizarre to me. I don't know if we were ready for success after 12 years of hard work.

Brubaker notes that subsequent printings are more costly, and he states, "We really, really tried to anticipate demand, but the demand was just so much higher than it'd ever been for what Sean and I do that it's overwhelming. I'm really glad it's happened that way, but I just wish we only had to do two printings."

The interview references a blog entry by Eric Stephenson about selling out and multiple printings, and it' worth a read if you haven't already seen it:  "Selling out – it's great PR, but ultimately, it's not exactly great business. It creates a roadblock between readers and the material they want to read, and between retailers and the books they want to sell. In short, it does more harm than good."

Khosla writes, "It’s a fuzzy comic: strong on mood but all of the details so far seem just off-panel."

The comment reminds me of a quality that Fatale shares with Incognito:  while Criminal is set in a naturalistic universe and the premise of Sleeper was explained in the very first issue, these other two major Brubaker-Phillips collaborations both present worlds where the rules aren't clear -- where the rules are another layer of the mystery and discovering the rules is part of the ride.  That demands an early commitment on the part of the reader, and I can see how some readers might be turned off by the demand.

And, this approach to storytelling probably requires a careful balance between revealing too much and revealing too little.  A tale that has both the narrative mysteries of noir AND the metaphysical mysteries of Lovecraftian horror might reman too obscure even by its conclusion, or its great revelations may be poorly received, showing too many of the machinations behind the world we take for granted.

Khosla wonders, "if the male characters’s agency is being controlled by magical forces rather than human weakness… isn’t human weakness let off the hook? And isn’t the audience thus let off the hook? How long can a noir story or a horror story sustain itself if it lets human weakness off the hook?"

Because of how much remains hidden, we actually cannot say whether human fraility is truly being undermined.  We may not be able to evaluate what the story says about humanity until after it's over, if even then. 

I will say that Josephine's supernatural power over men is, philosophically, much more hazzardous than Holden Carver's super-powered inability to feel pain.  Both are well conceived ways to externalize the more tragic tropes of their respective genres -- Fatale's noir and Sleeper's espionage -- but the latter is less problematic because it tortures the character rather than manipulates those around him.

Later in the comments, Khosla writes about Los Angeles' appeal as the setting for crime stories.

It’s a paradise. It’s beautiful all year, filled with money, beautiful people, different environments– beaches, mountain-y areas, suburbs, urban areas, whatever you want; and at the same time, there’s gangs, eons of police corruption, grotesques, freeway shootings, race riots, serial killers, Lakers-won-something riots, some bad juju. Paradise only goes so far. It’s an immigrant city– a 15 drive minute in any direction can take you to another world. It’s not just that it’s show business– show business means some people care about dreams or art or whatever, and other people are just on the hustle, and sometimes those are the same people. Also: show business means it’s a breeding ground for New Agers, weirdo beliefs, cults, porn, drugs, delusions; there was an LA Weekly article a year ago or so about a porn actor coked out of his mind running around with a goddamn samurai sword; it’d be too cold to do that in Chicago. It doesn’t feel as calcified as an East Coast city does to me– it’s more a city of Gatsbys; there’s more self-invention going on. It’s a city that doesn’t really work– Mike Davis wrote this beautiful book, City of Quartz that’s all about how that’s woven into the architecture and urban planning of the city, how it’s always just been this apocalyptic place.
David Brothers agrees.

LA’s paradise, but it’s also a site of massive social unrest, from the King riots to the Black Cat Tavern beatings to Watts. It’s also a hop, skip, and a jump from San Francisco, Oakland, and Vegas, which open up even more avenues without decreasing the LA influence, if that makes sense. They’re adjacent enough to LA to be part of the scenery when viewed briefly. A day trip. And LA is already wild diverse — Hollywood, black hoods, latino hoods, wherever it is that regular old white people live (Pasadena? I visit Pasadena a couple times a year, I think it’s probably Pasadena)… it’s rife, man. You won’t find a better setting. Also the name alone is ill: Los Angeles/The Angels/Lost Angels/(work) The Angles, it’s corny but it’s so goooooood.

Their two riffs on the City of Angels is a good primer to the next lurid "book" in Fatale, in stores this week.

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