Friday, January 04, 2019

Criminal #1 Ten-Page Preview, an Undertow Podcast, and More for the New Year!

We anticipate being much more active in the new year -- more blogging, meaning more frequent posts with more prompt news updates -- as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips return to monthly comics with a new volume of our favorite series, Criminal.  The first issue is less than a week away, and we begin 2019 with a quick look back at the end of 2018.

• October Interviews for Junkies. Three print interviews with writer Ed Brubaker were published in a single month.  Released to coincide with the October 10th release of My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, the online articles also provide a substantial "fix" for those more obsessive fans of the writer and his work.
There's much more from these interviews than we'll summarize here -- some of which Robert and I discussed in the podcast (see below) -- but we found the biographical insights especially interesting. 

Brubaker's father was a commander in naval intelligence, and his mother and stepfather were therapists.  From age 4 to age 7, Brubaker lived at Guantanamo, where his father got his sons reading with a large box of used comics.  His parents got divorced, and from age 8 to age 12, he accompanied his mother to her Sunday-morning AA meetings.  He subsequently became a trouble-maker -- "scraping by" in his early 20's, socializing with "really bad crowds" and committing "small-time crime" -- until his life got out of hand and the young artist almost ended up in prison.

We can see the effect on Brubaker's writing, not just in the generally sympathetic approach to desperate and reckless criminals, but also in the details of stories -- from the setting for "An Accidental Death," one of his earliest works; through the protagonist of "Lawless;" to the focus of this most recent work, the Criminal novella Junkies.

• Phillips Sketchbook of Movie Stars. On November 8th, Sean Phillips announcednew item exclusive to his Big Cartel store.  My Heroes Have Always Been Movie Stars is a 32-page, US comics-size collection of some of the illustrations he has created to accompany the film essays featured in the back of Brubaker and Phillips' monthly issues. 

The artist explicitly writes that these works originally appeared "in the Criminal comics [made] with Ed Brubaker," but we wonder if some of the art was for Incognito, Fatale, or other titles.  It's a question that might only be answered with a copy of this sketchbook and a complete list of these bonus-feature essays.

The book is priced at £20, in a signed and numbered limited edition of 300 copies.  It appears that copies are still available, but there's no telling how long that will last.

• The Fade Out Single-Volume TPB Released. On November 14th, the anticipated single-volume trade paperback edition of The Fade Out was released.  This will probably serve as the definitive wide release of the 2014-2016 mini-series, as the story is better told as a single work than in three four-issue "acts." 

We examined a copy at a local shop, confirming that the book is a bare-bones release without the bonus content found in the hardcover.  The book includes the "Screen Views and News" clipping which serves as a kind of epilogue to "Maya's story and Valeria's story," but it omits the fictional promotional images featured on the back-cover art of the monthly issues. 

And, we're disappointed to report that the cover lacks an amusing detail found in a print that Phillips has made available at his online store and which is shown above, describing the book as "An Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips production."

• Image Solicitations for the Next Criminal Arc. On November 20th, Image Comics released its February solicitations, including the second issue of the new volume of Criminal -- all just in time for us to discuss as late-breaking news on the podcast.  Issue #1 is evidently a self-contained done-in-one tale, and this new story features an artist named Archie Lewis, and we recall that this fictional character was briefly mentioned in the narration of the 2008 arc "Bad Night."
Archie Lewis was the artist’s artist in his heyday, although that’s not what he’s famous for. He’s famous for being a nightmare to work with—and dangerous. So when an old assistant is forced to chaperone his one-time mentor to receive his lifetime achievement award, well... let’s just say things don’t go well.
We wondered if the story will touch on Jacob Kurtz, the main character and narrator from "Bad Night," as perhaps this "old assistant" to the evidently infamously difficult Lewis is Jacob himself.  That suspicion was confirmed on December 21st, with the release of Image's March solicitations and a very brief description of the next issue.
Jacob’s weekend taking care of his old mentor takes a turn for the worse.
That original narration made it seem that Jacob knew Archie Lewis only from a distance -- it mentioned a productivity trick as "an old Archie Lewis method, according to his biographer" -- but it may just be that he knew that reality didn't live up to the myth.  We're also curious how Jacob's aspiration to be an artist (this assistantship, for instance) collided with his criminal background, hanging out with Leo and Tracy and becoming an expert counterfeiter.

It's not clear when this story takes place chronologically, but it does appear that "The Longest Weekend" is a companion to "Bad Night."  In his recent newsletter (see below), Brubaker even referenced this new story as "Bad Weekend."

• Undertow Podcast on Junkies.  November 26th saw the release of the most recent episode of The Undertow PodcastEpisode 27 reviewing the Criminal novella My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies.  Robert and I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion, and we soon plan to release a new episode taking a broader look at the Criminal chronology.

The novella features a mixtape Ellie's mother made for her then-incarcerated father, and so I ended the episode recommending a kind of mixtape of my own:  The Best of David Gray Disc 2, from the two-disc deluxe edition. 

In the liner notes, the British singer-songwriter tells readers that he selected the tracks for this bonus disc "for no other reason than that they occupy a special place in my heart and have meant a lot to me down the years."  They serve as a kind of mixtape for his fans, I find these songs particularly compelling, and I've just made a five-song playlist from that disc, to share with our readers.

Gray's repertoire spans from traditional love songs to more abstract, ethereal music, and his lyrics capture the tragic beauty of both the mundane and the transcendent: "From Here You Can Almost See the See" contains a great example of both with its prosaic verses and its unexpected coda.  He will soon be touring in support of a new album out on March 8th, Gold in a Brass Age, and he's just followed up "The Sapling" with the release of the second song from the album, "A Tight Ship."

• Exclusive Image Deal Extended for Another Five Years. I believe we've discussed Brubaker and Phillips' five-year deal on the podcast, making the assumption that the agreement would be extended.  On December 6th, Image Comics posted a press release making it official:  the exclusive deal has been renewed for another five years, effective immediately.

Described as "previously unprecedented," the original deal was announced in January, 2014, and it allowed the pair "to do anything they want with total freedom, total control, and total ownership over their projects."  As a result, Brubaker says that the previous five years have been "the most successful time of our long career together," and publisher Eric Stephenson adds that, over that period, "Ed and Sean have done some of the best work of their careers."

This extension coincides with the return of Criminal as a new monthly series, and the article mentions a renewed emphasis on monthly storytelling, with Ed Brubaker saying that he wants the new series to be "a monthly comic that would stand apart by really embracing the format, and trying to be something surprising every issue."  Publisher Eric Stephenson chimes in, saying that the series "serves as a welcome reminder of just how potent monthly comics can be."

The press release mentions some of the praise the team's most recent work has received, from Library Journal and Vulture/NY Magazine.  This is in addition to the accolades Image Comics compiled in a December 18th release, where Junkies made the year-end best-of lists for Newsweek, Thrillist, and Multiversity Comics.

• Ten-page Criminal preview in Brubaker newsletter. Finally, Christmas came early for Criminal fans, when Ed Brubaker sent out an email newsletter on December 24th, featuring a ten-page preview of the first issue -- a substantial excerpt of the double-length issue, a few panels of which we're highlighting below.

Brubaker also looked back on the previous project, Junkies, announcing that the hardcover novella has sold better than expected: "as of this writing I think [the book] is almost sold through a printing that was meant to last a few years."

Looking ahead, Brubaker also provided an advance look at the next story, the two-part Criminal tale "The Longest Weekend," aka "Bad Weekend."  From what we gathered in the solicits mentioned above, we take it the panel features a flashback scene of young Jacob Kurtz serving as an assistant artist to a pro named Hal.

And, along with the three October interviews we listed above, Brubaker mentioned a CrimeReads interview published on December 12. 

In this most recent interview, he reveals some details about the story in Junkies (Ellie is 18 years old) and about the book's creation (a tight deadline resulted in Jacob Phillips becoming the colorist after the first few pages).  He discusses his influences and his process, his early work writing Sleeper, and the very recent decision to follow up Junkies with more stories set in the Criminal universe.

Strangely enough, the interview also includes what Brubaker said about monthly comics in the prior press release on the renewed five-year deal, with some additional elaboration
"The single issue itself has started to become an afterthought. At the big two, you have tons of ads in them, and they’re on cheap paper now. It’s like this amazing little package that gave us all decades and decades of joy as comic fans is being neglected by the market that was built on them."
And, Ed Brubaker gives us a quick synopsis of what we can expect with the new monthly Criminal series:
"The first issue is basically the ultimate Criminal story. It kind of shows you everything that the book does, all in one long and winding oversized story."
Criminal #1 is due in stores this Wednesday, January 9th.

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