I always enjoy talking with Ed Brisson about his latest projects. As usual, Ed’s been busy. He just wrapped up Sheltered with Johnnie Christmas at Image Comics and his latest comic, Cluster had its third issue released last week, and issue #4 goes on sale May 6th. And Ed being Ed, he also has more comics coming out, including a new creator owned series at Image Comics/Shadowline. As usual, Ed has a lot to say and we think you’ll enjoy it.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: So, Ed, congratulations on having a new series coming out. Tell me about Cluster.
Ed Brisson: Cluster is a book that I had in dream state for probably since I was seventeen. It’s a book about an Earth is overpopulated, so they’re looking for somewhere else to live. And they find a planet called Midlothian that is close, but still needs to be terra-formed somewhat.
Unfortunately when they go over there, they run into another race called the Pagurani, who don’t want humans there. Earth depletes its military and has to start conscripting prisoners to fight against the Paguranis. They offer this sort of trade-off program where if you have a life sentence, you can trade that in for a fifteen-year tour of duty. You go fight and then you come back and you are free from prison.
In the book, the prison system and the military system are both privatized. So it’s this ugly thing where they start feeding into one another, like sentences are all of the sudden super trumped up. That’s all backstory for where we start in the book.
We follow Samara Simmons, who is the daughter of a senator on Earth who is actually opposed to the whole conscription program and against expanding to this other planet. Cluster follows Samara as she ends up as a prisoner on this planet fighting against the Paguranis, a group of her and a few others and their adventures on the planet. We end the first issue with them in great peril in which it looks like they are might be stranded and dead. Then we go from there following them as they try to survive.
CB: You’ve got high action, sci-fi, humans versus monsters, and on the back end some satire and complex world building.
Brisson: Yeah, it’s like a grade ’80s b-movie for me. It was the stuff I binge watched as a kid that I love, so I’m trying to bring that sort of feeling to it.
CB: Yeah. What about it reminds you of ’80s movies?
Brisson: I feel like it’s a big action set pieces with the ships and the aliens and kind of gritty, prison feel. Like John Carpenter’s movies with a sort of sci-fi feel to it. It’s that sort of stuff, like I said, that I love from the eighties. I used to binge watch it as a kid. I’m trying to get that feel into it. I’m trying to make it serious, but give some nonsense sort of stuff.
For example, the whole prison system, where the prisoners are kind of free, but if they leave the prison for more than twenty-four hours, they are dead. So they have to come back. And dead like a super sci-fi painful way that they would not want to just commit suicide this way.
CB: It’s cool that there are so much cool sci-fi in comics coming out these days.,Bitch Planet being another one with the criminals in the future. Are you a little afraid of being lost among everything else out there?
Brisson: I try not to stress, to be honest. I just do my thing and not really worry about if… This sounds terrible, like I’m not worrying if other people are going to read it. I want people to read it. I just can’t think about it. Because if I think about it, I’ll overthink it.
CB: Just do what you do, right?
Brisson: Do what I want to do. And if there’s a lot of that stuff out at the time, then that’s cool. It just means that there is an interest for it, hopefully.
CB: Who is your artist on it?
Brisson: It’s Damien Couceiro. He is actually the first guy I ever tried pitching comics with to publishers ten years ago. He and I worked on Sons of Anarchy together last year. I largely came on to Sons of Anarchy because he was drawing it because we had pitched a few books years ago.
We actually had a book picked up by a small publisher back in 2006 or 7 but it was not a good publisher and there was some shady stuff. We didn’t finish it. We had three issues of four done. Nothing ever has been released. We came to a stalemate with them and just didn’t release it. I’ve been wanting to work with him ever since.
I did a short story called “The Orchard” with him a few years back. Then came onto Sons of Anarchy because he was on it. Then BOOM! hit me up to see if I wanted to do a creator-owned book with him. I was like, “This is what he and I were trying to do ten years ago, so obviously let’s do it.” And he is killing it on that book. His stuff is amazing. His world building, his characters are just crazy.
CB: I loved his work in Sons of Anarchy because it really felt that like that world. It really captured it well without to do a lot of work either.
Brisson: Yeah, I think he is a criminally underrated artist. I wish that more people knew who he was. But hopefully through Cluster more people will see his stuff.
CB: You have the Murder Book collection out, too.
Brisson: It just came out this week, so that was kind of cool. It’s like five years of work all in one package. It’s been really nice to see that on the shelves because that was the thing I was doing before I got on with any publisher; I was just doing that myself. It’s what got me on the radar for a lot of editors and led to me doing a lot of the work that I am doing now. It’s just a cool thing.
CB: If a reader picks up that book, what will they find?
Brisson: I wish I could remember exactly how many stories, but we will say at least twelve. I think there’s closer to twenty short stories; all short, self-contained gritty crime stories. I worked with a large group of artists, like Simon Roy, Vic Malhotra, Michael Walsh, Johnnie Christmas, Jason Copland, Declan Shalvey, Brian Level, JD Faith, Damian Couceiro and more. I know I’m forgetting someone and that is going to be the one person who hears this I bet.
There’s a lot of great art, a lot of really tight, pretty crime stories. I am a huge Elmore Leonard fan and of Stark and Thompson. So if anyone is into that sort of stuff, I hope if anyone reads Criminal or Stray Bullets, hopefully this will be something that will be right up their alley.
CB: I was thinking of you as a guy who is just not tied to one genre. You like a lot of stuff.
Brisson: I do. I think growing up I was always that kind of guy. I loved a ton of stuff. I love crime stuff. Growing up my dad was a cop and my mom did convicted services, so I was surrounded by this sort of stuff all the time. I was basically a juvenile delinquent as well. So crime is my number one if I could only do anything. But sci-fi, I love it, the older sci-fi stuff. I try my hand at superhero stuff now too. I grew up reading comics. I was a Marvel zombie growing up.
CB: What’s the superhero book you are working on?
Brisson: It is called The Mantle. It runs out in May through Image’s Shadowline. It is a fun book. It is about two kids who are leaving a punk show. One of them all of a sudden gets hit by lightning and has this power called the mantle, which we find out as the story goes on it is sort of like power of infinite possibilities. It works in similar way to sort of how Green Lantern works. When one host dies, the power seeks out a new host.
He is all stoked that he’s got this power. It’s amazing; anything he can imagine, he can do. They don’t even know the full scope of the power because each host, their imagination and the way they are using it is slightly different. He’s slightly less stoked when he finds out he is the thirty-eighth host to have the power in the last ten years. So the turnover rate for the host is very high.
CB: There’s gotta be a big backstory about that.
Brisson: Yeah, there’s a huge backstory for how that happens. That’s our starting point and we move forward from there. I think it has been a lot of fun. There’s a lot of stuff happening in the first issue that people aren’t going to expect.
CB: You talked earlier about building up a big backstory for Cluster. Did you do the same thing for The Mantle? Do you know all thirty-eight people that have had the ring?
Brisson: We know most of them. We’re just kind of leaving it open so we play with a little bit. It goes back even so there’s been thirty-eight in the last ten years, but the power has been around for like fifty years. There’s been hundreds over that time.
We’re having a little bit of fun because there is someone who can go to Purgatory. So you get to meet some of the past mantles. So you’ve got the typical nineties, early Image-style guy with like a million pouches and spikey boots and stuff like that.
It is a lot of fun, but with a lot of nods to comics history and stuff like that as well. It’s just great. Brian Level is drawing it. I think I’ve done four short stories with him before him, including a Murder Book and then some other stuff. He and I have been wanting to work together for a long time and this was the perfect project to do that on.
CB: How has it been different working for all the different companies you work for? Everyone’s got their own different approach. I know Shadowline is very editor-driven.
Brisson: Yeah, you get into the flow of how each works and it is good. With Shadowline you deal with Jim [Valentino] all the time. They’ll go through and proof stuff for you, but he doesn’t impose anything on the story, which is nice. Same with Image. They really didn’t impose anything; you just do what you want. I actually like having their editors to bounce things off of. I like being challenged and being forced to prove a point. Or else having a weakness that I somehow overlook or a soft spot in the story that they’ll expose, right?
CB: Right because the reader may eventually have that thought also.
CB: If you don’t catch it now and fully think out our world, then…
Brisson: Yeah, absolutely. There was a book that I was working on a while ago. Now as a general rule I don’t read reviews. But when I started out, I used to read reviews. There was one where it was early in the series. A reviewer posed some kind of question in the review like, “It will be interesting to see where this goes, if this or this happens.” I was like, “Oh!” It was a complete blind spot. As much as I thought I’d worked it out, there was that one blind spot that I didn’t know was there. So having editors will sort of expose that or make you explain where everything is going to go. It definitely helps.
CB: That happens with every project, though.
CB: If you remodel your kitchen, there’s always something you might not think about, right?
CB: You might need an expert come and say, “Have you thought about how your waterlines are going to run to your dishwasher?”
CB: How does it feel being done with Sheltered?
Brisson: It feels weird, man; it feels really weird.
CB: You’ve talked about it for about as long as I’ve know you.
Brisson: Yeah, it is weird because it’s like the longest thing I’ve ever written. Shelter came out in 2015 I think. Johnnie and I had been trying to get stuff going since 2008. It was a long time beforehand. Just to be done and to execute, because we had a plan going on in.
Beforehand we were talking and they asked how long we would be, we were like, “I don’t know. We can wrap in five issues if we need, ten issues if we need.” And that was all crap. We were always trying to go for fifteen issues, but we were just worried sales wouldn’t sustain. Thankfully they did so we could go the full fifteen.
At one point there was a plan to go twenty issues, but the five issues in between was an arc that had solo stories with everyone. We realized it just didn’t really fit. It was kind of a cool idea that didn’t fit, so we cut it. We just trimmed the fat and kept it as tight and concise a story as possible. I was happy with how it came out. We did the ending we wanted to do since the beginning. I’m happy with it.
CB: The reactions have been great to it, too.
CB: I think the fans are really satisfied with that. And of course they’ll get a great graphic novel, too, right?
Brisson: Yeah, absolutely. There’s some people who are kind of bummed out with the ending. We knew that going in; we knew that not everyone would be into it. I think the majority of people seem to be into it. If you actually go back and read I think issue three or four, there is a scene where Lucas sits down talking to one of the other characters like, “This is what happens if they find out we are doing this.” And literally he spells out the plot to the last issue. We knew all the long where it was going and how it would wind up. We did it how we wanted to do it, so we are happy. We are proud of that book.
CB: Are you going to miss it in a way?
Brisson: Yeah, I am going to miss working with Johnnie. We shared a studio, so when I was writing it, I’d write five feet from him. But he is doing something with Kurtis [Wiebe] right now called Pisces over at Image. He and I have another project that we want to do, which is actually an old project that we tried to pitch that we are revamping. Now that we’ve got that four years of distance between us and the project and have done a fifteen-issue thing, we can now see this is what is not going to work about that project. So I’m going to a complete overhaul on it. I’m really kind of excited about where it is going. That will be a much down the line project. Johnnie signed up for another year and I’ve got a ton of stuff on my plate right now as well. Eventually we are going to do this and it will be great.
CB: It is good to be busy, right?
Brisson: Yes, yeah. I have no complaints.