Ed Brisson: Biker Gangs and Work-for-Hire ComicsA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
My pal Ed Brisson always has a bunch of projects in the hopper. He's writing an adaptation of Sons of Anarchy for BOOM! and 24 for IDW, as well as his creator-owned projects Sheltered and The Field at Image. He's always a fun interview and an awesome guy to hang out with, as I did at Emerald City Comicon when we conducted this interview. Unfortunately when we spoke, his series The Field hadn't been released yet, but I think you'll still enjoy this conversation.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Were you excited to get the request to write Sons of Anarchy?
Ed Brisson: Yeah I was. I'm pretty excited about it. I like writing biker stuff and crime stuff, so it was a chance to do work-for-hire work where I'm writing straight crime, which is something that I've always wanted to do.
CB: You mentioned that you were already thinking about writing about biker gangs.
Brisson: So about two or three years ago I was working on a pitch called The One-Percenters which is about a biker gang. I was hoping to put that together. I was doing a lot of research and reading a lot of books on bikers and also different agency attempts at infiltrating biker gangs and all that sort of stuff.
During my research I thought I would check out Sons of Anarchy. I watched the first season and ended up throwing my pitch away because basically them doing the same thing that I had been thinking to do with my pitch. That was kind of weird that three years later I end up writing the Sons of Anarchy comic.
CB: You have a story arc that you were telling in your first few issues?
Brisson: The first issue that I just finished writing is actually a one shot. It's sort of a background for a character from season six named Lee Toric. He's a character who I really liked a lot, and I pitched the idea of a one-shot about him before he comes to mess with the Sons of Anarchy. So that's just a one shot, the first one, and I'm really happy with that story. If anyone's read my Murder Book stuff I think they'd really dig that story.
And then the new three-issue arc we're doing it takes place between seasons three and four. If people watch the show they know that at the end of season three they go to prison for, I believe, fourteen months. At the beginning of season four they're out of prison, so we don't actually get to see them in prison. The three issue arc that we're doing is them in prison. It's about their time when they were in prison, and there is some stuff that we already know from the show like that Jack gets shivved on at one point in prison. So it's about them dealing with that, and dealing with the Russians. All that sort of stuff.
CB: You get to really show your love for the series.
Brisson: Yeah it's great. It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of fun to write it. I just finished writing the last issue of that arc and it was really good. It was really satisfying, and I feel like there's not enough prison stuff in comics.
CB: You don't see that a lot in comics. You're right.
Brisson: It's a weird thing. I was having this conversation last night just about that, how you don't see a lot of prison stories.
CB: You're right and it seems so natural for comics.
Brisson: You would think. Who knows.
CB: Right? You don't really see as many characters as complicated as the characters from Sons of Anarchy either in comics. It's something about TV I guess, with the long-form TV series where you got to really know these people.
Brisson: Yeah, I think from my own writing in comics I at least like to think I'm a character-first writer. That I like to write characters, and sometimes I'll have these sort of larger concepts, but when you really get into my stories, it's like I'm trying to do a lot of character work.
So for Sons of Anarchy I really like that a lot about the characters. They're really interesting characters so it's a lot of fun to get in there and write them and get inside their head. We do a lot with Jemma outside of the prison, and she's just such a great character to write because she's often scheming. I don't even think she knows she's scheming half of the time, but she's always scheming. So it's really fun to write that. She's trying to do something that you don't find out until much later, where she's at. So I think it's great. It's a lot of fun.
CB: Fun to add to the canon of a series you love too, right?
Brisson: Yeah absolutely. It's kind of cool to see when you're writing it, and then all of the sudden now it's part of the history right?
CB: Right and you feel like the guys writing the Star Wars comics or something.
Brisson: Yeah exactly, and the cool thing with Sons of Anarchy is that one that I'm outlining and pitching and when I'm writing the scripts for them- it actually goes through Kurt Sutter, who created Sons of Anarchy. He signs off on all that sort of stuff. So it's not just cutting their own arms. They're involved in the whole process. So it's pretty cool and incredibly intimidating at the same time.
CB: You feel like it's intimidating?
Brisson: A little bit, you know?
CB: You gotta work at that level.
Brisson: You're playing around with somebody else's baby basically, right? That sounds really inappropriate. You know what I mean. It's somebody else's baby, and they hold it dear and then you have your chance to work in that. You just want to make sure that it falls in line with what they want to do. Hopefully you're adding to it. Maybe bringing your own voice, but still making it so that it feels natural to the series.
CB: You know that's going to be your own challenge, bringing your own voice and making it feel natural to the series. Yeah Murder Book kind of feeds back into that. Murder Book is a little bit of a different series.
Brisson: Oh yeah, absolutely. But yeah it's bikers, so there's still lots of crime involved. I'm hoping that because I put so much research beforehand on bikers and stuff, and my dad was a cop, a retired cop, so growing up I heard some stories about bikers. So I've got all that sort of stuff already stored in the back of my head that I get to pull from, which is awesome.
CB: Are bikers a problem in the Vancouver area?
Brisson: Not so much Vancouver. Apparently they're around, you don't really see them. I lived in Kelowna for a while, which apparently is owned by the Hell's Angels. They own a bunch of businesses there. You don't really see them as much. I did grow up in Ontario. My dad was a cop in Ontario, and there is much more presence of bikers there. And out west, in Canada at least, it's the Hell's Angels, but you can tell further east that you've got Hell's Angels, Satan's Choice, Rock, a bunch of other biker gangs. So there's constantly some sort of conflict going on. It's interesting to follow. I love following that sort of stuff.
CB: Are you going to keep on Sons of Anarchy for a while?
Brisson: I think so, yeah. It looks like I'm on it for the long haul. So we'll see how long that will last.
CB: Thinking about the next arc?
Brisson: I just started thinking about it so too early to really say what it's going to be. Basically we're putting together a few ideas where we want to go and working with Dafna Pleban, the editor. We're discussing different ways we can take it, and we'll see where it actually goes.
CB: You feel like it helps your creator-owned work to work on this kind of material?
Brisson: Well I think so. I'm not honestly sure. It's a different outlet for me, but I feel that it's valuable for me to take and write someone else's characters rather than just being inside the head of my own characters all the time.
Especially with Sons of Anarchy, it has a fairly large readership. I think you're getting a lot of guys just anecdotally talking to comic store owners. I've heard that they get a lot of customers come in just for the Sons of Anarchy comics. They're not actual comic readers generally. So they come in and read Sons of Anarchy just because they're fans of the show just trying to get more of that sort of stuff, and hopefully the comics will hook them. They'll want to come back for other comics, and start checking out some other stuff from me.
CB: Yeah that's cool. They see your name and they say “Oh, that's the Sons of Anarchy writer!”
Brisson: “Yeah, let's get mojitos.”
CB: “Let's read those other crime comics he created.” What else are you working on right now?
Brisson: Right now I'm doing Sons of Anarchy. I'm working on 24 with IDW which started in April. I'm doing Sheltered at Image. Which is going great. People are loving Sheltered. I'm loving that they're loving Sheltered.
CB: You guys are just doing such a great job on that series.
Brisson: Thanks a lot, man, I really appreciate that.
CB: You were talking about that last year at Emerald, maybe, and you were real excited about launching it.
Brisson: Yeah, Johnnie and I have wanted to work together for a long time and when we came up for the idea for Sheltered, we honestly didn't think that a publisher would pick it out. It gets pretty grim in the first issue, and there were a few things that happen that are pretty dark, but we think it's a good story and yeah. I just love writing the story. Johnnie and I planned it right out to the end so we knew where we were going with it. So it's been a lot of fun to write that.
CB: How long has it going to run?
Brisson: I'm not saying. We know where it's ending and we keep mum about when it's going to end just because we don't want people expecting it. People will know soon enough when it's going to end. So right now we want to keep people off guard for how long it can go on.
CB: I'm not going to ask you for any spoilers. But you and Johnnie have been getting a lot of attention for that book. I mean you're really writing a wave at Image right now, too.
Brisson: Yeah, I feel like I got in there right at the right time. Like with Comeback we got in there just as that wave was starting to hit. I feel incredibly lucky to get in there at that time and to be able to continue to be doing stuff at Image.
CB: Yeah, and as a relatively unknown creator at the time, working for the company where all those amazing creators are doing their work.
Brisson: Image is a company that I've wanted to work for ever since I was a teenager. It's funny because just today at the convention this guy stopped at my booth who was a friend of mine from when I was a teenager and I haven't seen him in over twenty years. And he remembers me when I was like “I want to have an Image book.” that was back then. I wanted an Image book back in the '90s, so to finally, twenty years later, get there-
CB: It's not Youngblood or something. It’s a creator-owned series.
Brisson: Yeah for sure. And then I've got The Field which is coming out through Image. It's a new mini-series, I'm writing that. Simon Roy from Prophet is drawing it. He's amazing. Yeah, it's a four issue mini-series.
The premise is that it's about a guy who wakes up in a field with no idea how he got there. He gets picked up by an ex-bible salesman who is on a meth-induced murder spree and drags him along and they're being chased down by a group of bikers. Which is, incidentally, the bikers from that old pitch of mine. I've actually reincorporated a few other projects that I'm working on so they show up occasionally as baddies in the background…
CB: So at some point twenty years down the line people will read your work and go “Oh there's this whole backstory about the bikers”
Brisson: So they show up in this, and yeah, it's a four issue thing. I'm really happy with how it’s going. It's been a lot of fun to write. It's a black comedy, almost, but super dark. Like it's funny at times but the humor is really dark. Which is stuff I love. so.
CB: Simon Roy's style is a lot lighter than Johnnie Christmas's.
Brisson: Well yeah wait till you see the second issue. The first issue is pretty dark, the second issue is just a whole 'nother level of crazy.
CB: Oh nice you obviously love writing that
Brisson: Oh yeah it's been a lot of fun to write.
CB: How did you get the 24 gig?
Brisson: IDW just emailed me, I wrote the X-Files / Ninja Turtles crossover. I think I was in the process of writing it when they emailed to see if I was interested in 24. I watched the show right through when it was on. So yeah that could be cool.
There's a new season of 24 ongoing now, Season Nine. So Jack, in the canon of the show has been on the run for about four or five years. So they wanted to do some stories that touched on that time that he was on the run. So it was kind of cool. Jack Bauer is a fun character to write. It almost became like a crime story because Jack Bauer is on the run and he's trying to hide. He's not going to be trying to take down international terrorists because he doesn't have the same access to CTU and all that sort of stuff. So I basically wrote a five issue kind of a crime story but it feels very 24. So it's not that far of a reach. I still feel like it fits with Jack Bauer and what he's all about. That was quite a bit of fun to write.
But it's not a straight crime. The fans of 24 I think will dig it. You've still got the agencies chasing him down and all that sort of stuff, but… I'm trying to find the right words… I tried to build. He's taken on terrorists already for eight seasons so let's put him in different situations and see what he's dealing with. He's not necessarily a stranger to be dealing with crime families. He's always had to deal with them in the show, so it's been interesting.
CB: I'm sure you got to hit the high points of certain things that Jack always does. I'm sure he's got somebody on the other end of a phone line
Brisson: He's gotta say “You gota trust me” and “Dammit” about a hundred times. We hit those Jack Bauers.
CB: Lost few episodes of the TV series. It's like finding that extra bit on Netflix you never know existed.
Brisson: Yeah! Well hopefully people will dig it because I think there are some people that forget that there was even a TV movie that they did that came after season eight. It was in Africa.
CB: What else is coming up?
Brisson: Just that right now. Field, Sheltered, 24, Sons of Anarchy. I have a couple things in the fire right now, but I would be killed if I talked about them. There is more Murder Book on the way, I can say that, but I can't say through who or who's doing it.
CB: I want to read more Murder Book.
Brisson: I've written four new stories. So they're happening at some point this year.
CB: Stray Bullets is back. It's time for Murder Book to be back.