Name: Chris Brunner
Hometown: Jamesville, NY
TrunkSpace: The first issue of your new series, “Loose Ends,” was recently released by Image Comics. Can you tell us how it came to be, and, what readers can expect?
Brunner: Our writer, Jason Latour (“Southern Bastards,” “Spider-Gwen”), describes it as “a coming of age road trip as crime fiction.” I can’t improve on that much, except to maybe add that the road is a dead end. Following a lethal bar brawl, Sonny (a drug mule) and Cheri (the bar waitress) go on the run. They head to Miami, tailed by 2 crooked cops and Sonny’s ex-army pal Reggie in cuffs.
We, Latour along with colorist Rico Renzi and myself drawing, wanted to create a tight modern crime story. We were all “breaking in” to comics, or trying to, when Jason first wrote “Loose Ends” for a screenwriting course. As I read it, I couldn’t help doodle in the margins. Rico took full reign of those and showed us something we all found exciting.
After years of cooking on the back burner, we finally pitched it and 3 of 4 issues were published by 12 Gauge Comics in 2011…under difficult circumstances that slowed production of the 4th issue to a crawl. While I struggled to complete the art along with an M.F.A. program, Jason and Rico’s other projects met with great success. Seriously, “Spider-Gwen” and “Southern Bastards” are ginormous, and deservedly. This opened the door for “Loose Ends” at Image Comics, and now that the final issue is complete, all 4 are being released. Issue No.1 came out Jan 25th, floppy and digital. The cover is probably somewhere on this page.
TrunkSpace: The series is described as a “slow-cooked, Southern crime romance.” How much of the feel and look of the south did you want to incorporate into the overall visual storytelling?
Brunner: Much as possible. It helps in storytelling to engage the reader’s sense memory; and the south is ripe with details that do that. The actual atmosphere is overwhelming- the deep heat and humidity. And it’s a haunted place too.
Additionally, when people refer to the south I think they are referring to a generalized country redneckery, or plantation “aristocracy.” There’s a wider variety of regionally-specific culture though, it’s diverse, it’s just not often represented that way. We wanted to highlight that with Atlanta, Miami, etc. “Loose Ends” is a road story; and excepting the first and last set pieces, every location is a real place.
TrunkSpace: As an artist, how important is it that the world is just as much a character as the characters themselves?
Brunner: When you create the world, you create the context for the character. I’m a “context is eveything”guy. A drawing of Batman comes alive in proportion to how rad you draw Gotham City, and how believably he exists within it. The unfortunate reality is that certain types of stories, like “Loose Ends,” demand (or beg for) so much laborious drawing in order to sell the sizzle. That said, I’ve come to think that there is an interesting angle to everything if you look hard enough, even if it’s a distinct lack of interest (think of Mr. Incredible’s office).
Environment informs us about character, it is revealing of their choices/motives/vices/compulsions/contradictions/origins. With “Loose Ends,” I thought a lot about “Children of Men,” whose true agenda is forwarded primarily with the background imagery (see both Slavoj Zizek and Nerdwriter1 on this). By creating the space for Rico and I to exploit the environment visually, Jason was able to write hyper economical dialogue, he has less to explain with it, it feels more natural, and the story kind of fries in the silences.
TrunkSpace: As part of the creative team of a new series, what are the biggest hurdles you face in promoting the book and making people aware of it?
Brunner: Overall, I think our hurdles are pretty minimal, compared to what most new books face. On the strength of our publisher, and Jason and Rico’s well-earned reputations, I think/hope enough fans/retailers will give the book a chance.
There are two things that give me some cautious optimism about this. One is that we are (trying to) scratch an itch that is under served, meaning that if you like this kind of comic, you are probably pretty hungry for it. A second benefit is that “Southern Bastards,” and it’s success, provides us a handy reference point; “Loose Ends” is a different animal, but if you like Bastards, you’ll like this.
TrunkSpace: The way people read comics has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Binge reading seems almost as popular as binge watching. Does it put stress on a new series like “Loose Ends” knowing that many people may just wait for the collected version, and, how do you bring people on board from the outset?
Brunner: It must, I do not know though. I’m not in possession of enough facts to offer an opinion about the business of it. Our initial run, the first 3 of 4 issues published in 2011, was work by 3 unknowns with an independent publisher, and sales reflected that. They didn’t, I think, reflect anyone waiting on trades.
My experience here is limited, and if there is such a thing as a representative consumer, I am not one of them, so it’s hard to grok our potential audiences buying habits.
As far as bringing people on board from the outset, this is not dissimilar with what you are trying to do with a cover or an opening scene: make it impossible for the audience to walk away. If a reader has the book in hand when they are deciding whether to buy it at all, I hope a glance is enough to circumvent that decision – get hooks in and don’t let go.
TrunkSpace: What is the earliest memory you have of applying your passion for art?
Brunner: Drawing was always a thing I did, like a basic body function, on it’s own not something I was applying. There was a portfolio review section in this Marvel promo mag “Marvel Age,” where they were clear about what a standard comic page should be; the tools, page dimensions, the editor you sent it to, etc.; and they were actually hiring people (like Tom Raney) out of this. So I started sending in portfolios to-spec with letters of introduction. That was about 12-years-old.
TrunkSpace: Did you have a mentor or someone specific who inspired you to turn that passion into a career?
Brunner: Yeah, more than there is room to talk about. I was lucky as hell with my art education, and my parents were open-minded, it made all the difference. They signed waivers for me to attend nude figure drawing classes, attend adult cartooning classes, when I was (maybe too) young.
These cartooning classes were taught by a cartoonist named J.P. Crangle. He was like comics incarnate; my memory of him is a cross between Jack Lemmon, Hunter S. Thompson, and Popeye. In J.P.’s class we looked at Wally Wood, “Love + Rockets,” “Crumb,” “Heavy Metal,” undergrounds, pre-codes, and other sick shit. It was (maybe) inappropriate, it permanently warped me and I’m grateful.
He also taught us how to format and print mini-comics with a typing paper template, and I did a Punisher knock-off series and sold them at school. That was such a charge, to finally print a comic, and I kept that up until I went away to art school. J.P. really lit my head on fire.
TrunkSpace: What changes, if any, would you like to see come to the comic industry in the years ahead?
Brunner: There’s a broader range of styles in the mainstream, that’s self-evident, and I think a positive. For a long time Rico and I were regularly getting push-back for using colors like pink, that’s not a concern anymore. It’s a change that I appreciate on a daily basis, that we have that much more latitude. Still, comics could be a much funkier ecosystem, at least on the comic racks, even superheroes are bizarre.
TrunkSpace: Is there a personal mark of achievement for you that you’re hoping to accomplish in your career… something you’ve set your professional sights on… and if so, what is it?
Brunner: The goal would be to draw something that’s like a midnight movie as strong as “Goodfellas.” That movie just kicks your ass so hard, right away, and doesn’t stop, and you can’t stop watching. It’s a perfect little grenade.
TrunkSpace: Again, your latest book is called “Loose Ends.” If the world was ending tomorrow, what loose ends would you hope to tie up before it all goes away?
Brunner: Not so big an “if” there. Today I wondered if it would end before issue 4 of “Loose Ends” could come out. A ridiculous way to personalize the apocalypse, but the universe has that sense of humor. Getting this story all in print finally, it’s the one thing.