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A decade ago, writer Ed Brisson had a major comics breakthrough with the self-published series of crime stories he began writing under the banner Murder Book. Named for a colloquial detective term for case file on a homicide, the Murder Book stories were short, witty, often vicious tales of crimes gone wrong, lives changed in an instant, and often surprising endings.
In the 10 years since Murder Book helped launch his mainstream comics career, Brisson's continued to garner high-profile work, most recently on titles like New Mutants and Avengers of the Wastelands at Marvel Comics, but he never forgot about his crime stories. Then came this year, when amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brisson began to see a way back into Murder Book.
"I’ve been looking to get back to creator-owned work for a while now. That’s where I started and something I thought I’d always be doing alongside my Marvel work. However, juggling the two is more difficult than I’d imagined it be and so creator-owned had fallen by the wayside in recent years," Brisson told SYFY WIRE. "If there’s one silver lining to the s**t-show that has been Covid, it’s that I’ve got more time to get back to more personal projects such as this. I was in a place where production had halted on my work-for-hire projects and I was going crazy with nothing to focus on. Figured that if I didn’t take the opportunity to work on my own projects now, then when would I?"
That sense of stir-crazy possibility led to Catch & Release: A Murder Book Story, the first graphic novel-length story to stem from Brisson's Murder Book banner. Illustrated by Brisson's The Last Contract collaborator Leandro Estherren, with letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and editing by Nate Cosby, the project launched a Kickstarter campaign (Brisson's first) earlier this week. It also stands the chance of launching what Brisson hopes will be a new era for Murder Book storytelling in his writing life.
"The initial kernel of the idea that became Catch & Release came from a news story I’d read a few years ago about a robbery gone wrong, a case where someone had listed a car for sale with the intention of robbing the potential buyer. For some reason, that story stuck with me and I always thought it would make a good starting point to a story. And so, with nothing but time on my hands, I sat down and started building a story out of that one event."
In the year's since Murder Book helped launch him, Brisson's time has been increasingly taken up with work-for-hire projects at major comics publishers, from major X-Men projects at Marvel to work on licensed titles ranging from RoboCop to Sons of Anarchy. As he shared some exclusive pages from the Catch & Release script with SYFY WIRE in the gallery below -- warning, some NSFW language -- Brisson noted that returning to Murder Book after all that time playing in other sandboxes left him with a desire to do something a bit less structured.
With that in mind, he didn't actually set out to write a graphic novel. He just let the story go where he felt it was taking him, and the result is Catch & Release's tale of two unlikely lives intertwining in a world of stolen cars, desperation, and danger.
"Murder Book is more like a banner or imprint for crime stories penned by me than it is a series. Each story is a self-contained, stand-alone tale, you can pick up any issue and read without needing knowledge of past stories. I wanted to lean into that feeling of when I was a kid and could just pick up a comic and get a full story," Brisson explained.
"The one thing I always felt was that the stories should be as long or as short as they need to be. I wanted them to be tight and succinct, without a wasted word or panel. And, initially, that was the plan with Catch & Release. I went in thinking 'this will be about 20 pages,' but as I started writing it, I realized that it needed more room to breathe, the characters needed more time to say what they needed to say and do what they needed to do. I didn’t fight it, I just let the story pull me along and take as long as it needed to take. Eventually, it became clear that Catch & Release wasn’t going to be another short story, it was a graphic novel.
"Part of my approach on this one, a bit of an experiment inspired by one of my favourite writers, Elmore Leonard, was to start the story and just let the characters guide me. I went in with my cast and the inciting incident and just let myself get lost in it. No outline, no rules, just me and the story and…I have to tell you, it was liberating. There’s something freeing about not knowing where you’re going until you get there. Obviously, there was plenty of revising to do once done, but it’s something I hope to do again. I’m very happy with how it all came out."
Catch & Release offered Brisson the opportunity to return to his crime comics roots, as well as to explore a story at whatever length he ultimately chose, but it also offered a chance to see how he's evolved as a writer since those first Murder Book shorts were written more than a decade ago. How has time, and a whole lot of comics scripts handed in since then, changed the creator of Murder Book now that he's back behind the wheel of a new crime story?
"When I started out, producing a lot of creator-owned work, I’d really take my time with the projects and go in with a very loose outline. My thought was that I’d figure out most of it on the page and try to surprise myself," Brisson said. "That’s something that I tried to bring back to this project for sure. Being loose and figuring things out on the page. But, for obvious reasons that doesn’t work with work-for-hire projects. "I think my big take away from my work at Marvel and other publishers is having a routine to my workday. Spending time writing and not dinking around on social media or the internet. It’s about strapping my ass into my office chair and putting words to paper.
"I think I also now have the benefit of having worked with some very good editors at Marvel and so when I’m writing, I do have their voice in the back of my head which causes me to examine things closer and make sure that they work, that a scene is there for a reason, the character motivations are clear, etc. Working with good editors makes you a better writer and so I’m grateful for the years of guidance that I’ve had from some of the best in the industry."
The Catch & Release Kickstarter campaign arrives in the middle of a boom for crowdfunded comics projects, as Kickstarter recently announced that 2020 has brought both record funds raised and a record percentage of projects funded in its comics category. Brisson is the latest in a long line of high-profile talent to take a pet project to the platform this year, but it's not because it's a trendy idea. For him, it was always more about the sense of direct reach to a devoted audience, even if it's a smaller one, something he's been contemplating for a while.
"I always knew I wanted to do a project in Kickstarter, but wanted to make sure that it was the right project. Crime is a bit of a niche genre that can be hard to make work through traditional publishing -- there are exceptions, but as a general rule: hard -- and so I figured that if Lisandro and I could take this one directly to readers who are interested in crime, or our creator-owned work, then maybe we can make this project we love work," Brisson explained.
"A project like this, we’d need about 10,000 or more readers in the traditional market just to make it work. With Kickstarter, we can reach out to those 500 or 1,000 or more (fingers crossed) readers who are interested in the genre or supporting our work as creators and have enough to get this book done and out there."
So far, Brisson's bet on Kickstarter has paid off. In just two days since its launch the project has already attracted (as of this writing) nearly 400 backers, pledging well beyond its initial fundraising goal of $10,000. The goal is to deliver an exclusive hardcover edition of Catch & Release: A Murder Book Story to backers by June of next year, and rewards on the campaign range from a digital edition of the book ($15) to original pages from the story ($250) to script reviews by Brisson himself and fellow Marvel writer Kelly Thompson ($250). To get in on the Catch & Release action, check out the Kickstarter page in the next four weeks before the campaign is over. If the Kickstarter continues to go well, Brisson hopes more Murder Book graphic novels will follow.
"My hope that this is just the first of many Murder Book standalone graphic novels," he said. "Ideally, if everything works out, I’d like to make this an annual thing. I miss writing crime and the idea of doing an original graphic novel once a year feels like Christmas to me."