Brubaker, Phillips, & Breitweiser Kill Or Be Killed [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: Can you break down the general thrust of KILL OR BE KILLED for us?

ED BRUBAKER: KILL OR BE KILLED is our take on the vigilante killer genre, which I hope means it's not what people usually expect when they think of that genre. It's NOT about a guy whose parents—or wife and kids—are killed by the mob and now he's out for revenge. No, it's not about a hero, even,'s about a (mostly) average guy who is suddenly thrust into a situation he can barely understand—where for reasons I don't want to spoil, he is forced to kill bad people. Forced to become judge and executioner. And the series is about how he adapts to this secret dilemma, and how he learns to become a killer and survive.

But more than that, it's also, you know: "If you had to kill a bad person, who would you pick?" Like, is there someone whose death would have a real impact on society for the better? How hard is it to find someone who truly deserves to die? And what does killing people do to you, mentally and physically? Can you hide this side of yourself from your friends and loved ones?

IC: You've talked about taking a different approach to KILL OR BE KILLED, moving away from the novel-style storytelling of THE FADE OUT and into something more traditional. Why the change of pace?

BRUBAKER: I think KILL OR BE KILLED is just as ambitious in its structure as THE FADE OUT was, but it's more pulpy, more like a serialized monthly comic. The basic idea is like a stone thrown into a pond—what happens to this guy when he starts putting on a mask and killing people?—and from that, there are just so many ripples to explore and story alleys to go down.

I found that I missed that open-ended, always upping the stakes kind of storytelling that you see in books like INVINCIBLE and THE WALKING DEAD and SAGA. I hadn't done anything like that, really, since my runs on Captain America and Daredevil at Marvel. A kind of "Oh shit, what happens next?" type of story, and I missed that vibe. But I wanted to find a way to do it that was different, that was not a story about a hero, but kind of a twisted examination of the entire idea of what it means to be a vigilante, instead. Something that was ambitious in a different way, and that let me try some new things in my writing.

IC: What kind of person is our main character? Is he something like a good man forced into a bad situation, or is his struggle even more complex?

BRUBAKER: A lot more complex, I hope. He's a somewhat cynical and troubled grad student who feels alienated from what most of his generation is doing, and that a lot of what takes up our days is a big distraction and a waste of time. He's the type who'll tell you the system wants you putting everything about your life on Twitter and Facebook because that's how "they" control you.

So when he's put in a position where he's forced to start killing people, this thing he would never have even considered collides with this innate sense he's already got that the system is rigged, and there is no real justice in the world.

IC: Okay. You've got a guy who has to commit murders to live. How are you approaching the tone of this one? Is this going to be grim, angry, indulgent when it comes to violence, or something else?

BRUBAKER: I want it to feel realistic. There's a playful tone to the way the narration is written, and I think there will be a lot of fun in the series, too, as it progresses, but I want the violence and killing to feel very real and visceral. Not attractive. The kind of thing that when or if you were to be involved in it, it would stick with you. I really do want this to feel like a new take on the vigilante story, right down to lingering on the ugliness of dead bodies.

IC: Sean, what are you looking forward to drawing most in this series? What is it about KILL OR BE KILLED that excites you?

SEAN PHILLIPS: I never look forward to drawing any of it. Every new script just seems to be a list of impossible things to draw. Once I get started though, it just seems difficult. I never know anything further ahead than the script I've got, so I've got nothing to look forward to drawing, but on the other hand, nothing to dread drawing...

I'm as excited with KILL OR BE KILLED as I am with everything else I do with Ed and Bettie. We do our best work together, and it's enough that we get to carry on doing that.

IC: Elizabeth, you joined the team partway through FATALE, and have stuck close with them ever since. What is it that keeps you coming back? What do you like about working with them?

ELIZABETH BREITWEISER: Foremost, I love working with Ed and Sean for the same reasons everyone else loves reading their work. They are legendary, world class professionals producing some of the best independent franchises in the industry. It's exciting and fulfilling work to play a role in. As if that isn't enough, these two also make me feel very much appreciated and like an integral part of the team.

IC: What kind of book is KILL OR BE KILLED going to be in terms of visuals? How are you approaching the storytelling and the color?

PHILLIPS: All the creator-owned books Ed and I have done together have employed a three-tier grid. Originally this was because we'd just come off of Sleeper and I wanted to try something totally different to the wild layouts that book had, and also to make it as easy as possible for our readers, some of whom might be new to comics, to follow the story. Comics can be hard to read for new readers and we always hoped our crime comics might attract crime fiction lovers new to comics.

Now though, the three-tier grid has become one of the things that go into making our books look distinct, so I'm in no hurry to drop it. With KILL OR BE KILLED, I've kept the grid but changed other things. Now all the pages have full bleed with thinner, white gutters. I thought this might help the pages feel more claustrophobic and chaotic, but still be easy to read. I'm much more interested in telling the story than showing off how well I can draw an elbow, so as usual, the captions and speech balloons all start in the top left of the panel and never get in the way of the action. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

BREITWEISER: My approach to KILL OR BE KILLED will be different from the glitz and glamour of THE FADE OUT, with moodier palettes and a gritty, textured rendering style. I began experimenting with new techniques in the latest issue of CRIMINAL, so that book will give you a good idea for where I want to take the new project. I plan to do a lot of fun things with color psychology, as well. My approach changes depending on what kind of tone Ed and Sean are setting, and I try to follow their lead as best I can.

KILL OR BE KILLED #1 is available now.