The Mantle: Unstoppable Villains, Unshakeable Motivation [Interview]

Image Comics: There are a lot of superhero pastiches or deconstructions on the market, and this is just a straight-up superhero tale, albeit with references to the history of superheroes. What were your goals coming into this project? Are you into the idea of "examining the superhero" or did you want to just do a good superhero tale?

Ed Brisson: To be honest, I really just wanted to do a really fun superhero book with maybe a little deconstruction. I didn't want that to be central, though. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but I feel like any non-Big 2 superhero book seems to always be a deconstruction and examination of the superhero mythos and while there's nothing wrong with that, it can sometimes be just as predictable as your standard superhero tale. What we wanted to do here was just tell something fun and original that would occasionally nod to both the history of superhero comics as well as exploit some of my own beefs with the genre, but keeping that focus on story first.

Brian Level: Ed and I definitely wanted to honor what we loved about superhero books while managing to poke a little fun at the genre. There wasn't a deliberate attempt at deconstruction on my end. More homages, really. I went back though some of my favorite artists to pull out those flashback sequences. It was a genuine attempt to show some love to what came before us. That said, Ed and I both love grounded material so I definitely wanted to grime up the pages when it was called for.

IC: What kind of world is THE MANTLE set in? Are superheroes a common, accepted affair, or are they more of an underground secret?

EB: They're not terribly common, but this isn't the "birth" of the hero either. They're around, but the world isn't lousy with them, like you might see in the Big 2, where everyone is no more than 2 degrees of separation from a superhero or villain.

BL: I would imagine many folks in that world were pretty unaware of what a “superhero” entailed. Partially because of apathy and also due to them being not very common. I always imagined most people's lives were relatively untouched by them. Like happenings halfway across the world or something to that effect. Albeit crappy, an “It doesn't affect me so I don't really care until it does” sorta vibe was what I envisioned.

IC: The villain in THE MANTLE, The Plague, is near-unstoppable. What feelings do you want him to inspire in the readers and the characters themselves?

EB: The Plague seems like this near-motiveless villain. Someone after The Mantle only for revenge, which is the one issue I have with a lot of superhero comics. You don't always have a clear motive for villains that isn't just built on "they're evil, so they're going to do evil shit." So, for the reader, we really wanted to sell The Plague as that—evil dude, out for revenge because he's evil—and then slowly build on it and give him REAL motivations, which aren't revealed until the end of the series (#5).

To Robbie and Jen, he's death. He's coming for them and there's nothing they can do to stop him. He's their ticking time bomb.

BL: It was always my hope that he would appear to have something stirring beneath that concrete facade. As afraid as I would be of The Plague, I would be completely intrigued by him too. I would hope that readers would share that sentiment. That he's more than just a tough, killing machine, but something to be thought about between head explosions.

IC: Tell me about Jen and Robbie, the focal characters in THE MANTLE. What kind of people are they? What defines their visual style, their "look"?

EB: Brian's wholly responsible for their look, so he can speak on that a bit. Their personalities, and everything else about them, are a bit of an amalgam of people I knew when I lived in Sudbury, Ontario (the setting of THE MANTLE). The life that Jen and Robbie live is basically the same that me and my friends lived back then—lots of punk shows and drinking. There's really not much else to do there. It's an ugly, cold, hard city where the teens and young 20-somethings are bored out of their god damned minds. I wanted to give these two an escape from the city that's not necessarily a gift and explore how they adapted.

BL: Ed gave me a rundown of the town and people he knew. I tried to come up with something that fit that while using prior experiences of being in a band and touring to shape the look and visual attitude for Jen and Robbie. They remind me of people I knew about 15 years ago. I just tweaked it trying to make the clothes and environment a little more timeless in their "punk-ness."

IC: Brian, you use a number of styles over the course of the series. What makes the style you use for the majority of THE MANTLE the right one for the series? What notes do you feel you have to hit to do justice to the story?

BL: I really tried to clean up my style since I still wanted it to feel “superheroey” but I don't think I could ever not use a bit of drybrush here and there, haha. If I would've dived into a more realistic approach I feel like it would've come off unconvincing. I kept trying to push my cartooning in every issue. It was a blast, really. I was attempting to push wide shots to show some scope, which I rarely get to do. Making the acting tighter was a must. Lots of feelings in this book so I wanted to hit those just right and the cartooning made sense. Absurdly, I think I only used photo reference for maybe 10 panels in the whole series as some dumb challenge for myself. Probably could've been a little faster had I just shot another photo or two.

IC: Here's a chance for you two to make each other blush—Ed, what appeals to you about Brian's work? Brian, what do you like best about Ed's scripts?

EB: Brian's got a bit of tooth to his art that I like. It feels very grounded in the real without being boring. His acting and his storytelling are both top notch. THE MANTLE is something that we developed together—Brian and I have been talking for years about doing a longer story together. We did do a few shorts together (Murder Book, Liberator, In The Dark) and those came out pretty great. So, when the idea of THE MANTLE first sparked, Brian was the only person who could have done it.

BL: Well, I was a fan of Ed's with Murder Book before we were ever friends and collaborators. I knew the scripts were going to be fantastic before I ever got one in my inbox. He's precise where he needs to be and leaves me room to be myself. Flexible with adding and subtracting panels. I love that his panel descriptions are succinct and written like we were in a room together talking. And he takes notes (which I'm always terrified to give. Especially unsolicited ones.) and gives AMAZING notes. He always shoots straight and says if he doesn't like something. That's something I appreciate a lot. All around Ed is one of my favorite writers in comics and I was glad to be able to do THE MANTLE with him. Dude's a beast.

IC: Ed, you're lettering and writing THE MANTLE. Do you take the lettering stage as an opportunity to tweak your dialogue or storytelling before everything's final, or do you usually stick closely to your own script?

EB: I use lettering as a final pass on dialog. It's part of my writing process. I spend a lot of time tweaking dialog to flow better with the art and, sometimes, I will remove dialog if the art tells the story just as well (which happens more often than you would think).

As I get more writing gigs, I've been cutting back on lettering, but I don't think that I'll ever stop lettering creator owned books that I'm writing.

IC: Ed, you have a new comic coming up, which should be solicited by the time this goes live. What can you tell us about THE VIOLENT?

EB: THE VIOLENT is a new, ongoing crime book developed with artist Adam Gorham (ZERO, Dead Drop). Michael Garland, who coloured the first arc of CLUSTER, is on board for colours, and Tom Muller, who many people know from his design work on ZERO and DRIFTER and a million others, is on board to provide cover and interior designs.

Essentially, THE VIOLENT is the sort of book that I've been wanting to do for years. It's straight crime, much in the vein of Murder Book. It's dark, it's gritty, it's unrelenting. It's heartwrenching in the best possible way.

The story follows Mason and Becky, two reformed addicts who're struggling to get their life on the straight and narrow. They've got a young daughter, who provides the impetus for them to keep clean. However, everything seems to be working against them: old acquaintances, the police, their own decisions, and even the city itself.

The first arc is about a man drowning in his own bad decisions, trying to pull himself up, but making matters worse with one terrible turn after another. Each measure he takes to save his family puts them in an increasingly more dangerous position. It's about desperation and sacrifice.