Creating comic book masterpieces is no easy feat, but Ed Brubaker has that skill down to a T. The six-time Eisner Award winner is the brain behind notable works like The Fade Out and Fatale, but one of his most recent series, Kill or Be Killed, is vastly different than the rest. Keep reading to get an in-depth look at what went into creating this vigilante comic from Brubaker himself.
Kill or Be Killed is about a young grad student named Dylan who must kill bad people in order to save his own life. How did this idea come about?
EB: I’m not entirely sure. I think I was looking for a twist on the vigilante genre that I hadn’t seen done to death, and the idea of someone forced into that life, by possibly supernatural forces, that was something I hadn’t seen before. So I started taking notes, and letting the characters come together in my head a bit, until I had most of it figured out.
Then I started looking at the grander scheme of the concept. If you had to kill one bad person every month to survive, who would you pick? After you started getting good at it, would you start picking bigger targets, or feeling like you’d found a true calling? All of that seemed like really intriguing ground to explore in a series.
The general concept might sound like a vigilante story, but the actual premise strays from what we’re used to. Can you explain how Kill or Be Killed is different than what readers might expect?
EB: Hopefully, by being about more than just a guy who kills people. That’s just the plot that the rest of the story is wrapped around, which is much more universal – it’s a story about young love, and family tragedies, and a world that’s growing more and more unjust. It’s about how we’re all connected but alone at the same time. And it’s also about bad guys getting away with everything and how frustrated that makes us all feel.
Readers get the chance to dive deep into Dylan’s past and to dig into the raw emotions he experiences. He’s incredibly intriguing – was he inspired by anyone in particular?
EB: Not especially. I mean, writers draw from themselves and their experiences or friends for most of what they write on some level, but I wouldn’t say Dylan is like me or anyone I know, really. Some of his family tragedies are the same as mine, but that’s the extent of it, I hope.
Part of what I’m trying to do in the comic is let Dylan speak in his own voice a lot, and so I have to remember what it felt like to be in my late-20s, which in my experience, at least, was a time I felt much more raw.
Your writing is laced with very real topics, including terrorism and police brutality. Why was it important for you to include these tough themes in the story?
EB: It’s a book about, among other things, how doomed the world feels a lot of the time. So reflecting the actual world we live in in the story was important to who these characters are, Dylan and Kira, especially.
When I started the book I didn’t know how much darker and scarier the world would get, of course, so now it all seems even more relevant, sadly.
You teamed up with artists Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, the same team you worked with on popular titles like The Fade Out and Fatale. What is it that allows you all to collaborate so well?
EB: Sean Phillips and I have been working as a team for nearly two decades, and Bettie joined us on the colors about four years ago, so we’re all very in-sync at this point. We all like pushing ourselves with every new project, so we never just fall into a rut. We have a thing we’re good at, our work usually has some pulp or crime aspect, but all our projects are different from each other. That keeps it fun and creatively fulfilling.
What are your hopes for the future of Kill or Be Killed?
EB: I hope it turns out to be a thought-provoking roller coaster ride. Somewhere between a thriller and a dark existential mystery story in comics form.
In the meantime, do you have any other special projects up your sleeve?
EB: Nothing but top secret things, right now. An original graphic novel, and a TV series, neither of which have been announced yet.
Have you had a chance to read Kill or Be Killed? Share your feedback in the comments below!