Brubaker & Phillips reinvent the paperback pulp hero in Reckless

(Image credit: Sean Phillips (Image Comics))

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are giving a post-modern spin to the '60s and '70s paperback pulp hero genre with their new OGN Reckless.

(Image credit: Sean Phillips (Image Comics))

Like a reinvented Charles Bronson or a more chaotic Jack Reacher, Ethan Reckless is a private eye/repo man/problem solver who aims to be a good guy - but when the return of an old friend dredges up some of the past he'd rather leave behind him, Ethan Reckless must come to terms with all parts of his life.

Reckless is the first in a series of standalone graphic novels - a first in Brubaker and Phillips' long-running series of crime fiction stories at Image Comics

"I think [Ethan] is a new take on that genre, for sure, but I mean more as no one refers to Casino Royale as 'James Bond part one,'" Brubaker told Newsarama. "So many graphic novels are all 'to be continued' because of the nature of how they're built, so I have to fight that expectation," he continued. "I just want everyone to know they get a complete story in every book, so they don't think there'll be a cliffhanger or something."

Brubaker talked to Newsarama about creating these books, his script structure for them, how he sees Ethan Reckless himself, and if the process of putting these types of books together is more to his liking.

Newsarama: I've been asking this from everyone all year, Ed... how are you holding up with everything going on?

Ed Brubaker

(Image credit: Image Comics)

Ed Brubaker: I'm doing okay. I've had some problems here and there because of the pandemic, but I'm lucky enough that I already worked from home most of the time. But it still feels pretty apocalyptic and isolating.

Nrama: Before we dive into the story of Reckless, you're releasing it as a graphic novel. Why take this route with this? Was this originally supposed to be a monthly series?

Brubaker: No, Reckless was something that came up because the industry shut down. We wanted to keep working, and I wanted to create something that was a bit fun and escapist, because that was what I'd been drawn to in my own reading since the pandemic began, old pulp series...characters like Lew Archer or Travis McGee or even the Executioner...and I figured since we had no idea how long the whole system would be shut down, it was the perfect time to finally do a longer graphic novel. 

And the idea of doing our version of that kind of old paperback pulp hero just felt like the right move. And pretty quickly I had ideas for several more books with the same character.

So it was always conceived of as a series of graphic novels, each of which tells their own complete story, and are about 130 or 140 pages long.

(Image credit: Sean Phillips (Image Comics))

Nrama: Yeah I was about to ask about the aesthetic you wanted for Reckless? It definitely evokes a '70s paperback cover or some kind of Charles Bronson movie.

Brubaker: Yeah, I was thinking of all those paperback original covers from the '60s and '70s. I wanted to use those trappings, and the assumptions of that genre, the 'paperback hero' but try to bring a bit of a post-modern sensibility to it. 

Like, it's got all the things you expect a series character to have - a cool hideout, a smart sidekick, a car lots of people would love to have - but it uses them to tell a different kind of story, I think. Something more personal, and maybe even a bit subversive, in the way it uses the genre.

But if the cover makes you think of the paperback racks at the 7-11 or Fed Mart back in the day, that's definitely intended. Reckless definitely steps out of that genre.

Nrama: So how would you describe Ethan Reckless?

(Image credit: Sean Phillips (Image Comics))

Brubaker: The back of the book says he's one part repo-man, one part private eye, and one part troublemaker, and I think that's a fair description. But he's also a lot more than that. I've never really written a character like this. He's got a very twisted backstory, which we learn over the course of this book, and his motives for doing what he does, I feel like really set him apart.

He's a guy with a real sense of the injustice of the world, but he's also got this very doomed view of humanity because of everything that happened to him in his student radical days and after that. And yet he still helps people out of their messes, even to the point of risking his own life and sometimes getting his hands very bloody.

Nrama: Most of the book reads like prose with Ethan's thoughts taking up the page, so when writing something like this, was the panel description leaner than usual? Especially I'm sure how you and Sean have developed a shorthand.

(Image credit: Sean Phillips (Image Comics))

Brubaker: No, I think it was the same as our usual method. I often was trying to make sure the narrative text and the pictures were each telling their own stories, like when Ethan is going off on a tangent about his past the pages show him doing other stuff and heading to the next point in his hunt. 

But I think me and Sean have been working together so long now that our system is down to a bit of a science. I know how much he needs to know about a location or a character, or what he needs to make a scene work. Or I can even say - "this is the last panel of the chapter, so do something to imply finality please" and he will make it work.

Nrama: What is it about 1981 that makes it perfect for this kind of story?

Brubaker: I think it's just far enough away from the '60s to make them feel dreamy and remote. Ethan's story in the book revolves around his college days, in the Weather Underground and what happened to him back then, so 1981 felt right. 

He's ten years into a new life, and at that point in time, the world felt very bleak and doomed. The cold war was still raging and people were getting assassinated. It felt like the '70s were much darker than the '60s, and now the '80s were the screaming hangover of all that.

(Image credit: Sean Phillips (Image Comics))

Looking back is always interesting because now people revere that decade, but it really did feel like a cold and fucked up world as we lived through it much of the time.

Nrama: How many parts are we looking at for the story? Will we see time jumps?

Brubaker: There are no parts. Reckless is a complete book, but there are more books coming starring the same character, and yeah, the second book, Friend of the Devil, is out in April and takes place in 1985. The third book will come out in the fall of 2021. 

Each book tells its own complete story, I can't say that strongly enough. It's not a trilogy or anything like that, and there are no cliffhangers.

Nrama:  I'm in the middle of a Mad Men rewatch and the one thing I always enjoyed was the characters' reaction to the shifting culture. If Ethan goes through the '80s, what's going to be his biggest problem with adapting?

(Image credit: Sean Phillips (Image Comics))

Brubaker: I think Ethan will remain a Luddite for the most part but will see the internet as a handy tool when he needs it. Corporate culture came to prominence in the late '80s and early '90s, that kind of Wall Street, 'money is our god' kind of culture that wiped out a lot of our economy and created this world we're in now, where four companies control almost all the media and use it to keep everyone angry and distracted all the time. I don't think Ethan will deal well with that world, as it matches his own apocalyptic ideas of the world.

Nrama: Is the format like Reckless something you'd like to do more of?

Brubaker: Yes. I think we'll be focusing on original hardbacks exclusively for a while, at least. I find it really freeing to not have to break the story down into chunks. And I love just giving people their preferred format straight out of the gate. 

We're lucky that we've built up an audience that wants these kinds of books from us, and that we're fast enough as creators to put out a couple of books a year, so we're embracing this format. If anything, I feel like we're more motivated now because we're both having so much fun and we're more excited to see these books than anyone. We are so painstaking about the printing and design of our stuff.

Reckless goes on sale on December 16, both in print and digitally. Check out our list of the best digital comic readers for Android and iOS devices.

Lan Pitts likes watching, talking, and writing comics about wrestling. He has mapped every great taco spot in the DC and Baltimore areas. He lives with his partner and their menagerie of pets who are utterly perfect in every way.