Ed Brubaker: The Genesis of Velvet
Ed Brubaker recently talked to a room full of people about his career in comics, among many topics of discussion was the origin of his and Steve Epting’s new series: Velvet.
Here’s what he had to say about where the idea for the book came from, and why it took so many years to see publication.
I’ve had this life long fascination with the spy field, my dad was in Naval Intelligence during Vietnam, and my uncle who I’m named after, was high up in the CIA. That was the family secret. I never understood what my dad did for a living and I didn’t find out until I was 18 what my uncle did. And that explained why there were always John le Carré books around the house, and why we always watched every James Bond movie a million times. He would always tell me what was wrong with things, but he loved all of that stuff anyway. That was part of my upbringing, I was always watching those movies.
In America a couple of times a year various channels do nothing but show Spy movies for weeks at a time… so I’d gone on one of these binges and there was a scene at the end of what I will say would’ve been the best James Bond movie if Sean Connery had starred in it, On Her Majesties Secret Service…and at the end of that movie there’s a scene where James Bond gets married to Emma Peel and drives off, then they cut to a scene of Moneypenny crying, and I just thought “This is such utter horse shit”.
Moneypenny was probably sleeping with him, and every other double-O agent, because who’s going to be better in bed than a guy who’s about to go on a suicide mission. And I just thought, she’s probably got this whole other back story that we never thought about… so that was always in the back of my head as a kernal of an idea that just started growing. Then about six or seven years ago I started writing out an idea and I talked to a couple of different artists about it… but nothing really panned out. Chris Samnee and I almost did it briefly, then he started getting paying work and I wasn’t paying at the time, so I just kind of sidelined it… but it was always in the back of my mind.
Steve Epting and I had only met once or twice when we were working together on Cap, and after we did the Death of Captain America issue we were at a convention together and just sitting round talking. I told him this idea I had, which had been fleshed out into this much bigger world by then, it’d grown so much more from it’s inspiration… and he was just like “Can I draw that?” and I said “Yeah of course! When will you be done with your contract?”. He had a few years left and his contract kept getting loophole extended… and I think he wasn’t 100% sure it was really viable to leave Marvel or DC to go do something somewhere else. At that point we thought we’d maybe do it at Icon… and so finally, earlier this year he called me up and said “I’ll be done with my Marvel contract in a month”. So I called Eric [Stephenson] at Image and said “We’re ready to do it”
So we finally started working, and I sat down to actually start writing it, I had a notebook full of ideas at that point that had been growing for seven years, and when I sat down to write the thing I immediately froze, because the story had gotten so much bigger in my head and I no longer wanted to do a thing that reference other things. And while the character has that archetypal secretary, in the interim I had watched all the Sandbaggers and I’d done all this research and watched a tonne of Noir films, and there was always the secretary, Gal Friday kind of type, and I realised it’s not just a Moneypenny thing, it’s throughout all these Genre’s.
One of the best episodes of Sandbaggers is when the guy who runs MI6 is trying to find a new secretary, because to get that job you have to be one of the most qualified people, and it’s one of the most powerful jobs… she has to know as much as him and probably more, because she has to weed-out the shit that’s not important.
So it started growing into ‘Who is this person beyond this simple archetype?’. I always want to build something bigger than ‘What if Captain America was someone else?’.
So I didn’t want it to feel like I was grooving too much on these kinds of things, and at one point I thought maybe it should be a modern day story… then I really wanted to set it during the Cold War, because A: no one can use a cell phone, and B: it was the Cold War, the Russians were the bad guys, there was real things going on. Right now most espionage is various governments spying on corporations, and corporations spying on people, trying to manipulate governments. It’s a much murkier thing.
I suddenly realised I was writing a first issue of something that wasn’t for Sean Phillip’s, most of my first issues over the last 15 years have been written for Sean and I already know where it’s going. This isn’t like writing Captain America, where I could take a whole page to remind people who Captain America is… you’re not telling them about an entire world. So I’d written the opening scene and then I got to the next part and started writing, then realised…Shit, I’ve got to actually explain this whole world, and who this company is, and who all these people are… and it’s going to be a really really long first issue.
Click the gallery below to view the four-page Velvet teaser
And I also felt that the teaser we did showed the high concept, but if you made a movie trailer before you made a movie, you might have a hard time making the movie because you’ve wasted your best stuff. So I felt like I had to get beyond that, and Steve had a little bit of a break while working on the first issue, he got to the point after three or four pages where he kept trying to find a different style to draw in, and Bettie [Breitweiser] did the same thing on the colours… and we all finally just said “Let’s just do it how we always do it”, and then it came out great and it went really smoothly after that point. But we all kind of had this moment where we thought “It’s a new project, let’s push ourselves a different way”… then I thought: Let’s just Steve and I do what we do best together, what we’re known for, but in our own way.
It’s a comic book, it’s not like a novel.. in Tinker Tailor [Soldier Spy] there’s not giant, high-pitched action sequences. But if you did the comic book version of that there would be chase scenes, people on rooftops shooting at each other, people jumping onto moving trains… so I thought I want to do something in between a Bond or Mission Impossible feel, and a Tinker Tailor kind of real, gritty world. So we’ll have these really exciting action scenes and the odd gadget thing, from like a [Jim] Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D. kind of era. And that’s the other part of setting it in the early seventies that makes it more fun.
When the violence actually happens, if someone were to get thrown off a moving train and land on the street, their face just gets ripped off… we’re writing these glorified action sequences but I didn’t want to glorify the violence part of it, because in real life if someone comes and shoots you in the face, that’s it. You don’t go “I’m peeling off my bullet roof face now…” So I decided that would be where we’d try to find a middle ground and start to inhabit that, and that’s really how we’ve played it the whole way and I think it’s worked out really well so far.
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