To say that Ed Brisson is a busy man is an understatement. The prolific writer has made a name for himself in the comics industry for, among other storytelling talent, his vast range: let him loose on a Batman story, an X-Men chapter, a Predator tale, anything, and he’ll pull you in, every time, and make the reading experience feel like it was tailor-made just for you. (And if you want to know just how prolific he is, read on.)
That’s why it’s no wonder that his upcoming new comic, Sins of the Salton Sea, is as highly anticipated as it is. Out this week from AWA Studios, Sins of the Salton Sea focuses on a professional thief whose life is utterly upended when a simple robbery embroils him in a conflict between members of a doomsday cult. When the fate of humanity falls on him, will he make the right choice—or will his sins catch up with him? Brisson—joined by the creative team of artist C.P. Smith and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou—have crafted one of the best out-of-the-gate first issues in recent memory and it’ll be exciting to see where their tale goes.
Mr. Brisson was kind enough to speak with us recently about the idea behind Sins of the Salton Sea, approaching crime and supernatural elements used in the book, why he chose the California locale of the story, and why horror and crime goes so well together in crafting a compelling yarn.
FreakSugar: For folks who are reading this, what is the conceit of Sins of the Salton Sea?
Ed Brisson: The short, sweet version is: An armored car heist goes horribly wrong and as a result, the world may end.
FS: The cast is rich with well-developed characters, which makes this story work so well. What can you tell us about who we meet in the book?
EB: Sins of the Salton Sea has four major players:
Wyatt: A former professional thief who’s walked away from the life and retreated from society, living off the grid. He works shit jobs for under-the-table pay and lives in his truck. He’s carrying a lot of guilt for things in his past, things that we’ll slowly tease out as the series progresses. The guilt that he carries largely guides him through the story. He tends to act from an emotional place rather than a rational — though, the world we’re building can feel anything but rational. Wyatt ends up caught between The Sons of the Salton Sea and his own feelings of remorse. He’ll be asked to sacrifice everything he believes in in order to save humanity. He’ll be asked to do something horrible for a greater good, but isn’t sure that he can live with himself if he does.
Jasper: Jasper is Wyatt’s brother and the one who really kicks off the series. He and Wyatt were on the same crew back in the day. Though, while Wyatt left the life, Jasper stuck with it. But it’s been nearly a decade and Jasper knows that he’s had a good run and it’s time to hang it up. He just needs one last score (of course) to set him up for a cushy retirement. Like Wyatt, he’s thrust into something that’s much bigger than what they signed up for and he finds himself caught between his brother and The Sons of the Salton Sea.
Cecil: The head of The Sons of the Salton Sea. I can’t say too much about him without spoiling what’s to come. I’ll just say that he’s a very complicated man who is dedicated to his cause.
Silver: Silver’s a kid who’s been denied a real childhood. He just wants to be a teen. But, like it or not, he may be the key to saving the world.
FS: Sins of the Salton Sea mixes crime and horror so well. What are some of your favorite crime and horror tales? How have they informed your approach to this kind of work?
EB: In comics, my favourite crime story, hands down, is They Found the Car by Gipi. It’s a 30-something page one-shot comic published by Fantagraphics about 18 years ago and is a masterclass in telling a story while holding back, and whittling the story down to the essentials, while never sacrificing character the larger story. I keep it close to my desk at all times and reread it a couple times a year.
When it comes to film, there are too many to mention, though I tend to gravitate to a lot of 70s movies like Dog Day Afternoon, Mean Streets, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and the criminally underrated Straight Time.
If we’re talking books, then anything by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Chester Himes, Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson, Richard Price, George Pelecanos, and more recent authors like Donald Ray Pollock, SA Cosby, Frank Bill.
In terms of horror comics, I think we’re in the middle of a golden age that seems to largely be led by James Tynion. Something Is Killing the Children, The Nice House by the Lake, and The Department of Truth are all incredible. I’m jealous of the range and diversity he displays within the genre.
Over the last couple years, I’ve been devouring the books of Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones, both of whom are great. I recently just finished reading a slew of Michael McDowell’s books. He’s most known for writing Beetlejuice, but his books are something else entirely and deserve to be read by more people.
With films, again…so many to choose from. I grew up on a steady diet of horror movies. I love everything from 70s Italian horror from Fulci, Argento, Bava, and even Lenzi. 80s schlock will always carry a special place in my heart. And, like with comics, it feels like we’re in the middle of a horror boom, with things like The Witch, Barbarian, It Follows, Hereditary, Get Out, etc. It’s a great time to be a horror fan.
As to how they’ve influenced me, it’s really hard to say. I think we’re influenced by everything we consume, but it’s not always easy to spot where the influences come through.
Saying that, I think that with a lot of 70s crime films, especially with Straight Time and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, there’s a tendency for the characters to be in battle with their own pasts, trying to escape, trying for something better, but not always able to reach it. I can certainly see that seeping into my writing, though I’m someone who often has trouble letting go of the past, so it only stands to reason that it would come through in my writing.
FS: Following up on that, what is the narrative appeal, for you, in mixing the two genres?
EB: For me, they’re the peanut butter and chocolate of my own interests. Most of what I consume is either crime or horror related and so I’m predisposed to lean toward either (or both).
Both genres trade on similar emotional states. So setting up something like this, that looks like a crime book and then dovetails into a horror tale doesn’t feel like narrative whiplash, it feels like a natural progression. The stakes just increase from the personal to the global — though, I think we manage to keep them feeling very grounded and personal, despite the potential world-ending consequences.
FS: The art is so moody and, at times, unnerving. What is the collaboration process like with the creative team?
EB: C.P. Smith has been a dream collaborator. He’s approached this book differently than he has his past works, developing a style that feels germane to the story that we’re telling. His art is a perfect match for this chaotic world that Wyatt finds himself caught in. It’s grandiose and cinematic when it needs to be, while being equally adept at handling the incredibly human, emotion packed moments that make up the heart of the book. The loud and the quiet feel equally important — because they are.
I’ve loved working with C.P. and I hope that this is just the first of many collaborations.
FS: The desert/California locale is gorgeous, but the openness of the desert makes the story all the more unsettling. Was that intentional?
EB: Absolutely. I think that feeling is part and parcel of the Salton Sea and the area surrounding it. I drove through there last year as part of a massive road trip, taking time to drive through Salton City and surrounding areas in order to get a bit of a feel for it. There’s a real feeling of unease when you pass through the city.
At one point, we parked down by the water to get a few photos and insects quite literally began raining down on our car. It felt apocalyptic. The Salton Sea was created by accident in the early 1900s, due to the Colorado River flooding an irrigation canal and flowing from there into the dry Salton Sink.
In the 1950s, they converted it into a resort town, but by the 70s, pesticide runoff from nearby farms, turned the lake into a toxic stew that killed off the fish in the lake and turned it acrid. Given that fishing was a big draw to the resort, this effectively killed tourism.
Now Salton Sea is surrounded by ghost towns, with remaining residents battling chronic health problems due to the “toxic dust” released from the retreating shorelines. The crime rate in Salton City, the city where are story partially takes place, is 43% higher than the national average.
I’d had an idea to do a story set on The Salton Sea for quite a few years now. It’s a high crime area and an ecological nightmare. It lends itself well to both crime and horror and I think gives the story that feeling of unease right from the jump. I’m sure that the tourism board of the city is going to put out a hit on me after this.
FS: Do you have any other projects coming down the pike you’d like to discuss?
EB: Well, currently I have Batman Incorporated (DC) with artist John Timms, where we’re just kicking off our “Joker Incorporated” arc, which has been a lot of fun. Joker finally sets up his own Joker-inspired villains in every city in which there’s a Batman Inc. member; Knight Terrors: Ravager (DC) with Dexter Soy, a two-parter where Ravager is sucked into a nightmare world and has to save a younger version of herself from a twisted version of Deathstroke; The Brave & The Bold: StormWatch (DC) with artist Jeff Spokes. which are series of done-in-one StormWatch stories, where the new team is taking out big bads across the globe in order to put together a collection of weapons to protect themselves against a possible attack from the Justice League; Predator (Marvel) with artist Netho Diaz, is my second Predator series, this one is set on the same game preserve planet from Predators, with some interesting twists and expansions on the lore; and finally Alpha Flight (Marvel) with artist Scotty Godlewski, which will be launching as part of The Fall of X event in August.
Holy crap, typing that out…it feels like a lot!
FS: If you had a final pitch for the book, what would it be?
EB: I hate doing the “it’s this meets that”, but…if you’ve ever wondered what a mashup of Heat and The Wicker Man would look like, wonder no more. We’ve got you.
Sins of the Salton Sea #1 debuts Wednesday, June 7th, from AWA Studios.
From the official issue description:
Wyatt, a professional thief living off the grid, is recruited by his brother for one last job. Their target: an armored car traveling down a desolate stretch of California highway. But when it turns out that their target is carrying not gold bars but human cargo, Wyatt is plunged into a conflict between warring factions of a doomsday cult. The cult claims that it is their solemn duty to save the world by means of human sacrifice. Will Wyatt protect the boy who has come into his charge? Or will he be swayed by the cult’s increasingly convincing claims that the end of the world is fast approaching?