Part Southern crime drama, part psychedelic road trip, part Shakespearian romance: Loose Ends is a one-of-a-kind prestige piece for Image Comics. Equal parts beautiful and compelling, this series is a masterclass in visual storytelling 10 years in the making. We were fortunate enough to chat with 2/3 of the creative team – writer Jason Latour and artist Chris Brunner – to discuss their “Southern crime romance,” the trade paperback collection for which comes out today.
AiPT!: Loose Ends has been a pretty long gestating project. How does it feel to finally have the story out there?
Jason Latour: Great. Surreal, but great. I mean for context, we began making Loose Ends in 2007 and it was originally published back in 2011. Most folks know — creator-owned comics were a different ball game back then. Audiences paid less attention, the market was less diverse, and we were still building our careers. You couple all that with how much we poured into making this comic, and it was just a real uphill climb. So despite a really great enthusiastic response, we only managed to complete three issues of what was intended as a four-issue miniseries.
So it’s amazing to me that our passion project survived all that. It’s a bit like an old high school yearbook photo in places, sure. But the fact that it’s now something I can hold in my hands and be proud of makes it worth the time it took to get here. It’s a fun road trip genre crime comic, sure. But also a snapshot of what it was like to come of age in an era where we were at war in the Middle East, almost no one had ever heard of Barack Obama, and Trump was just a dumb reality TV host. I think it’s an interesting time capsule in that sense. Hopefully it’s taken on some new relevance because of that.
Chris Brunner: Completing the story was a huge relief – I lived with it for a long time. Holding the trade, and getting to see what all our efforts added up to, was satisfying. We three decided to build something, but in that process you are more focused on going one brick at a time, viewing the project up close. I had a giant document we called our “map,” which was every page all laid out, with word balloons placed and spreads indicated, so that we could see what we had as it took shape. But still, it was a diagram of the thing, not the thing itself. The trade is the first time I’ve felt like I could see the project all at once, appreciate the individual parts as well as the whole. It’s a comic I wanted to see as a reader that didn’t exist, but now it does, and I like it.
Having it “out there” is a whole other bag. Criticism I pay attention to, having an art school background (M.F.A. in Sequential Art) reinforces how necessary it is to assess results and make adjustments. You’re trying to communicate, and so your success is wrapped up in whether or not people grok what you’re saying. We threw some curveballs in this book, and I want to see what we got away with. It’s not an easy part of the process, I absorb in small doses.
AiPT!: I, like an unfortunately large portion of the audience, missed the series’ original run with 12-Gauge. What was the process of bringing the book to Image like?
JL: We’re VERY, VERY lucky and grateful to be at Image. Let alone to be around to do this 10 years later. In that time, a lot of doors have opened for us — especially for me — and a lot of that has to do with Image’s belief in me and in creators in general. They make Southern Bastards possible. They facilitate Saga and Walking Dead and Paper Girls and all these other great comics that have such a real authorship and vision happen every month.
Without their belief, it would have been impossible to re-present this book. And holding all that power, they still opened the doors wide and made it so easy for us to do this. I love the working relationship we have there. I love the idea of this comic finally having a home beside the amazing stuff they do.
AiPT!: You’ve said that there were virtually no changes from the original story to what readers can pick up at their local shops, so it’s to the book’s credit that it doesn’t feel dated or like a period piece. Was there anything you wanted to change or update prior to the more recent release?
JL: Oh, I’m probably racing towards having written close to 100 comics since Loose Ends and there’s ALWAYS things you want to change. That NEVER goes away. But, no. No huge changes here. Han still shoots first.
I mean, four issues total was always kind of the intrinsic parameters of the project. It’s what the team could do, so the story HAD to fit that. And as a result, for as raw and personal as it is — it’s also very much an exercise in plot mechanic judo. When you have such a confined space, where and how do you redirect the flow of things so that you brush against, or skip over the things you’ve seen in a thousand crime stories in order to get to stuff you maybe haven’t felt?
Besides that, at a certain point, you’ve got to stand beside what you did as a younger creator. Maybe even reckon with that. And just trust that even if you were in a different place, you still gave it your best effort, and have hopefully learned from that. That’s maybe of what makes me proudest of this thing. The effort. The ambition.
CB: Glad to hear that it doesn’t feel dated. We were always trying to be extremely specific to a time and place, and any elements that speak to that were put front and center. For example, we start with a phone booth, but hinge story on burners and iphones too.
It may be that period pieces have too narrow a focus — as when trying to show “the 50’s” elements, bits that speak to “the 30’s” and “the 40’s” are weeded out, when those periods co-mingled. Madmen was good about this, there was an interaction between eras. Stories that are modern by default probably favor current fashion in a way that’s narrow as well. It’s like we tried to triangulate past, present, and future to locate our specific place in time. Loose Ends as a story is concerned with the past, our choices grew out of that, and if it ages well I consider us lucky.
AiPT!: I don’t think it can be overstated how integral the artwork and coloring are to the central narrative. It’s a unique and beautiful way to show and not tell the audience what’s going through Sonny and Cheri’s minds at any given sequence. (I especially love the scene of Cheri sitting in the Miami hotel room with the glowing city lights reflecting off the windows in issue 3). How much of a team effort was the scripting process here?
CB: Telling the story was a team effort; script + drawings + color = story. The script as a document was in dialogue with the other elements, and we were in dialogue as a team. I think of a script as “what happened,” and the visuals as “how we perceive what happened” (see: the Commode Story speech in “Reservoir Dogs”). Jason’s scripts are great to work from because he keeps to what’s necessary, the business at hand, while suggesting more beyond what’s in type. He also is writing to the strengths of the team, the bulk of Loose Ends is stuff (inker) Rico (Renzi) and I are into aesthetically. Miami is there in part because we wanted to see Rico do Miami. One of the things that most excited me was that we began working from screenplay format (Jason’s original script was for a screenwriting class), which allowed for room to breathe and set the pace. Later, Jason would leave empty pages for Rico and I to play with.
Once I had read a script, we would talk through how we could execute it in the most satisfying way. I think “show, don’t tell” works primarily because it’s more satisfying to an audience when they are given space to come their own conclusion — even if you are guiding them to a particular conclusion. So anywhere I thought we could convey something visually, I’d suggest it, and that conversation would become the basis of the scene, the script being something I’d refer to for a kind of fact-checking. I’d also be talking to Rico, and our dialogue would go about the same as mine with Jason; Rico would suggest what he could convey that I wouldn’t have to draw. We wanted all elements weaponized to deploy story, both for fun and efficiency.
As we worked, there were places to expand or contract the story, and we took advantage of the room provided in the script. The page you asked about wasn’t in the script, neither was page one. But that was really the game of the project, bringing our whole selves as storytellers to the table, granting each other the authority to run wild.
JL: I wrote a full script, taking us all the way through the story as I saw it. And then when Chris and Rico came onboard fully — we tore that up and reassembled it as we went. Most of what I wrote fell back into place. But there was always room for stuff like that hotel scene. Or places where the art was just speaking in a way words couldn’t, so we let it do the job. I’m not completely stupid, you see. Art wise these dudes are one of the fastest cars around. You gotta let them race. It’s a collaboration.
AiPT!: The end of issue 4 puts a pretty decisive bow on the storyline. Are there any plans to do more Loose Ends? Possibly following Cheri or Rej in the future?
JL: To my mind? No. We told the story of the characters as I know them. But I’ve learned in comics that you never say never. I mean hell… the book is called Loose Ends…
CB: We have a nice little grenade of a story. It’s compact and impactful, requires no set up, and when it’s done it’s done. I wouldn’t want to disturb that aspect of Loose Ends, it’s completeness. But wow, I really miss Cheri.