By Hussein Wasiti
“Comics have been dying since 1954, kid… don’t let that stop you.”
This is a bit of an unusual release, due to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s interesting exercise in the collected release of the Bad Weekend arc from the current Criminal monthly series. The Bad Weekend hardcover collects issues #2 and #3 of the series, and tells the story of aging cartoonist Hal Crane and his criminal misadventures when attending a comic book convention. Joining him is Jacob Kurtz, a recurring character in the world of Criminal.
Despite taking place in 1997, the story feels very timely. Hal is an artist who was screwed by the system; his work for a cartoon called Danny Dagger and the Fantasticals went unnoticed until the show achieved fame during a rerun period in the 1970s. His boss got rich off of the show’s success, however. This, coupled with the death of his mentor Archie Lewis, turned Hal into a cynical man who never quite recovered from this betrayal.
The art team of Sean Phillips and his son Jacob is the highlight of this release. Jacob’s colors offer mood and reflection in a way that no other colorist has given Sean’s pages. There’s a hazy abstractness to the colors here, or rather ever since their first collaboration in last year’s My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, and it is truly the perfect dance between figure-work and coloring. Sean leaves just enough for Jacob to make his mark on the page when it comes to characters and their expressions.
Brubaker’s plot is less hard-boiled than the usual Criminal story, and it feels fresh as a result. The story is more reflective and less brutal, despite a lot of the awful things Hal does to people. You’d think with a story like this about the comics industry and its treatment of creators that the team behind the story would have a visible anger in the comic, but impressively this is not the case. Like I said, it’s reflective and also brutally honest. There’s an acceptance to the way things are that Hal demonstrates, and I can’t help but feel like Brubaker and Phillips accept it too.
From a publishing standpoint, Brubaker and Phillips succeed once again in their mastery of accessible serialised storytelling. Criminal is a story that has been going on for more than ten years, but any arc can be read as a standalone. You seriously won’t be confused if you pick up the third or seventh collected arc. I would personally begin with the first volume so you can analyze the elevation of craft from story to story, and witness the progression of Brubaker and Phillips’ pure collaborative spirit. The addition of a few new pages of story that did not appear in the original publications adds some weight to the character of Hal specifically, and fleshes out his mindset and worldview.
In a way, I imagine Hal to be a hero to a cartoonist that may read this. I’m not a cartoonist so I may be completely wrong, but seeing a man spit in the face of the system that broke him down could be a very empowering thought to someone. He makes money his own way and isn’t reliant on published work to make a living. He’s a criminal, after all.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: July 16, 2019
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Hussein Wasiti is a history undergraduate with an intense passion for comics. He is a staff writer on The Beat and a contributor to Batman's Bookcase. You can find him on Twitter as bullthesis. He lives in Toronto with his hordes of comics.