Battaglia’s Drawing Board: How Ed Brubaker And Sean Phillips’ ‘Where The Body Was’ Is An Almost Straight-Up Character Study Drama
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are back at it again – with colors by Jacob Phillips, no less.
I do think this team has reached their final form. I’ve long been a fan of the Brubaker/Phillips team, having read almost their entire catalog at this point, but I think this current streak of graphic novels has been them at their best.
Where the Body Was follows Night Fever, which I also enjoyed. The best way to describe it is a ‘mid-life crisis noir,’ if that makes sense.
The book is told in a quasi-documentary way, multiple narrators are shown being ‘interviewed’ after the events in the summer of 1984 that make up the primary narrative of the book. It profiles the lives of people in a pretty standard-feeling suburban neighborhood for the New Wave period.
A breezy read that features a few standard Brubaker/Phillips characters – the teen junkies, gruff cop, homeless drifter, and lonely housewife – they’re played against and with each other in varying ways.
Brubaker describes the book as being ‘romance-crime,’ and he’s spot-on. There are a few different romantic strains throughout it that break the Brubaker/Phillips mold enough to the point it offers some genuine surprises.
It’s an adult work with a pretty steamy affair (it’s kicked off around page 10, so that’s not really a spoiler), and we get Phillips drawing a lot more ‘intimate’ scenes than I think he’s ever done.
Staying on Phillips, I love where his style has gone, he’s loosened up a lot since he dropped digital inks, and I’m grateful for that. The Fade Out and Kill or Be Killed were both inked digitally and he was drawing so tight, and pulling way too much reference, so his work was starting to stiffen up.
Now he’s gone back to traditional inks and the results are fantastic. His line work has a rediscovered energy, and he’s doing some nice expressionism in the background. It’s all still within the range of ‘realism’ but the book feels way more alive.
Jacob has also fully settled into colors that are a perfect complement to the way his dad is now drawing. He picks and chooses some good spots to just hit a scene with a spot of color to enhance a specific mood.
Another new thing I’ve noticed is Sean playing more with sound effects. In some select moments, he uses some big hand-lettered SFX to fill out a scene.
Also one of the most instantly readable artists working in comics today, Sean has some of the clearest storytelling and cleanest panel layouts there are among any talent in the industry. You are never lost in a scene or a page; it’s always clear what’s happening and where you are – both in time and location.
In many ways, the Brubaker/Phillips books should be a ‘first comic’ since they very quickly orient a reader and teach them how to read a comic (something that can be a barrier to casuals or young readers picking up the medium for the first time).
Where the Body Was is the final form for this team; they have reached a point where they no longer feel the need to go fully into the genre. That is, they don’t need to tie the book back into a previous property (My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies was their first graphic novel experiment, but it was a tie-in to their series Criminal), and it doesn’t have to be a strict crime.
Night Fever was halfway there, but it still leaned on some heavy crime elements. This feels like they’ve made an almost straight-up character study drama, and outside of some surprisingly explicit sex scenes, it’s an extremely approachable book for both comic readers and non-comic readers alike.
Naturally, I look forward to whatever they do next, whether it’s a return to the Reckless series or another entirely new project.