Thursday Comics Hangover: Comics will break your heart, and maybe your nose

Bad Weekend is a slender hardcover crime comic from the tried and tested comics team of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips. It's about a young man who's hired to chaperone a jaded old cartoonist around a comic book convention. Theft and assault and other crimes are on the menu, and the book serves as a kind of Dante's Inferno of the comic industry's seedy underbelly.

The character at the center of Bad Weekend, Hal Crane, is an exhausted old cartoonist who has been burnt so many times by the comics industry that he's basically a pile of ash. Even now, as nerds try to pay homage to him, he's distrustful of their approval and disdainful of all the people who never bothered to give him the time of day when he was a hungry draftsman looking for a steady gig.

I don't think you can parse Hal one-to-one with any single cartoonist from comics history, but he's sure assembled from a bunch of different anecdotes. Pretty much every kid who grew up reading comics in the 1980s is very familiar with the seedy old bitter cartoonist, and how they barely tolerated our adoration. It's all so undignified that a life of crime seems downright classy by comparison.

Listen: are there any other comic teams working today with as smooth a symbiosis as Brubaker and Phillips? Just as old married couples are said to resemble one another, Brubaker's prose has become clearer and more striking, to match Phillips's art. The character work, both in writing and in art, is impeccable.

Bad Weekend doesn't have the heft and the haunting rage of some of Phillips and Brubaker's other work — Kill or Be Killed is, to my mind, one of the best comics of the decade — but it is perfectly clever and fun all the way through. It's maybe the closest thing to an Elmore Leonard novel I've read in comics form — and that's a pretty goddamn high compliment. Maybe Hal Crane can't find anything to love about comics anymore, but — thanks to Brubaker and Phillips — I sure can.