Like everyone else, I’ll take a chance at the comic store every now and then. I’ll roll the dice on an issue #1 if the cover looks interesting or if I heard something good about the writer, and sometimes – if I’m really lucky – the gamble pays off.
This, of course, is a rare experience. Not as rare as finding the Arc of the Covenant, or deep meaning in a Michael Bay movie, but rare nonetheless.
Which is what makes this week especially unusual: I hit the comic book jackpot. I read two different comics that were completely fresh, engaging, and caught me off-guard from the first page: The Bunker Volume 1, which just came out in trade paperback format, and The Life After #1 –both from Oni Press.
Check out my interview with the writer of both these fantastic books, Joshua Hale Fialkov, as well as a six page preview of The Bunker.
Blake Northcott: Hi Josh! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.
Joshua Fialkov: My pleasure, Blake.
BN: In the last five years you’ve worked at Marvel and DC on comics like I, Vampire, Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates and Ultimate FF. What is it like to be back writing primarily independent comics after so long in corporate comics – and how has the landscape changed?
JF: Look, I love Marvel and DC’s characters. I think they serve a very important role in the education of the world about our medium. They’re the gateway drug to what our medium can do. Getting to work on those characters was a genuine blast most of the time. It was an itch that I got to scratch for three or four years. But, I got into comics to tell original stories. To get in front of the world and show what was wrong with my brain for all to see. And, while to some degree I got to do that working for The Big Two, the reality is that those are corporate characters and the brand has the final say. With my books, every period and comma is where I want it, every single piece of the project is mine, mine, mine.
The fact that we’ve evolved in our industry to allow people to make a living like that, and not just the few guys at the top, but, a lot of us, that’s incredible. It’s a gift, and I couldn’t wait to go back to my roots.
Let me put it this way, in The Life After I’m writing a story about a guy who finds out he’s living in the Afterlife for Suicides, and he goes on an adventure across the ethereal planes with Ernest Hemingway. That is NOT a pitch that would get approved at, well, anywhere other than in the independent world. With Bunker, we had the same thing, we had the book at a huge publisher who just said that the book was too complex for their audience. Well, it’s not complex. It’s very simple, actually. A group of friends receive letters from themselves telling them they’re going to cause the apocalypse. That’s it. That’s a simple concept.
BN: I just finished reading The Life After #1, which is an absolutely brilliant concept. It’s rooted in sci-fi and fantasy, but at the same time explores suicide with honesty and humor. How challenging is it to bring something like this to life, and to strike the right balance?
JF: It’s a constant fight for me. I think I have a tendency to lean into comedy when I get uncomfortable, and this book has a lot that makes me uncomfortable… What Gabo and our editors Ari and James do is keep that tone in line and balanced. It’s a big sweeping adventure story first, and everything else gets shoved to the background. That’s our modus operandi, anyways. In the 2nd and 3rd issues, as our characters are getting their bearings, you get to see us getting our bearings, too. The book deals with these big huge ideas, and finding our comfortable place has been a big part of the joy.
BN: I was surprised to see the main character’s guide through the afterlife is Ernest Hemingway! How did you come to the decision to use a literary icon, and was there ever a time you considered someone else?
JF: The first iteration of the script didn’t have Hemingway. But it felt a bit emptier, and, without a less passive character to guide him, Jude would probably spend most of his time just wandering around touching people. Which is, y’know, cool, man, but, it’s not exactly a thrill ride of a story. By adding a bit of a wild card into the equation with Hemingway, we have a little stick of dynamite constantly on the verge of exploding. As for why him, well, if you can name one other person who would wind up in the afterlife for suicides and NOT be trapped in the routine of purgatory, go right ahead.
BN: Your comic The Bunker is a story about a group of five friends who discover a mysterious metal bunker from the future that contains proof they’ll cause the apocalypse.Can you tell me a bit about writing about the apocalypse, and why you chose to use real locations in the story?
JF: Pretty much all of my stuff uses real locations. I love setting the stage for where a story takes place with fleshy, real places. I think it gives a sense of reality to every story. To watch the Moscone Center be at the root of an explosion, for example, that’s a real place, and real people are there, and, real people would theoretically die. That gives you a sense of weight without having to bend over backwards to do it.
BN: Although it’s been explored recently in Sex Criminals, your recent books deal with sexuality, relationships and romance in a frank and honest way. Why is this something that’s traditionally been shied away from in the medium, and do you think that you might be paving the way for some of these explorations in the future by other comics book writers?
JF: Well, sexuality is such a core part of our lives. It defines who we are in the most intimate of way, to ourselves. The thoughts that race through our heads not just in the moments of actual sex, but, in a constant nonstop way through every single moment of our lives. We judge people on their sexual desirability, even within your nonsexual preference. It’s just how we’re wired. It’s something, I’d think, tied to our animal instincts. We always want to be the alpha, and being the alpha has one distinct benefit. Sex.
BN: You’ve had a lot of success in the digital medium as an independent creator. What do you think the future holds for digital, and what advice would you give aspiring writers and artists who are breaking in to the business in regards to print vs. digital?
JF: It’s funny, y’know, I think if I was breaking into comics now… digital is great. Digital is a way to do this for very little cost and reach a huge audience. But, part of our success comes from the 13 years of career I’ve had. The time Joe has spent building an audience. The relationships I built. So, I think while digital is definitely the future, and definitely where the next generation of greats will come from, there remains something about doing a print comic that still adds legitimacy. So, while it’s somewhat counterintuitive, if you’re trying to break in, do digital, go crazy, but, think about doing print. You’ll learn a LOT about the process of making comics, and, equally important, you can start reaching the 90% of the audience that just doesn’t read digital comics.
BN: And finally, I usually ask at least one zany, crazy question just to keep things interesting. Here is one of my all-time favorites that I stole from Inside the Actor’s Studio, and I think it’s the perfect way to end this interview: If Heaven exists, what would you like God to say to you when you reach the pearly gates?
JF: “I am not a giant angry potato god, @$$#()!%!”
Joshua Fialkov’s new TPB The Bunker is available right now (check out a preview below!) and look for The Life After as well–both from Oni Press. Now check out our six-page preview!
(All art courtesy of Oni Press and Joshua Fialkov)
Blake Northcott is an author, Twitter-er, and occasional Slayer of Vampires (only the ones that sparkle).You can follow her on Twitter, or pick up her best-selling sci-fi/superhero book Arena Mode over at Amazon.com.