Joshua Hale Fialkov is the author of Echoes, the new successful comic title from Top Cow Productions. He is also a writer of other popular works such as the anime film Afro Samurai, and the comic books Tumor, Rampaging Wolverine, and the critically acclaimed Elk’s Run. Mr. Fialkov has sat down to give readers at Lytherus this look into his writing process – his inspirations, his research, and his future plans. This interview comes at a great time considering that this Wednesday will be the release of Echoes #2. Wednesday will also see the second printing of the first issue of the series, which completely sold out the first time around. If you missed reading Echoes, or this interview makes you curious as to what the story is about, check out our review.
First off I want to thank you for the pleasure of being able to interview you. Echoes was probably one of the creepiest and certainly the most psychologically interesting comics that I’ve ever read. I believe I read that the inspiration for this series was influenced by some of your favorite movies and stories. Could you talk about some of those sources of inspiration?
I’m a big fan of the weird 70’s psychological thriller. Stuff pioneered by guys like Scorsese, Roeg, Polanski, Lumet, and Pollack, off the backs of the work that Hitchcock was doing with Psycho and Marnie. The idea of telling stories where the heroes and villains are just, well, us. Sure, they’re arch versions of us, but, y’know, imagine going out for coffee and coming back to your office to find everybody murdered… How would YOU react? Well, if your office is a CIA data center, and you’re Robert Redford’s character, you’d probably do what he does in 3 Days of the Condor. Or, with something like Don’t Look Now, where you have characters who are emotionally scarred in such a raw way that they’re more or less oblivious to everything around them except for their pain and passion, till it leads to… well, what it leads to.
These movies (Rosemary’s Baby is a good example) where you’re stretching credibility in terms of what actually happens, but, it’s executed with so much humanity and reality, that it feels that much more visceral and real. I mean, Mia Farrow gets fucked by the devil, and the movie is still this achingly grounded, painfully real feeling story about someone being totally alone.
In fact, all three of Polanski’s apartment movies (Repulsion, The Tenant, and Rosemary’s Baby) are like that, and were huge influences on me and on ECHOES.
You say on your blog that Echoes is “about the darkest, scariest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m sure you’ll all love it.” Schizophrenia is quite the deep topic to take on for exploration. What kind of research did you do to capture Brian’s mental state so well?
I’m lucky on the research front for two reasons. First, my wife is a librarian, and is amazing at finding the obscure things I’m looking for. Secondly, my dad is a forensic psychiatrist who focused primarily on those with serious mental disorders. So, I’d spend a lot of time talking to my dad, getting a sense of journal articles or books to find, and then having my wife actually find them. It’s like having a research service that’s related to me!
That being said, there’s a story about Polanski’s Repulsion where it was going to be rated the UK’s equivalent of an X rating, and to prevent that, the studio submitted it to a panel of psychiatrists who watched it and said, “This movie is factually correct. This is what mental illness looks like!” and the movie was approved and released. Polanski later would say that all he did was imagine what it would be like to be a damaged person alone in a room going crazy.
To some degree, that’s what writing really is. We do our best to know what’s doable and possible and factual, but, really, you just need to tell the story that you need to tell, and hope that if the facts don’t get you there, the fiction will.
With mental illness, it’s a very singular experience. Every one experiences their illness in a different way, so, there’s also a lot of flexibility in how it’s portrayed.
As deep and intense as this series was, did you still enjoy the writing process? Would you be willing to go to this level of dark tones again with other stories in the future?
Oh, absolutely. The whole experience of doing this book has been immensely fun. I mean, it’s awful to do terrible things to characters you like so much, but at the same time, it’s a bit like exorcising your own demons.
I do terrible things to my characters so that I can be my sweet regular self in real life.
The book has been doing spectacularly. Echoes #1 has completely sold out and demand is high enough for a second printing this week. What’s your reaction to this success?
It’s great, but, it’s not enough. I mean, the truth of the matter is that not enough people are reading the book, sell out or no. Comics are such a powerful medium, and just nobody reads the damn things. We’re working on some more out reach things to get outside the confines of the direct market, because it’s nearly impossible to really make a dent in a market built entirely on 70 year old characters fighting each other.
But, the fact that the book has gotten all of this attention, to me, means that there is an audience for this kind of book, and it’s just up to us to find it and deliver the book to them in an acceptable fashion.
Though Echoes is still hot off the presses, are you looking forward to your next project yet? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I’ve got a bunch of things in the hopper, and I’m not sure what’ll hit first. I’m working on two series for MTV Geek’s online comics initiative, including a book I did with the amazingly talented Kody Chamberlain called PUNKS that’s sort of an abusrdist joke book, and then I have a historical noir about the formation of Los Angeles called HELLTOWN with the brilliant Steve Bryant. I’m also working on a sci-fi adventure comedy book over at Oni Press that I co-wrote with (and will be drawn by) Tony Fleecs. We’re hoping that hits before the year’s end.
Echoes is not the only of your successes that we’ve mentioned on Lytherus. You were also a writer on the American release of Afro Samurai mangas #1 and #2 as well as a writer for the Afro Samurai: Resurrection anime film. Are there any future plans with Afro Samurai?
I haven’t talked to those guys in a while, but, what I love about Afro is that it’s such a great skeleton. You can do so much with the core concept and really just make some balls to the wall awesome that’s neither American nor Japanese, wholly. It’s this great melting pot of an idea, and, the movies in particular, I think are just amazingly awesome.
You are planning on attending San Diego Comic Con 2011, will you be participating as an author in any events?
I will indeed. I think the complete trade of ECHOES may actually be out by then, and of course, I’m still promoting my last book TUMOR. I’m also attending Emerald City Comic-Con in Seattle in a couple of months, and Wizard Anaheim which, I think is in April. For those in Los Angeles, it looks like I’ll be participating in a Mystery Writers of America event at Meltdown Comics talking about crime and noir comics. People can follow me on Twitter @joshfialkov or my website http://www.thefialkov.com for more on where I’m gonna be. And, if they’re just interested in ECHOES, they can check out @echoescomic on twitter or http://www.echoesthecomic.com for more, too.