Joshua Hale Fialkov is not only a prolific writer of comics- he’s a versatile one as well. Horror, superheroes, licensed books- he does it all, and he does it for virtually every publisher in the business. I caught up with him at the Amazing Arizona Comicon in early January.
Transcription assistance provided by Brooke Unverferth.
MM: This is Marc Mason in the Comics Waiting Room. I’m here today with Joshua Hale Flalkov, writer of a metric ton of things, so let’s get started. Josh, tell us a little bit about everything you’re writing right now.
JHF: That’s a broad question! I’m working on the Last of the Greats is coming out from Image Comics. My trade paperback is out in like two months or so. It’s about a family of superheroes who come to Earth and give us absolutely everything we’ve ever wanted. Right? And we hate them for it, we resent them, we despise them, and we systematically murder six out of seven of them. Finally, the aliens show up to destroy the Earth, and we have to go and beg this last Great to save our asses. Despite the fact that we’ve murdered his family. The book is really really dark and really is a lot of fun if you like books like Irredeemable or like Nemesis or you like dark superhero books, because this is my version of what does it mean to be a superhero in a world of people like us.
MM: It is a very dark book. I just read Issue 4 a few days ago, and there is a fairly unpleasant rape scene in it. So tell me about having to write that scene.
JHF: Well you know, let me ask you: when it happens, does it feel like it comes from somewhere?
MM: Clearly it comes from that character’s anger and hatred. I mean, it’s definitely an act of violence. Deeply expressed violence.
JHF: Well, and it’s also for me the idea that he was sitting in his ice castle while his siblings were out living and feeling and becoming part of the world and then kind of being demonized for it. For literally giving of themselves, they were murdered. And so it’s almost like an act of defiance. And you see, you see his kind of sexual frustration building up throughout the books until finally it barfs out in this horrible, horrible form. So it was really hard. I wanted it, I knew it was going to happen, I knew it had to happen, but in finding a way to do it that was, you know, shocking and grotesque in all the right ways, while still coming from somewhere and really being rooted in the story was a huge challenge. I feel like we did a pretty good job at it. We’ll see. It comes out soon. We’ll see what people say.
MM: Your writing has been on sort of a dark path lately, because I think –
MM: Yeah, starting with Elk’s Run- I suppose it was very dark. But Echoes was an incredibly dark project.
JHF: Yeah, Echoes is dark in a different way, I think. You know, Echoes is kind of near and dear to my heart, as my father, he is a serial killer….no..again, you know, I look at it, I start every story I do from a place of “what is the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to you?” You know? So the idea of Echoes came out of, you know, I was having a kid. And when you’re having a kid you start to realize that everything that is wrong with me…I have a lot of health problems, I have a lot of health issues and stuff like that, and knowing that I’m passing on this genetic weakness to my kid really kind of haunted me. And then, you know, as a writer, you start extrapolating from that. And then it suddenly becomes, well what’s a more engaging thing than me just having diabetes? What’s something even worse that you can pass on to your kid. The idea that being a sociopath and being a murderer and that being a genetic, you know, a genetic bond just was really vibrant and alive for me. And that’s sort of the idea behind the story. I think it’s also what makes it work for people is we all see that. The older you get, you start looking at your dad or your mom, and are, “Oh my god, I’m them!”
MM: It had one of the darkest endings I could remember in a recent comic. Were you really, this is kind of a weird question, but were you excited to get sort of really, horrible dark place at the end?
JHF: That’s what’s great about comics is that you can do that. You can get away with it. I’ve got a book published through one of the major publishers that has the most depressing, sad endings you can do in books where it’s like the bad guy wins and everybody else is just left for shit.
MM: I sat there going, “Jesus!!” Wow…gutsy move, I thought.
JHF: Thank you. Well, you know the idea is that if the book does well, we have a sequel actually. There’s more! It is no happier, but there is more. And I hope we get to do that, Rahsan and I are chomping at the bit to do more.
MM: Now, on a bit of a happier flip side, you’ve gotten involved with Dr. Who. How did that come about?
JHF: Um, I’ve known those guys, the guys at IDW, I’ve been friends with Tony Lee who’s the writer on Doctor Who for years. Whenever, you know, we have a Dr. Who convention in L.A., every year I’m a guest and I go, so I’ve just kind of gotten to know those guys and they know that I’m just a huge huge huge nerd and would do anything to work on the characters. And you know, the time came when Tony had to move on for other reasons and they came to me and asked what would I do? And I pitched something they liked. You know, for four issues I get to do something that five year old Josh would have crapped his pants to know he would do.
MM: I think what makes me curious about the Doctor Who gig is that Doctor Who has one of the most rabid fan bases on the entire planet. Did that add extra pressure to having to write stories?
JHF: It’s terrifying. Like I, this sounds horrible, it sounds egotistical, when I read review, because generally, my reviews, I’ve been treated very well by critics throughout my career. I think this week will be the first time where they will come out and I just don’t want to see any of them because I’m terrified. I set out to write the book to not disappoint myself because I am a rabid rabid Doctor Who nerd. And I knew I had to get the voices right. Like I know the fact that I’m American is a huge huge handicap in trying to get things to feel authentic and feel real, but I really, I feel like I got the voices down. I know BBC was really happy with the issues. I’m very excited to hear what people think, but at the same time I’m really not looking forward to it out of terror.
MM: Is it also a relief to sort of work outside of the darker realm a little bit?
JHF: Yeah, you know the funny thing is I have a kind of staunch belief of the big thing missing in comics is comics for all ages. And that’s not kids’ comics, that’s comics that you can give to anybody. And a lot of the stuff I’ve done at Marvel is that. Whether it’s, I did a Marvel Girl one-shot that was for the First Class stuff, I did a Fantomex versus Batroc story, like everything I did over at Marvel was sort of me being like, “No no, look! These should be fun!” I have a Spider-man I wrote for them that’s the same thing, that was sort of a fun, all-ages Spider-man. I really feel like comics are sort of missing that element. And part of it is me being like, well I can’t bitch about it and then make literally the most miserable books in the world that are appropriate for, like you can’t show them to, you literally can’t even be like, “Look at this cool comic!” So whenever I get the opportunity to do something that is all ages, that is, you know, lighter, it’s a huge relief. It’s just so much fun. Because you can worry about – the emotions you’re playing with are so much less upsetting as a writer. Because you really get into the head of your characters, you feel what they feel and you go through what they go through, and that’s the thing – I didn’t even write a horror Doctor Who! Like, I wrote a fun, it’s still crime noir-y, I guess, it’s like a fun, 40’s adventure serial with the Doctor. And it’s like I said, it was a dream come true and it’s exactly what, what I think about what I think the comics should be, that’s what I tried to do with the book.
MM: Well, it just goes to show what a versatile writer you are. Mr. Fialkov, thank you for taking the time to be with us, and continued success.
JHF: Always a pleasure, thank you.