In Joshua Hale Fialkov’s early career he wrote several series that garnered him Harvey award nominations and an Eisner nomination. One of his more notable works was I, Vampire through DC Comics. He’s also worked on his own creator owned series, Last Of The Greats, published by Image.
Every time I’ve had the pleasure to see him. He’s always made time for fans, been energetic even during the bad times (ending I, Vampire), and always made an effort to tell the stories he wants to tell, regardless of publishers.
I had a chance to chat with Fialkov about his past work, upcoming series, and a bit about Green Lantern.
How did you get your start in comics?
So I moved to Los Angeles because I sold a TV pilot. I lived in Boston. Literally got in my car to move to L.A. to start production on this pilot on September 9th 2001. By the time I got to L.A. a lot of things in the world had changed, specific to me, this pilot just went away.
I got to L.A. and I did stuff that was so dark that there wasn’t a market for what I did. I come from a theater background. Theater is about just doing it. There are no restrictions. There’s no reason why you can’t do it so you just do it. There’s frustration that comes from trying to break into TV or film when your entire knowledge is not sit here and write and wait and write and wait. Your entire knowledge is just do it. Every play I ever wrote, I produced and it’s easy because it’s a play.
I was sort of just sitting here. I had a writing partner at the time and we would write script after script and send them out and try to get attention. It wasn’t even the success. It was the fact I was bleeding on work. I was bleeding myself dry on work that was never going to get made. That was 2001 and comics in 2001 were amazing. That was when Brubaker and Rucka and Bendis and Brian K Vaughan were coming into their own. I saw it when I was reading their books. It just felt like ‘Oh, this is what I do. This is a way to tell stories that actually allows me to tell them.’
Through luck, I was working at a TV production company and one of the guys I worked with was also an old comic fan. We put together a small press and first we did web comics, then we did a horror anthology, and then we did my first actual comic, which was Elks Run. Then that got bought by Random House. From there, it’s just dominos falling.
Last of the Greats left off on a bit of a cliffhanger. Are we going to see any more Last of the Greats?
So here’s the funny thing. I Vampire just ended and Last of the Greats ended a year ago. The reason I did a cliffhanger in Last of the Greats is obviously we want to do more. The numbers aren’t there. The sales aren’t there. The hope is we sell enough trades that people get excited and then we can do it. That has not happened so far. The number one thing people say to me about Last of the Greats is ‘when is there going to be more? Why isn’t there more? What’s going to happen next? When is it coming out? When are we working on it?’ And it really bothers me. It drives me crazy. Not that people ask, I love that people ask. The part that bothers me is that I feel like I let them down. We went hard into that cliffhanger like that is a cliffhanger. Like I said, it was on purpose but I feel guilty as a writer because I didn’t give you a satisfying conclusion. I gave you something that’s going to leave you with blue balls until the real book comes out.
When I, Vampire was cancelled and they said you have four issues to wrap it up I was in this similar position of what do I do? I was in the middle of a story that was supposed to be much bigger that I could no longer do. A lot of the toys I was going to use were taken away because the book was ending, as they should be. I made the conscious decision of ‘let’s go, lets run as fast as we can until we get to the last issue and let the last issue stand so when people read this thing there is an ending, a definitive beginning, middle and end.’ It’s funny because I look at it and I feel the last four issues are really rushed. I feel there’s a lot of stuff wrong with the last four issues but at the same time I’m really proud you can read it as a unit. You’re more than welcome to go and read other I Vampire and if they use Andrew Bennett again afterwards that’s great but everything I have to say about those characters is contained in those twenty issues.
What I love about comics is there’s a level of experimentation that’s allowed, that’s encouraged even, that’s very rare in mass media.
(The Subject of Green Lantern did come up, as you would expect. Fialkov had this to say.)
When I got hired, I took two of my best friends and went to my storage unit where all my comics are and I said, “Let’s just pull out all my Green Lantern Stuff.” I’m a reference nerd. When I got hired to write The Ultimates, I read literally every comic with the word ultimate on it. When I got hired on Green Lantern I read 500-600 comics. I killed myself. I did nothing for a month. Every free second that wasn’t working or playing with my kid was reading Green Lantern comics.
I love those characters and I love those books when I was a kid and I love what Geoff Johns has done so I was totally psyched to do the book. I was really excited for it but DC is a giant company and I giant company has its own plans for things and those plans did not jive with what I was capable of doing or hired to do and I love the characters and care about the characters I would rather they have somebody who could do the story they want, that they’re going to be happy with, that are going to do these characters justice.
Did they ask you to kill off John Stewart?
I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about what they are or aren’t planning because I don’t know what Rob [Venditti] and his guys are planning to do. I’ve talked to Rob about it and Rob has plans for John Stewart and cares about him. I think John Stewart is one of the most important characters in comics. Number one, he’s the most notable African American character in all of comics who also, and this is maybe a funny corollary, is the only black character a child can easily dress up as. Maybe Luke Cage but Luke Cage isn’t as well known. Black Panther, that’s an elaborate costume. Cyborg, that’s an elaborate costume. Green Lantern, they go to their costume store where they have all the costumes from the Green Lantern movies and cartoons and they’re John Stewart. That’s the level of empowerment that’s really important and it’s something that as our industry shrinks it’s really important we focus on is finding ways to bring new readers in, finding ways to take sight on new demographics that aren’t reading comics. That’s what I think about John Stewart.
Do you think you’ll ever return to DC?
I hope so. I love those characters. I think that Marvels and DC’s characters are so different and they sort of scratch very different itches. Marvel characters have a level of grounded-ness and reality to them that DC characters just can’t have. Most DC characters, Batman aside, have some fantastical element to them. I look at it is Marvel characters are who you are and DC characters are who you wish you could be and those are two really different things as a writer to play with. The time I spent at DC, writing Superman Batman for example, it was three issues but it was three issues I’ll remember for my whole life because I love those characters and getting to say what I had to say about them.
I love the characters so much; I certainly hope I am welcomed back at some point.
You mentioned Marvel and you’re writing Alpha. Were you approached to write that character or did they want you to write a Marvel book and you picked Alpha?
No, they came to me. I’ve known Stephen Wacker for seven or eight years and I had done the Spider-Man one shot in #692 anniversary issue that I did with Nuno [Plati] and we had actually done that a couple years before and they [Marvel] had just been trying to find a place for it. They literally hired me to write my iconic Spidey story so I wrote everything, to me, a Spidey story should be. They ran it in 692 and their reaction in the office and on the internet was so strong that we started talking about what to do next. Alpha’s a good fit for me. I have a big mouth and constantly put my foot in it. I carry the weight of high school pretty heavily on myself. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had writing a book in a long time because it’s easy, and I don’t mean that in an “I’m lazy” way, but it’s easy in that I understand him. I understand what he wants and why he wants it and why he can’t have it because every 16-year-old is that kid. When you’re 16 you don’t understand why the head cheerleader isn’t interested in you. “She should totally want to go out with me, I’m awesome, look at me,” despite the fact that you’re 98 pounds and zitty and like comic books. I think he talks to the ego of being a teenager in such a real and concrete way. He’s a great character. Dan [Slott] really did an awesome job. He made people hate him and so well I don’t think people understand the intention. He is crappy Peter Parker, like he’s what would happen if Peter Parker were a regular 16-year-old kid when he got his powers and that is he would abuse them. He would act like a jerk.
(Fialkov has many creator owned projects coming out in the near future including a digital comic, a series of graphic novels through Oni Press, and an independent ongoing series.)
The digital comic, it’s called The Bunker right now with Joe Infurnari. I’m not totally wild about the title. We’re working on it. The concept of The Bunker is a group of friends on the eve of their graduation get letters from their future selves telling them they’re going to destroy the world and they have to completely change every about their career paths and lives, everything they’re about to embark on has to change otherwise all of humanity is doomed.
It’s told as a sort of duel narrative, cutting back and forth, present to future, future to present. As you see what’s happening the two stories sort of back in to each other in theory so you’re seeing the future setting closer to the present as the present is getting closer to the future.
With Tony Fleecs, aliens come and tell us we are on the verge of becoming a class one civilization, a citizen of the universe but they don’t trust us. We have to prove our worth so they pick a champion and that champion must defend our honor. If he fails, all of mankind will be wiped out back to the Stone Age to start over again and hopefully do better. They use the age old methodology of will power to figure our who exactly is the most appropriate candidate to be this champion and right at the moment they hit the button our main character, Jeff, is at the end of three months of constipation due to a bet he made with his friends to drink glue. Just at the moment they press the button, he is finally pooping for the first time.
The third one, with Gabe Bautista, the title’s still in flux, but I think it’s called The Life After, or some variation of and that one is about a guy who realizes he’s in the afterlife for suicides and he wakes up. The afterlife for suicides is like the most boring day of your life. Not the worst day of your life but the most boring so when you had that job that was slightly too far away and that job was xeroxing, which isn’t horrible but making photocopies is not fun. That’s your day. That’s every single day and one day this guy just opens his eyes and realizes and starts doing the highway to heaven thing and helping ascend to heaven except that’s not how it’s suppose to work. It’s a guy helping people, he feels are wrongly sentenced to purgatory, more on to heaven against God’s wishes.
Last question, what advice do you have for young creator and young writers trying to break into the industry?
This is my twelfth year. When it was announced that I was the writer of I, Vampire there was a universe response of “who the fuck is that?” I remember thinking to myself, “I have an Eisner nomination.” I have an Eisner nominated book. I’ve got like 14 Harvey award nominations. I’ve been published by Random House. At the end of the day, people didn’t know who I was until I was working at DC. The reality is, I couldn’t have done the work at DC or the work I’m doing at Marvel now if I hadn’t had the 12 years prior. The time I put in learning and getting better is what makes it so now I can keep up as best I can. Understand it’s a long game and you won’t make money for a good chunk of it. You got to do it because you love it. It’s either because you love it or you’re crazy and there’s a lot of crazy people in comics.