Dynamite has sent over a new writer-2-writer interview where David Liss, writer of Green Hornet: Reign of the Demon #4, talks with writer Fabrice Sapolsky about Intertwined #5, both on sale now. Cover by Roland Boschi and interiors by Fred Pham Chuong.
DAVID LISS: Intertwined is clearly steeped in Chinese mythology. Can you talk a little about how you came up with the concept for bringing these mythological elements into comics? What made these myths and characters particularly well suited for this story?
FABRICE SAPOLSKY: Two years ago, I was talking with a Chinese company. They wanted to make comics. So they flew me over to Beijing. And that trip opened my eyes on many things. I got all the backstory from Intertwined during that trip: the spirits, the characters, everything. I mixed it with elements I had in my vault for potential Spider-Man Noir stories that I still wanted to tell. It quickly became clear that I was going to do this as a creator owned. Plus, the Chinese partnership fell apart and I was left with this powerful concept: the Five Elements, the natural forces of our universe, decide to pick up champions, Spirits, to preserve the planet. With such an ecological concept, there was no way I was going to let it go to waste (laughs). From day one, I knew I wanted to tell an immigrant story. I wanted to tell an inclusive story. I wanted to tell an environmentally friendly story. Wu Xing, the Chinese cosmology concepts, allowed me to tell every story I wanted without losing focus. And since there’s an interdependency between all the elements, I named the series Intertwined. Seemed like a good title to me (laughs).
DL: Comics are always collaborative. Tell me about how you put together this issue with fellow “storyteller” Fred Pham Chuong and with Ramon Gil, who writes the flashback scene. Can you discuss how having many creators involved changes the writing experience?
FS: I created the concept and I’m writing every issue. Nevertheless, I consider that what Fred Pham Chuong brings to the book goes way beyond drawing. So I said to him, “We’re storytellers, we shouldn’t be put in any boxes”. And that’s true. All the fight scenes bear Fred’s signature. He’s the Kung Fu guy of us two. He gives me a lot of ideas for the rest too. We talk about it together. But in the end, this is the plot I created from the start and I write all the dialogue. Not to mention the lettering, which I also create. And when I really want to challenge Fred’s storytelling, I draw him what I have in mind.
Fred doesn’t read the scripts in advance. He likes to read it as he draws. So when he doesn’t like something or wants to offer an alternate solution, he calls me up and we come up with a solution that we both like. This is an uber-collaborative series!
As for the flashback in issue #5, it’s something else. When we started the series, we wanted to add a seventh issue. A special or annual kind of book which would have told additional stories in that universe. It was supposed to be three short stories. Two written by me, one by Ramon Gil, who’s a good friend of mine. I knew what I wanted Ramon to write about. So I gave him directions, the characters and the skeleton of a love story. But he was so motivated that he came back with this beautiful script set during Korean War. It was six pages. But when it became clear that we wouldn’t have the opportunity nor the budget to do another issue, I decided to include Ramon’s story as a flashback in issue #5. I trimmed it down to 3 pages but kept the essence of what he wrote. As for the two other unused tales, one is written and I may add it as a bonus in a future volume. It tells the backstory of Nei Chang, the Spirit of Metal.
DL: And while we’re talking about credits, can you explain the “Guest Starring” credits on the title page? Not something you usually see in comics.
FS: True, it’s not common. A good reason to do it! (laughs) Actually, all the people printed here, but one, are Kickstarter backers. Their package included them as characters in the book. So we delivered! And the last name, Anthony Kavanagh, comes from another friend of mine who’s a celebrity in French speaking countries. He’s a stand-up comedian. I asked him to be in the book because he is a huge comic book fan and because his family came from Haiti. Haitians play a huge role in Intertwined. Not so much in issue #5 but in all other issues for sure. He’s an ambassador of sorts.
DL: It’s impossible to read a book like this and not think about Asian action films. Are there are movies that have particularly influenced this story?
FS: Of course! There are SO MANY! Too many to tell. Obviously, all the Bruce Lee movies. The Shaw Brothers flicks, especially the One-Armed swordsman saga. Some Jackie Chan too. Even more romantic movies like House of the Flying Daggers. Donnie Yen’s Yip Man series was also a huge influence. Strangely, I hadn’t seen it before I met Fred and he recommended I watch it as I was starting to write issue #1. It became one of my favorite Kung Fu movie series.
DL: On a similar note, choreography and technique are such a huge part of the experience of martial arts films. Can you talk about the challenges of trying to translate that experience to comics?
FS: That is all Fred. He’s a martial artist himself. He practices Jeet-Kun-Do and Wing-Chung and other styles. Having an artist who understands and respects Kung Fu was mandatory for this book. Fred brought not only his artistic talents, but his Kung Fu credibility. Believe me, people noticed. We had other martial artists contacting us or showing up at cons thanking us for being respectful of Kung Fu.
DL: Immigration is obviously a charged topic these days, and your Intertwined, by its very nature, tackles the subject directly. Is there intentional political commentary? Is the Asian immigration experience different from that of other groups?
FS: From day one, it was my intention to talk about immigration. The idea that triggered everything was “What if Peter Parker was an immigrant?”. That question was never really answered in a Spider-Man or even a What If? book. So I decided to do it myself. And, as I said before, Intertwined mirrors my own story. I immigrated to the United States as I was starting to write the series. So I know a thing or two about being a stranger in a strange land (laughs). Immigration is a theme, but not the only one. Inclusion, diversity, tolerance were also very important topics I wanted to talk about. In the book, we have an interracial closeted gay relationship that triggers the whole story. And the fact that I set the action in 1971 makes it even more interesting. When our story takes place, a huge Asian immigration wave starts, thanks to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.
I wish I had more space or issues to say all I have to say on all the topics we cover in the series. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to do another volume.
Regarding the Asian immigration, yes, I believe there’s really something specific, but that’s not so much the experience than the impact it had. Probably because it was the biggest wave of non-western immigration in the country at the time. That said, I always draw a parallel between Chinese and Jewish immigrants. So many things in common! Starting with a sense of self-preservation. Those cultures are blending with others, but manage to remain themselves. They don’t fully assimilate, they add another layer to what they are and it works perfectly. Some people will think this is a problem, I’m not one of them. Asian and Asian-American people’s contribution to this country is immeasurable and should be highlighted.
So is Intertwined filled with political subtexts? Absolutely. In every issue. In many ways.