Talking Comics with Tim | Joshua Hale Fialkov
Echoes co-creators Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal‘s first printing of the opening issue for the five-issue Minotaur Press/Top Cow miniseries sold out. So when I found out that Robot 6 was fortunate enough to get to re-run the first issue in one-page installments starting today, I wasted no time in contacting Fialkov for an email interview. Here’s the basic premise of the miniseries: “Brian Cohn was learning to deal with the Schizophrenia inherited from his father. Supportive wife, new baby on the way, drugs to control the voices. But when on his father’s deathbed, he learns that he also inherited the trophies of his father’s career as a serial killer. Will his madness send him further down into the crawlspace of his father’s mind?” My thanks to Fialkov for the interview–and be sure to read Echoes right here at Robot 6.
Tim O’Shea: Minotaur Press was revived partially to publish this series, how flattering is it to be part of the imprint’s return?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: It’s pretty cool. I’ve been looking for places to do what I do for a long time, and I’ve always gotten the impression that there weren’t a lot of options. For Top Cow to more or less reopen a place that’s focused very specifically on the type of books that I do, that virtually no other publisher does, is just an amazing opportunity.
O’Shea: How surprised were you to land this project at a Top Cow imprint, considering you admit: “They know that what I do is quite different from what they do, but, they also believe in my writing and Rahsan’s art, and our combined storytelling to take a huge chance on our book.
Fialkov: Filip’s core principal since coming to Top Cow has been that quality wins out. Finding great creators and trusting them to execute the job you hire them for is the key to success. I think in his wake at the company, you’ve seen that. Whether it’s Ron Marz and Phil Hester on their flagship books, or young up and comers like Rob Levin and Bryan Edward Hill, or even some of the amazing talent that’s passed through the doors like Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman. So, y’know, being a part of that, and having already had some success with them (Alibi both the comic and the movie, and Cyblade winning Pilot Season) was certainly a feather in my cap.
O’Shea: Almost at the start of the series, the lead character’s father dies. And yet, would you agree that even in death Brian Cohn’s father is a major character in the series?
Fialkov: Oh yeah, their relationship is the central one in the book. And, maybe it says a lot about me, but, I think for most every man, the relationship with their fathers is a huge part of their lives. As a man, that’s your example, what you aspire to, or, y’know, the opposte. Even if your father was an absentee father, that sends a whole nother message to you. For Brian, he’s a lot like an abused puppy, so desperate and hopeful for some sort of respect or love from the man who’s done nothing but kick him when he’s down.
Plus, y’know, there’s that whole hallucinatory yelling thing, that leaves Brian’s pop very much in the forefront of his life.
O’Shea: Echoes deals with topics like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, the latter medical condition heavily shapes the way that some scenes are portrayed. How did you and artist Rahsan Ekedal arrive on how to approach some scenes, particularly when Brian is hallucinating?
Fialkov: I played with it quite a bit in my last book, TUMOR, and with that book we made a point of clearly delineating between real and imagined. In retrospect, I wondered if that was cheating. If by having it so clearly explained, I’m underestimating my audience. So, I wanted that blending to be much more subtle this time out. And, the fact that what Brian is hallucinating is just as ghastly and gross as real life means that having the dreams stylistically shift jars you out of reality a bit. It, I worry, would put too fine a point on the question of what is real and what is in his head.
O’Shea: Is this the first time you’ve collaborated with Ekedal, how did the two of you team up for this project?
Fialkov: We worked together a few years ago on a book called The Cleaners for Dark Horse, and then again last year on an issue of The Crazies comic that tied in to the movie. We were introduced through our Dark Horse editor, Shawna Gore. Unfortunately, that book wasn’t really much of a collaboration as the guy I wrote it with was really the driving force behind that book, and consequently, Rahsan and I didn’t have much contact. But, I saw so much potential in his work, and really felt like we could learn a lot from each other, so, after it was clear there wouldn’t be any new Cleaners for a while, I stole him away for my own nefarious uses.
O’Shea: The series is edited by Filip Sablik & Phil Smith, can you talk about how they helped to improve the story through their respective editing?
Fialkov: To go back to what I said before, the guys really believe in getting out of the way of talent. Where they came into really make a difference was in making sure that what we’re doing was actually clear and concise. When you’re doing subjective story-telling like this and spend so much time dealing with detail, having some guys who can look at the big picture and say, “this is unclear,” or “this is what I thought you meant here…” is immensely helpful.
O’Shea: Your father, who is a forensic psychiatrist, has provided some inspiration of the elements you deal with in many of your stories. Is he amazed or bemused by how you’ve taken the knowledge you’ve gained from his work?
Fialkov: He mostly tsks and shakes his head at my liberties with reality.
Heh. Actually, he seems to really like it. I get phone calls and e-mails with story ideas and books to check out periodically. Ironically, considering the concept of the book, it’s been a way for my father and I to bond and get to know each other better. It’s actually been nice.
O’Shea: Without spoiling anything, there are some major reveals in the course of the story. How did you decide about the pacing of the reveals, allowing them to build suspense and yet reease some of the tension with shocks and surprises?
Fialkov: I’m a stauch believer that the two most important pages in a monthly comic are pages 1 and 22. Everything in between is in service of those two pages. I spend more time writing those two pages than the rest of the comic, honestly. Polishing and adjusting and just making sure that they’re absolutely perfect. With a suspense book like this, those pages need to be even more ramped up, because the whole book is edge of your seat, tension wise, and the last page needs to be an explosion of that, enough that you remember it for thirty days till you see the next one on the shelf.
O’Shea: Did you hold out hope that the first printing of issue 1 would sell out, or did you intentionally lower your expectations to avoid potential disappointment?
Fialkov: Oh man, I’ve been doing this long enough to keep my expectations low. I’ll never forget the week that my first creator owned series came out. Elk’s Run had been getting huge reviews leading up to it’s release, and we had a bunch of great press, and then, the week we got our intiial orders in we’d gotten a HUGE review in Entertainment Weekly. The orders for issue 1? Around 800 copies. But, here’s the thing… the orders for issue 2? They went up. For issue 3? Up. Issue 4? Up. Issue 5? I have no idea, cause the publisher went bankrupt.
So, I’ve learned a couple of things over the years, one, is to keep your expectations low, and the other is that if you do good work people will appreciate it and your audience will grow.
O’Shea: Dolls play a major part in the story, when and how did you come up with that prop idea?
Fialkov: I’d had the idea of using the dolls for something for a long while. I think I’d come across it while doing research for a vodou based book that never happened, that there were these higher end voodoo dolls that were made from flesh and bone of various animals, and that in some of the dark magic you’d use the bodies of your enemies. That really stuck in my craw as just about the grossest way to die/to kill somebody.
They’re just such a ghastly item, and as I’ve said before, I can’t wait for a fan to make a home made replica.
O’Shea: Echoes is a five-issue miniseries. If response is strong enough, do you have an interest in exploring the Echoes universe more?
Fialkov: Oh yeah, I have a sequel/continuation that’s been in my mind from the jump. The hope is for the first mini to come out as a trade and sell enough that I convince the powers that be to let us go on volume 2. Of course, getting to the trade still rests on folks picking up the singles, so, y’know, suppor the book if you want more.
O’Shea: Now that you’re done answering my questions, anything you’d like to say or ask to the Robot 6 readers?
Fialkov: Just to give an indie book a chance. Everybody spends so much energy bitching about what they don’t like about comics, how about turning away from the stuff that makes you angry, and instead trying something that’ll make you piss your pants.