The acclaimed writer of DC's I, Vampire as well as several independent comics takes a seat in The Outhouse to talk about his work and career!
For much of the last decade or so, Joshua Hale Fialkov has been known for his gritty and emotionally intense comics. He made his comics debut with Elks' Run, a story about the powder keg of tensions violently exploding in an isolated mining town. The original publisher of Elk's Run, Speakeasy Comics, folded before the story could be completed, but the series was picked up and published in its entirety by Random House. Since then, Fialkov has written Tumor and Echoes. Perennially known as an up-and-coming writer, he has been making inroads into the superhero comics realm, and was tapped to spearhead a revival of I, Vampire for DC's reboot, which sees most of their titles start over with brand-new #1's in a new continuity. The day after the release of I, Vampire #1, Fialkov stopped by The Outhouse to talk about comics form, his film background, and why having a child is the best thing for a freelance writer.
The Outhouse (OH): From what you've seen, how has the response to I, Vampire been?
Joshua Hale Fialkov (JHF): Overwhelming. My ego has been aching from being pumped up so much! People really like it. I'm trying to say this in a polite way... I have made crazy books. I've made such fuckin' weird stuff my whole life, and I've always believed to my core that if more people saw them, more people would like them. My fans are rabid, passionate supporters, and it feels wonderful. But, there are only about 3,000 of them. It's such a small group, and in my head I always thought to myself, man, if I can just get on a bigger stage, more people would come out. I, Vampire and the DC Relaunch is a bigger stage, and the response has been more than I could hope for.
OH: Were you surprised by anything about the response, other than the magnitude of it?
JHF: I was really glad nobody bitched that she's naked [referring to Mary, one of the central characters in I, Vampire]. I made her naked on purpose. Well, let me rephrase that. Jim Lee did the designs, and the cover design by Jenny Frison was based on Jim's design. It's almost the opposite of tawdry to me, and I'm glad people got that. It's not about her standing there saying "let's screw." It's about her being beyond it. She's an animal, she's not a person. She's instinctual to a point where she just acts. She doesn't think, she doesn't consider, she just acts. I feel like that's my favorite thing about the book, and how wonderfully insane she is. But at the same time, you get it. You identify with her and actually feel for her. Despite the fact that she's essentially saying "I want to eat you," you kind of think "Yeah, she's not wrong." That's the thing that people seem to be responding to.
The book is called I (Comma) Vampire, so it has to be a book about what that means. What does being a vampire mean to this cast of characters? I love that people got that out of the book.
What have you noticed? Was there anything you noticed? Stroke my ego, give me some love!
OH: One thing I noticed is the formal elements of the comic, specifically the way you use time, which you also did a bit in Echoes and some other things. How do you think about the way time works on the page?
JHF: I think time is the one thing that comics can do that nobody else can. We can do the juxtaposition of time and space and narrative in a way that you can't get away with in just about any other medium. There's stuff you can do in film and television that's similar, but it's a lot harder to lie and trick your audience. I'm a big structuralist. I'm obsessed with the form and structure of stories. I look at them, and there are some pieces that have to be there, and you have to combine that with what your employer wants. The thing that DC wanted in this book was that we need to open with the biggest, craziest moment ever. And I fully support that. I think page two and page three of any comic book should be crazy batshit. Everything you want to say about the story should be right there. But that creates a problem when you're trying to tell this intimate, delicate story I'm trying to tell. The problem is, where do I crescendo to? I just blew my load on this two-page spread, where do I go from there? So you have to apply that basic three-act narrative structure to the rest of the issue having known that you peaked at the beginning. You have to find a way to structure it so that you reach another emotional peak. So what I did in the book was that you get the same emotional peak twice, but you're getting it from two different sides. At the beginning you're thinking "All right, he's a vampire who kills vampires, that's great!" But at the end you realize "Oh god, he doesn't want to do this. This is a broken man. He's lost everything, and now he has to slaughter people." You come out of it with a different take, and that to me is the core of effective storytelling. That's what I'm most proud of in the book. Unfortunately, you can't control what people get out of books. The best you can do is control their reading experience and try to get it so that what they're experiencing is your shape. You're shaping their pacing and you're shaping what they're seeing.
That's something I learned doing Echoes with Rahsan [Ekedal]. That was such an amazing learning experience. We tried to do stuff that we haven't seen before, in terms of how to scare people. There are so many horror comics, and so many great horror comics, and at the same time, virtually none of them are scary. American Vampire is amazing, and while it's certainly suspenseful, and it's filled with thrills, there's never that moment where you're like "OH MY FUCKING GOD!" You never have that kick in the balls like you get from a movie. I feel like Echoes really excels by being so intimate and being so small, that we make these small moments into real gut-punchers. I'm trying to bring that into I, Vampire.