Joshua Hale Fialkov is doing some of the most interesting writing in comics these days, with his series The Bunker and The Life After from Oni Press earning critical accolades and good sales, and his upcoming expansion of the Pacific Rim universe on the cards for release later this year. I caught up with Josh at this year’s Emerald City Comicon and talked monsters, afterlives, bunkers and more.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: How did you end up working for Legendary?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I had known the other guys from other places. I’ve known both Bob Schreck and Bob Napton for years and they brought me in. They didn’t tell me what they were bringing me in for. So I when I went in, the first words out of my mouth were, “Just so you guys, if you are going to do more Pacific Rim, I will do it for toys.” So they started laughing at me. So it was just one of those things. They knew I was a fan and they knew I was a fan of the movie. I in general love Kaiju. I love monsters. My daughter and I, every Saturday we have a Godzilla marathon.
CB: Oh, I’m so jealous.
Fialkov: It is one of our things. It is one of our bonding things.
CB: What’s your favorite Godzilla movie?
Fialkov: I think because of where I am standing, I am supposed to say Godzilla 2014. But it is actually Final Wars. Godzilla: Final Wars is awesome. It’s like the last of the millennium series and it has everybody. Like it has every monster including the 90’s American Godzilla, who gets his ass kicked by real Godzilla.
CB: I don’t think I knew this existed.
Fialkov: It’s great. It’s actually really good. It is like a battle royale movie. Every monster decides they’re going to take over the world. They are all sort of fighting for territories. So it like us versus them plus everyone plus them versus themselves.
CB: That sounds really cool. Where can I find this?
Fialkov: They came out on Blu-Ray like last year. Yeah, you can find it.
CB: So Pacific Rim is just fun for you?
Fialkov: It is.
CB: That sounds negative. “It’s just fun, oh no.”
Fialkov: No, there’s not a lot of new properties that are original and thoughtful and fun. I’s built in such a way where it feels so natural. Guillermo has a very clear vision for what the movies are and for what this world is. So it was been really fun because I’m getting to work with people that I love and respect. The kind of primary motivation is how do we something you’ve never seen before and how do we make it as fun as humanly possible? We’re trying; we are trying our damndest.
CB: Yeah, so you get to let it all hang out.
Fialkov: Yeah, yeah.
CB: Which is different from The Bunker, where you have everything very planned out I’d imagine.
Fialkov: Yes. It is different. What’s nice is we are working on a story from Travis Beacham, who wrote the first movie. Guillermo is super involved in it, but it is still a kind of very free experience. To get to kind of bounce ideas back and forth and build something that I feel authorship over just as much as they do has been really rewarding.
CB: I’ve heard that Guillermo del Toro has like very large worlds he creates around his characters. Like what you see in the movies is part of a much larger universe.
Fialkov: That is the idea. We’re not doing adaptations; we are doing an expansion of the world. And one of the things that is really important to them is this idea that every piece is just as important as all the other pieces. The story of the comics is just as important as the stories of the movies, of the cartoon. Everything that happens is all sort of tied together that way.
CB: And that’s a change compared to what we grew up with, when the Star Wars film universe was off in its own place and the Star Wars comic universe had no application to the film world.
Fialkov: It’s nice to be able to do something that is additive to the world in a concrete way, you know?
CB: Yeah, right. And something that people know and love. You are right though; it is one of those few new concepts that have come along that people have really latched on to.
Fialkov: Yeah, people went crazy when they announced it. And for me, I’ve been working on it for a while and haven’t been able to talk about it. So when it got announced, it was very rewarding to see how excited people are about the property and about me getting to work on the property.
CB: Is it extra fun because a lot of your other work is very personal? Bring it back to The Bunker, that obviously comes from you in a lot of ways.
Fialkov: Yeah, what I do in my creator-owned books, no matter how high the concept is, it always comes down to the characters and the relationships between them. I think that is as true of The Bunker and The Life After as it is for what we are doing in Pacific Rim, to be honest. I come at everything I do at a place of characters. So it is important to me.
All the world-building in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have a good foundation, and that foundation is the relationships. So actually the story is structured around the relationship of our two main Jaegar jockeys. The two of them and the relationship they have with each other and how they’ve been able to make it this far and survive so long is an integral part of the story. It really does come down to how they feel about each other and how their relationship has evolved.
CB: It sounds like you’ve gotten very attached to them as a creator.
Fialkov: Yeah! Like I said, it has been a very rewarding experience. Work for hire is frustrating ,usually. I’ve worked for Marvel and I’ve worked for DC. There’s a lot of cooks. Ironically on this thing where there are literally a lot of cooks, it doesn’t feel like it because everyone has a very common goal; we are all trying to work to make this very beautiful, fun, badass thing together.
CB: Cool. Who are the characters? What makes them standout from each other?
Fialkov: We actually meet them in two different time periods because I am a schmuck and I can’t help myself. So as we are meeting them, we’re seeing them both as experienced pilots and the beginning of their relationship. When they meet, one is a scientist and one is a soldier. It’s a man and a woman. One is Australian and one is Japanese. They don’t speak the same language.
They both have completely opposite views of how to deal with the Kaiju problem. But through their interaction and kind of forced interactions with each other, they find a middle ground. That’s what so cool about it. That is one of the things, just the idea of the drift, is this thing where they can actually see each other’s full worlds. I’m really into point of view, right? All of my books deal with point of view to some degree. And I think the idea of merging with another person so that you have each other’s point of view one hundred percent accurately is such a powerful and cool idea. It is in the movie, but it’s something you can do in comics and explore so much better than you can.
CB: Yeah, I think that is part of the magic of comics. The best of comics allows you to see multiple points of view at the same time, which is unique to the medium.
Fialkov: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. What has been so cool is that everyone understands that everything needs to survive in the medium that it is created for. What they’ve done with Pac Rim is really build stuff out so the comic book can feel both like Pacific Rim, but be a comic book. Instead of it being like a lot of licensed or tie-in stuff, it always has that sort of tacked on feel, whereas this really feels like it is building up the universe and it is a part of everything.
CB: My early high school aged daughter loves story specifically where there’s a male and a female character who are protagonists who don’t fall in love with each other.
She’s so sick of that troupe already at the age of fifteen. Is that an element that you either do bring into the story or don’t bring into the story?
Fialkov: I think you have to wait and see. I think you have to wait and see.
CB: Fair enough. Okay. Cool. So Life After kind of hit.
Fialkov: It is weird. It’s a weird book.
CB: It is a weird book, but it is doing very well for you. It is getting a lot of buzz.
Fialkov: I’m really happy. The trade did fantastically well. We are getting to the end of our second arc. We are full steam ahead. We love it. Of everything I work on, it is probably the most personal, which is weird because it is such a strange, sort of big book. But The Bunker is about the personality parts of me, whereas Life After is about the idea parts of me, the ideas that are sort of rattling around in there. So the two books combine form a pretty good picture of who I am, which is weird and twisted.
CB: Well, this is a theme that keeps coming up in my interviews this weekend. James Tiynion just brought that up. Justin Jordan brought that up to me this weekend, too, how all of his characters are different aspects of himself.
Fialkov: The whole point of telling stories is to tell the truth, right? That’s really what it is. You’re telling something about yourself or your thoughts that you can’t share directly. You can’t just come out and say, “This is what I think about yadda yadda yadda.” So having the ability to kind of clothe it in fiction allows us to be honest than we can in doing nonfiction.
CB: Do you ever feel this kind of odd mismatch between what you are putting out there and what you know about your readers? It is always strikes me.
Fialkov: I know what you are saying. I love my readers. I love every one of them.
CB: But musicians might sing about their love life. They are sharing their world, but they may meet someone who knows way more about them than, you know. It’s a very one-sided relationship in a way, you know?
Fialkov: I think what is nice about comics is the relationship is interdependent. So every reader has their own unique experience when they are reading the book and they have their own relationship with the book.
What’s nice is people kind of build those bridges to take away what they want to take away from the story. I like that part of it. With Life After particularly, I’ve had people of faith who say they really like the book and I’ve had people who are strict atheists love the book too. The whole point of that book is how dogma is the end of everything. When you treat the world dogmatically, you are just screwing yourself. If you look at every religion, at the end of the day it really boils down to one sentence, right? And that is, “Be good to each other.” And that’s it.
CB: That’s that famous Kurt Vonnegut quote.
Fialkov: Yeah. It’s that idea of we all strive to be nice to each other. Every problem that we face has its root in someone not being nice.
CB: And being selfish.
Fialkov: And using religion as an excuse a lot of it, too. That’s the thing that bugs me. When you are literally worshipping a guy who said, “Love everyone,” and the way that you do that is by taking away people’s basic human rights, I think you are missing the point. I think the point is being lost.
CB: It’s not just religion these days either unfortunately.
Fialkov: Yeah, no, and it is politics, too. It is such a weird… The binary nature of our society, how everyone has become for or against and that is it is really baffling to me.
CB: Everyone I speak to who is in the real world just doesn’t appreciate that. None of us are binary. You write comics. You probably read stuff that has nothing to do with comics. You may love to get out and hike instead of reading all the time, right? It is just part of the normal existence.
Fialkov: All my work, even Oni is releasing a new version of my first book, Elk’s Run, and the gimmick of the book is every chapter is told from a different character’s point of view. So you start out thinking, “Well, this guy is clearly the bad guy.” And then when you see his side, you’re like, “Eh, he’s not wrong.” It is the idea you can’t have villains. There is no villain in their own story, right? Everyone is the hero of their own story. And when you get to that point of simplifying things down, you lose what makes stories meaningful. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing and that’s what I focus on in everything.
CB: Unless you are fighting giant monsters.
Fialkov: Even the giant monsters. The giant monsters are evil, but then how we go about fighting them and what the price is of that stuff, that’s really interesting. That is really fun.
CB: I was having a conversation with someone recently. Godzilla is the last survivor of his race. He’s a unique being. Wouldn’t it be terrible to kill the final one of those creatures?
Fialkov: And it is not his fault. We are ruining the earth. He’s trying to save us.
Fialkov: I love Godzilla. I love Godzilla so much.