Josh Wagner: Tall Tales and Good Toothpicks

A comics interview article by: Chris Murman
When it comes to writing comic books, there's fiction...and then there's Fiction Clemens. Writer Josh Wagner is set to release his tall tale at the end of May with artist Joiton, and is having a ball doing it. You can find him spreading the gospel of his lead character Fic' on message boards across the Internet and the fun is evident in every word he posts. His story carries that same lightness, which reads like a yarn that your grandpa would tell when you were young.

After giving this beautifully illustrated story a read, I had to find out more about this jovial 32 year old. That, and to find out just how he got the name for his book and hero of the story.

Chris Murman: The first place I'd like to start is with the title character, Fiction Clemens. The typical strong, silent type that he is, has a lead role ever produced so little dialogue before?

Josh Wagner: Ha! Good question. When I think of characters like Kane (from Kung-fu), and certain Clint Eastwood roles influencing my early childhood, I can see why Fic grew up to be such a quiet cat. One of my all-time heroes is Harpo Marx, who never said a word. I could claim I'm from the less-is-more school when it comes to my lead characters, that I tend to develop them as empty or negative space around which their world creates the inversely well-defined desertscape of their souls...but the truth is probably just that I'm lazy. Stay tuned, though, Fic will actually have a little more to say than just "yup" and "nope" in issues #2 and #3... a little.

CM: What can you tell us about the world that surrounds Fic' and the rest of his toothpick-wielding neighbors?

JW: I can tell you that their entire economy is based on the sale and use of toothpicks. This place is Old West with a dash of the whimsical, the psychedelic, the ridiculous, and the modern. It is New York City dropped into the middle of 19th-century Arizona. There's a bit of steampunk in the book, but this is done for the sake of the plot, and not just for the sake of style. See, technology is being inspired at a rapid rate into this here city. To find out why... well, you gotta read the book.

CM: I enjoyed how you used a flash-forward scene to open the book because of the different perspective you have once the scene is set. What tone did you mean to set with opening?

JW: I'm a big fan of ambiguity, how an event can take on completely different meanings depending on the kind of context or perspective you place it in. We see things go down with Fic at the bar, and we think this girl is crawling over to help him, and she does--she saves his life--but then later we find out she was just trying to reach the whiskey and get another drink. Happy accidents and the nature of coincidence are big themes in Fiction Clemens... and this little twist is kind of a prelude to all that.

CM: One of the outstanding aspects of your book is the artwork, how has the process been working with Joiton Medina?



JW: Uncannily smooth. Joiton's English has become very good over the years, but at first communication was a problem. Still, nine times out of ten I could send him a script page, and get back pencils spot-on to what I was after. Joiton and I had a correlation of personality, I think, that overcame language barriers, and quickly meshed into of the best creative grooves I've ever been a part of. Joiton is one of the most promising young artists I've seen, and to top if off he's a hell of a great guy.

CM: I feel a rendition of We Are the World coming on, that's good stuff. The story seems to have a certain "other-worldly" feel to it, but along the way it takes a turn for the fantasy realm. I was interested in reading how it would seem there is an Earthly society and a more magical kind of place next to it. Are we looking at two-worlds living next to each other or is there more to the Earthly realm than meets the eye?

JW: Well I grew up on sci-fi, fantasy, and satire, so I'm predisposed to blur the lines between reality and the fantastic. But when you talk about "an Earthly society and a more magical kind of place next to it", for me that describes the real world. Humans pack themselves into these city clusters all across our planet, but just outside every door is a highway that leads to a dirt road that ends somewhere in the middle of nowhere. All of the wildernesses out there, that people are lucky to get even a glimpse of, are definitely other worlds. I no longer dream of going to another planet, because there is so much that is bizarre and different right here. I traveled to India in 1999, and got a taste of a place so completely "other" that I've been spending the last decade trying to assimilate it. Even in backyard America, the deserts of the southwest, the ridges and valleys in the Rocky Mountains: 100% magical.

CM: Clemens gains a traveling companion in Dune Trixie after his bar scuffle. How does she fit into things, and what in the world was she doing in that bar in the first place?

JW: Drinking whiskey, of course! Trixie is the yang to Fic's yin... She is the outward force, the talker, the jabber, quick to shoot and quick to shoot her mouth off. She gives expression to a story that Fic would just as soon glide through in silence. Trixie will also set off a comedy of mistaken identity that unfolds in issue #2.



CM: One of the enjoyable aspects of your story is that it can go in a dozen different directions from here, how did the story develop in your mind before adding pictures to it?

JW: Originally, years ago, the story was just that first scene in the bar. It was a piece of short prose, written on a dare. A friend came up with the name "Fiction Clemens" and demanded I create the character and write a story about him. For a long time things stayed with that one scene, the showdown between these two rivals. As the story developed, I knew the rest of the plot would have to center around that scene somehow. Issue #1 became the full expression of the showdown and the escape, but as the series continues, the nature of that moment in the saloon will reveal itself as something pretty bizarre. We come back to it full-force in issue #3.

CM: Every creator has a story how they got going in the business, how find your way into this medium?

JW: I jumped off a cliff. It's odd. I've been writing all my life, but things didn't really start falling into place until I decided to quit my job, get a trailer, and drive out to the desert to devote myself to writing. I still don't know if it's a cause or just a coincidental correlation, but that's when it happened. I reconnected with a dear old friend, who hooked me up with the lovely lady who would become my "fairy godmother" in this business. She opened a lot of doors for me, and helped me through the kind of industry networking hurdles that shy, geeky, awkward writers such as myself can only stare at in useless confusion. I'm getting the hang of it now, but it sure wasn't something that came naturally.

CM: Lastly, what can readers look forward to in future issues of the series? Do you have any other projects to look for as well?

JW: They can look forward to more of the same and something completely different. Our main characters develop beyond the fairly surface-level existence they have in issue #1, and so does the plot. The artwork just gets better and better from here on out, and the story open up in several directions at once. After Fic I've got a couple GN's in production. For Fiction Clemens fans, my first novel The Adventures of the Imagination of Periphery Stowe features an appearance by Clemens and Trixie, and is available on lulu.com right now. By the time Fic is released, Periphery Stowe will be on Amazon, and available to bookstores.



Fiction Clemens is set to hit store shelves on May 28.

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