Since joining Aspen Studios with the mini-series Fathom: Dawn of War, writer J.T. Krul has become one of the captains of the Aspen ship. As the Fathom franchise gets set to dive into its third volume, we caught up with J.T. to discuss the new book, and the passing of comic book legend and Aspen founder Michael Turner.
Editor’s note: The main portion of this interview was conducted before news broke of the passing of Michael Turner on June 27th.
Sean Boyle: So just to bring everybody up to speed, and particularly for new readers looking to jump on, can you tell us a little bit about Fathom and the current status quo?
JT Krul: Fathom stars Aspen Matthews, a really, really attractive girl who believes she’s just a normal girl from San Diego. As it turns out she’s from a secret underwater race called The Blue. Where we are now is that we’ve established she is a part of The Blue, and she’s also part of a more ancient underwater race called The Black. At the end of Volume Two, a secret war has just ended between the US Navy and The Blue. An Admiral from the Navy, Admiral Maylander, had launched a preemptive strike against The Blue to protect his country.
So in the wake of that, Aspen has secluded herself with her boyfriend Chance, an Air Force pilot. Meanwhile, one of Fathom’s primary foes Killian, a dissident of The Blue’s, has come back to terrorize The Blue.
We just recently released the #0 issue, which I encourage everyone to pick up, because with that we’re trying to bring everyone up to speed.
SB: With this specific volume, are we going to be dealing with Aspen’s relationship to The Black, or are we going to see more conflict with the US Navy?
JT: This story is going to deal a lot with Aspen’s trying to figure out her place in the world. Where does she belong? She was raised in San Diego. She became a marine biologist. Then she finds out she has these fantastic powers and that she’s from this race of underwater beings. Now she’s a part of two different races, The Blue and the Black. Will all of those cultures and civilizations clashing now, Aspen is now trying to find out where she should align herself and what her role is going to be? Does she even want a role in it?
With the beginning of Volume Three, she’s tired of it. She wants a break and is tired of the responsibility. However, other forces are at work that will make her jump back into the playing field.
I kind of liken her to a combination of Wonder Woman and Superman. She’s this tough, hot chick that has this role of possibly being a savior to her people, yet she’s kind of an outcast to everyone. She doesn’t really belong anywhere.
JT: That’s really at the heart of this volume. I want to emphasize that everyone in this book has their point of view, and they believe their point of view is the right one. Every person is the hero of their own story. I want to play up that aspect in this story, especially with Aspen. She has to decide where she fits in all of this.
SB: One of the characters you previously mentioned is Admiral Maylander, who definitely sees himself as the hero of his own story. How do you go about balancing all the voices and characters?
JT: With Volume Two, we had to place some of the characters like Maylander as positional characters. They had to stand for something and keep a fairly consistent position. With the new volume, we’re definitely working to give the characters more depth.
With Maylander in the opening of the last volume, I tried to get into where he’s coming from by telling it from his viewpoint. It’s tricky because there are so many points of view. Sometimes the characters get lost in this big political, drama, action, war, soap-opera, type story going on. The ultimate goal is to give each of the characters their moment in the sun, so the readers can really get a sense of who they are and where they’re coming from.
SB: One of the things that has fascinated me about Fathom is that it originally started out as this little creator owned book, and now it feels like there is this wealth of characters and mythology that has sprung from the book. What’s it like to deal with this new ground, and to continue on developing this universe and this series?
JT: That’s been the most fun about working on Fathom: all the mini-series’ and spin-offs that have become a part of the overall picture. Stuff like the Cannon mini series: where I got to do this cool James Bond style of story that couldn’t be done in the main series. There wasn’t room to do a story like that in the main book in terms of tone and story, but it allowed us to focus on that character and let the readers see his back-story.
The minis give us a chance to show how cool all these characters really are. Volume Three brings a lot of the storylines together.
SB: From a writer’s standpoint, what is it like to take over a creator-owned book from the guy who created the series, Michael Turner?
JT: I was very lucky to become a part of Fathom: Dawn of War a few years back. I came in as that process was underway, and I was fortunate enough to be included in the project. Going forward with Fathom: Volume Two was great! It meant a lot to me that Mike trusted my work and trusted me as a writer to give me Fathom. It was his baby, his very first creator-owned project. The fact that he let me take the reins means the world to me. We talked as much as possible.
It’s a pretty involved process with Fathom. We would have meetings that were Mike, Frank, Peter, Mark and me. Almost everyone at Aspen is involved in it. It’s a total team effort in terms of production and story-telling. I don’t care if we even get help from the UPS guy; a great story is a great story.
We all talk extensively before I even start scripting. By the time I wrote the first #0 issue, we knew the whole story of the volume, with all the beats we want to hit. That’s not to say things won’t change. Things come up as you’re into the story. But the endgame is always in sight, and that’s something everyone is always involved in.
SB: That’s very cool how inclusive the process is for you guys. With Volume Three, you all have a new Fathom teammate in artist Ale Garza. What’s it like working with Ale, a guy who isn’t necessarily “in-house” from Aspen Studios, but who came in with an already established style?
JT: It’s been great! Ale and I had already worked together once before on a prelude leading up to Volume Two, which was a co-production between Aspen Studios and Dynamite Entertainment. It was a great little story about Aspen when she was in high school. That went over very well.
Ale has known the guys here for years. He’s done covers for Aspen, and we’ve always known that we wanted to a project with him. For awhile he’s been tied up at Wildstorm and then he was at DC Comics doing Supergirl and Teen Titans. However when he was looking for his next project, the timing just worked that we were looking to do this Fathom volume.
We’re very lucky to have him on this projec
t. When you see the #0 issue and all the covers you can see that his stuff is amazing. When we were at Wizard World Philadelphia, the convention exclusive he drew sold out at the show. Fans loved that cover! People are really excited to see Ale aboard.
He’s definitely a special talent. Every page he sends me looks amazing! I have yet to see anything he’s sent me that I looked at and said “oh I wish you had done this different.” Every time a page comes through I’m thinking it looks way better than what I wrote!
SB: Ha, ha! Well that is some tremendous praise! What does he bring different from the previous Fathom artists like Mike, Talent [Caldwell], or Koi [Turnbull]?
JT: He’s different from Koi in the sense that Koi has this really unique style. Ale does too, but it echoes a lot of how the first volume looked. Ale’s done a lot to go back and capture what Mike was doing. With the #0 issue you can tell he’s bringing in a lot of angles and the half-faces that were used in Volume One.
I’m also trying to write Volume Three as a mirror of Volume One, in terms of the cinematic style of it.
It’s inherent that their styles will echo each other. Mike and Ale came onto the scene around the same time. They were inspired by a lot of the same people, and I know Mike’s style influenced Ale quite a bit. There’s a sense that, well, I mean they draw amazing women. [laughs]
SB: Well I suppose that’s a necessary condition to draw Fathom…
JT: It helps! It definitely helps! If you can make Aspen look really, really hot, that’s definitely a plus.
But the thing I really like about it is that Ale’s not only putting his own spin on Aspen, he’s putting his mark on all the characters. I love his Kiani, because she looks completely different from Aspen. Occasionally when you have an artist drawing multiple characters, a lot of the characters tend to look strikingly similar. We laugh over at the studio, because Cannon and Siphon are very similar in their overall appearance, but Ale is doing some things to differentiate the two. Ale draws an age difference, where Siphon has softer features while Cannon has a lot of wear and tear to him. Those subtleties are just an example of what Ale brings to this series.
SB: When does issue #1 ship?
JT: Well it’s set to come out in August. We’ll try to have a con exclusive for the San Diego Comic-Con, so everyone should make sure to come by the Aspen booth to find out.
SB: For those who didn’t know Mike, can you talk a little bit about who he was, all as an artist, collaborator and friend?
JT: Mike was incredible in each of those categories – that’s the honest truth. As an artist, he was tops. Everyone knows his work; it speaks for itself. Beyond just the sheer talent, what I was amazed with most in working together was his amazing visual mind. The way he could break down layouts on the fly and have them be so damn strong. I remember one time we were discussing a scene for a book and after two minutes of talking, he just said, “No, no, like
this.” He grabbed a scratch piece of paper and within one minute the entire doubles splash was sketched out. I actually kept the piece of paper, at first for reference in writing the script, but then just as reminder of what raw talent looks like on the page.
As a collaborator, he was extremely driven and a visionary in bringing the stories to life, but at the same time he was very open-minded. I like to say, he didn’t leave his ego at the door, he didn’t even carry one to begin with. Let’s be honest, it was his company, his characters, and his worlds. He would have had every right to simply dictate the story and its execution, but Mike wasn’t built that way. Sure, he had his vision and would hold fast to it, but he readily accepted other ideas and other directions to explore. It wasn’t about doing HIS ideas; it was about doing the best ideas. Sitting around talking Fathom or Soulfire or whatever else we were working on were among my favorite memories with Mike.
As a friend, again…Mike was the best. To be honest, he had just as many close friends as his had fans, I think because…well, that’s just the kind of guy he was. We first met when Mike and Frank were looking for someone to help out with Fathom: Dawn of War. Right away, I knew it was going to be more than just work. Our initial dinner started with the usual business talk, but the decision to have me come to the studios seemed to come rather quickly and we spent the rest of the evening just talking about other stuff. It was easy to be friends with Mike because he was such a great person and treated everyone with utter care and respect. We grew very close over the four years I knew him and more than anything I’ll miss his friendship.
SB: Is there a specific benefit program or something people can do to show their support for Michael and cancer research?
JT: Absolutely. Mike was big supporter of the American Cancer Society and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Anyone interested can make a contribution to them.
Writer’s note: As a person who also lost a dear friend to cancer earlier this year, I know how difficult it is to talk about this subject. I want to publicly thank J.T. for allowing me to ask him about Michael’s passing and to include it in this interview.