Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a weekly feature where we speak in-depth — and at-length — with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These discussions run the gamut in terms of topics, from current projects to classic stories, talking trends, tastes and wherever else the conversations lead.
Typically, we fill time capsules either with gifts and mementos intended for our future selves or items of historical significance for generations not yet born. In Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infunari’s ongoing digital comic “The Bunker,” five friends unearth a cautionary cache not from their past, but from their shared dystopian future. Deemed by USA Today as the best digital comic of 2013 over the likes of “The Private Eye,” the series is headed to the printed page the printers in 2014, courtesy of Oni Press, and you can read the first chapter right here on CBR.
In addition to his creator-owned projects, Fialkov joins Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, and Michel Fiffe among others on Marvel’s newly announced “Ultimate Marvel NOW!” line. With “Ultimate FF,” Fialkov and artist Mario Guevara chart the transition of the Ultimate universe iterations of Sue Storm and Tony Stark into the new Future Foundation.
With Fialkov poised to chronicle futures both bleak and bright throughout 2014, CBR News caught up with the writer to consider his own cache of memories and the storytellers he’d invite to the end of the world.
CBR News: In “The Bunker,” you relay the news to your young protagonists that they’re going to have a real impact on the future, in that they bring about a veritable apocalypse. Do you think you’d make for a really bad dystopian despot? How would you handle absolute power?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I’ve been in positions of power in really small ways before. I was a director. I’ve been a producer. I’ve had crews. I think I’m pretty benevolent. At the same time, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve certainly gotten crankier. So one would think, given my crankiness, that I might easily fall into the role of a despot.
So, there might be two good days of prosperity and then it would just be awful?
Well, the thing about “The Bunker” — the thing I really like about it — is that, as we find out at the end of the first issue, Grady’s destiny is to be the man who kills the world, but he does so to save the world. I think when you look at the past of fascism, that’s always part of it. If you look at Hitler — speaking as a jew who didn’t have any relatives die in the Holocaust, but several close family friends, it permeates your life — he was addressing a certain economic problem. The German economy was crashing and the predominantly Jewish-owned banks would not lend money. The plan is monstrous, but the goal of it was practical.
You’re saying he had good intentions?
He didn’t have — well — That’s the part that interests me about “The Bunker.” That’s what drove me to that book. We never have binary decisions. As you get older in life, the binary decision gets even rarer. Everything has consequences. Everything has a price. We spend our lives wrestling with that. At least I do.
Are you saying his noble intentions were, perhaps, sheathed in a personal vendetta? Or the other way around?
Are we talking about Hitler or Grady? Which one are we talking about now?
I guess we’re talking about Hitler. Or both.
[Laughs] Things got weird. Things have gotten weird now. It got dark quickly, and usually it takes me twenty minutes to get to–
We can shift it slightly to–
But that’s the thing. The idea of the moral gray space is what drives me. My dad was a psychiatrist. Is a psychiatrist. As a kid, I would type up his reports. He was a forensic psychiatrist, so he would do it for the court system. These were brutal, horrific cases. Comparatively speaking, he probably would’ve been happier to do divorce proceedings. He was doing criminal trials. I would read these stories, and two things stuck with me. One was the cyclical nature of it all, and I did it for fifteen-plus years.
How old were you when you started?
I literally started when I was, like, seven. [Laughs] I was ahead of my time.
Did he give you instruction on what you were transcribing and what it all meant?
I took dictation. He had dictation tapes and test forms he’d had them do, and I would enter those test forms.
Did you talk about them afterward?
Nah, it was just work. Just workin’ for a livin’. But over the course of these fifteen years I would see names that recurred. It was the familial cycle. There’d be a kid who was abused as a little kid who, when he was 16, knocked up a girl, and now he was abusing his kid. It was constant. Repeating names over and over again. The other thing was that idea, again, of the gray area. When all you know is hitting — when all you know is abuse — how do you not abuse? How is it wrong, or how are you responsible if that’s all you know? Do the means fit the end? If you read anything I’ve written, it’s all about that stuff. It’s something I reflect on in my own life and behavior. If I’d just grinned and bared it with various business decisions, what might have been. “The Bunker” is the science-fiction personification of my own life of self-doubt and that worry that I could’ve made the wrong decisions.
This calls to mind the first work of yours I think I’d read, “Echoes.” Very central to that story is that concept of paranoia and the cyclical nature of abuse, even sociopathy.
Right. “Echoes” was also about my own relationship with my dad and the fact I was having a kid. It was me processing how all the stuff that has driven me crazy about my dad as a kid and as as adult, are all things I see in myself now. I remember him sitting in his office with the door closed and loud music on for all hours. He’d come home, eat his dinner and lock himself in the office, working. That’s what I do now. It’s not quite being a serial killer. My dad was not a serial killer, no matter what the police say. [Laughs]
You mentioned the ends justifying the means. For all the eccentricity of transcribing those grisly reports from a very young age and what it might have done to your head, books like “Echoes” almost certainly wouldn’t be possible without that experience.
Absolutely, and I probably should say that to my dad sometime to try and make him happy. Our lives are so much the sum of our every experience. Every mistake and every good decision. I first moved out to L.A. with a girl, and those five years were miserable and cost me a small fortune. It was a bad time, but those five years brought me to my wife and my baby and my house and my career.
That was a different girl no longer in the picture, I take it.
Yes, that’d be weird, wouldn’t it? “She was awful and then I married her! Now I’m gonna ruin her life!”
We go on these journeys. Put it this way; you know when you start a new job and you have that nervousness? “Oh, god. I’m starting down this path.”
I’m consistently nervous, but I grasp the general concept.
You know what I mean. That’s not the eventful day. The day that’s going to start you on that journey, you don’t know it’s starting. Suddenly it’s just there.
Perhaps heralded by a towering mushroom cloud. Let’s say you’ve got a bunker. You’re hunkering down for the end of the world. What’s in that bunker?
TV. Netflix? Does Netflix still exist in this apocalypse.
I would hope so.
A theoretical Netflix for comics. That would be great too. These are all good ideas. These are just random things I’m saying. My hobbies are reading and watching TV and movies. The joy I get from watching story and how story is structured — good, bad or otherwise — really gives me so much pleasure. So what I foresee is the “Twilight Zone” with Burgess Meredith scenario. I would be in my bunker with so much reading material and all the media I’ve ever wanted, and I’d just break my glasses.
But don’t tap out so fast as Burgess Meredith does. Go down the street to America’s Best and get some new glasses.
Nah, my eyes are really bad. I’m actually partially blind. People don’t know that. When I see people wearing glasses who then take off their glasses, I think they’re posers. If I do that, I’m stone blind.
To be quite honest, I don’t think you’re surviving this apocalypse.
Oh, I know. People always joke, hoping they don’t reinstate the draft. I have no worries whatsoever. They would just laugh.
How about this: Given your love of story, you can shelter three storytellers — from any medium — in your bunker. They’re, I dunno, in charge of morale for the apocalypse. They’re still making stuff. Who are you inviting along to the end of days?
The problem is that a lot of them are dead. They’re already dead.
You can come up with three people still alive. Although a lot of the storytellers held in high esteem likely wouldn’t make it through the apocalypse either, considering the general constitution of these typewriter jockeys.
Brian K. Vaughan. Everything he does is so god-damned surprising. He’s got such an amazing ability to take old stories and make them feel fresh and new.
Like “The Private Eye.” That just came out of nowhere. Wasn’t even a Wednesday. No warning. The “Beyonce” of comics.
You mean USA Today’s Not Best Digital Comic of 2013. We were #1!
I saw that. It got honorable mention under “The Bunker.”
If you look at my Tumblr, one of the hashtags is #suckitBKV. “I beat you at one thing in my life, Brian K. Vaughan!”
I think you both did a very good job.
I think “Saga” is a big inspiration in a lot of ways. So he’s in the bunker. If we could de-age Scorsese a bit so he would last.
He’s retiring, isn’t he?
I was reading that he’s winding down a bit, getting ready to walk away from directing pretty soon.
Well, he’s like 80.
He’s keeping busy overseeing 4K restorations of “Colonel Blimp” and “The Red Shoes.” And I love that stuff.
This is why I’m saying we de-age him a bit. I’m trying to think of people making stuff right now.
You’re lucky to even survive the transition into this hellish wasteland and you’re demanding all these magical conditions for your apocalypse bunker. A de-aged Martin Scorsese clone and a Netflix for comics, which isn’t even a thing that exists right now!
But it will! That WWE Network thing? When Marvel looks at that, sees that for the “Oh shit!” model that it is? You’d pay ten bucks a month for that kind of access, right?
I’m with you.
Marvel Unlimited is almost that. I would easily pay two to four times as much. That’s the future.
I do like the idea that the WWE Network could somehow be the spark to light the media distribution world on fire, like porn deciding the victor in the war of VHS vs. Betamax.
It is! It’s gonna be. Though there’s a point where it ultimately maxes out. How many of these goddamn subscriptions can I possible have? I have Amazon Prime. I have Hulu. I have Netflix. I have Spotify and Google Music. I’m paying like 80 or 90 bucks a month? That’s still about $100 less than cable. And I get content catered to me. It deflates sales, in a way. But it also deflates piracy because it’s so much easier.
Where are we at with the e-vites for your bunker? We’ve got Brian K. Vaughan and some kind of Scorsese homunculus. Who’s your third pick?
I’d take Woody Allen, and yeah, he probably wouldn’t make it. And well, Fellini’s long dead. I’ve seen his movies hundreds of times, but every time I learn something. There’s not a lot of guys left who make movies like that. “Drive” is amazing. “Drive” is a masterpiece. But it’s pretty much all right there. There’s not a whole lot going on behind it. I don’t get out to the movies much anymore. That’s part of it. I have a kid. I like Joss Whedon. There you go. That’s a guy. I think his output between “Buffy” and “Angel” and “Firefly” and “Cabin in the Woods” and “Avengers,” his characters talk and breathe like nobody else does. Also Amy Sherman-Palladino. My wife and I have probably watched “Gilmore Girls” together like five times.
I, too, enjoy “Gilmore Girls.”
It’s a common thing among comic creators, being drawn to TV. It has a lot of the benefits of comics, and it fixes one of the inherent problems in comics. There’s way more story space, and it’s weekly.
We’re moving away from the subject of “Gilmore Girls” far too quickly. Who was your favorite of Rory’s boyfriends?
Oh, I’m a Jess because I’m buddies with Milo [Ventimiglia]. When I met him, he was a fan of my comics, and I don’t think he was expecting me to be all, “Oh my god! Jess!”
Your love of Jess predated knowing and befriending the actor.
Yes. But he is the best boyfriend!
The payoff, when he comes back, is so good.
All right, so the three storytellers you’re harboring for the apocalypse are Brian K. Vaughan, Neo-Scorsese, Woody Allen, the ghost of Federico Fellini, Joss Whedon and Amy Sherman-Palladino? Essentially the season two writing staff of “Roseanne” is what you’re saying?
Vonnegut. I’d bring Kurt Vonnegut.