During Comic-Con International in San Diego, frequent guest Joshua Hale Fialkov visited the CBR Yacht to discuss “The Life After,” his new series with artist Gabo from Oni Press. The book follows a character named Jude who is trapped in a Purgatory-like place for those who have committed suicide, and Fialkov spoke with CBR TV’s Jonah Weiland about what aspects of life, death and spirituality this world allows him to explore. The writer also explains why Ernest Hemingway becomes Jude’s tour guide through the afterlife, his own experiences with suicidal thoughts and why, after years of struggle, he’s finally found what makes him happy and adopted a more holistic lifestyle.
Following the news of Robin Williams’ death earlier this week, Fialkov wrote a very personal blog post about the fleeting nature of joy. It ties into his experiences meeting Williams — himself an avid comic book reader and gamer — Fialkov’s thoughts on why suicide sometimes seems like the only option and the things in his own life that have helped him navigate his darkest moments.
On what aspects of the human experience “The Life After” allows him to explore: The book is about a bunch of things to me, and it’s a playground. A lot of it is I get to play with different ideas and the book shifts and changes as we go because Purgatory gives us a playground that will never be the same because there’s so many different iterations of what the afterlife means and the consequences that get you there. Every religion has their own set of somewhat arbitrary rules that say, “If you do this, you go here. If you do this, you go there. If you do these things, you might go here, you might go there.” So how does that actually work? What is the system required to manage all that. That’s one of the things I’m sort of obsessed with is how we as a society decide, like, “Look, you’re wrong. This thing that you believe in is wrong and so therefore you will be punished.” Whereas the fact is, if you’re if a good person and you take care of people, that seems to be more in life with what true spirituality is about. It’s not about whether you eat pork or not, or whether you eat fish — it’s not about the little stuff. It’s about the big things.
Telling this story about characters who explore that and have to start to realize there is a better way, that there might be a better way to get along and there might be a better way to treat each other. So it’s purgatory but it’s not, it’s real life. We all live in a shifting world that we see on our own. How I see the world and how you see the world are very different things and they can never kind of mesh together. So having a world that is literally all these different worlds and all these different faiths and all these different belief structures just smashing up against each other is just — it’s so much fun.
On how Ernest Hemingway became Jude’s tour guide through the afterlife: As you said, it takes place in the Purgatory for suicides, so there’s a bunch a rules. We had to find a character who killed themselves, number one, but, would still be badass enough to still be awake. Who is the one person who, in this world of mundane everything, never gave into being mundane? And that person is Ernest Hemingway. There is nobody else. There is no other option because he was a guy who — he killed himself, not because he was depressed, not because he was sad, but because he was sick. He had no option. The second he lost control of his faculties, he was no longer capable of thinking the way he wanted to think and being the man he wanted to be, he was like, “I’m done. Call it a day.” And then you take that to the next step which is how many mundane days did that guy have? And the answer is, probably, the afterlife would be the most mundane thing he’s ever done. He was amazing; he did crazy things. So yeah, that’s how you end up with Hemingway. I love writing him because he’s so blustery, just like in real life and you see it in his writing. He’s blustery and he’s sort of full of himself, but at the same time he hates himself and he thinks he’s a coward and he thinks he’s all these things. So having this guy who’s driving the story who’s also sort of broken inside is a nice balance for him — someone who’s all ego, but inside that ego is just fragile.
On whether he’s struggled with depression or thoughts of suicide in his own life: I’ve suffered from depression. I’ve had friends who’ve committed suicide. I’ve had people in my life who’ve done it. I actually suffer from — I have chronic migraines. Essentially there’s a point in every migraine where I’m like, “Oh, I should just kill myself. It’d just be so much easier.” I have to give myself injections and you just have to like lay there and, yeah, they’re horrible. I understand being in so much pain — and mine is not psychological, mine is physical — but I still understand being in so much pain that you just can’t [go on]. Like ‘what’s the point?’ And it is, it’s something that every time when I have a migraine there’s a process — you can barely think. I physically can’t speak when I have them, I’m literally crippled. I have paralysis, it’s horrendous. But, when I’m laying there and I’m at the bottom, I have the thing that gives me the reason to keep going and it’s my daughter. Like I have that thought in my head of, “I can’t. I have to be strong and I have to be better because of my kid.” I think that that’s something a lot of people don’t have — a lot of people don’t have that thing and I think a lot of people are misfortunate in that way. They don’t have a chance to have that connection to life that gives them a reason to fight.
On his decision to lead a healthier lifestyle and finding his bliss: I have some defects and stuff. I have diabetes, I have fibromyalgia, I have a bunch of just stuff. I have asthma. But a lot of it is all exasperated by two things: it’s exasperated by weight, and exasperated by stress. I’ve probably lost, over the past two years, I’ve probably lost 50 pounds or so, 40 pounds; over the past six months I’ve lost 15 of them. My diabetes is under much better control just by doing that. And then the other part is stress.
As people who read CBR might know, it’s been a very stressful few years for me. What I came to realize — after working on my own stuff and after working on stuff for other people and sort of building my future for myself — what I came to realize is that where I thrive and where I find true pleasure is in doing the work I love and having fun doing that work. So by sort of recommitting myself to only doing stuff that I genuinely love, that I can genuinely be proud of without having to kill myself to do it, without having to fight tooth and nail — ever since I’ve sort of taken that attitude it’s been much easier because I’m actually happier. Because I realized, “Oh, there’s nothing I’m working on that I don’t want to work on.” I think people underestimate how important your own psychic well-being is. Being able to just think, “I love what I do.” Like I go to work every day and I please myself, and if I happen to please other people that’s great.
I think back to the days when I had those kind of dead end, horrible jobs — which is what “Life After” starts with, right, is that idea of when you have a job that just grinds you down, the day that you realize ‘I don’t have to do this’ is the day that your life begins.