With “Fringe” set to return tonight to FOX for this, its fourth season, fans of the genre hit received an extra dash of excitement — and adrenaline — earlier this week when DC Entertainment released the first issue of its new digital comic series “Beyond the Fringe.”
Set deep within the mythos of the TV series created by sci-fi/fantasy heavyweights J.J. Abrams (“Lost”), Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (“Cowboys & Aliens”), “Beyond the Fringe” is written by the show’s star Josh Jackson, better known to fans as Peter Bishop.
CBR News spoke with Jackson following the release of the first issue of a scheduled three-issue arc, titled “Peter and the Machine,” and found that the actor’s venture into comic book writing is more than a publicity stunt. Jackson is genuinely touched by the fan support “Fringe” receives and has become so attached to Peter, he’s dreamt up “tons and tons and tons” of story ideas and plot points to further flesh out the character.
“Beyond the Fringe” has provided Jackson with an avenue to share some of those ideas and he’s eager to see how fans react. His story is set squarely between the pages of the script for last season’s cliffhanger and without the restraints of a production budget, Jackson takes readers to places that even Walter Bishop would find unimaginable. Beyond the comic, Jackson also teased what’s to come in tonight’s season premiere and how life on the fringe changes without Peter Bishop holding court.
CBR News: First off, congratulations on your first writing gig. How did this come about?
Joshua Jackson: We haven’t done it every season, but for three out of the four, we’ve done this limited run of comics. I’m not sure who came up with the idea to ask me if I wanted to do it, but when they did, I pitched them this idea, It’s a bigger idea than just one comic, so it ended growing from just one to three issues. And now I’m a comic book writer. [Laughs] And while I don’t think anyone is going to confuse me with one of the all-time greats, it’s actually been a really fun process.
When you were growing up, were you a comic book reader?
Is there a single guy from my generation who didn’t read comics? Only in Canada could you buy your comic books and your hockey cards at the same place. The store, which was a weekly hangout, was right next to Sophie’s Cafe and that was the place to be.
I just read the first issue, and it’s a lot of fun. It answers a lot of questions that many fans of the show didn’t think would ever be answered. Plus, you come-face to-face with an apatosaurus, which obviously would have been a pretty expensive shoot had it happened on the show.
Right. Well, that’s it, exactly. Because it’s a comic book, you can do bigger things than we can achieve on the show, budget-wise and scheduling-wise. But what was more interesting to me, other than big action scenes, was that I really think that the cliffhanger we had at the end of the last season was a really cool story point. When they gave me the opportunity, the story I thought would be most interesting to explore was diving right back into that moment.
Well, actually, first I thought I would tell the story of Peter before he became part of Fringe. But then I thought, we’re kind of past that point. Now I think the most interesting point is explaining some of the pieces of how the story got to where it was by the end of last season. And what Peter’s part in all of that was.
You haven’t done any other writing before, comic book or otherwise, have you?
No, this is my published debut. And I’m not going to lie; I had hand-holders, because while I have written things for myself, they’ve never been published. Writing for comics is a very different thing, so I worked over the story with a couple of people, and they sort of helped me turn the idea into a comic. It was actually a really fun process, especially going through the co-editing process of really looking at every panel and deciding, “Okay. This panel has to do that. And that one has to do this.” There’s no wasted space. Every panel has to have a purpose, and as a writer, you have to be really concise about the ideas you are trying to get across.
Have you been hounding Bob [Roberto Orci] and Alex [Kurtzman] ever since to let you in the writers’ room and join the writing staff?
[Laughs] Yeah, they’ve created a monster.
I’m not sure how much input you have in terms of Peter’s dialogue as an actor, but how much did you enjoy scripting your character in the comic? Was it difficult to find Peter’s voice?
That was really the draw for me. After playing the character for so long, I have tons and tons and tons of ideas about who this guy is. To actually be given an avenue to play some of these scenarios out is amazing. I just had a conversation with the guys about this, but it’s so cool that they are allowing the story I came up with to be part of the grand mythology of “Fringe.” That’s the reason I wanted to do this, more than anything. I have all of these ideas I wanted to share, but the story of “Fringe” is not the story of Peter. It’s the story of “Fringe.” There will be no other avenue for these stories to be told, so it’s nice to have a place to put them.
Did you like how you were drawn by Jorge Jimenez?
[Laughs] I look like me, which is a solid upgrade from a couple of the previous “Fringe” comics.
How much fun is it to be a part of show where the fans are so into it, you have to make comic books to expand the universe?
It’s a beautiful benefit that you can’t possibly believe. It’s hard to describe. I have been working for a long, long time. I’ve done some good things. I’ve done some not so good things. I’ve done things that I thought were good that didn’t get an audience and I’ve done some things that were kind of mediocre that got a huge audience. There is a lot of different ways these things come out. But “Fringe” is a really particular show in that it’s not a hugely popular show, but the people that are into it are really super-dedicated. As an actor, and I think the writers and the producers would say the same thing, it’s about the best fan relationship you could have because you know the people that are taking it in and actually give a shit. They’re not just flipping through channels.
Your comic ties into last season’s cliffhanger. It’s been a long summer, so for those who can’t remember how the season ended, or for those who were perhaps a bit confused following the series-changing events, what’s happening with Peter when Season 4 starts?
When the season opens, we’re dealing with the post-script of our cliffhanger, which we’ve been building towards for three seasons, with two alternate universes destroying each other slowly over time. It was Walter’s original sin of bringing Peter across which was the reason for these two worlds falling apart.
At the end of last season, Peter recognizes that he is the problem and sacrifices himself to save the universe — but mostly to save his dad, save his girl and save the people that he cares about. The repercussions are that they get to live and he doesn’t. The first big section of this season is our world without Peter and what happens when this guy makes this sacrifice. All of sudden, he’s just erased from time, completely.
For me, that’s why getting into the comic was so much fun. I get to tell the pieces of the story that we didn’t have time to tell, or just decided not to tell, last season. Like how the doomsday machine came to be and what the choice was that Peter actually made.
If Peter no longer exists, what role does he play in the show when the season opens?
Premiere night, I get to play audience member. [Laughs] The writers live by the sword and they die by sword. We made a strong choice at the end of last season, and that choice has to be followed through. When we start the season, there will definitely be less of Peter, but in a very natural and organic way. The story is going off in a different direction and the characters all have very different dynamics now.
Without Peter around, Olivia has had to become more of a caretaker of Walter. They’ve actually grown closer, but Walter is much more fragile. And without Peter around, Olivia is single. Lincoln is on the scene now. Astrid is out of the lab, finally. She’s more of a field agent. Broyles is still pretty much a hard ass but beyond that, it’s all new!