Very soon, you’ll be entering another dimension. Not just one of sight and sound, but also of comics.
And that’s because today in advance of Comic-Con International in San Diego, Dynamite Entertainment announced that in conjunction with writer J. Michael Straczynski they’ll be launching a new comic based on the classic CBS series “The Twilight Zone.” The original 1959 – 1964 television series by writer/producer/host Rod Serling remains an icon of American pop culture remembered for its moral and ethical stories always delivered with a specific kind of sci-fi or otherworldly twist.
Of course, this isn’t the first trip to “The Zone” for the man known as JMS. A prolific comics and screenwriter today, Straczynski’s first full time gig writing for live action television came when he served as story editor for the third and final season of the 1980s relaunch of the TV show. For Dynamite, he’ll write 12 issues in total, breaking down into three four-issue arcs. An artist for the series has yet to be determined.
CBR News spoke with JMS first about the new comic “Twilight Zone,” and below the writer explains how his deep history with the franchise is driving his return, why Serling’s ideas and execution are as modern today as they were in the ’60s and what readers can expect to find when they cross over later this year.
CBR News: Joe, folks who have followed your work for years know that one of your earliest story editing and writing gigs for live action TV was the ’80s relaunch of “The Twilight Zone.” Writing for a show with that history and pedigree is a daunting task at any stage in one’s career let alone so early on. What’s your memory of that show in terms of what it taught you about writing and about Rod Serling’s genius as well?
J. Michael Straczynski: It taught me a lot about condensing a story into 22 minutes by wrapping it really tight around the main character, and about always leaning into the precision of language. There’s a difference between the bon mot, the funny or ironic word or phrase, and the mot just, the precisely right word or phrase for a given moment. Not the word that sits next to it on the shelf, the right word for the right moment. Serling was painstaking in always going for the mot just, and you can see that in every line he ever wrote. During my tenure there I got my hands on a bunch of his scripts that were covered in handwritten annotations, usually editing out a word or two here, swapping out a word there, and you can see that attention to detail made manifest. It was hugely educational.
Despite the fact that the original show is so associated with the time in which it was produced, “The Twilight Zone” always had a timeless feel and focus. Both in your days writing the second TV version and now on the comic, how do you view the task of writing this material? Does it have to be “modernized” in any way or just of a piece with the original series?
I think that many, if not all of the themes of the original Zone are as current now as they were then. Our longing for the past balanced against our fear of the future, our remorse over our failures and our hopes for success, our willingness to risk throwing everything away on a bet…as a species, we really haven’t changed much since the original run of the Zone. The trappings, the technology, the social milieu have changed, but we are who we are as human beings, and it’s that emotional core which “The Twilight Zone” speaks to.
So as for the new work itself: why comics and why now? What led you to returning to this iconic franchise so many years after your initial professional contact with it?
Simply: Nick asked.
In addition to to working on the ’88 Twilight Zone, I’ve had an ongoing association with the Zone in one form or another for pretty much my entire life, starting with being a fan of the original show to publishing an anthology of my adapted scripts via Random House, to being asked to do an intro to one of the collections of Serling’s scripts…it goes on and on and on. It holds a very special place in my heart, so when Nick asked if I would be interested, I of course leapt at the opportunity.
In terms of format for the book, how are you and Dynamite presenting the anthology? Will each issue be a complete story from the Zone? Are longer multi-issue arcs a possibility?
The difficult part of doing a comic based on “The Twilight Zone” is…well, how do you do it? The architecture and marketing of comics leans more toward ongoing stories than done-in-ones. But the anthology format is just that: you tell your story in one shot and get the hell out. The question became how to reconcile those two?
When Nick said they were going to do four issue arcs, I thought that was a smart approach, and thought, why not take it a step further? So I came up with three interlocking stories that could stand on their own (anthology format) but which in the long run would begin to intersect with each other, creating a larger narrative (comic format).
The stories are thematically very Twilight Zone in sensibility. One concerns a father’s decade-long search for the men who killed his son, and can’t get past it. He hires a PI to take one last shot at the investigation, which leads to a twist in time itself. Another story is about a young woman who begins having flashes of a future that may involve nuclear destruction, a destiny that only she can prevent, if she’s up to the job, and the sacrifice involved. The third story is about a Wall Street exec who needs to disappear from his life to avoid prison, and goes farther than he could possibly have anticipated.
Then just as it looks like they’re all just three separate stories, they begin to merge into one larger story, a meta-narrative that forever alters the fate of our three characters.
And then…there’s cake for everyone.
As I said, you were more than simply a writer on the TV iteration but a story editor as well, working on scripts with a number of talents including Harlan Ellison. As the “Twilight Zone” comic moves forward, are you interested in possibly inviting some other writers to take part in this too?
That’s Nick’s department. I’m just doing the initial twelve issues to get the book up and in motion. After that, it goes into other hands, and with Nick’s guidance, I’m confident they’ll do a bang-up job.
Stay tuned all week on CBR for more news out of Comic-Con International in San Diego.