The journey Joshua Hale Fialkov has taken in creating and self-publishing the title "Elk's Run" has been an interesting one. It's not been an easy journey, as anyone who's ever self-published a comic book could tell you. Despite high praise from those inside the industry like writer Brian Bendis as well as receiving an "A" in an "Entertainment Weekly" review, "Elk's Run" had a hard time finding an audience in an industry dominated by DC & Marvel special events. Fialkov persevered, though, and ultimately there's good news for "Elk's Run" readers as it's been picked up by Speakeasy Comics, which should provide the book better support and a higher profile. CBR News sat down with Fialkov to reintroduce readers to the book, to find out what the future has in store for "Elk's Run," and to learn a little about another project he's working on, Boom! Studios' "Fused Tales."
All right, Joshua, start out by briefly reintroducing our readers to "Elk's Run." What's the book about?
"Elk's Run" is about a small town in West Virginia that's cut off from the outside world and being torn apart by a war between the parents and the kids. Each issue is told from a different character's POV, so you get this sort of "Rashomon"-like look into the minds and thought processes of all the players, so that it's really about who's the bad guy and who's the good guy.
You began by self-publishing this book through your own Hoarse & Buggy Productions. Talk about the challenges you faced in publishing it on your own and getting the word out? I know it was an often times frustrating experience, even with high praise the book received.
Well, the fact of the matter is, very few indie books succeed. Being a "boutique indie publisher" as opposed to the Oni's, AiT's, or Top Shelf's, is a really a challenge in this market. To survive, you need to diversify and have a wide array of product, but, when it's just a three man operation with limited capital like Hoarse & Buggy is, we found ourselves getting snowed under while doing just two books, yet alone trying to expand the line beyond that. This whole Diamond situation the past few weeks has really put a pretty fine point on the situation. The fact is, a lot of Indie Books do fall underneath that "$600 cutoff" meaning, that there's a lot of indie comics selling less than 500 copies.
Thank God, "Elk's Run" isn't one of them. But, we soon found out that we were losing money despite slowly building readers. Our reorders were consistently incredible, and the praise, like you mentioned, I'd say has been unrivaled for an indie comic in the past few years. But, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. Retailers are so heavily snowed under with mainstream books right now (just with all these mini-series and cross-overs it seems like Marvel and DC have just about doubled their output in the past six months). And unfortunately, the audience isn't growing, so retailers have to order what they order just to make sure they can pay their bills. I can't spite them for that.
But now you've got the book set-up over at Speakeasy. If I recall correctly, you first pitched Adam Fortier on the idea of publishing your book during Wizard World LA. How'd this all come together? And why Speakeasy versus say Image or Devil's Due or anyone else who might be in a position to publish it?
Darwyn Cooke was a big fan of the book, and also has a good relationship with Adam Fortier, and he saw us as a "perfect match." In our initial talks with Speakeasy, we really connected with their plan in terms of releasing smart books and controlling the quantity of initial release titles, and they seemed to have a real passion for the book. We talked with a few other publishers early on, but Speakeasy really wooed us hard, and ultimately, knowing that we could more or less keep the book going uninterrupted schedule-wise, was a lot of the attraction.
Go over the publishing plans for the book, if you will. I understand there's going to be something of a collection of the first three issues, then you'll be moving on to issue number four.
Right. Well, coming out in about two weeks or so is the "Elk's Run Bumper Edition," which reprints the first three issues, with a cover by Darwyn Cooke, an introduction by Steve Niles, and about ten bonus pages of extra material, ranging from a coloring tutorial to a sketch gallery. It's a meaty 80 page book for a mere $7.99. We've actually set it up so that it's hopefully going to be constantly available as a primer for readers. Then issue #4, which is in the current Previews, gets our story back on track with the next chapter, this one also from John Jr's (the protagonists) P.O.V., but with a pretty neat twist, and then issue #5 will follow in next month's Previews. So, in other words, the book is monthly, at least for the next two issues.
To anyone out there reading this who might be interested in pursuing the self-publishing avenue, any words of wisdom or advice for them? And following up on that thread, knowing what you know now about the reaction to "Elk's Run," had you to do it over today would you have immediately gone to pitching publishers or still gone the self-publishing route?
I don't know. I really don't. It's a tough business, y'know? The bottom line, spend smart and make sure you're in love with what you're doing. I can't tell you the number of guys I know who go into massive debt pretty much from Day One, and don't understand what's wrong with their business. You've got to plan and be smart about what you're spending your money on, because it's going to be a while 'til you get it back. And by 'a while' I mean "probably never." For the being in love, you need to know that this is something you do because it's what's at the core of your being, because, face facts, it's a tremendously tough business with a rather limited financial return. If you aren't doing it for love, your heart's going to get broken.
Look, the only reason we survived the shit numbers at the beginning of "Elk's Run" is because I know in my heart that this book is special. I'm willing to take the risks and put in the effort to make sure that the rest of comic reading public knows it, too, no matter how long it takes.
Anything else we should know "Elk's Run" wise? Creative team still the same? What about outside media interest? Has there much?
We're pretty outstandingly lucky to have the most prolific artists I've ever known on the book. Noel Tuazon and Scott Keating crank the pages out almost faster than I can write them. If it wasn't for them, the whole thing'd fall apart. So, thankfully, they're on board for the whole run.
The biggest change is going to be in the format of the books. The first two issues had back up features, and we've decided to do away with them, because they just divert attention from the main story, and our letterer Jason Hanley has taken over the book design, starting with the bumper, so the non-comic stuff's going to have a much sharper design-smart look. I'm thrilled with how the bumper turned out, and hopefully so will our fans.
As for outside media, we've had a ton of folk interested, and some very interesting things on the horizon. But my manager would kick me in the nuts if I said anymore.
At the same time orders are being places for this, you've got a story in the upcoming Boom! Studios release "Fused Tales." Talk to us about this. What's the story you've cooked up? How'd you get hooked up on this book?
Fused is one Steve Niles' earliest characters, with the series coming out through Image and Dark Horse prior to this new Boom! edition. And it's a huge departure from what most people think of as the traditional "Niles Book." Fused is a man trapped in a giant robot suit that's digested his body, and become "one with him." It's a helluva lot of fun and everyone should definitely pick up the two earlier trades.
As for my story, Niles has been a big supporter of me pretty much from day one. He helped us out in "Western Tales of Terror" several times (including writing stories in issues #1 and #5, and setting us up with a wide array of artists) and we became pretty good friends as time went on. When he wanted to do a Fused book with a few contributors, he 'called me up from the Minors to play with his toys. And it was a blast!
The story's a pretty big departure from what people would generally think of as what I do. It's big, bombastic action, with a giant sea monster and lots of rock 'em sock 'em fun!
Sounds like fun. So what's next for you then?
Well, "Elk's Run" is getting close to wrapping up, and I'm working on setting up the "follow-up" to the book, which won't be a sequel or anything like that. Just the next "big project," which is still pretty tentative. I've got an Original Graphic Novel that's about 1/3rd done, and should be on shelves sometime next year, and I've got a few pitches out at various publishers right now. If I have my way, you'll be seeing a lot more of me in the next few months.