Fialkov Talks "Punks the Comic: Summer Special"

Comics fans and professionals alike have been clamoring for "Punks" ever since the original pitch was posted online, and creators Josh Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain have finally found a home for the iconoclastic project Warren Ellis has heralded as "one of the best singles of the year." CBR News sat down with writer Josh Fialkov to get the skinny on next week's "Punks the Comic: Summer Special" #1, and to get updates on "Elk's Run" and his other developing projects.

"There's a lot of fart jokes strung together into 48 pages," Josh Fialkov told CBR News. H.G. Welles' "War of the Worlds" heavily inspires the backdrop of the first "Punks" installment. "It's these four slacker assholes living in a house and the 'War of the Worlds' is going on outside. But the plot is secondary to what the book is actually there for, which is the jokes and the sarcasm. Mostly the sarcasm."

The four slacker assholes in question are Abraham Lincoln; Dog, a man with a dog's head; Skull, a man with a skull head; and Fist, a man with a fist for a head.

Fialkov said "Punks" owes a lot to the BBC television series, "The Young Ones."  "I used to sneak out of bed at 1:00am to go and watch it on MTV," the writer said. "It's one of those shows that… you see what was going on in British TV and British comedy in the early '80s, and you realize that they were just kind of given free reign to go fucking apeshit. And that's kind of what 'Punks' is, it's very much American, and it's very much our thing, but it has such a healthy dead-set idea of, 'We're just gonna do shit that's funny, and we're gonna try to do it in a way that hasn't been done before.'"

Fialkov met collaborator Kody Chamberlain years ago at a convention, and since then the two have shared a long running fascination with each other's work. "Kody and I both have this kind of agreement about how the comics market is versus how we would like it to be , which is that, when it comes down to it, most of the stuff that's real successful is always gonna fit in that mainstream comics niche, and we both want to work outside of that," Fialkov said. "Kody's the kind of guy, if he were to get offered jobs at Marvel and DC, I don't know that he'd take them. Because, number one, he can make a living doing the stuff he's doing now, and number two, I don't know that he has the passion for that stuff."

"Punks" as it is today grew out of two separate projects the pair of creators had been working on individually. "As we were talking, 'Punks' sort of evolved out of these two separate things," Fialkov said. Fialkov and Chamberlain began working on a pitch that was posted online. "A bunch of people saw it, and a bunch of people started sending it around. And when one of those people was Warren Ellis, all of a sudden everybody was all aflutter about it."

Despite the internet buzz, when the "Punks" team presented the pitch to publishers, "nobody knew what the fuck it was," Fialjov said, explaining that "Punks" was so unlike anything else on the market that publishers didn't know what to do with it. "So we got to a point where we decided, either we can sit around and wait for somebody to figure it out, or we can do it ourselves, And Kody has a real good relationship with the guys over at Digital Webbing, so he went to them. We're essentially self-publishing the book, but we get to use some of Digital Webbing's resources to get it done. It's good for them and good for us."

There is no set publishing schedule for "Punks;" Fialov and Chamberlain plan to churn a new story out whenever both of their busy schedules permit. "The numbers for the first issue were surprisingly good for a little indie book that got very little promotion, so we're hoping we're going to be able to do a Christmas Special, but we're going to have to make that decision real soon because the Previews deadline comes up," Fialkov explained. "Both Kody and I are tremendously busy, and I know for me, this is probably the hardest job I have to write, because it really is like, kind of micromanaging from panel to panel, to make sure that everything flows and make sure every joke goes. But I know Kody does it real fast, so it's just about me busting my ass more, I guess."

Fialkov promises that "Punks" would not be laden in continuity. "We want people to be able to just pick them up and read them," the writer said. "I think that's been kind of a big downfall for comics: There's maybe 10 books on the stands you can pick up any issue of and enjoy, because everything else is so tied-in and so obsessively made to fit as part of this giant continuity. And I understand that continuity is an enhancement, but I think that it should be just that. It's shouldn't be the whole game. You shouldn't read a book only because you're supposed to, you should read a book because you can actually enjoy it."

A collection of Fialkov's "Elk's Run" series was recently released by Random House, and even though critical acclaim for the book has been through the roof, the writer thinks its release was under a lot of people's radar. "I think a lot of people missed that it came out, which is sort of a head-scratcher, because I have yet to go to a Barnes & Noble or Borders that didn't have copies of it," Fialkov said. "It kind of bums me out, because I think a lot of comic stores missed their chance on it, but I'm really pretty happy with the response people have been giving."

"Elk's Run" is a project that was three or four years in the making, and Fialkov is just happy to have something to show for it after all that time. "Having it be out and letting people know that they can just go out and buy it is really pretty cool," Fialkov said.

The delay, in large part, was due to the collapse of the books' original publisher, Speakeasy Comics, early last year. "There was a long time while all that Speakeasy stuff was happening when we end up looking like the assholes, either because the book never comes out, or then once they go out of business, there was a lot of, 'Well, you guys were stupid enough to go into business with them.' And it's like, "Well, no," because comics are such a hand in hand business, I think there's a lot of assumptions that are made about how business works, and what goes on behind the scenes. And I'll tell you, when we signed with Speakeasy, everybody we talked to was like, 'They are the next big thing; they're doing everything right.' And within three months of us signing with them, they had picked up 30 new titles or whatever. But we had already been down the road with them, and it's too late to go back.

"We're happy with 'Elk's Run,' and I hope more people pick it up and more people give it a read."

Fialkov is proud to have an established publisher like Random House, but insists that the brand alone won't ensure sales. "Comics are always going to be one of those things that take activism for them to be successful. Throwing your back behind a book you love and care about is kind of the only way to make sure that it succeeds."

Fialkov's most recent release is his story in "Postcards," an anthology put together by Jason Rodriguez, who also happened to be his editor on "Elk's Run." "I'm super, super proud of that book, and I hope people find it, because it's really kind of an exceptional thing," Fialkov said. "I know everybody else who's in the anthology, everybody that I've talked to, all kind of feel the same way, which is it's some of the best work we have ever done." Fialkov did indicate that the success of "Postcards" has given "Elk's Run" sales a shot in the arm.

If Fialkov had his druthers, he'd do nothing but creator-owned work. "Unfortunately, artists get paid much more than writers," he said. "As a writer, you learn to become much more flexible with what you're working on." That said, Fialkov fans have a number of work-for-hire projects to look forward to. Fialkov's second issue of "Vampirella Quarterly" comes out soon, another project for which the writer hearkens back to the days when comic books were a done-in-one prospect. "In the '70s, that was one of the big hallmarks, especially 'Vampirella,' it was this soap opera where every week it had that kind of Dark Shadows-y ongoing story, but at the same time, every story was totally self contained, and you could really just enjoy it," Fialkov said. "So we're trying to bring that back."

Fialkov is also penning the "Cyblade" installment of Top Cow's Pilot Season initiative, and fulfilling a long-running dream of writing a Marvel Western character with an Outlaw Kid story in "Marvel Comics Presents" #3. "It's funny, anytime I talk to anybody at Marvel, and they say, "We're looking for stuff," the first thing I say is, "Can I do Marvel Westerns? How about the Marvel Western characters?" Fialkov said. "I love the Marvel Western characters, I think they're incredibly cool. They essentially just kind of took a lot of the other Marvel characters, the Spider-Man, the Daredevil, etc., back stories, and just pasted them on to these Western characters. And it works surprisingly well."

Artist Chris Moeller will be providing art for Fialkov's Outlaw Kid story. "Chris does a lot of the painted Star Wars covers, so it's gorgeous, painted, beautiful, oh, it's wonderful, fucking awesome." Fialkov hopes this is the first of many projects he'll have the opportunity to write for Marvel.

"Punks the Comic: Summer Special" #1 hits stands on August 29.

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