The Horror Of It All: Fialkov talks "Western Tales of Terror" and "Elk's Run"

While the name Joshua Hale Fialkov might not be well known within the industry yet, that could all change soon enough. Fialkov is the Editor-In-Chief of the bi-monthly horror anthology "Western Tales of Terror" from Hoarse & Buggy Productions which has seen contributions from a mix of top comics professionals and relative unknowns. In addition, Fialkov is writing his own comic coming in March called "Elk's Run." CBR News caught up with the busy creator to find out a bit more about both projects.

We begin with "Western Tales of Terror," the first issue of which debuted at Comic-Con International earlier this year and hit comic shops in November. The first issue featured a number of creators already well known within the horror comics world like Steve Niles, Nick Stakal, Dan Taylor, Chuck BB, Benito Cereno and many others. The second issue, out next Wednesday, features the work of Phil Hester, Todd Livingston, Eric J and the return of Stakal and Cereno. "We pretty much shaped the book in the classic EC mold, really fast stories with good hooks and even better payoffs," Fialkov told CBR News. "I have a huge thing for the short story form, probably due to my early EC obsession."

The third issue of "Western Tales of Terror" is in the current Previews catalog and ships at the end of March. "It's one of our strongest issues yet, with an incredible story from Jay Faerber and his 'Dodge's Bullet's' co-creator James Francis, Ryan Ottley doing a story by Nate Bellegarde, IDW wunderkind Dan Wickline and Greg Thompson," said Fialkov. "Down the road on the book, we have a slew of really cool creators, including some of my personal heroes, Stuart Moore and Tom Mandrake."

For those creators interested in having one of their own horror short-stories see print, Fialkov says they're definitely open to submissions and more information can be found on their Web site. "As for the pros, I've managed to build a pretty good network of contacts over the past few years, and through the help of guys like Steve Niles and Phil Hester, we've been given the status of legitimacy to get other pros involved," explained Fialkov. "To the submissions, we've actually made it a point to try to help out young up and comers, much in the way some of our pro's are helping us out. We've made a point to introduce new writers and artists to the world, and we've also made a point in only bringing the best of the best. Thus far, we've introduced Jay Busbee and Jared Bivens into the industry, and David Hopkins and Ben Hall (who've also done work for Viper and Silent Devil). To give guys with limited resumes but loads of talent a chance to be published alongside huge name guys is the sort of opportunity I always salivated over, and it's a true honor to be able to do it for them."

Anthologies are a tough sell in comics. Add to that fact that "Western Tales of Terror" is an independent anthology and the sale gets all that much harder to make, but Fialkov doesn't let that get him down. "I guess the problem is that there's a negative perception towards independent anthologies," said Fialkov. "One of the most oft-mentioned critiques of the book is that it's 'not another crappy indie anthology.' It's actually sad that that's the perception, because I, for one, think there's a slew of great anthology books out there, especially books like 'Digital Webbing Presents' and 'Silver Comics,' to the more abstract indie stuff like 'Project: Telstar' and 'Kramer's Ergot,' and lots of really cool 'jam books' like the 'Hero Happy Hour Super Special,' which is like 20 creators in one place all doing stuff about that book's universe. I think anthologies are where it's at right now.

"And, also, while it's more work for me, it's actually much more practical from a quality stand point. When you have virtually no cash to do a project, if the project is cool, you can get a guy to do five or six pages for you. Anymore than that, and you're looking for trouble. To get guys who are really going to hammer it home, you need to sort of balance their own business requirements to what you can offer them as a publisher. Most of them just love the genres and want to give it a try, assuming they might never get a chance to try it again."

Fialkov said the old EC Comics horror books have played a very influential role in the creation of "Western Tales of Terror." "There was something about them, compared to the other comics of their day, that really just stuck out. There was an almost earnestness about them, which is funny because they're so often associated with brash commercialism, but I genuinely believe that what they were trying to do between those covers was more than just exploitative pulp."

Outside of "Western Tales of Terror" Fialkov's hard at work writing "Elk's Run," a new eight-issue, full-color, bi-monthly series coming from Hoarse & Buggy Productions. The book will make its debut at the Wizard World Los Angeles convention in March and ships to stores later that month. "We managed to find one of the most stylish and talented young artists in the industry today in Noel Tuazon, and easily one of the best colorists working today in Scott Keating," said Fialkov. "Noel does such non-traditional line work, he gets compared to those 'New Yorker' illustrations quite a bit, but, with Scott's colors laid on top, the end result is just unbelievable.

"The book is about a small town in West Virginia, connected to the outside world through a small tunnel, and very little else. The people have this sort of mundane, sleep existence, until an accident kills a townsperson, and the town seeks vengeance on the person who committed the accidental manslaughter. The thing is, there's something else going on with these people, and through the course of the first and second issues, you find out what. The other thing about the book is that each issue is told from the POV of a different character, so, while the story is still linear, you get new insight in each issue into what has come before, and why. What happens in one issue to one character, has a totally different set of ramifications for each of the other characters in the book."

Fialkov says the main focus and narrators of the series are the family of the town's leader. "The first issue is told from the son's point of view, watching his father transform from average all-American dad to something out of any kid's worst nightmare. But, again, as the series go on, we get to see an outsider's view, as well as how the different people in the town view this so called 'first family' that's going through a massive combustion."

Issue one neatly sets up the conflict in this small town and as messy as things start out, it's just going to get worse as time goes on. "We only have two rules in the book," said Fialkov. "One: Make Every Moment Count, and Two: It ain't gonna end well for anybody.

"One of the things I'm proudest of in this book, is that I feel the story, the structure, and the stylistic aspects of the book are all just completely different from anything else out on the stands. It's definitely pretty far from what fills up the bulk of the stands, and that's what I think the industry is hungry for right now."

"Elk's Run" is inspired by Fialkov's own upbringing. While he grew up in big-city America, small-town USA wasn't far from his stomping grounds. "I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, which is about an hour or so outside of the West Virginia border. I had a bunch of friends who would cross over the border to come and work jobs in Pittsburgh, and when I'd go to their towns, and see these tiny little communities, so insulated and so of themselves, I think that's what got me started. I mean, look, as teenagers, no matter where you grow up, there's an aspect of claustrophobia, not even necessarily in a bad way. You know your hometown inside and out, but, at the same time, the thought of staying there forever, at least for me, is pretty damn terrifying."

"Elk's Run" is a horror story, but without any of the trappings of horror. You could also call it a straight-up drama, but the story definitely has its horrific elements. Fialkov said the reaction and impressions from pros who have read advance copies of the book has been along those lines so far. "To me, this is a book about a family. A very fucked up family, but a family nonetheless, and the choices that the family makes on each other's behalf. There's an element of Epic Drama in every family drama, with the son betraying the father and the mother forced to choose sides. It's in every Aeschylus and Sophocles play there is, and just like 'Elk's Run,' they never end well."

In addition, there's also an eight-page back-up story written by Fialkov called "Generic Monsters." "It's the brainchild of Nate Bellegarde (best known for his backups in 'Invincible') and myself, and it follows a group of slightly 'off' monsters," said Fialkov. "In other words, it's generic like generic soda. Sure, it's almost like the name brand, but it's just not all there. We're hoping to release it as a 64 pager down the road, but we thought this was an excellent opportunity to showcase it and get some feedback, plus, after the intense bloodbath of 'Elk's Run,' we thought a nerdy werewolf pooping on lawns would cheer the place up a bit."

If you'd like to chat with Fialkov or Todd Livingston in person, the duo will be holding a signing/release party at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood, CA on Wednesday December 29th from 11am to 2pm.

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