Joshua Hale Fialkov Interview: Skyman, Project Black Sky, The Bunker, and more!

The writer of Dark Horse Comics' Skyman, the sensational The Bunker, and Spider-Man: Who Am I? chats with Den of Geek about his work!

With Skyman, Joshua Hale Fialkov is challenging old ideas and building heroes and worlds with Dark Horse Comics and their Project Black Sky shared universe. With The Bunker, he is tearing them apart with a post-apocalyptic tale that seizes on the fears that we all have as we graduate into whatever horrible monsters we will become once we become legitimate adults.

In our exclusive interview with Fialkov, we discuss why Dark Horse’s interconnected world of heroes appeals to him, his decision to explore race with Skyman, and the digital and print success of The Bunker and the book’s march toward other mediums.

Beyond that, we also ask about Peter Parker and Spider-Man: Who Am I? and whether Fialkov would like to write Doctor Who comics again.

Den of Geek: Take me through the Project Black Sky shared universe that Dark Horse is establishing: how interconnected are these stories, is there an end-game that the creators are all working toward, and how much communication is there between you, your peers, and editorial?

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Joshua Hale Fialkov: For me, I had a LONG conversation with Mike Richardson at the beginning of the book about what he was looking for, and where the whole story is going. Then, beyond that, I talk to Josh Williamson every day (sometimes more…my wife is extremely jealous). And of course, editors Jim Gibbons and Spencer Newlin-Cushing are right in the thick of it. It’s been nice in that the plans aren’t intrusive, and, in fact, are additive to what we’re doing.

As a creator, what’s the appeal of a shared universe and what are some of the drawbacks? Also, how do you go about making the book appealing to those who don’t want to get into the larger universe?

Well, this is sort of the best of both worlds. You get to use the other toys, but they aren’t being forced down your throat. I’ve worked on books that were guest star crazy, and it really doesn’t help sales and immensely hurts your story, because you have to have a reason to have those other characters in the book, so they diminish your main character’s journey. It’s a subtle art.

It seems like you’re working your way toward telling us a bit about Eric’s past and the accident that led to his injury, are you going to double back and flesh out some of the supporting characters and their backstories as well? Lieutenant Sharp and General Abernathy for instance. Also, will we see the previous Skyman again and will we see how he transformed into a killer and a racist? Is there PTSD at play, is there something else?

Most of the book’s focus is really about Eric and his journey, so you will definitely find out what happened to him and how it affects him day to day. As for his supporting cast, they all play a substantial part in the story going forward. And, we have definitely not seen the end of the previous Skyman.  

What made the affirmative action angle the right way in to the story of Eric Reid?

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It’s not REALLY affirmative action, I suspect. It’s about the appearance of affirmative action. It’s about people behaving the way they think the world expects them to act, rather than finding the right guy. But, through all of that, they DO find the right guy with Eric. He’s much more than they bargain for, and not because he’s black, but because he’s an amazing human being. That’s really the focus for me.

[related article: 101 Comics Creators to Watch in 2014]

There is this dim and cynical idea that black heroes are fringy, that those characters are incapable of widespread acceptance. Why do you think that that notion persists?

Look at the outcry when Ryan Reynolds was announced as Green Lantern. Look at how much money movies starring Will Smith or The Rock or Eddie Murphy or Tyler Perry or literally any of the hundreds of blockbuster sized movies that actors of color make. Comics has been close minded, self-focused, and uninterested in accepting the reality of the world around it for far, far too long.

Is the best remedy for that way of thinking the creation of brand new characters or does it come from a mixture of rebooting and altering existing characters to make comics a bit more representative while also having a little more faith in the already established characters of color?

It’s a mixture of both… It’s hard to launch new characters in the comics business, no matter what they are… Hell, it’s hard to launch new versions of existing characters, too. But, we’re not doing this because it’s easy. Our goal is not just to sell books to who’s here, but to make sure that there’s people here tomorrow and the day after and the year after that. I want to make sure that there’s comics so that when my daughter one day tells her kids what I did for a living, they know what the hell she’s talking about.

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Do you think that the titanic initial success of the Oni release of The Bunker (selling out in the first day, the exploding secondary market) vs. the comparatively softer ComiXology Submit release — which is a capital I indie release — re-enforces the notion that going it alone still has a long way to go before it can be considered commercially viable? Also, is that a good thing?

Oh, I don’t think the ComiXology release was soft at all… We got in front of as many if not more eyeballs digitally than I think it possible in the print market. And all of our success comes from that digital audience FIRST. Doing creator owned work is no longer about characters or books, it’s about relationships between us as creators and our audience. It’s the best part of comics, honestly.

I assume that that is cumulative, though. What I mean is, I would imagine that sales were higher for the Oni version than the ComiXology version on day one. And that’s surely helped by the word of mouth generated by the digital success, but from a purely financial standpoint, is it fair to say that the digital release was a bridge to what can be a greater (and easier, thanks to the marketing support) level of financial success and visibility? Is it fair to assume that that is why you brought the book to Oni?

Well, again, it’s about the partnership between the two. I don’t think our digital audience and our print audience are the same people. There’s some crossover, but, the bulk of the feedback I’ve gotten from people on the print is “I never heard of this…” or “I don’t read digital comics.” Yet, we sold thousands and thousands and thousands of digital comics, so… Y’know, do the math, I suppose.  The two pieces have to work together, otherwise the whole thing falls down. That’s not us, that’s all of the media world now.

Not that it necessarily matters since the book was a world beater right out of the gate, but what are some of the differences between The Bunker #1 and the previous versions, and was there ever a thought to re-release this material as a zero issue beside all new material?

Yeah, we talked about that… We wanted to find the most elegant solution to a inelegant problem. And using a number 1 as a primer and a jumping on point seemed the best option. It’s worked pretty well, so far.

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How long can The Bunker go and do you have the ending in mind, or are you Losting?

We have a pretty thorough outline for about five or six years worth of stories, but, I’ve been doing this long enough that I always have jump out points, just in case. But yeah, I could theoretically write issue 65 right now.

This seems as if it will one day live on in another medium, if that happened, would you want to be a guiding or otherwise prominent hand in the adaptation process and could this live as a network show, or would it have to be a cable series?

Y’know, things are changing so drastically in tv that’s hard to predict. I think I can say (it’s been reported enough places) that we are developing it, and I am going to have a big hand in it’s other media form. Joe Infurnari will as well.

Obviously the license has migrated over to Titan now, but if given the chance, would you write Doctor Who again and when you watch Peter Capaldi fully become the Doctor in the fall, will a part of your brain be off thinking up stories for that version of the Doctor?

Writing Doctor Who is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. I love the show so much that it becomes about reigning in my glee at writing it, y’know? But, that being said, I would literally never turn down a chance to write the Doctor again in any form.

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What can you tell us about Spider-Man: Who Am I? and can you talk about the agony and the ecstasy of working with a version of Peter Parker that is bit unformed at the moment?

Well, that’s the thing… Dan Slott has had this entire story from top to bottom worked out in pretty graphic detail for years. He’s known every twist and turn, and I’ve gotten to be an occasional voyeur to that process. So, while I don’t know all of the picture, I think I know enough. And, I have the amazing editorial team in the Spidey office (including Ellie Pyle and Tom Brennan) to back me up.

Joshua Hale Fialkov, thank you very much!

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