Mark Silvestri’s Image Comics imprint Top Cow Productions is best known for turning out darker superhero titles like Witchblade, The Darkess, Artifacts and Cyberforce. The company has expanded to form Minotaur Press, a subsidiary imprint through Top Cow, that releases comics that don’t fall under the superhero umbrella.
The Flagship title from Minotaur Press is Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal, a dark twisted horror book that is already becoming one of the best new comic book series of 2011. The premise is simple but haunting, as readers watch Brian Cohn struggle to control his life-long battle with Schizophrenia, while balancing a wife and new child on the way. Cohn’s life gets thrown into a hurricane when his dying father reveals his secret life as serial killer and that his trophies from the brutal killings are buried in the crawlspace.
Issue #3 of this chilling 5 part mini-series hits stores on the February 23rd, 2011, along with a second printing of the now sold-out first issue. Major Spoilers caught up with series creators Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal to talk about their dark twisted new horror series.
Can you give us an idea of where the inspiration for Echoes came from?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: It came from some research I was doing for my last book, TUMOR. I found some amazing things out about Alzheimer’s and Schizophrenia in relation to brain tumor symptoms, and I filed them away for later. Combined with that, my wife and I had decided to have a kid, and that started my brain turning about fathers and sons, and, well, this just popped out.
Top Cow’s is putting out this series under their Minotaur Press imprint. How did they come to get involved and come on board as publisher?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I’d worked with Top Cow a lot in the past, and had gotten very close with Publisher Filip Sablik, and the rest of the staff over there. I knew the book was an odd fit for them, but, we’d had some success with my non-traditional ways over there, specifically with ALIBI, which I wrote for them, and then they promptly set it up as a film. So, with that in my belt, I managed to tap dance my way into Matt Hawkin’s heart, and get the project green lit. I think I’d shown them the proposal around the same time I was getting Rahsan involved, and once I knew that I had Rahsan, they signed up.
Rahsan Ekedal: We’ve had a great experience working with Top Cow on this book. It’s been very creatively rewarding.
The protagonist of this series, Brian, battles against schizophrenia as it begins to warp his reality, sending him spiraling him into madness. What was it about the disease schizophrenia that made it the perfect catalyst for this story? What kind of research went into properly conveying Brian’s battle with the disease?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I’m crazy for unreliable narrators. Being schizophrenic is like being your own unreliable narrator. Your obsessions and perceptions are so strong that the possibility of alternative explanations all but disappears. Telling what is essentially a horror noir from that point of view was just too exciting a prospect to pass up.
I’m lucky in that my father is a forensic psychiatrist, with a specialty in very damaged patients. From his expertise, I got some great anecdotes and some recommended reads, and, most crucially, access to a stack of old medical journal articles that were the diaries of schizophrenics in recovery. Seeing that thought process of someone who’s so sick was just priceless.
Rahsan Ekedal: Dealing frankly and honestly with mental disorders is really important, and I was proud from the start to be involved in a story that does just that. It’s so common, and not talked about enough in our society or media, certainly not in comics. So, I took it very seriously, and drew on my personal experience (my brother suffered from a disorder not that different from Brian’s) and my own feelings about the subject to get a realistic ‘performance’ out of Brian and the characters around him. We took some liberties for the sake of the story, but there are a lot of very accurate details – Brian’s pills, for instance, are a specific size and shape, based on a real anti-psychotic that a person with his disorder might be prescribed.
The series seems to have a very cinematic feel to the story and artwork. Were there films that inspired ECHOES?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: Yeah, sure. Fritz Lang’s “M” is probably one of the most important films ever made, as far as I’m concerned. The way it makes the MOST despicable character pitiable is just amazing. You really feel for Peter Lorre despite the fact that he’s a monster beyond words. The key film style wise that Rahsan and I talked about was Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Polanski’s The Tenant. All three of the Polanski Apartment Trilogy (Repulsion, The Tenant, Rosemary’s Baby) played a huge role in my development. I didn’t see the Tenant until a few years ago, and it really opened my eyes about what I like about my own work, and where I wanted to go.
Rahsan Ekedal: Hitchcock is also in there, for sure.
Rashan your art on ECHOES is absolutely jaw dropping and really reminds me of some of the earlier work by John Cassaday. Was there a certain style or look that you were trying to achieve?
Rahsan Ekedal: Top Cow was very hot on the style I had developed in the new Creepy series over at Dark Horse, a really dense, detailed look, all ink-wash and gray tones, in the tradition of the legends of the old Creepy & Eerie. But Echoes isn’t a Creepy shocker – it’s grounded in reality, and all about character, so I focused taking that style and bringing it into reality, building a realistic world with a lot of depth and atmosphere, and creating relatable, human characters. Brian went through a few iterations – at one point he was a more handsome, movie-star type, but after talking it over, Josh and I both felt he needed to be normal – average looks, a little out-of-shape, forgets to shave and brush his hair – the kind of guy you see every day on the street. And Brian wears his emotions on his sleeve, so I made him a very expressive character, visually. Everything about his face, posture, clothing, even his environment, is reflective of his emotions and deteriorating mental state.
I also became obsessed with balanced compositions, like in the work of Edwin Austin Abbey and some other artists of that era. You’ll notice a lot of centered compositions throughout the series, and that’s why. There’s a push and pull in the story, and in Brian’s mind, between balance and imbalance, and that’s all there in the art, as well.
I also put a lot of thought into developing the ink wash techniques specifically for this story. I add a lot of texture and layering into the shadows in this book, because all of Brian’s doubts, fears, and inner thoughts are lurking in those shadows. It might sound cliché, but Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh were artists that I thought of quite a bit. They each had a unique way of expressing emotion through texture. Exactly what I’m going for in Echoes.
Rahsan Ekedal: Facial expression is something I’ve studied extensively and feel comfortable with. You really have to feel it and ‘act’ it yourself while drawing to get it right. Once you build the correct head and face structure, then it’s easy to modify the mouth and eyes, etc until you get just the right expression. If you start with the expression without getting the underlying structure first, it’s going to look wrong. I use photo ref only lightly and loosely, but I’ll often snap a picture of myself on my Mac, and check it against what I’m drawing to make sure I’m getting the expression right. So, if you scroll through my Photo Booth library, you’ll see a lot of crazy out-of-context pics of me in all sorts of compromising positions, and often my girlfriend in the background pointing and laughing at me! That said, I already wish I could redraw a lot of those panels. Well, that’s what sequels are for, right?
Give a sales pitch to someone who has never picked up ECHOES and why they should give it a chance…
Joshua Hale Fialkov: Your father just confessed to being the world’s most prolific serial killer of little girls, and you’re realizing you might just be in the family business too. If that doesn’t hook ya, I don’t know what will!
Rahsan Ekedal: Also – it will always be on time! We completed the whole series before even soliciting issue #1. No delays! That’s a big selling point for an indie book these days, right?
The first issue of ECHOES sold out from the distributor on its first day of release. What was your reaction when you heard the news?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: You know, it’s actually frustrating because what that means is that demand outstripped supply. I don’t want my books to sell out! I want people to be able to walk in to any comic shop in the country and buy them! I want them to read this review and jump up and down with excitement when they get into their comic shop so that all the other customers flock to grab a copy. But instead, they had to remember to ask their retailer to reorder the book and then remember to show up and purchase it a few weeks later. It sucks that the impetus to predict success is on retailers, but, because of how our system is set up, it is, and it’s up to them to take the risks (which again, is pretty shitty). It all just goes to show, if you want a copy of a book that doesn’t have an X or a Bat on the cover you HAVE to tell your retailer to order!
Rahsan Ekedal: It’s great that the demand was there. I was surprised and thrilled.
The series has now received a fair amount of critical acclaim from comic book outlets. Do you feel any pressure to live up to critics/fans high expectations for these next couple of issues?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: Well, it helps that the book is already done! For me, the biggest hope is that everyone digs the ending as much as we do. It’s… a doozy.
Rahsan Ekedal: I honestly feel like it gets better with each issue. I’m excited for everyone to see where we’re going next. Seriously!
Eric Powell recently got some negative feedback on a controversial video he did that debated comic book professionals doing creator owned work verses the work for hire model employed by Marvel/DC. Where do you stand on the issue and how hard is it for an independent book like ECHOES to be successful on a market dominated by superheroes?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I want nothing more than for superhero comics to succeed. Here’s the thing. When I got into comics, it was because of superheroes. More specifically, it was because of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Usagi Yojimbo. But, right behind them was the X-Men and Batman and Spider-man and the Hulk. Those books made me a fanatic, and slowly, my taste expanded and I discovered stuff like Sin City and Concrete and Stray Bullets and Starman, and so on. If we fail to bring in new readers, the market will get considerably smaller. That’s my real beef with the big two. They’ve given up on outreach.
Rahsan Ekedal: I think the system of distribution also makes it difficult for new titles in other genres to gain attention and success. If you were to put Echoes on a rack next to Dean Koontz or something, I think it would grab a lot of people who don’t even read comics. But it’s very hard for anyone to even know the thing exists.
Tell us a bit about some of the other projects that you two have coming up and when we might be able to expect something?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I’m doing two graphic novels for MTV Geek’s site, one is HELLTOWN with Steve Bryant, the other is a return of PUNKS with Kody Chamberlain. Then, I’ve got a new series of graphic novels coming out from Oni Press with co-writer and artist Tony Fleecs, and a creator owned ongoing series with Brent Peeples.
Rahsan Ekedal: Right now I’m drawing a new Solomon Kane series for Dark Horse, based on Robert E. Howard’s classic Puritan. Bruce Jones is writing, and the first issue comes out April 6, I believe. It’s in color, so it’ll have a much different look than Echoes, but that’s the joy of art for me – I love shaking things up and working in different styles. I’m also doing a project with Jason McNamara, writer of The Martian Confederacy and First Moon, and there’s a book Nick Spencer and I have been cooking up for a while that we may finally unleash.
Comic book properties are hot commodities for film and television adaptations. If you were to cast or chose directors for a ECHOES film who would you want involved?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I’d rather not jinx it!
Rahsan Ekedal: Megan Fox as Brian.
What was your favorite comic book TV and film adaptation and what adaptation do you think missed the mark?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I’m not one to shit talk… in public… on record… I’d say probably my favorite of the comic to film/TV adaptations was the extremely short-lived tv series of the TICK. It really captured the feel of the book while still being it’s own thing.
Rahsan Ekedal: I love the old Flash TV series from the 90s. John Wesley Shipp is dreamy.
What are some of your favorite comics currently coming out and why?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: Kody Chamberlain’s SWEETS consistently blows me away, and I’ve been reading the scripts and seeing art from it for years, and every issue is still surprising and wonderful. Jeff Lemire’s SWEET TOOTH just kills me every time; It’s emotional, beautiful, and daring. And of course, the cancelled too soon THOR: THE MIGHT AVENGER which might be the best superhero book of the current age.
Rahsan Ekedal: Tiny Titans!
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