Talking To Joshua Hale Fialkov About Hell, Atheism And Killing John Stewart

devilers_teaseJoshua Hale Fialkov has a new series from Dynamite Entertainment on the way. The Devilers. About hell opening on earth and a bunch of religiously associated folks from all manner of faiths joining to fight whatever comes out. Dynamite asked if I wanted to chat to Josh about it. And I always want to chat to Josh. Although when he started messaging me, I was otherwise engaged…

Joshua Hale Fialkov: Hey – if you want to start the interview questions coming, I'll answer as I have time.

Rich Johnston: Great I am in the pub!

JHF: Like all good english people.

RJ: Kieron says hi

JHF: High five him for me.

RJ: Okay, so… The Devilers… Is it your Buffy? There are surface similarities….

JHF: Well, i think we all want to find an engine like Buffy that lets us tell the stories we want to tell, but in a nice digestible fashion.

I think Devilers is a step towards that for me, though.

Each of my creator owned books serve that purpose to some degree

RJ:  Obviously I'm seeing hell mouths and a group designed to stop what's coming out… Am I wrong to?

JHF: Oh, you mean LITERALLY?

RJ: I was wondering…

JHF: Yes. But, the difference is our guys march right into hell. It doesn't go well for anyone.

RJ: What kind of hell are you portraying here? Or hells?

JHF: That's sort of the trick of the book. Having these different religions with their different ideologies banged up against each other is… tough to say the least.

So, the idea is to sort of mash them all up into one 'super hell.' So that the hell is sort of pan-religion. Or, maybe amorphous. It's funny, cause I'm writing TWO books dealing with the afterlife, that couldn't be more different.

RJ: So, is this kind of like a spider-verse but for hells? All of them at once?

JHF: Pretty much. I've worked at one or two, that's for sure. Zing.

RJ: Yeah, well get to that…  Do you have any religious belief yourself? What hells have you considered in your life? What do you think of the entire concept?

JHF:I'm an atheist. The thing about religion is that the core principals aren't wrong. Love each other, respect each other, don't steal your neighbor's oxen. These are all good things to live by. The problem comes in the execution of the ideals. The persecution, the judgement, and all of the things that come with them. Hell is certainly one of those things.

That we can believe in an all loving God who's, y'know, not actually all loving, what with the fiery pit he throws some people into confuses the hell out of me.

RJ: Well, not all churches preach a literal hell…

JHF: That's true. And, again, we try in the book to not paint with that broad a brush.

RJ: What, if any, positives do you see in the potrayal of hell?

JHF: in the book or in general?

RJ: I was going with in general, thinking that it probably has stopped someone raping or murdering someone else along the way. The fear of judgement isn't always a bad thing, surely?

JHF: Hell is a quite a motivator, yeah. Eternal damnation seems like the icing on the cake of forced morality.

RJ: But yes, what is the purpose of hell in Devilers? What is it there for?

JHF: Well, that's something I'm hoping we get to deal with. That if we take it for granted that there is a God, and he's all powerful, then why would he let this place exist. Why would he let people make the mistakes that would make them wind up there.

I'm taking it all very literally.

RJ: The literally is interesting, hell is often portrayed allegorically, such as Dante. Not so much about the dead, as about the living. You're doing something very different then?

JHF: I think so. Hell is an army of angry, deranged souls who want out. And as the book starts, they've found their way.

RJ: Will any of them see the current world as just another hell?

JHF: Well, again, if you consider that they've fallen from Heaven, Earth WOULD be another hell.

RJ: I'm in a London pub listening to Kieron Gillen pontificate about the importance of noughties girl bands. I can sympathise with that outlook.

JHF: Even beyond that, nobody thinks they're evil. Nobody thinks they're GOING to hell, so, it's sort of a shit deal, right?

RJ: Well, no one thinks they're going down for a twenty stretch, it's all just punishment of one form or another

JHF: Right, but this is the place you can't escape. Until now.

RJ: Why do atheists like to write so much about religion? Religious creators don't seem to write about atheism much.

JHF: Honestly, this is just a coincidence that I'm writing two books about faith at once.

But… what interests me about faith and people of faith is the idea of the message getting scrambled from text to execution.

That, for example, my mother-in-law is a born again christian, and has a lot of love in her heart, yet, when Prop 8 took away the rights of homosexuals to marry, she was jumping up and down and singing and dancing.

How is that what God would want? God would want people to not be able to express their love? Or to sign a piece of paper? Or to be contractually monogamous? In this country the line of politics and faith is such a strange one, that I'm constantly fascinated by it.

Even the hypocrisy of "I don't want the government telling me what to do, but they can tell you that you can't get married because I disagree with you and your lifestyle" is such a mystery to me.

RJ: Is that so different from atheism though? There are plenty of homophobic atheists, even though it goes against common sense. And the slip of text and execution led to mass exterminations by the like of Stalin…

JHF: Well sure, there's monsters of all faiths.But atheists don't spend a few hours a week reading (or listening to) sections of a book who's central theme is love each other and treat others as you yourself want to be treated.

RJ: Do you see atheism as a faith?

It's the UnFaith. I want a t-shirt that says that.

RJ: So Harry Potter doesn't count then? I would point out that Stalin probably had a well thumbed through copy of Das Capital which does all that. And you can read the God Delusion cover to cover and still be a right dick.

JHF: Conflating Stalin with all Atheists is like conflating Hitler with all Catholics. I went Hitler.

BAM.

BAM.

I had a Voldemort joke, but I couldn't remember his name.

RJ: You don't say his name, do you know nothing Fialkov? Kieron asks what you are wearing and if you can circle your nipples like this?

JHF: Tell him to get back to work. Lazy shiftless brits. Just because it's 1030 at night doesn't mean you shouldn't be working.

RJ: Will do. Hang on where were we?

JHF: I went Hitler.

RJ: Oh yes, leaving Green Lantern

JHF: Ha! You're the master of the smooth transition.

RJ: So, exactly who was it who told you to kill off John Stewart? You don't get these questions at CBR, I know.

JHF: Editorial felt that the story we were telling wasn't 'compelling enough' and suggested that the murder of John Stewart would be. I disagreed.

It was all so long ago, but it still bums me out. I love those characters, and wanted to be a part of the launch so badly.

RJ: I notice he is now alive in the Futures End comic set thirty years in the future.

JHF: I know that those plans all got scuttled after I left, but, that wasn't enough for them to ask me back.

RJ: Is there any way you could ever see yourself going back?

JHF: It was a toxic environment working there when I did. I was walking with a cane and suffering from migraines two or three times a week from all the stress. After I quit, that all went away.

I've lost probably 50 pounds, and, am training for a marathon.

RJ: They should probably bottle that as medication.

JHF: Just being out from under the negative energy contributed a lot of that change.

RJ:  Tense, nervous headache? Cramps down the left side? Simply quit DC!

JHF: And let them make a PR mess out of it, completely vilifying themselves in the process, yes.

RJ: Of course you have your new comic Bunker now, selling well, optioned for multi-media… What I believe is technically known as an unqualified success. Does that still make you smile?

JHF: It does, but not necessarily because of all that. The time I spent at DC was so monopolizing, that I wasn't barely writing two books a month, which, living in Los Angeles, means we were subsisting financially, so I couldn't do creator owned.

Working for Marvel, Dynamite, Dark Horse, Oni, etc. are so much less… laborious, that I'm back up to six or seven projects a month.

RJ: So, Marvel pays less than DC but gives you the space to do other work as well?

JHF: It's not about space, it's about time demands. DC's editorial mandates would mean rewriting scripts dozens of times for no good reason.

RJ: By the way, how do you reckon Charles Soule does it all?

JHF: I think probably being in NYC helps a bit, and being as busy as he is, they have less ability to fuck with him.

Just as a theory.

I should add, I feel bad for the editors because in my time there, they were just as thrown by the changing tide as I was.

RJ: What do you hear of them now? Anything better?

JHF: I try not to talk about it with the few I keep in touch with. I'm still persona non-grata over there, after all.

RJ: So instead of killing off John Stewart, they killed you off instead? Are you a paschal lamb? To bring this back to religion….

JHF: Eh, look, things worked out for the best with me. I'm happier and more successful than I've even been, and I'm working with people I like on projects I love.

RJ: So how do you see your future career? Are they any creators who you can point to and say "that"? Millar, Morrison, Brunaker, Kirkman, Soule? Anyone whose footsteps you can follow or are you truly your own man?

JHF: Not really. I love what I'm doing, and I love the path that I'm making for myself. It's been bumpier and harder than I'd like, but, I suppose that's part of what makes the response to the work I'm doing so nice.

RJ: Do you think your experience could make it easier for other creators coming up?

JHF: I occasionally teach writing classes here and there, and that's part of the hesitance from me to do more of that. My experience is so unique to me, just like your experience is unique to you, and so on, so that while I can tell you what works for me, that's far from an actual useful thing, unless you happen to be the same.

Hell, I've had friends in similar situations to things that I've been in come to me and ask for advice, and I don't advise anyone do things that I did.

That things have worked out so well the past few years is just plain dumb luck.

RJ: "See what I did? Do the opposite." ..?

JHF: Sort of. But look, I had to FIGHT for I, Vampire at DC. I mean, genuinely kick and scream to try and protect the book. And, it's generally regarded so well, that, I suppose it was worth it.

But, even that didn't help me at DC, ultimately. Probably even hurt me, because it wasn't something Dan could see as 'his own project' because I fought against his demands so much.

BUT

I have a book I'm proud of. That I still get a ton of copies slid in front of me. To sign. That is.

RJ: And, as you said with Dynamite, it's done you good for facilitating creator owned work

JHF: I treat all of my work as though it's creator owned. Same level of attention, same level of authorship. That's a tough road to walk.

I'M A FOLK HERO, JOHNSTON.

RJ: Where's your axe?

JHF: My axe is my words.

RJ: All folk heroes need an axe.

JHF: MY. WORDS.

RJ: And that you need on a T-shirt

JHF: Aight, I gotta get back to work.

And with that he was gone. I went back to arguing the relevance of the Sugababes….

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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