We’re bringing Top Cow Month to a close with an interview with the creators of the creepy, totally addictive series Echoes: writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Rahsan Ekedal.
In Echoes, Brian Cohn is an ordinary middle-aged guy expecting a child with his wife. He’s also a diagnosed schizophrenic–just like his father, who might be a serial killer who has killed countless little girls and made tiny dolls from them. When another girl disappears, Brian has to wonder–is schizophrenia the only thing he inherited from his father?
Echoes #5 comes out today and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. Read up on the series below and then order yours now, but be warned: this is a disturbing tale that is not for the faint of heart.
TFAW.com: Echoes is like something out of a nightmare. Joshua, where did the idea for this come from?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: It came almost directly out of my own fears. My wife and I had decided to have a baby, and I was instantly struck by how my relationship with my own father had shaped and molded me into who I was today. All of my flaws and strengths came from the way my parents raised me from an extremely early age. So, of course, I start panicking about what that means for me and my kid, and then, y’know, the mind drifts . . .
TFAW.com: The protagonist, Brian Cohn, is a schizophrenic who occasionally delays his meds, which makes him an extremely unreliable narrator. Will we ever know the “real” story?
JHF: I mean, for me, I know exactly what happens and exactly what the ending of the series means. I’ve been somewhat amazed that so many people who’ve read it have taken it in so many different ways. It’s actually pretty rewarding to have people actively debating and thinking about the book so long after they’ve read it. A lot of the thanks for that goes to Rahsan, who added just the right touch of ambiguity to the final art.
Rahsan Ekedal: The line between reality and Brian’s illusions is very hard for the reader to distinguish, and that’s exactly how Josh and I wanted it, so there’s no separation in the art, no clear difference between hallucination and reality. There’s a total immersion into Brian’s world that, I think, has caused a lot of people to become invested in figuring out what’s “real” and what’s not. I just can’t wait to see where that debate goes when everyone reads the finale in issue #5. Even though Josh and I are certain of its meaning, I’m really curious to find out what other people get from it.
TFAW.com: What was his relationship like with his father?
JHF: I think bad is probably an understatement. It’s never explicitly said in the comic, but, at some point, Brian’s mom just couldn’t take it anymore and abandoned him with his dad, which his dad really blamed on Brian, rather than his own illness and short comings, and that resentment just kept on coming up. I think once Brian was old enough, he probably left home and kept as far away as he could, while still trying to prove himself capable to his dad.
TFAW.com: If you read Echoes, his father never actually claims to be a serial killer, but Brian leaps to that conclusion immediately–admittedly, after finding some pretty damning evidence. Why?
JHF: I’d say it’s the evidence, I mean, it’s just all right there, and there’s not a lot of other paths to go down. If his dad knew about the room, then his dad must be connected to the room. We also see some of his rationale in the flashback at the beginning of issue #4, where he’s remembering this strange, almost dirty moment with his dad, that, in retrospect seems so much more sinister knowing what he knows now.
RE: And the thought becomes an obsession. Once the question is there, it becomes inescapable. We’ve all had a thought or fear that we just can’t get out of our head. And it’s even worse for someone with Brian’s condition.
TFAW.com: Rahsan, what did you think about this story when you first heard about it?
RE: The great thing about Echoes from the start was the push and pull between simplicity and complexity. You can describe the plot in one sentence, but at the same time, Brian’s story is incredibly rich thematically, and deals with very complex issues. That’s the recipe for a great story, in my mind. And the opportunity to draw a story that deals seriously with mental health was a big incentive for me to come on board for this book–it’s one of those things that doesn’t get talked about enough in our society. Plus, it’s Josh Fialkov–I would have said yes to working with him again even if the story was about cuddly bunnies. Which, by the way–spoiler alert–is what our next project is all about.
TFAW.com: Your style is pretty realistic, which makes it even harder to distinguish reality from fantasy. How did you approach this story?
RE: Reality, immersion, darkness. Those were the keywords for me. It was really important to us both that Brian feel like a real person. At an early design stage, I had Brian as more of a handsome hero type, but it didn’t quite feel right. That guy wasn’t Brian. And then Josh was like, “Make him fatter. Make him less attractive.” I went back to the drawing board, and suddenly Brian was staring me in the face. That was an important moment in the course of the book, I think, and a great example of our collaborative process.
Another important moment was the decision to print the book in black and white. It was honestly exciting, because normally in comics I’m working with a colorist. That has it’s own rewards, of course, but the bottom line is that what I draw isn’t exactly what the reader sees– the colorist is really creating the “finished” image. With Echoes, I had utter control over the relationship between my brush and the reader’s eyes. So I became totally obsessed with creating this immersive world of creeping shadows. The texture of the shadows is a character–I wanted the darkness in Echoes to feel alive, a representation of Brian’s mind.
RE: Part of it was just my learning process–I went to art school for five years, but nothing teaches you as much or as fast as actually working on a monthly schedule. But I also give a lot of credit to my editor (on both of the books you mentioned), Shawna Gore. She had her eye on me when I was still in school, and has consistently given me the right guidance at the right time, especially in that key moment between finishing The Cleaners and drawing my first Creepy short, when my process needed shaking up. We had a long talk at New York Comic Con that year, and it propelled me to changed up my style. Echoes has been the full expression of that effort, thanks to Filip Sablik and Top Cow letting me cut loose. But now I’m searching for new ways to improve. It’s a constant process. I’m never satisfied with my pages!
TFAW.com: Joshua and Rahsan, you worked together on The Cleaners. How has your working relationship evolved over the years?
JHF: Last time around, Rah and I didn’t really get to work together, as I had a co-writer who did most of the heavy lifting. But, we were like two little dogs separated by plexiglass at the pet store, so desperate to frolic together, that it was only a matter of time.
RE: We’ve worked together on a few things now, and I think we’ve developed a great creative short hand–Josh writes for me, and I draw for him, you know? It’s very rewarding when both creators are sort of anticipating the other. It works. And we frolic. Ah, the frolic-ing.
TFAW.com: What keeps bringing you two back together?
JHF: So much of our influences are in lock step. The old Warren horror magazines from the ’60s and ’70s, that Bernie Wrightson-style horror stuff, and I think we both circle the same films and television as well. Having someone who understands your references is such a huge help in the process. Plus, I think we make beautiful music together, so to speak.
RE: Also, we both take the craft very seriously, so that brings us together. Josh is all about creating that perfect panel, perfect single page, perfect 22-page experience. His scripts show that care, and that’s exactly in line with my visual ambitions, as well. So, it’s creatively rewarding to work together.
TFAW.com: How did you get involved with Top Cow?
JHF: I’d been working with Top Cow off and on for nearly five years now. Maybe more, actually! When I came up with Echoes, I was coming off the success we had with Alibi and it’s movie deal, so it just felt natural to offer them up what was next.
TFAW.com: While The Cleaners was more of a CSI-style horror story, Echoes is definitely more dreamlike and visceral. Which type of stories do you two prefer?
JHF: I think Echoes is definitely more in my wheel house. I love being able to tell grounded stories about characters that you love, even though you should, by all rights, be disgusted by them. Finding a way to make someone relatable and a hero when their actions clearly state the opposite is just a complete blast for me.
RE: I love a challenge, so working in many different genres and tones is great. I couldn’t choose just one.
TFAW.com: Will there be any more to the story after issue #5? Is there any room for a sequel?
JHF: I have a sequel in mind, and have had from the very beginning. So while Brian’s story is very much complete, for me, I have a lot of nasty things left to do to the people around him.
RE: The Empire Echoes Back!
TFAW.com: What types of comics would you two like to tackle next?
JHF: We’ve talked a bit, and I know my heart drifts towards doing something slightly less macabre, but still in the horror genre. Once Rahsan gets a break from being a goddamn superstar over at Dark Horse, we’re gonna sit down and figure something out.
RE: We’ll let you guess at what “slightly less macabre” might mean. We’re going to do something awesome, promise.
TFAW.com: What comics are you reading right now?
JHF: I’m absolutely in love with Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics. That guy is a genius. I’m also a big fan of the work Cullen Bunn is doing over on The Sixth Gun, Jeff Lemire on Sweet Tooth, and the Image book Li’l Depressed Boy is simply amazing.
RE: I have to give a bump to Jason McNamara’s The Martian Confederacy: From Mars With Love, with art by Paige Braddock. It’s out this month, I believe, and it’s a great, fun little book with a really twisted sense of humor.
TFAW.com: Do you have anything coming up you’d like to talk about?
JHF: Sure, I’m writing a three issue arc of Superman/Batman for DC, that’s in previews right now. I’ve also got some original comics debuting over at geek.mtv.com later this year, and a couple of books that’ll be announced this summer.
RE: Right now I’m drawing the fourth issue of Solomon Kane: Red Shadows for Dark Horse, written by Bruce Jones. Issue #1 is in stores right now. And we may be doing more Kane after that–should be some announcements soon. So, if you’re a Robert Howard fan, stay tuned for that. There’s other stuff, but nothing I can talk about yet. Follow us both on Twitter! We’re lively. That’s one word for it.
Thank you, Joshua and Rahsan, for answering all of our questions. Now get to work on something new for us to read! In the meantime, catch up on Echoes here.
Are you loving Echoes like I am? Post your comments below!