'The Life After' Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov Signs Deal With Oni Press (Exclusive)

The comics writer behind 'The Bunker' and 'The Life After' will bring his new material exclusively to Oni, launching 'Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth' later this year.
Joshua Hale Fialkov  Courtesy of Oni Press/Charlie Chu

Joshua Hale Fialkov has been a very busy man over the past decade or so since he broke into comics with 2007's wonderfully dark graphic novel Elk's Run, which he wrote in collaboration with artist Noel Tuazon. He's spent some time creating horror books (Tumor, again with Tuazon; and Echoes, with artist Rahsan Ekedal), digging in the DC trenches with I, Vampire and marveling with Marvel for Ultimate Comics: Ultimates and Ultimate FF.

But he's found the most joy in making creator-owned comics. The Bunker started as a webcomic in 2013 before Fialkov and artist Joe Infurnari brought it to Oni Press in 2014 — the same year he started The Life After with the publisher. The relationship has proved so fruitful that Fialkov has decided to sign an exclusive deal with Oni.

Fialkov took time away from his burgeoning TV writing career — he was on the staff of NBC's hit drama Chicago Fire — to talk about why he chose Oni, whether he'll ever work for DC or Marvel again and why he still loves comics after all these years.

You've done creator-owned work all over town. How rewarding has the experience been generally?

(Laughs.) Well, there's nothing quite like telling your own stories the way you want. I've worked for just about everybody, in every format, under every condition. From work-for-hire for the Big Two down to self-publishing. But the truth is that doing your own books, telling your own stories is just about the most rewarding experience, creatively, you can have. Financially, well, that's hit or miss.

Why hitch your wagon to Oni?

For a couple reasons. The primary one — the thing that means the most to me about being published there at all — is that their logo, when it's on the side of a book, means in no uncertain terms, quality. They've curated their line for the 20-plus years they've been publishing. When I was first getting back into reading comics, the one constant was that Oni books were always awesome. Queen and Country, Blue Monday, Love Fights, the Kevin Smith books, Scott Pilgrim and on and on.

Nobody is as precise and as passionate about the books they publish. Nowhere I've worked gives the type of TLC and singular devotion.

Are they allowing you to do things that other people won't, from a content or even a production perspective?

Absolutely. The biggest way is simply that they understand that comics is a long game. It's not just about selling the movie or moving variant covers. It's about committing to a story and helping to shape it into something for the ages.

And they're there when I need them — no phone call goes unanswered, no task unfulfilled. We talk regularly about the books, the marketing and the business plan. That's something that just doesn't happen in other places.

All of that said, the movie — or the TV show, or the VR experience, or whatever — is still a big deal. How much control do you get to exert over that stuff?

That's really the other big thing. These guys aren't looking for option money or to just make garbage movies. They're interested in, again, curating that experience. Part of that is making sure that the creators are involved and an active part of the process. I'm lucky in that I come with a lot of expertise on the media side. But I've seen how they treat their other creators, and it's with just as much of an eye toward their involvement and their happiness for the project. It's beyond refreshing.

You mentioned your expertise on the media side. You've worked in TV and in assorted digital media. Why do you keep a foot in the comics world at all? It certainly can't be the money…

(Laughs.) Y'know, I'm just coming off a season on a big old hit NBC TV show. And getting to tell stories for a huge audience like that has its benefits — creatively, egotistically and certainly financially. But, at the end of the day, that's someone else's vision. Even when you're a showrunner, at the end of the day, you're fulfilling a network and studio's vision on top of your own. With comics, when they're done right, there's no wall between you, your collaborators and the readers. It's uncanny the close relationship you have with them too.

And, I should add, working with my Oni artists, Joe Infurnari, Gabo, Noel Tuazon, and, coming soon, Tony Fleecs, is the other big thing. Along with our editors, we're the whole team. And it's one of the most collaborative environments I've ever been in.

To get to tell stories with just plain amazing people, is … beyond-words satisfying.

So what do you have coming down the pike?

Well, Joe Infurnari and I are starting our fourth arc of The Bunker, which is sort of a murder mystery noir told backwards, in our weirdo Bunker style. When a character dies in the future, the main characters have to figure out who is going to do it and how/if they should stop it.

Then, Exodus is heading to somewhere insane. Gabo is just murdering on the book right now. We've got Ernest Hemingway taking the reigns of the entire afterlife, and, well, it doesn't go well.

Can't imagine it would.

And, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to announce it here or not, but, we're starting my third Oni series, Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth, co-written and drawn by Tony Fleecs. That one has been a long time coming. It's a sci-fi slacker comedy about a video store clerk who is chosen to represent mankind in an epic battle for our survival. And yes, it's set in the present.

So does this mean no more Big Two work — like, ever?

Oh, no. I love those characters. I think they're so valuable to the medium and getting people into the medium, in a way that's impossible to do almost any way that isn't via Robert Kirkman and his zombies.

So, I've been on a bit of a hiatus to really focus on my TV work and my creator-owned, but that's slowly ending. I've got a run on Godzilla from IDW coming up, and along with JT Krul and Jordan Gunderson, I'm helping to relaunch the Aspen universe.

I've given up sleep this year.

Sleep is for the weak.

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