In early December, Aspen Comics announced they’d be taking advantage of this year’s Free Comic Book Day to merge the universes of Fathom and Soulfire in to one cohesive universe with more to come.
I got a chance to talk to two of the creators behind this initiative Joshua Hale Fialkov and J.T. Krul who are putting together this year’s Free Comic Book Day release, Worlds of Aspen 2016.
Graphic Policy: Aspen has announced that they’ll be merging the worlds of Fathom and Soulfire. How did each of you get involved with this new direction for the company?
Joshua Hale Fialkov (JHF): JT and I have been pals for a long time, and I’ve known the Aspen team socially, as we’re all part of the LA comics scene. JT and I have spent plenty of time playing fantasy football with our favorite superhero universes, so, I think when the Aspen guys started to talk about it, JT suggested they give me a call.
J.T. Krul (JT): To be fair, it was Vince who actually mentioned you first, and I was quick to give my thumbs up. So, yes, we are friends, but it was Josh’s talent on such books as Bunker and The Life After that made Vince a fan. Josh is great at looking at the heart of a character or a world and finding new territory or angles to explore. He’s not interested in doing what came before – and that’s exactly what Aspen had in mind with this epic project.
GP: What were your actual roles in the merging of these two properties? Was it focused on the Free Comic Book Day release or where you also part of the big picture long term world building?
JHF: JT and I, along with Vince, Frank, and Peter at Aspen have been talking at length about what we wanted the net result to be. The thing that’s been really clear is the fans want to see the universes together, and, for me, I think new readers will find it a lot more approachable. So, to some degree, those are the two objectives. I’m really focused on how to get new readers in the door with easy to follow, concise stories that help to grow the brilliant universe Michael Turner created. J.T., meanwhile, is really focused on keeping what makes the universe special to the legion of Aspen fanatics who’ve been there the whole time. It’s been a blast, and the plan is for us to stay the course and both stick around for a while.
JT: Having Josh around has been great. He’s bringing not only talent and enthusiasm, but, like he said, with this project we really want it to be not only new-reader friendly, but also new-reader oriented. As we work through the big ideas for the story, I’m the one who draws in the different elements of both worlds. Hell, I wrote Fathom for four years and have been writing Soulfire for over 10 years. Hopefully, I remember something.
GP: The worlds of Fathom and Soulfire seem very different. One’s a magic/fantasy setting while the other is more grounded in the real world, more of a sci-fi riff. Did you find difficulty in merging the two?
JHF: Y’know, I think J.T. had a pretty outstanding idea, something that he’s been playing with and seeding into his work on the Aspen books for the past few years. And again, it was something that I immediately understood, and saw the appeal.
JT: Not difficult at all to be honest. Just exciting. I think right out of the gate, readers (especially longtime readers) will be blown away by the focus and the scope of this story. This isn’t some Elseworld tale. This isn’t an alternate reality. This is the Aspen universe.
GP: Was there anything you found surprising about the two coming together that worked really well or more so than you imagined?
JHF: I think for now, my focus, is really on introducing this world in a fresh easy way. So much of what is great about these characters and the fifteen years of books, is they are filled with big, smart ideas. My hope is to honor that, and help to bring more of it into people’s hands.
JT: Right at the very beginning, Josh had this great notion of the parallel between the two worlds – in terms of the importance of water and magic. Both in a way are the life blood of all life. We humans need water to survive on a biological level, and we humans also need magic (a strong spiritual energy) to survive metaphysically. Without either, it’s not really living. You know? In both Fathom and Soulfire, there is that struggle to protect that source of energy and life, and that’s key moving forward with our story.
GP: Each series has quite some history, over 15 years of it. How much have you mined looking in to how these two worlds work together?
JHF: Y’know, continuity is a yolk, but it’s also a helluva carrot on a stick. Comics, as an industry has a constant struggle between how much is too much, and how little is too little. Our job, and the challenge of it, frankly, is how to streamline and really deliver on the promise of the universe without giving up the things that have made these books so special for so long.
JT: I love writing stories that take place within human history – using a particular event or era in time as a backdrop – and injecting the fictional with the factual. It gives a story a texture and depth. And for this event book, the Fathom Universe and the Soulfire Universe are those histories. You can bet we’ll be mining it not for easter eggs, but for key elements that have helped the worlds endure for so many years.
GP: Free Comic Book Day is a big event that’s high profile and a great opportunity to hook new folks and excited long time folks. How do you balance those two aspects with this type of event?
JHF: It’s immensely important to me that every book be a jumping on point. Whether it’s an issue 1 or an issue 100, you should do the leg work to get people up to speed and let them make an informed decision about the story you’re telling without ‘missing’ stuff. I think that’s a million times more important in a Free Comic Book Day issue. This is a huge chance to court new readers, and, thanks to the gorgeous work of Jordan, Peter, and Josh (our letterist Josh Reed, not me), I think we have a huge chance.
And I’ll say, it takes balls to do what we’re doing, and the whole team knows just how risky doing something THIS crazy is…
JT: Agreed. We really tried to narrow our focus so that we could start on one small corner, one moment and then watch the story explode from there. It’s like a Big Bang. Small and bright and concentrated, but something that will expand and grow, creating an infinite amount of possibilities and adventures.
GP: Big connected worlds also creates a lot of continuity for fans, which is a risk. Are you thinking about this as you move forward?
JHF: Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that for die hard fans, continuity is not changing at all. Wait’ll you see what we’re going to do…
JT: For this story, continuity is actually being used as an asset not a liability. It’ll be a big draw for longtime readers, and yet totally engaging for new readers.
GP: What lessons have you taken away from looking at how other companies have handled their comic universes?
JHF: I love the power of the connected universe. It’s something that comics truly pioneered and perfected long before Film and TV caught on. But, to that same degree, the way that shows like Flash and Arrow, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe handle this stuff is much more in line with our ethos. Much like Doctor Who did with its re-launch with Chris Eccleston, we’ve got a lot of good will and a lot of baggage. And that is really the balancing act we’re attempting.
JT: Both Josh and I were on the front lines of the DC New 52 and know what change can look like – both big and small. In a way, this is a huge paradigm shift, but it’s actually coming in a very sound and organic way. At the end of the day, it’s about celebrating the core aspects that make both Fathom and Soulfire such unique and amazing worlds and bringing it all together for something truly special.
GP: What are your roles post FCBD? Anything you can announce?
JHF: This won’t be the last you see of either of us at Aspen.
JT: That’s right. Josh and I are planning another skiing trip as soon as this book is done. Oh wait…wrong Aspen.