Sunday, July 10, 2011

FYC replay: Elk's Run with Joshua Hale Fialkov

Here's another one from the archives. I remember Warren Ellis touting this online comic, Elk's Run, on his website, and I remembered the name when I saw the book at my local Borders. I was intrigued, so I pulled it off the shelf to check it out. I didn't stop reading until I got to the end. At that point, I realized that Joshua Fialkov and Noel Tuazon were two creators to keep track of. Since then, they have collaborated on the Harvey and Eisner-nominated graphic novel, Tumor, which is available from Archaia, and Tuazon did the art for NBM's The Broadcast last year while Fialkov will be part of the DC relaunch in September. These two creators are a couple of my favorites, and Elk's Run is a great book. Check it out.


For Your Consideration: Elk’s Run

By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: One of the most compelling graphic novels released this past year was Elk’s Run from Villard Books. Created by newcomer Joshua Hale Fialkov and veteran illustrator Noel Tuazon, this book has been praised by the likes of Stuart Moore, Phil Hester, Warren Ellis, and Brian Michael Bendis. If you haven’t read this book, you’re missing out. Come in and get the 4-1-1 on an important graphic novel that should be in everyone’s collection.

The 411:

Elk’s Run

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov

Art by Noel Tuazon, colors by Scott Keating

216 pp. color


What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

John Kohler was a patriot. Heeding his nation’s call, he went off to the jungles of Vietnam and fought for his country, but the price he paid was dear. Watching friends die all around him, he lost a part of himself as he slogged through the rice paddies of Southeast Asia. Unlike so many, John survived his tour and returned home, but the country to which he returned did not welcome him. Like so many other veterans of this misguided war, John was shunned, considered “broken” and never given a chance to move back into society. For risking his life, and for suffering like none of those who did not serve, he was rewarded with a “scarlet letter.”

For a time, the pain and the frustration simmered hotly beneath the surface as John searched for direction in his life. But salvation was eventually discovered in the form of Walt Gronski, who dreamed of creating a utopia. Using his family fortune, he wished to help out these veterans who had fought valiantly on the other side of the Pacific. The coal mines his company had worked in Elk’s Ridge had been picked clean. In what had once been the mining village, these soldiers and their families would be allowed to live their lives in peace.

Hidden within the mountains of West Virginia, they were insulated from the hypocrisy and injustice of the outside world. Creating a charter, they established rules for the town and made a simple life for themselves. Mr. Gronski provided a tractor trailer full of supplies each month so that the inhabitants needed only work when they felt like it. Sure, there were the everyday maintenance issues found in any small town, but these were quickly taken care of and nobody balked at pitching in for the few hours a week it necessitated. All was well.

But over time things change, and change drastically, especially within a closed society such as Elk’s Ridge. Years passed and families grew. Children were born into this utopia, and though they realized there was a world outside the mountains within which they called home, they never had the opportunity to experience that world. Their parents didn’t wish them to be hurt. They had lived in that world, and it had brought them nothing but pain. So life proceeded without incident.

But when Arnold Huld’s wife decided finally to take her children and leave the stultifying town, it set things in motion that would have repercussions for everyone. Arnold turned to alcohol as a salve – becoming moody, staying inside, waiting at the window for his wife to return. But she did not, and one night – having drunk too much – Arnold took his car to the old coal tunnel, a popular spot for the local boys to prowl at night. Arnold, unable to drive straight, ran into Michael Taylor, killing him instantly in front of his friends.

The precarious balance upon which the town’s survival rested finally tipped, and the question of justice reared its ugly head. When they initially arrived in Elk’s Ridge, they all agreed to the oldest law of the land – an eye for an eye. But the decision must be made by Michael’s father. He hesitated, but there was nothing else to be done. Arnold Huld had to be killed.

Joshua Hale Fialkov has created – with the able assistance of Noel Tuazon, Scott Keating, and Jason Rodriguez – a very powerful tale that examines the insecurities and desires that all people have, whether they wish to admit them or not. Taking these emotions to the extreme, which does not seem as extreme in a world where politicians see terrorists hiding behind every tree but refuse to give those imprisoned any chance to prove their innocence, Fialkov lays bare the ugly truths of humanity that lie so very close beneath the surface. Elk’s Run is an incredibly engaging tale that is a clarion call to those citizens wishing to close off our borders to any “outsiders” they deem harmful to our way of life – conveniently forgetting that this country was built upon the backs of immigrants.

As engaging as its storyline is, Elk’s Run also incorporates a novel approach to storytelling. Jumping back and forth within the tale’s timeline, Fialkov relates the narrative from various points of view, allowing readers to experience the major events through the eyes of parents and children alike. This is a technique not used often enough, and it is incredibly effective in bringing across the horror lurking within this small town.

Noel Tuazon and colorist Scott Keating also turn in a wonderful job. Tuazon, an “overnight” success who has been working in comics since the early nineties, deftly handles the art chores with a brush stroke that utilizes negative space and closure to evoke the somber mood of this story masterfully. Tuazon also differentiates his style during flashbacks, creating murkier characters for the scenes in Vietnam while delineating in a style more reminiscent of a children’s story book for those scenes where the children are reminiscing. Each style decision is made to convey the various emotions within the scenes, and rather than intruding upon the reading experience, each change integrates smoothly into the overall narrative, a testament to the artistic talent of Tuazon. And the palette chosen by Keating is again, darker and moodier, adding yet another layer to this powerful book. It is a wonderful meshing of creators on an important graphic novel that should be on every fan’s shelf. Check this book out. If you’re like me, once you open that first page you won’t be able to put it down until the final one is turned.

An Interview with Joshua Hale Fialkov:

Christopher Beckett: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Joshua Hale Fialkov: I come from a film and theater background. My real first passion was theater, but, after producing a few of my own plays the reality of how fleeting theater can be (which is also part of its magic) really turned me off of it. I like the idea of a permanent record. That led me on to Film and Television writing. I spent a few years working in both industries in a production capacity, and had a pilot in development at one point, but, the reality of Hollywood also started to set in. There is no way to do what you want the way you want to do it, unless you're extremely lucky.

The frustration of Hollywood led me to find another outlet that allowed more creative freedom. Frankly, after I started comics, I feel like a found a medium that suits the way I tell stories. You can decompress and really stretch your wings from a style and characterization standpoint that is wholly unique to comics. I think that's one of the things that a lot of guys who try to 'cross over' don't get. You can't just 'port' a screenplay into comics form... it takes a totally different set of muscles to write comics.

Beckett: The concept behind Elk’s Run is really quite complex, incorporating Vietnam veterans and that post-war climate, small town politics, and post-9/11 fanaticism, among other things. How did the story develop, was it all mapped out before you began or did it take some unexpected detours through the course of its telling?

Fialkov: I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, which, I could be mistaken, but, had the highest rate of serving soldiers in Vietnam anywhere in the country. So, I grew up with many of my friend's parents as Vets, or at the very least, had friends who were vets. So I spent a lot of time with these guys, one in particular, who served as sort of a basis for John Sr. I also spent a good year and a half in a small town on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania as a pre-teen that really affected me for the long term.

I've always been obsessed with the ideas of closed societies... things like cults and militias, but also ethnic enclaves (for example, I live in Glendale, CA now, which has the highest population of Armenians outside of Armenia...) and religious orders. There's something about a community that shuts itself off that really fascinates me. And certainly, as a hermit-y writer who barely leaves the confines of my apartment, I can see the attraction.

All of that was where the story came from... the characters and plot were all just functional representations of those ideas.

Beckett: I liked the manner in which you would carry one story thread to a conclusion, and then in a following issue return to the same starting point but follow that same timeline from a different point of view. How was the decision made to tell the story in this manner?

Fialkov: Well, I always felt that stories like this were so one-sided. The one everybody sites the similarities to is John Milius's Red Dawn. The thing about Red Dawn, though, is the bad guys, aside from being cackling stereotypical terrorist types, have no motivation. Why the hell are they there? Why would they cage up people, etc. "They're evil." That's pretty much the explanation. But, the fact is, nobody thinks they're evil. Hitler was convinced he was doing the right thing, just like Churchill was. So, for me, the way to tell a story like this, and yet make it something wholly unto its own was to really explore the 'whys' of the community.

Beckett: Another technique that impressed me with the book was the variety of styles utilized by Noel Tuazon for the flashback sequences. Was this something initially in the script or did it come from conversations with Tuazon and Jason Rodriguez, the editor? And were there any concerns regarding the shifts in style?

Fialkov: Yeah, I'd intended from the beginning to really mix and match the style to the characters. Between what Noel and Scott Keating (the colorist) did, I think each chapter stands as its own little mini-story, with 'art direction' that befits the character represented. Noel's really an amazing talent, and while his stuff is really non-traditional (at least in comics), I think he's doing things within the medium that very few people have ever tried before. He's one of the best.

Beckett: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

Fialkov: Well, my big creator owned work right now is Punks the Comic, which is about as different from Elk's Run as it comes. It's a collaboration with Kody Chamberlain that's our tribute to 70's and 80's pop culture and comedy. It's really, really different from anything else on the stands right now, and I'm extremely proud of it. You can get more info on it here: Aside from that, I've got a story in an upcoming Marvel Comics Presents, and I'm the regular writer on Harris Comics' Vampirella Quarterly, the fourth issue of which should be in Previews right now. There's a bunch more on the way, and the best way to keep track of me is at

1 comment:

NTuazon said...

Thanks for the support and kind words, Chris!