The end of the world is coming; we just don’t know when or how. But what if you did – and what if you were the one responsible for it?
That’s the conceit of digital comic series The Bunker. Launched in August by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari, it follows a group of college friends who find a secret bunker containing letters purportedly from their future selves warning that they will set in motion the end of the world. But as the cliffhanger for the first issue revealed, their future selves aren’t just afraid they can’t stop it – but afraid they might make it worse.
End of the world scenarios are nothing new for comics, but in the three issues Fialkov and Infurnari have released so far, they have put the apocalypse in a new light with the bickering of college students over the reality of their dark destiny, and how they try to steer out of the crash in some thought-out (and not so thought-out) ways. Newsarama spoke with the two creators about the series, the genre of post-apocalyptic stories, and delivering it digitally.
Newsarama: The crux issue is that future versions of this gang of college friends has sent back word – and proof – that the world is coming to an end and they’re responsible for it. It takes some grueling revelations to make the characters believe it – how’d you guys work on that to make it real for the characters and also plausible for the readers?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: Well, it's certainly something we wrestle with, and spend a good amount of time in the first arc dealing with. Part of the thing about writing characters who are smart, well spoken, and well educated is that they aren't just going to take everything for granted. I've been working on the script for 5, for example, and Joe came back to me with a great note that amounts to "He's too smart to just go for this." So, it's definitely something we play with and struggle with alongside our characters.
Nrama: This all happens thanks to some handy time travel, sending back a capsule to warn these kids. Is time travel going to be a big part of this?
Fialkov: For a little while, the existence of the bunker is all there is. But, eventually...
Nrama: I really see one of the motifs of this is the idea of warning a younger version of yourself about future indiscretions and trying to prevent it. Leaving the science fiction part of it at the door, it’s a compelling premise. How long have you been carrying this, Josh?
Fialkov: Ha! Look, nobody has made more mistakes, both bone-headed and unintentional, than me. I have a habit of sticking my foot so far in my own mouth that it comes out the other end. And, I'm also a preternatural worrier, so, I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things before and after they happen. But, at the same time, our lives, in the strange, confusing web they build, are exactly what they need to be. They make you into the person you are, and that other person you'd be if things were different, at the end of the day, that's not you. That's the core idea that I've been sucking over for a while.
Nrama: This isn’t the first end-of-the-world scenario for either of you; Joe’s worked on Wasteland, and Josh here has done it a couple times – even with a New Orleans-type flooding comic that was cancelled after Hurricane Katrina. What makes the end of the world so appealing for you guys?
Fialkov: That was a serial killer book I was putting together with Chris Burnham, who you might know from his prodigious run as a bathroom attendant. And I use the word 'attendant' in the loosest possible way. Love that you remember that, Chris!
I think the media has birthed a culture of end times that was only seen on the fringes of culture until ten years ago or so. I suppose it's similar to the 50's and 60's with the red scare and the Cuban Missile Crisis... But now, instead of it being a natural part of our psyche, it's force fed to us by the media.
Joe Infurnari: For my part, I feel a general world weariness and cynicism is a prevailing cultural sentiment these days. I think that's the fertile ground in which a story like this one can really grow. In many ways, I think the apocalypse may have already happened in a 'whimper' rather than a 'bang' sort of way. There's a feeling that everything's been done and the injustices of this world are beyond us doing anything about them. There's a great deal of cynicism regarding the ways we can positively change the world in a time when people have the most tools at their disposal to do so. The struggle of our time just may be how to wrest back control of our society, culture and how we live. In light of that, these five characters are at a time in their life that is supposed to be full of optimism and potential and yet, they've been delivered this devastating piece of news. They are agents of the end of civilization and that's the best they can hope for. I think it's an elegant and striking expression of that dilemma; to feel like we are helpless in charting our future.
Nrama: Another facet to this being released digitally is that people who sign up to The Bunker’s newsletter can get access to the new issues early – how does that work?
Fialkov: Well, you sign up at www.thebunkercomic.com and a few days before we launch outright, I hit send on a newsletter. It's very sciencey. Part of the idea, and we'll see how it works out, is we want to reward those die hard fans who are up and waiting for the new issue. From our standpoint, it's about rewarding them and encouraging them to create converts for us. It's very sinister now that I say it out loud.
Nrama: In the backmatter to the first issue, Josh said that you two have been working on this for a long time. Just how long have you guys been doing this?
Infurnari: The project started as a prospective three part anthology with other comics creators. I was first introduced to Josh Fialkov at last year's Baltimore Comicon and when the possibility of that anthology dissipated, we were by that time committed to working together. The idea that we had discussed, later became the nucleus of The Bunker.
Fialkov: Since Joe and I met a year ago, we've had this tumultuous love affair with each other’s work. Or, at least, I have with his. Joe is a lot of what I look for in a collaborator in that he's considerably more talented than me, and will carry me to fame and fortune. Also, Canadian, so, I'm pretty sure there's a tax write off I can get.
Joe's really a dream come true for me. Honestly. His insight into story and character are top of the industry as far as I'm concerned.
Nrama: And going back even further, when did you two meet up initially?
Fialkov: Through the cultural spider-web that is Dean Haspiel. I wasn't aware of Joe until that fateful day when Dean called me into the side bar of the hotel at Baltimore Comic Con, and contrary to expectation, was wearing a shirt and was not smoking a hookah of comic greatness.
Nrama: Both of you have done self-publishing, with Josh doing it extensively with Hoarse & Buggy and with the sorely-missed Western Tales of Terror book. What’s it like to be back in it?
Fialkov: You dig deep, Arrant. It's about how I remembered it... It's extremely freeing and amazingly terrifying, simultaneously. I've worked with some great publishers over the course of my career, Image, Top Cow, Marvel, Random House, Dark Horse, and Oni all come to mind, but, at the same time, making it or breaking it on your own is something that can't be replicated.
Infurnari: It's been very exciting with a lot of the early success being very inspiring. I've said already too many times to Josh, that how this story finds an audience just might be as much of a story as the book itself. I hope that doing it this way, digital first andcompletely creator owned, will encourage people to do the same. With very little overhead (internet access, web hosting and domain name registration) we've been able to reach an engaged and excited audience.
Nrama: You launched The Bunker in August – what unexpected things have you learned from doing this comic and doing it digital-first?
Fialkov: It's been educational in a lot of way for me... Finding out how to get attention and how to get hooks into our readers with the added ease of digital, that, sadly, is also an obstacle for a lot of comics readers. That's really the thing that I'm most excited about. We can get the content directly out there, and, in the end, when we do our collections, still get retailers involved and help them make a nice profit on a good priced HC, rather than on the low margin floppies.
Infurnari: Some of this may be the kinds of fans Josh attracts but I've been surprised at the level of reader involvement in the story. I always felt that the story would connect with people in a very strong way, but I might have been a little cynical about its chances of reaching an audience without a publisher. Josh's large fan base and the effective marketing and promotion of Comixology have squashed that bug.
Nrama: The Bunker is coming out monthly with 12-page chapters, the first of which was an extra-sized 34-pager. How far along are you guys in putting this together, since you’re doing it on your own?
Fialkov: 3 is out, 4 is on its way... We have a plan for the long form of the story, but, it's very much something that we develop and explore together as we tell it.
Nrama: Last question – if you found a bunker with notes like these from future versions of Josh and Joe here, would you believe it?
Infurnari: I'd have to look at the drawings.
Fialkov: Nah, that's just Sci-Fi Bullshit. ;)