Writers J.T. Krul and Joshua Hale Fialkov might have been joking when they compared the upcoming Fathom and Soulfire crossover to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but there are a lot of similarities.
"It's got an epic scope," Krul said. "It's got strong female characters. It's a fun adventure. It's got darkness to it. It's going to have just about everything."
The crossover, which kicks off in May with the Worlds of Aspen 2016 Free Comic Book Day issue, will combine Aspen Comics' two flagship series, both created by the late Michael Turner. It's the first time the two worlds have been involved in a crossover — something Krul says has been a long time coming, probably because they company wanted to make sure they handled a combination of Turner's properties in a quality way.
Krul has been working on Aspen's boks for years now, but Worlds of Aspen 2016 will be Fialkov's first work for the company. And Fialkov has enjoyed the experience of working with characters like Malikai, Grace and Aspen — as well as the whole Aspen team — enough that he's planning to stick around even after the five-issue crossover concludes.
Newsarama talked to Krul and Fialkov to find out more about how they came together for this project and their plans for the crossover.
Newsarama: J.T. and Josh, how did you two end up working on this together? Did you know each other before you started working on this project?
J.T. Krul: I think we met just prior to the "New 52," I think, right? I think we met in New York.
Joshua Hale Fialkov: No, you know where we met? This is my favorite J.T. story.
Krul: Oh, I know where now.
Fialkov: We did a panel as part of a film festival. It was about, like, comics and media, yadda yadda. And we were sitting there, and it was in a movie theater, and my hat fell off. And my hat went, like, under the movie screen. And I have worked in movie theaters for much of my life, so if I know one thing, it's that that is the filthiest place on earth. Nobody ever cleans there.
So I'm like, well, I guess the hat is gone!
And J.T., whom I had never met before, was like, "You know what buddy? I've got it." And he went and crawled underneath the screen to get my hat for me!
Krul: I didn't climb under it! It was, just, like, under the front.
Fialkov: Listen, it was more than I would have done.
And I said, no, you don't have to do that. And then when he did it, I said, you are literally the nicest person in comics.
And it's true. J.T. is literally the nicest person in comics. There is nobody… I have done this for 16 years now, and I'll tell you — there's literally nobody as nice as J.T.
Nrama: I cannot disagree.
Krul: Thank you.
Nrama: So that's how you met; how did you get together on this project?
Krul: Aspen's doing a huge story — something they've never done before — they're bringing the Soulfire and Fathom universe together. They've never done crossovers before in the history of the company. They're doing one now. And they wanted to make it the biggest, most epic thing they could. And we wanted to kick it off with Free Comic Book Day.
I've known Josh for years, but it's was actually Vince's idea to approach him about coming on board and working on it with us. And when Vince mentioned his name, I said, absolutely! He'll be great.
Fialkov: The interesting part for me, and what made it really fun, is you get both sides of the equation when you have J.T. and I together. J.T.'s been working on Aspen books for a long time. He has an intimate knowledge of what these characters are and what these worlds are. And then I'm coming into it as a relative newb. I mean, I've read the books, but I don't have anywhere near the encyclopedic knowledge that J.T. does.
And so what you sort of get is this fun back-and-forth that you normally have to do on your own. When you're writing anything that has any sort of continuity, in your head, you're battling between the better idea and the thing that makes the most sense. And what's really fun for us is we can each stand on separate sides of it. And I think that makes the story even better.
Nrama: Let's talk about the event itself. These are very different worlds, but there are similar tones to the books in Fathom and Soulfire. How do these two worlds come together? Are there challenges in bringing them into one story?
Krul: Josh actually had an amazing way that he put it when we started talking about this, as far as what the worlds were about. It was so simple, it was so elegant. He said, with Soulfire it's all about the magic, and the magic really comes from within, so it's all about the spirit of humanity. And that's what's at the core of the Soulfire book. It's almost like, the reason you live — that spirit.
And with the Fathom universe, it's all about the water. And water is the bringer of life, the main ingredient of life. And that's the most important and most cherished things about the Fathom universe. And everything spills out from that and is connected to everybody.
So we were able to narrow it down to those two elements. And that was at the core of what we wanted to do.
If those are the two cores of those worlds, then what happens if you take those away?
And that's the jumping-off point for the story.
Fialkov: And since J.T.'s been working on the books, he's been quietly laying groundwork for this stuff for a long time now. So it's something that I think will be exciting for long-time readers, but at the same time, my focus is something I've done on virtually every book I've ever done, especially when it's superhero stuff or an established universe — how do I make this something that any person can pick up and read? What is the version of this universe for which you have to have zero knowledge?
Again, what's cool about this is that J.T. knows all this continuity, and he knows what's important and what's not important. And working with me, we get a chance to bring it all together in a concise way that pays off for people who are long-time readers, while at the same time being a very fresh new story.
Krul: Also, we came up with the story first. So once we have the story, we can go to each universe and find elements of the two worlds that are going to fit the best with the story we want to tell. It's not just a matter of smashing the two worlds together into some crazy cosmic adventure — they find a big bad and big explosion and whatever.
This is going to go way deeper than that. It's a game-changer.
Nrama: Although I'm sure we'll see many of the characters from both worlds, who are the key characters at the center of the story?
Krul: Malikai and Aspen are probably the two primary figure that stand out, especially in the beginning, more than anybody else. They are the core of each of their universes.
Grace, obviously, plays a big part. And there's going to be a nice smattering of characters from both universes who come into the fold throughout the course of the storyline.
Nrama: Aspen is so well known for finding fabulous artists. Who's working on this miniseries?
Krul: It's Jordan Gunderson. He did The Four Points series for them, and he's done some other work for Aspen in the past. And you're right, Aspen has always been phenomenal at finding new talent and giving them a wide canvas to showcase their talent. And they're doing the same thing with Jordan. He's done a few projects at Aspen, and this is his chance to really shine.
The pages for the Free Comic Book Day book look amazing. And Peter Steigerwald's coloring it. He's not too shabby either. [Laughs.] He's one of the best, if not the best, colorists in the business. And having him on board for this project is a huge asset to have.
Fialkov: And what's been nice working for Aspen — and I've worked for so many companies in comics — and at Aspen, the attention to detail, not just in the story but in the art, and making sure that Jordan is not only telling the best story but also honoring what came before, is really, really important to them. And it's important to them across the board, on everything.
So having everyone chiming in, it's a very collaborative process. And the book is just simply gorgeous.
Krul: I think also, because these were Michael Turner's two key creations — the world of Fathom and the world of Soulfire — I think part of the reason they've not done crossovers is that they've been very protective of those properties. I mean, as well they should anyway. But I think even moreso as they try to carry on Mike's legacy.
Everything we've done with Soulfire and Fathom has always been about upholding the legacy of what Michael Turner would want and what he would have been excited about.
So we're taking extra special care. And everybody has input, also just because they care and it's a small family at Aspen, and so they do kind of do everything by committee that way. They want to hear everybody's opinion on stuff. It's really nice, actually. It's a wonderful creative environment.
Nrama: So the story kicks off with the Worlds of Aspen 2016 issue on Free Comic Book Day. And then how long does it go?
Fialkov: We're doing the Free Comic Book Day issue first, and then it's a five-issue mini-series.
And then coming out of that, there's going to be some fresh, cool stuff. As we're talking about the story in this crossover, we're not just talking about the individual scripts and stories. We're talking about what this means for Aspen as a company, and what it means for the worlds we want to build going down the road.
Nrama: Does that mean you're sticking around, Josh, and working on more Aspen projects?
Fialkov: That's the plan!
Nrama: Fantastic. And I assume the overall tone of this will be similar to what we know from Fathom and Soulfire?
Fialkov: Both series have what could probably be described as Young Adult-friendly set-ups. It's about independent people fighting against systems, and people finding themselves. It has all that stuff in it already.
And one of the things I've loved is that there are these powerful female characters, both in Aspen and in Grace. I think we have this big opportunity to reach people by showing what's been going on underneath the surface in these books.
So yes, you are getting what you've seen in both these universes, but we're also opening up the universe and showing people why these characters have lasted so long and why they've been so meaningful by really focusing on how interacting with each other really upsets the worlds, literally, but it upsets who they define themselves as and who they are, and they have to struggle with that stuff.
Krul: Basically, everybody who saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens should probably read it.
Fialkov: Yeah, this is like that. We're doing that.
Krul: And I'm only half joking, because it's got an epic scope, it's got strong female characters. And it's a fun adventure. It's got darkness to it. It's going to have just about everything.