The Fantastic Truth: Paul Cornell on Fantastic Four: True Story

A comics interview article by: David Wallace
July sees the debut of Fantastic Four: True Story, the new FF miniseries by Wisdom, Captain Britain and veteran Doctor Who author Paul Cornell. Dave Wallace spoke with the writer to find out more about the book.

Comics Bulletin (CB): Paul, tell us a little about Fantastic Four: True Story. This series sees the FF go exploring in the realms of fiction, right?

Paul Cornell (PC): Absolutely. Sue figures out that the world has become miserable because something dark has got into the relationship between human beings and fiction. So Reed comes up with a whole new field of human science (it’ll take half an hour and he’ll need a screwdriver) and creates the Fictocraft, which will take our heroes, via the literary mind of Willie Lumpkin, into the Skein, the world where fiction lives in the shared human unconscious.

CB: I'm not going to bore you by asking you to name sources of inspiration for writing the FF: Obviously, the Lee/Kirby era is the benchmark for anyone who wants to take on the characters. But will you be adding anything unexpected or new to your portrayal of the team, or is it going to be very much the 'classic' FF, with the novel concept of the series acting as the main attraction?

PC: Actually, I really like Buscema on the FF too, I’m really looking forward to that next Essential volume. But no, these are the guys we know and love, the archetypal family of heroes.

CB: With an entire universe of fiction available for exploration, how do you choose which characters to include? Did you come up with a story and then find fictional characters to play the roles that you had planned? Or did it work the other way around - did you decide which characters you wanted to use and build a story around them?

PC: A bit of both. One thing I did want to do was only to touch on characters with a comics history, like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, in favour of Ivanhoe, Mr. Toad, and the Dashwood Sisters. Dante is the FF’s guide through fiction, in that he’s a character who’s gone on a similar trip before, and he means we get some Clerks jokes from Johnny.

CB: Are copyright laws an issue when writing a series like this? Were there any fictional characters that you wanted to include but couldn't, due to copyright restrictions?

PC: I knew when I went in that there was a barrier to which characters I could use, so I chose with that in mind, and made that barrier a part of the story.

CB: A lot of people will instantly think of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen when we talk about using comics to explore a universe of characters that hail from other works of fiction. Are you a fan of Moore's books? Did you have any elements of them in the back of your mind whilst writing FF: True Story?

PC: I’m a huge fan of Moore’s work, isn’t everyone? One of the things I wanted to do with this, apt for the nature of the story, was to say we know this has been done before, and give shout outs to those who’ve gone there, not just Moore, but Fables and Jasper Fforde. The Fictocraft is called The Jasper, because Sue loves Fforde’s books.

CB: Of course, the Fantastic Four are fictional characters themselves - and even in their own reality of the Marvel Universe, comics are published featuring their adventures. Are these concepts of fiction within fiction something that you'll explore in the series?

PC: I did think about that, but I just used it for a small mention in the end, because that way leads to mirrors seen in mirrors infinite regression madness.

CB: Do you hope to use this series to inspire readers about the wider possibilities offered up by fiction? I sometimes get the impression that this is quite an insular medium, and that the most successful writers working in it are those who can look further afield than simply other comics for their inspiration. Is this series going to encourage readers to go out and read up on classic literature?

PC: I’m not sure they need encouraging, it’s still a central part of a balanced diet for most people, and I didn’t want there to be a hectoring tone. There is a sense of fun about the possibilities and joys of classic fiction, and I hope a clear love for characters like the Dashwoods. Putting them together with Ben Grimm was sheer pleasure.

CB: How has it been working with (artist) Horacio Dominguez? What's your working relationship like?

PC: He’s got exactly the right style for this book, a kind of faux manga Euro swirliness, that’s got an irony and class all its own. I love the detail of his facial expressions. And he really does his research: his Dante is authentically dressed!

CB: Can you give us any final teases about True Story?

PC: It’s not all fun for the FF. The story gets surprisingly dark, I think. Because in the Skein, you don’t just look into fiction, fiction looks into you, and the mind of a classic Stan Lee supervillain (who the FF have never met!) can write their lives like those of any other character.

Fantastic Four: True Story #1 will be available on July 30.

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