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Hurwitz's Foolkiller: Performance Art as Justice

A comics interview article by: Tim O'Shea
Gregg Hurwitz, the crime novelist and writer of the new Marvel MAX relaunch of Foolkiller, is the enjoyable kind of interview subject that allows me to tap the English Lit portion of my brain. The first issue of the five-issue Foolkiller miniseries goes on sale this Wednesday (October 24). Hurwitz is clearly enthused by the dynamics and storytelling opportunities that comic book writing affords him, as I soon discovered during this interview.

Tim O’Shea (TOS): While there is no such thing as a typical comic book writer, I daresay few of your contemporaries can write a scholarly examination of Jungian themes in the works of Shakespeare. Did either the themes or ideas of Shakespeare or Jung have an impact on your approach toward Foolkiller? I really was curious after I read this Jungian quote at your blog: "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."

Gregg Hurwitz (GH): Well, you'll notice, perhaps that the second Foolkiller title, Fortune's Fool, is from Romeo & Juliet. But I would say that the literary and academic references only help in that they all go into the blender of my brain. Any conscious effort to make something intellectual fails - in the end, it all comes down to story and compelling characters. So I'd say Jung in particular has really informed how I think and view the world (and narrative in particular), but I don't consciously set out to write anything to illuminate that. Or else I'd just wind up with propaganda, really. To give an example--my Wolverine annual ( The Death Song of J Patrick Smitty) is titled, quite obviously, after [TS] Eliot's [The Love Song of J Alfred] Prufrock, and is clearly an homage to the poem. But while it references parts of Eliot's meditation on mortality, blending them into my characters' predicaments (much in the same way Eliot borrowed and blended from others), that comic HAS to work well on the level of plot, action, and character. If it doesn't, then it's just a bunch of "hi moms" strung together. So the Foolkiller arc should be - first and foremost - a kick-ass, dark, compelling piece of writing. If there's more to it that people want to read in, all the better.

TOS: You're the kind of writer who once, for the integrity/strength of the story, went "undercover into mind-control cults". What (if any) kind of research did you for Foolkiller?

GH: With comics, you have of course a bit more leeway to go over-the-top, but they need to maintain that veneer of verisimilitude. So I did my fact-, forensics- and weapons-checking as I would for any book or script. But I also found that immersing myself in the world of comics full-time helped immensely. I read a lot of Ennis (because any comic writer - particularly any Marvel MAX writer should), and I also went back and read or reread every appearance of Foolkiller to get a handle on the richness of this character predating my arrival.

TOS: Reading this blog entry, quoting the folks behind Bumfights, I'm left wondering as real life society increases in its level of absurdity how hard is it for fiction writers to surprise their readers?

GH: Yes. There are thing that happen all the time in life that I think, "If I ever put that in a book, my editor would cross it out as too unbelievable."

As life gets more absurd, and as reality and entertainment blend in everything from The Biggest Loser to Wife Swap, and we're kept abreast of terror color levels and Britney Spear's (lack of) underwear in the same news hour, there is a ridiculousness that can't be written about directly. Too much like satire, too boring. As a writer, you can no longer surprise by merely going overboard. You have to surprise with good, legitimate twists.

TOS: Given that Punisher is part of the MAX line, folks are trying to draw parallels between him and Foolkiller. While there are similarities I think there are vast differences between the two characters. Ennis has approached the tone of Punisher at times with a tinge of satire--how do you intend to approach the Foolkiller's book tone?

GH: The Foolkiller is aware of his own role as satirist, in a way, since he goes to great lengths to create his deadly sculptures mocking corrupt aspects of society. He sees himself as a performer in a way Castle doesn't. I think Frank's war, and how he arrived at it, is also straightforward for him - as black and white as that T-shirt. But for Mike Trace, he arrived at his mission through more twists and turns, a slow-dawning realization of how life is inherently twisted.

TOS: In what ways do you think Lan Medina's art compliments your writing and vice versa?

GH: Working with Lan has been amazing. His art is what I saw in my head when I wrote these books. Almost exactly. I don't think I've ever had one of my (to use an obnoxious term) visions brought to life so close to how I wanted it to be.

TOS: What kind of cast have you established for the series, or is the book mainly focused on Nathan McBride for the most part?

GH: The first book is quite focused on McBride, but of course, once we meet the Foolkiller, it's really his story. So we'll meet the people who influenced him. And plenty of fools rich for the carving.

TOS: Would you say the message of the book, on one level, is performance art as a form of justice?

GH: That's interesting. I hadn't thought of it that way, but now that you've framed it in that light, I think it's apt. I've thought of the Foolkiller's "art" as being a commentary on all the ridiculousness we discussed earlier.

He's fed up and he's not gonna take it anymore!

TOS: Given that this is a limited series, were there any plot elements or story aspects that ended up on the editing room floor?

GH: A few, but at least they landed there early, in outline format. In a few places, I found I just didn't have space to take a detour I wanted to. But maybe those will show up elsewhere--In Bride of Foolkiller.

TOS: Have your fellow novelist friends, such as Brad Meltzer, advised you of the level of "candor" that your average online comic consumer may direct your way once your first issue is out? Compared to a prose audience, we are sometimes perceived to be fairly blunt to say the least. Have you experienced that candor yet?

GH: Well, I figured as much. But novels come with their own readers and critics, so you don't get to this stage of the game without developing a bit of a thick skin. In the past, I've been fortunate to be generally well-reviewed, but I also think part of being a professional is hearing what people don't like. Which isn't to say you try to please everyone - that would be disastrous. But I think if you're lucky enough to write for a living, then you expose yourself to opinions. That's the fun of it too. As for comic fans in particular, I have to say that while the bluntness is there, there's also a great passion and thirst for inquiry and analysis which is really rewarding. The two go hand in hand, really.

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