At this year's Fan Expo in Toronto I was lucky enough to see some of the pages for Ray Fawkes' new Image series Intersect up-close; beautiful painted pages depicting a world of darkness and dread. Fawkes is a self-taught artist who balances a mainstream career writing books like Constantine and the forthcoming Batman horror series Gotham By Midnight with more personal and often boldly experimental work, like his Oni Press books One Soul and The People Inside, which use the comics page to explore lives in parallel.

Intersect is an ongoing horror story set in a grotesquely distorted city -- but to know more than that, you'll need to read the book. ComicsAlliance spoke with writer and artist Ray Fawkes at the show to learn more about the process behind Intersect and how he balances the different sides of his career.



ComicsAlliance: In my experience horror stories tend to be built around a single, clear, defining idea. What's the big idea driving Intersect?

Ray Fawkes: This is the sort of question -- and I’m being honest here -- that I said I never wanted to answer about this book. Not as any reflection on the question itself, and it’s not that there isn't a clear, defining idea behind Intersect. It’s that the idea involved is an experiential one instead of a conceptual one -- something that I want readers to feel more than understand. In that way, it’s similar to my book, One Soul -- a book that I found very difficult to explain, but was carefully designed to tunnel towards certain emotions.

In an interview about Mulholland Drive, David Lynch once famously requested to talk about the meaning of the film by saying, “The film is the talking.The film is the thing, so you go see the film, that’s the thing. It’s a whole thing, and it’s there, and that’s it!”

I always tell people that I admire the hell out of the guts behind that answer, behind being willing to let the work stand on its own, without explanation or apology, and I’d like to take this opportunity to put my money where my mouth is. Intersect is the talking I’m going to do about the meaning of Intersect.

I understand -- and I've understood from the start -- that failing to present a boiled-down, simple statement about the concept behind Intersect may cut a chunk out of the potential audience for the book -- some people are just going to shrug and walk away. That’s fine. They can pick up one of my other books. Or somebody else’s. This book is for the people who want it.


Ray Fawkes


CA: You're writing and painting the book yourself. How are you finding that experience? 

RF: I love it, absolutely love it. First of all, I enjoy painting very much, and often enjoy picking up the brush when my working day is done -- but now I get to integrate it with my work. Also, I find that the work itself becomes very free and organic, just by nature of the motions involved. Sure, it’s tough to keep the pace up sometimes, but it’s worth it.

CA: The pages look amazing. What's your technique?

RF: Intersect is a mixed-media work - I lay out the pages with water-soluble pencils, paint over them -- sometimes eradicating the pencils as I go, sometimes letting them remain -- and integrate inks and other paints, some acrylic, some gouache, and then texturize some of the panels with sandpaper, blades... really, anything I can get my hands on. I made a conscious decision to release myself from all limits when beginning this book, as far as media is concerned. There are some pages that are photocopy art. There will be other variations as time goes on.

All of this is meant to reflect the writing style for this book, which is shot through with intuitive experimentation.

CA: I understand you learned illustration in order to overcome the challenges of breaking into comics as a writer. Is that a fair summary? 

RF: That would be fair, yes.

CA: When you started on that journey did you imagine a point would come when you'd be writing and painting your own Image title?

RF: Honestly, way back when, I thought it was a stopgap… that I’d draw a few stories, get my work out there, and then start working with proper artists. It is my happiness to find myself in the situation where I not only get to work with proper -- and, in my opinion, some of the best -- artists in the industry, but to also discover that I dearly love illustrating my work, and want to do it now, even when I don’t have to.

CA: With some of your other work, One Soul and The People Inside, you're responsible for some of the most impressive experimental comics storytelling of recent years. Is that something you plan to explore further?

RF: Yes, absolutely. I feel a significant impulse in that direction, to not only tell stories that move me -- and, one hopes, find an audience that will be moved -- but also to find and explore features of the medium that can strengthen the way the stories are told. Comics are much more sensory than prose or pure illustration, and have certain dimensional advantages over lock-step media like film or music -- I love to think about the ways that the experience of reading a story can be manipulated within the form, and the unique opportunities for storytelling that the form presents.

So, yes. Intersect represents an experiment that is very different from, say, One Soul or The People Inside -- but an experiment nonetheless. And of course there are other explorations I plan to undertake in other books in the future. My greatest pleasure these days, in my work, is derived from learning that there is an audience out there that is not only willing to read and parse my attempts, but actually has a powerful response to it. It’s wickedly gratifying, and there are days where I feel like wandering around thanking everyone.


The People Inside, Ray Fawkes


CA: Your work on Intersect is both very personal and very challenging, but you also work on mainstream titles for major publishers. Do you feel like you have to be a different writer to serve these different audiences? Do you think there's much crossover between these audiences?

RF: It’s not that I’m a different writer per se. I’m not in the least, and those who read both will no doubt see shared quirks across all my work -- but I do write the pieces differently, simply because my mainstream work falls within an imposed framework: there are limits applied to language and imagery that don’t exist with Intersect. So there I am free to explore different material -- subject matter that is perhaps more disturbing, or perverse… more complex.

I am also free from the constraint of mass appeal, which is to say, nobody’s telling me that I need to make sure to explain what’s happening all the time. Mainstream publishers are, I think, very concerned with not losing their audience, and understandably so. They’re attempting to reach the widest possible readership, as mandated by their business model. As an individual creator, though, on a book that’s entirely my own, I don’t need to worry about that. The readers who will enjoy Intersect are the ones who don’t need to understand what they’re reading immediately -- who like to work things out. Just as the readers who enjoyed One Soul and The People Inside were.

I do believe there’s potential crossover between the audiences - I imagine the audience for books like Gotham By Midnight will enjoy Intersect -- but have no idea of the degree of that crossover. I do know that the audience for One Soul is almost entirely divided from the audience for my mainstream work, and that’s never presented me with any kind of problem. So, I’m not worried.


Intersect #1 goes on sale November 19 from Image.