In 2007, writer/artist Kevin Colden turned down a Xeric Grant in order to serialize his true-crime graphic novel Fishtown through the online community Act-i-Vate. Things turned out pretty well, though... The book was nominated for an Eisner award, and several printings and digital releases later, is being re-released in a new, $10 volume from IDW this week. We checked in with Colden to find out about the lasting appeal of the book, and somehow refrained from making any 'Fish Police' jokes:
MTV Geek: Kevin, you first wrote Fishtown about five years ago, and now it’s getting re-released, again… What do you think is the lasting appeal of the book?
Kevin Colden: When I wrote it, I was trying very hard to tap into something universal – which was a necessity considering the subject matter. I had a very clear storytelling goal, which was to take a very intense story and tell it elegantly. Now that it's a few years on and I have some distance, I realize that the book works on two different levels – one is as a sort of gritty pulp book, and the other as a philosophical and psychological character deconstruction. I put a lot of emotional energy into the book, and I'd like to think that contributes to its perennial nature.
Geek: We’ll get into the story in a second, but I’m curious to get your thoughts on the interplay between print and digital on this book. You started free online, it went to print, then back to digital on comixology, and then print again… What’s your impression about the different ways the book has shown up? What has fan reaction – and sales – been like for each stage?
Colden: Well, it certainly got the most attention when it initially appeared on ACT-I-VATE. When the print book came out, I wanted to make a print edition that was just a beautiful object to hold – something that has become more common in the years since. For a number of years, the ACT-I-VATE version was available in its entirety for free, but when we were preparing the eBook, I quietly shut it down, barring the first chapter. I did that largely because we're in a different time now – sure you can read a webcomic on a phone or tablet, but there's an intimacy with the material that you can only get by holding it in your hand. So we'll see. I don't pay a lot attention to sales figures – I have a publisher to worry about that – but I wanted to make sure it's available to everyone in every format.
Geek: With each step of the book, have you tweaked or changed anything?
Colden: When we went to print from the web, I cleaned up a large portion of the artwork (and totally redrew the first page) and rewrote and cleaned up a lot of the dialogue. The eBook version is essentially identical to the print edition. I've been tempted to add in more contextual additional material – my discarded script sequences, an essay on the source material, design pieces, process pieces, bits about the actual case. I even have a long list of acknowledgements that's existed since 2007 that I left out intentionally because, ultimately, I think the book is most impactful as a closed, desolate system. Apologies to everyone who may have felt slighted by that – it wasn't obliviousness. I've been compiling back matter for a future edition, and have long considered adding in a ten-page sequence that I cut from the middle of the book. I'm just afraid of going George Lucas on this thing.
Geek: What about the look of the book? There’s such a specific color palette, has that changed from print to digital – and even as printing quality has changed from 2008 to 2012? If it has? I dunknow, I just work here.
Colden: I originally planned to use color as a storytelling tool, with the flashback sequences in full color, and the interview sequences in gray. The color would slowly desaturate as the characters became more morally bankrupt, the transition happening at the climax of the story. But I showed around tests to some colleagues and the limited palette was more effective. The colors do look different depending on which edition you're looking at, and I'd say that the print version is the most accurate. But they're all from the same source, so it's just standard deviation.
Geek: Given Fishtown is based on real life events, and with time having passed, have you given any thought of revisiting the story and characters at all?
Colden: Often. I adapted it into a screenplay last year, and was surprised at how easily I was able to expand the story. I've thought about doing a more fact-based version of the story as well. But I'm in a much different place creatively now, so I haven't yet.
Geek: What about other reality based works? I think you’ve pretty much avoided them since Fishtown, instead delving into fantasy, scifi, and horror… Do you have any need to go back to docu-comics?
Colden: Yeah – I haven't done many reality-based pieces besides maybe a short biographical story or two. I think the reason for that is partly that I'm not going to tell a better nonfiction story than this one! What makes this book special is its unconventional storytelling, and trying to repeat that would feel hacky to me. Also when working on Fishtown – and this is partially what the book is about - I realized that we're all fictional constructs to some extent. We all write our own narrative based on our relation to place, time, and other people – our context. So in a sense everything is some kind of fiction anyway. But when I look at the fictional stories that I've written, they are actually biographical to a large extent – it's just that no one would really notice but me. Maybe I've just been writing my life story all along.
Geek: How has Fishtown affected your career – positively, or negatively?
Colden: Positively overall. It's my most celebrated work. But I'm sitting here with you five years later, having subsequently written and/or drawn four graphic novels – and I'm still talking about Fishtown! It's my Citizen Kane. I look forward to my future making commercials for fish sticks.
Geek: For readers who haven’t yet picked up the book, why snag the hardcover?
Colden: It's the closest to my vision for the project – I was very meticulous about the specs, right down to the size of the page gutters. Also, this will likely be the last time it sees print this way – maybe ever!
Geek: What else are you working on? The Crow, of course, but anything else coming up?
Colden: The Crow collection is coming out in early 2013, and I'm hoping to have something really special on deck for that. I've also got a few things that I can't talk about in the immediate future! But the things I can mention are: a collaboration with Charles Soule (writer of Strongman, 27 and Strange Attractors) that will be ready some time next year, and a new solo book that's so intense I've had to take my time with it. It's a sprawling, mystical, historical mindfuck of a book.That will start serializing in 2013 or early '14. Also, Baby With a Mohawk will make a return, likely by the end of this year.
Geek: Any final thoughts on Fishtown, or things we missed?
Colden: I've always seen Fishtown, the book, as sort of an elegy – not just for Jason, who was the template for Jesse – but for all of us. Human beings are capable of wonderful things, but our natural tendency is to destroy. The unrelenting bleakness of the book is circular for a reason, and I hope that it contrasts with the readers' own experiences and inspires some good.
Fishtown will be re-released by IDW on Wednesday, October 17th.