Pornsak Pichetshote Talks Infidel; Before and After
Infidel is a social-horror comic concerned with Islamophobia; and it’s arguably one of the best comics on shelves now. We were lucky enough to spend some time with the book’s writer, Pornsak Pichetshote and talk about what led up to the book’s creation, and how the Infidel team got together. Then, we see what Pichetshote has planned for the future, and pick his brain about what he’s reading and watching.
All-Comic: So before you started Infidel, you were an editor, right? How do you think that’s shaped your writing, and what’s it like being on the other side of things now?
Pichetshote: Yep, I was an editor at DC / Vertigo for seven years – some of the most creatively satisfying years of my life. And it’s hard to downplay how much my time as an editor has shaped my writing, especially on Infidel. Speaking in the most general sense, you learn so much about structure and the mechanics of the medium from comic book editing, but under a more specific sense, I worked with writers like Peter Milligan, Mike Carey, Andy Diggle, Jamie Delano, Joshua Dysart, and Jay Cantor – all writers who understood how to infuse politics into their work, all through very different techniques. So it was a great way to be introduced to the tools I would use to write Infidel.
As for what it’s like being on the other side of things, as a writer, I get to exercise my voice and have an almost delirious amount of control over the story – at least compared to an editor. But with great power occasionally comes great anxiety, since being a writer means wrestling with the blank page. I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin fan, and he once said, “I love writing, but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, ‘You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, Giftless. I’m not your agent and I’m not your mommy: I’m a white piece of paper. You wanna dance with me?’ and I really, really don’t.” I completely agree with that.
All-Comic: What made you decide to make the jump from editor to writer? Was this story burning a hole in your notebook?
Pichetshote: I was a writer before I was an editor. Comics was just this 12-year digression that treated me so well I never wanted to leave. But after a really enjoyable time supporting other people’s stories, the fire started burning again to tell my own, which led me to stop editing. As for Infidel, it was an idea I had for a really long time – the germ of it happened a year into Obama’s presidency, actually. We had supposedly “licked racism” because we had a black president, even though Islamophobia was increasingly on the rise, and with that irony, I started putting together the story of Infidel. From there, every passing year made the themes of this story more and more relevant, until finally, I felt like I couldn’t just let it sit in the drawer anymore.
All-Comic: The rest of the Infidel team, Aaron Campbell, Jose Villarubia, and Jeff Powell, seem to work together seamlessly, and you all complement each other’s work so well. Could you talk about how the four of you came together, and give us some insight about what the team dynamic is like?
Pichetshote: I’ve been friends with Jose Villarrubia since my time as an editor at Vertigo, and from that time, my favorite game to play with him whenever I got a new book greenlit was to pick his brain on who the best artist could be. Because as one of the most respected colorists in the medium, Jose has a vocabulary of comic book artists that’s singular in this industry. Plus, so much of doing this book was getting the excuse to call old friends again, because it had been a while since I’d been in the trenches making comics. From there, Jose mentioned he wanted to edit it, and I loved the idea that me as an ex-editor and Jose as a colorist both stretching our legs to do something we’re not normally associated with, so saying yes to Jose was kind of a no-brainer. Jose then brought Aaron on board, since Jose used to teach at the school Aaron attended. From there, Jeff Powell was a designer I had my eye on and wanted to work with for ages, so then we added him to the team.
By the way, to say “Jose brought Aaron on board” is to undersell Aaron’s contribution by a long shot. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel that Aaron even exists as an artist. Jose and I knew we needed someone with a somewhat realistic style to handle the book’s multi-racial cast, since when you try to do multiple ethnicities in too stylized a manner, those depictions can easily run to the offensive side of the gamut if you’re not careful. And yet, Jose and I both like a little expressionism to our art, so we knew we wouldn’t like someone rigidly photorealistic. On top of that, he had to draw scary, which – while there are a lot of artists drawing horror comics – there aren’t a ton who actually draw scary. On top of that, we wanted a professional that we could trust wouldn’t flake out on us. On top of that, he had to not be scooped up by Marvel and DC. So it felt like an almost impossible task. But Aaron ticked all those boxes and in addition, we both saw eye to eye in terms of horror and the themes of the book. It’s one of those amazing comics synergies that you hear about, but it’s still nothing short of amazing when it happens to you.
As for the team dynamic, one of the things I’m really proud of is that we really are a team. Because of the way my brain is wired from my years as an editor, I like to weigh in on every aspect of a comic – layout, art, lettering, colors, design – but to balance that out, I also want to make sure I know what Aaron thinks about the script, and of course, Jose has been a great editor, pushing me to deepen the material at every turn.
All-Comic: Infidel, sadly, only has two more issues to go before it’s over. What comes next for you? Are there any projects you’re working on now, or hope to start soon?
Pichetshote: I do have a new book that I’m starting work on soon, but I’m afraid it’s too early to get into details about it. I actually can’t talk about a lot of the stuff I’m working on now, so there’s a chance next year I’m going to annoyingly seem all over the place. I totally just jinxed myself.
All-Comic: What are you reading or watching now?
Pichetshote: I’m reading tons of comics: Stray Bullets, Southern Bastards, Saga, Paper Girls, Barrier, Royal City, Highest House. I keep telling myself I’m going to only read one prose book at a time and then continually break that promise. As a result, I’m simultaneously reading Obama’s memoir Dreams of my Father and a Chinese spy novel called Decoded. I’ve gotten to a point now where I watch TV the way I read novels, one at a time by seasons, as opposed to trying to follow a bunch of things simultaneously. With that in mind, I just finished Marvel’s Runaways and trying to decide which I should do next: finish Legion, the latest season of This is Us, the new season of IZombie or start The Assassination of Gianni Versace. There’s just too much good content out there.
All-Comic: Is there anything out there comics, or otherwise, that you’d like to give a signal boost? Could be yours or someone else’s work!
Pichetshote: I just got caught up on Stray Bullets: Sunshine & Roses, and when I got to issue 28 (“Magic Banana”), I started texting people I know looking for someone to talk about it with. It’s SO GOOD. David Lapham is a goddamn genius. The latest ongoing arc follows Orson and Beth, the series’ fugitive Bonnie & Clyde, and the thing I love about it is the two are so dysfunctional and self-destructive that they keep bringing on trouble for themselves (and excitement for the reader), but they’re also ultimately so dysfunctionally in love that you can’t help but root for them anyway.
The only problem is the series is up to issue 34 right now, and they only just released a trade of the first eight issues, so everyone needs to buy Stray Bullets: Sunshine & Roses Vol. 1 right now and demand Image to quickly release the trades so I can have someone to talk about the latest issues with. By the way, I barely know David (we’ve talked once maybe during my time at VERTIGO) and I don’t see a cent for any of my shilling. I just love the book so much I want everyone to read it and talk about issue 28 with me.
All-Comic: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! Be on the lookout for whatever Pornsak’s next great project will be, and, for the love of all that’s good, someone talk to this man about Stray Bullets.
Infidel #4 comes out June 20th, so if you haven’t caught up already (you should) go to your local comic book store or head over to ComiXology. If you’re still not sold on the series, our reviews of issue #1 and issue #2 might change that.