Interview: Ray Fawkes Reveals A Different Kind of Horror In ‘Constantine’ & ‘Pandora’

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Toronto-based creator Ray Fawkes is quickly becoming one of DC Comics hottest writers. He has been turning out work nonstop on the darker side of the DC Universe, in the pages of “Justice League Dark” and “Constantine”. Fawkes’ writing brings a sort of Hitchcockian cinematic writing style to the characters, and he’s now taking that to the forefront of DC Comics with the new ongoing series “Trinity of Sin: Pandora”.

Fawkes sat down with Bloody-Disgusting at this year’s FanExpo to discuss his approach to John Constantine, moving the character out of “Hellblazer” and into the DCU, his work on “Pandora”, and his upcoming graphic novel “The Spectral Engine” coming out in October from McClelland & Stewart.

Bloody-Disgusting: You made the transition from being an independent comic book creator doing creator owned work and are now working on high profile books at DC Comics. What has that transition been like for you?

Ray Fawkes: It’s great and it’s kind of like speaking a slightly different language, because you have slightly different mandates when working on a book for a big company. For instance, when I do my creator owned books I don’t think about age restrictions or language concerns. When I do my independent book, a lot of times they are done in a larger format where I can pay things off over time, but working in mainstream comics you have to make sure that the reader that is buying the book monthly is getting their money’s worth, which means you have to have payoffs happening a little quicker. But once you kind of understand that language and get how things work, it’s totally fine and it’s just another way to tell a story. I find that I’m loving it so far.

BD: Since you didn’t come from a background in superheroes do you think that allows you a fresh perspective on the genre?

RF: For sure. Like a lot of other guys, I did read a lot of the superhero stuff when I was younger, but my background wasn’t in superheroes. That allows me to have an interesting take on things, and I’m sure people have noticed that I sort of naturally gravitate towards the dark line of the DC universe, and that could be because the characters in the dark line seem to be less superheroes and more freaks. For me, I’ve always sort of identified with the freaks and I think it gets me a different perspective and it certainly suits me writing ‘Constantine’, because John isn’t a superhero. He is in their world and we get to see it from his perspective. I think that makes it easier for me to write it rather than someone who just does straight superheroes.

BD: Talk a bit about the transition for Constantine going from a Vertigo mature-readers title to being merged into the DC universe. There was a lot of negative feedback when Constantine switched to the DCU. How has the experience been since then?

RF: Well it’s no secret that I’m a enormous Hellblazer fan and that I own all 300 issues. I was even buying the first few issues off the newsstand. I was nuts about Swamp Thing at the time and I loved Constantine’s appearance in that book. I still think that Swamp Thing #50, which was the climax of the ‘American Gothic’ saga and that John played a part in, was one of the best stories ever in comics. So the idea of toning down his language and some of the imagery, or having to make sure it was done it off panel or in between panels was a concern. I know for some fans that was the last straw, but for me the most important thing is to get John right and telling interesting stories about him. The book can still be dark and horrifying, or even exhilarating to see the con man besting these monsters. I realized going into to this book that there were certain things that I couldn’t do, but I could still tell the stories that I wanted to tell. It’s funny because, after forcing myself to stay away from the mature reader type of gore and language, has allowed me to build a type of horror that is more subtle. Yes we can have action on the page, but the fear of what’s behind the door and what you don’t see is what we get to explore in this book. That is Lovecraft type of stuff, where it’s so inhuman and alien that it drive you crazy. That is the horror that I love.

BD: In horror there is an emphasis on graphic violence, but sometimes the most frightening thing is the one that you don’t see…

RF: To tell you the truth, I think that some readers that have been on board with us reading Constantine have begun to notice that the characters that are the most frightening are the ones that don’t seem to be violent. You don’t see them doing really gory or graphic stuff, but they are the ones that I wouldn’t have to be in a dark alley with.

BD: Talk a bit about what’s coming up in the pages of ‘Constantine’. You have Papa Midnight taking center stage in the book…

RF: Well, John has gotten himself into dealings and debt with some really terrible people and one of them is Papa Midnight. The other one is a conflict with the Cult of the Cold Flame, which has reached a really critical point. Readers that have been reading the book have seen in the pages of issue #6 that the leader of the Cold Flame has stolen everything that John has worked to keep from these people. John is going to hit rock bottom and he’s going to be taken to his breaking point. We’ll see how the man that always has a plan is going to turn things around, which is really the fun part of writing this series.

BD: So how do approach a character like John to rock bottom after he’s been put through the wringer so many times before?

RF: Well one of the advantages I have with this book is when they brought him into the DCU they kind of reset him to a younger version of himself. I imagine that he’s the same guy that had some of the experiences of his run in Hellblazer, but he’s also the guy who would survive the rest of those experiences, but he hasn’t gotten to them yet. Hitting rock bottom can be a new thing for him, or at least a relatively new thing for him, but I think I’m taking him down in a way that he’s never been taking down before and I’m bringing him back in a way that I don’t think he’s ever come back from before, which is a big challenge. When I took on this book, I asked myself if I thought I could do stories that I don’t think have ever been done before, because I was a huge fan of the old series and loved all that stuff. Luckily, bringing him into the DCU means that he has a different challenge, which is he is surrounded by people that have more power than they deserve in his opinion. He’s facing off against people that are a little wild with their powers and the world sort of accepts it and to John that is just madness. I feel that I have an opportunity to tell a story that harkens back more toward to when he first appeared in the pages of Alan Moore’s ‘Swamp Thing’ than ‘Hellblazer’.

BD: Tell us a bit where “Justice League Dark” is headed with the departure of co-writer Jeff Lemire….

RF: Well I will be leaving that title as well, and together we brought the ‘Justice League Dark’ into the ‘Trinity War’ and then we will hand the book off to new series writer J. M. DeMatteis. I don’t think I could name someone more capable of taking over that book, because I’ve been a huge fan of his for a while, and his work on ‘Phantom Stranger’ has been amazing. I think his run on that book has been under appreciated and I think that he will bring his amazing and philosophical take onto the ‘Justice League Dark’.

BD: You are also writing the new ‘Trinity of Sin: Pandora’ series as well which plays a key part in the DC crossover event ‘Trinity War’…

RF: I’m also writing ‘Pandora’ and for readers that aren’t familiar, she is a third of the DCU’s trinity of sin. She is actually related to the ‘Pandora’ of Greek myth and my take on it is that the myth is actually a story about her, but it’s not the full story. That is just the story of how the ancient world tried to understand her and she’s the one they blamed for unleashing all of the evil onto the world. They believe that the world was a paradise before Pandora came along and she is cursed with eternal life and eternal pain as a result. She is ten-thousand years old and while she doesn’t believe she’s responsible for unleashing all the evils of the world, she knows that she’s been blamed for it so she’s taken it upon herself to find a way to wipe out all the evil, and to bring the world back to a paradise state. While other characters in the DCU have this sort of ‘on the ground’ approach, where they see that the Joker committed a crime so they set out to catch him and put him away, Pandora is the one that wants to kill the evil that inspires the Joker to do what he does. She has trained as a warrior for thousands of years so she’s not about understanding or compassion, she just wants to reach in and rip out the evil. She started out as the impetus of the ‘Trinity War’, because Pandora’s box is what the heroes were fighting over and they discover that it wasn’t what they thought it was. Pandora will be left after the ‘Trinity War’ in a world that has to deal with the consequences of that war.

BD: So what is it like for you as a creator to be taking center stage with the DCU?

RF: It’s wild and totally unexpected. The readers that know my work, they know that I’m coming from is sort of this quiet place with a philosophy about life, death and darkness. Those are the kinds of things that I think about all the time and for me to step into the DCU I was able to bring some of that with me. It turns out that the fans seem to have an appreciation for that sort of thing, and I really happy to see that. I’m happy to see that people are willing and eager to put me on the same stage as guys like Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, and Geoff Johns, all of whom do such great work. I’m bringing a darkness to the books and its cool to see that people are into it.

BD: What is it about the darker side of things that you seem to find so inspiring as a creator?

RF: I’ve always sort of been into that sort of stuff, and I think it’s because in the darker sort of stuff you have the freedom and the leeway to ask big questions. Horror and science fiction have always been the part of the literary world where you could explore parts of humanity that are more difficult to face. With horror you can get into why people are the way that they are, or even things like why we suffer the way that we do sometimes. You can also dive into the threats of the world around us, the unknown or the fear of our existence. You can get into these sort of heavy concepts, but you can tell that story with a monster. Those types of stories get right into your guts and that’s why I’ve always been sort of inclined that way. That’s what I love to read and that’s what I love to write.

BD: So what’s next for you as far as creator-owned projects go?

RF: I have a new graphic novel coming out in October from McClelland & Stewart called ‘The Spectral Engine’. The books is a 176 page graphic novel about a ghost train. It’s about a train that travels back and forth through time to the site of famous disasters or conflicts that have resulted in ghosts being created. It picks up the spirits of these ghosts and takes them on this journey. Along the way some of the ghosts will actually witness their own deaths, which helps them to understand what they are. I really wanted to tell a ghost story, and wherever you go in Canada there always seems to be a story about a ghost train that has been spotted in the night. I started to think about what these trains have been doing which was the inspiration for the series.

Editor’s Note: Please be aware that due to Villain’s Month, there will not be a new issue of “Pandora” until October.