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Interview: J. Michael Straczynski on TWILIGHT ZONE

JMS gets interviewed about his work on TWILIGHT ZONE by Shannon Eric Denton.

Dynamite has been doing cool things with their properties, including one of their newer books, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, written by J. Michael Straczynski. This on-going series is on its second arc and JMS talked to Shannon Eric Denton about this series and the original television series.

SHANNON ERIC DENTON: Both of us are He-Man alumni but on different iterations/eras of the TV show. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to be a part of the beginning of something that becomes a part of pop-culture and sometimes we’re getting to participate in that established fandom as you are with Twilight Zone. What do you see as the positives of both those experiences?

J MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI: The primary thing about helping create the He-Man fandom was the memory of wandering into a toy store filled with screaming kids yanking their mothers around to get the latest toy and knowing that if these parents knew who I was and what I was working on they would kill me dead right there in front of their kids as an object lesson of what not to do with their lives. I think the main compare-and-contrast point is that when creating a fandom, as we did with Babylon 5, you know you can do whatever you want, and there’s the thrill of creation. Nobody knew the word Minbari before I typed it...a year later, people are dressed in similar costumes. That’s a pretty heady experience. By contrast when you’re working on an artifact of established fandom your primary obligation is not to break it or leave it in a diminished state. So to a degree you’re working with kid gloves on, but that’s okay too. If you wanna create something you can tear apart and break, build your own damned universe.

SED: Rod Serling gave us so much material to work with and so much of it of such a high caliber. Whether comic fans know it or not, our industry owes him a great deal (I’m just stating the facts ). From your “fan” perspective, what were some of your favorite episodes?

JMS: The debt is far greater than most people realize, in or out of comics or the mainstream. Prior to the Twilight Zone, science fiction was a very, very small niche genre, usually referred to as a “ghetto genre” even by those who practiced it. Many libraries didn’t have a science fiction section or simply lumped them in with juvenile books rather than with serious literature. The majority of people prior to TZ had never or rarely been exposed to the ideas of dopplegangers or time travel or cybernetics or the moral questions involved with replication or automation. The Twilight Zone exposed millions of people to the basic tropes of SF and fantasy and educated them to the rules and to the possibility that you could actually tell good, literary stories within that genre. It forced viewers to take the genre seriously, and in so doing paved the way for every other science fiction or fantasy series or movie that followed. It seems impossible in hindsight, but I was there for the tail end of that educational process, and saw it happen.

Bear in mind that Rod picked up two Emmy awards for dramatic writing for Twilight Zone, which was the first, and by the way also the last time a science fiction series won in the writing category, so what does that tell you?

Favorite episodes? One for the Angels, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, What You Need and A Stop at Willoughby come to mind, but honestly, the list of favorites is very long; it’d be simpler to give a list of those I didn’t like, as that would be much shorter.

SED: Being an alumni of animation, film, and comics also I have a lot of things I still prefer about making comics. What are yours and how do you think they’ll allow you to explore the Twilight Zone world in ways that TV/film can’t?

JMS: Each medium has its own inherent strengths and weaknesses. Comics free you from the constraints of budget and those studio or network execs who Still Just Don’t Get It. Television can give you a more mainstream palette with which to paint your stories, favoring straight-up character drama. Comics can give you an audience in the six figures, who are fiercely loyal. Television gives you an audience of tens of millions, but they’re fickle. In terms of Twilight Zone, having written now for both the TV and comics versions, quite honestly, there ain’t much difference...it’s all down to the stories and the characters, as the Zone was always a drama series with an SF backdrop that didn’t rely on big CGI or special effects sequences. So it straddles both worlds nicely.

SED: What would you most like readers to know about why they should give the Twilight Zone a try?

JMS: In his Nobel Prize speech, William Faulkner said “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself alone...make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.” That truth is at the core of all good drama (and whatever the hell it is I’m supposed to be writing). Doesn’t make any difference what the genre is, that’s what makes it work, and there’s not a single Zone that doesn’t have some element of that at its heartmeat center. Whether the character is running from something or away from something, making a decision or trying to avoid making a decision, fleeing the past or racing toward the future, it’s all about the human heart, and if that kind of story doesn’t appeal to you, then you’re dead and rotten and should be dropped down a sewer.

SED: What other upcoming projects from J. Michael Straczynski should fans be on the lookout for?

JMS: As I type this we are exactly three weeks from the first day of shooting on Sense8, the series I’m writing and producing with the Wachowskis for Netflix, so it’s pretty crazy right now. We’ll be shooting in eight countries from June through October. I’m wrapping up the first two books from the Joe’s Comics/Image imprint (Ten Grand and Sidekick) and on the home stretch for not just Twilight Zone but also the Terminator comic I’m writing for Dark Horse, and the next volume of Superman: Earth One is drawn and lettered. I’m finishing the revisions on the Shadowman movie for Valiant, and I have four other high level TV projects sold into the development stage, which is insane.

Other than that, it’s pretty quiet.

Make sure to check out THE TWILIGHT ZONE from Dynamite Entertainment. Issue #5 is available at your LCS right now!

3 Comments
Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

Nice interview, some interesting stuff and SHADOWMAN MOVIE!

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Edited by Farkam

I love these Twilight Books.

Posted by davidgrantlloyd

So awesome to see Twilight Zone back in comics. Really enjoying this series. Hopefully, it continues well into the future ...