One can use a lot of adjectives to describe the sci-fi comic The Bunker — thrilling, mysterious, innovative, and clever all spring to mind — but you certainly can’t call it optimistic. The sleeper-hit indie series by longtime writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Joe Infurnari has about as low an estimation of human nature as anything on the comics market these days, which is one of the many reasons it’s worth picking up. It follows a group of present-day teenage friends who stumble upon the titular bunker, a strange structure in the woods that appears to contain letters written to them by their future selves — selves who have made devastating compromises and sacrificed much of what makes them worthwhile members of society.
But not all is as it seems. There is indeed time travel, though its nature and scope remains elusive. It appears that each friend is in some way linked to a series of apocalyptic events that occur in the upcoming few years, but no one’s sure if they’re being deceived in these supposedly self-sent letters. As the plot thickens and the mysteries deepen, it’s hard not to become gripped by these eminently fallible humans and the mistakes they may or may not be destined to make. If that sounds like an appealing way to spend your own future, Oni Press’s second collected volume of The Bunker’s existing issues hits stores today. I caught up with Fialkov to talk about the ongoing plans for a TV adaptation, Christopher Lloyd, and the Ramones.
What’s your Doomsday prep plan? How ready are you for the end of the world?
I’d probably not do great. I’m diabetic, so I’d run out of medicine eventually. I’ve actually been eating better and exercising and I’ve lost some weight, so I feel like I have a little more stamina to outrun whatever is coming at me. But I have a kid, and so you do everything you can to protect your kid, which is really your own doom. And not just in the apocalypse — in every way about your kid, you know? I think I wouldn’t make it. Especially if it was the plague as it is in The Bunker, because I have no immune system and it would just destroy me. Before it even existed, I would get it.
Were you fixated on doomsday scenarios as a kid? Is that something that freaked you out when you were young?
This is going to sound ridiculous, but I grew up in Pittsburgh, which is important for two reasons. One is that it was an apocalyptic city during my childhood. Like, it was urban flight at its worst. The economy had crashed, and whole strips of downtown and of various neighborhoods were just empty storefronts. You saw that, and you saw how that all happened over the course of two or three years, which is terrifying. And then, secondarily, I worked in the mall from the original Dawn of the Dead.
Are you serious, the actual mall?
The Monroeville Mall. I worked there for three or four years. George Romero was such a hero to me, but my favorite thing of his was a movie called The Crazies. They did a remake that was okay, but the original is fucking astonishingly good. It’s actually very much in the vein of The Bunker — it’s about what actually happens if suddenly the world starts crumbling, which is that everyone is like, “Well, everything’s for me.” Everyone becomes a selfish prick. You can’t tell whether people are infected or not because everyone is so awful anyway.
What was the elevator pitch for The Bunker?
Oh, I’m so good at it. I do it all the time. I’m an old pro at this. It’s about a group of friends who discover a military-style bunker that contains letters from their future selves telling them that they’re going to cause the apocalypse. Each of them then has to decide whether they’re going to give up their hopes and dreams to theoretically save the world, or if they’re going to be selfish pricks and doom us all. And, spoiler warning: They’re going to be selfish pricks. I’m assuming that will be the part that you find to be cynical.
How many issues is this whole thing going to be? When are we going to see resolution?
I’ve been doing indie comics for so long that I know that everything you do has to have an escape route, so if it isn’t doing well, you can be like, “Oh, I can wrap it up in issue 15!” But it’s doing well and people really like it. I’d love to be able to do like 40, 50, 60 issues. This book is kind of at the core of who [series artist] Joe [Infurnari] and I are as creators, in part because it’s genre without being super genre-y. It’s a story about a group of friends falling apart. It’s what happens when you graduate high school or when you graduate from college and everybody just scatters. They’ve held onto that friendship for most of their lives, and now every resentment and every tiny little thing that’s always bothered them about the others is coming to the top. That stuff can go forever.
When are we going to get to learn the rules of time travel within the universe of The Bunker?
We’re getting there. I like doing lo-fi sci-fi — aside from the fact that there’s a bunker that time-travels and contains letters from future selves, there’s not a lot of science fiction. The science in the book is from talking to doctors and people who work with outbreaks and plague.
So you talked to doctors and epidemiologists, but not time-travel physicists?
Right. But first of all, I’ve seen virtually every time-travel movie, and I’ve done a lot of reading about it. The problem with time travel is that it’s impossible. It’s so far beyond our understanding. I looked at something like the movie Looper, and my favorite thing in Looper is there’s the scene where Bruce Willis is talking to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who says, “So you traveled in time, but how does it work?” And Willis is like, “Don’t worry about that, it’s not important.” No matter the explanation, it’s just gobbledygook. Part of why we love Back to the Future is it’s all gobbledygook, but Christopher Lloyd says it with such conviction. So for The Bunker, the time-travel element will come back, but right now what I like is that it’s just a thing that happened. We know as much as the characters do.
Well, some of the characters.
What’s the status of The Bunker TV adaptation?
We’re working on it for Lionsgate. Our producers are Good Universe and Ghost House, which is Sam Raimi’s company.
I presume Sam Raimi was a hero of yours.
When I met Sam the first time, all I could say is, “You know, Sam, I remember getting in the theater watching Army of Darkness and thinking, That’s what I want to do! There is somebody doing precisely what I want to do!”
I mean, anybody who wants to make something and doesn’t come from wealth and wants to do a weird idea on the cheap, Raimi’s Evil Dead movies are always a huge inspiration, right? It’s the equivalent of the Ramones if you’re into music — you’re thinking, Hey, if they could do it, then I probably could.
That is very well-stated, actually.
Thank you. I just came up with it.
What about Velvet Underground? You could maybe use the Velvet Underground, too.
Yeah, you could do that, too. But they were pretentious pricks.
But still delightful.
So you’ve written the show. Are you shooting it?
I just turned in a second draft. The next step is theoretically going out to networks and trying to get the damn thing on the air.
It’s remarkable how the comics-adaptation boom is keeping even the smallest indie comics series afloat these days.
Right — and at the same time, you get this crazy freedom in the actual comics that is sort of unmatched in any other medium. It’s pretty close to being an author, director, or an A-list showrunner on a TV show, where you really have the freedom to tell stories that are raw. That’s part of why comics have more emotional content and are more willing to push buttons, because there’s nobody criticizing or telling you, “This is too much,” or “This is too risky,” or “This is too controversial.” For good or ill — and there’s plenty of ill that comes with this — in comics, what comes through is your vision. When my name is on a book, I know that it’s my book.