by Jarrod Jones. Tim Daniel is a bonafide artist all around, a comic book renaissance man. Designer, writer, dreamer, believer. He’s publicly said that independent comics design provides “a clarity or purity of vision” and in his Vault Comics action/horror series Fissure, that vision runs afoul of a shattered American Dream.
Fissure is Tim Daniel attempting to make some sense of things, to chart a course towards sense and reason in our increasingly polarized country. As an artist, he realizes that sometimes requires the jettisoning of subtlety. So Fissure is about a fictional small Texas town called El Sueño (“The Dream”), which cracks down the middle of its main street, splitting people apart, breaking up homes, fracturing trusts. An eruption of hate and horror that threatens to swallow it whole. Unsubtle, to-the-point.
“One of the taglines for the book is, ‘What divides us will swallow us whole,'” Tim tells me. “The fact that [series protagonists] Avery Lee & Hark have to remain literally bound together, hand-in-hand in order to survive, is purposely unsubtle. Our differences make us stronger. When we are led to believe our differences are a threat to our stability, only then do we weaken.”
Fissure is collected in trade paperback and will drop April 24. On the eve of its release, I spoke with Tim Daniel about the timely themes of Fissure, his collaboration with artist Patricio Delpeche, his time with Vault Comics (with an update on his Spiritus and Atoll), and the better parts of artistic restlessness.
1. The release of the ‘Fissure’ trade is more timely than ever. What set you down the road to tell this story, now, when the country is in such a polarized state? What was the moment when you knew ‘Fissure’ was the tale to tell?
Tim Daniel: The road to Fissure started in late 2013 before I think we really found ourselves in our current divided state. There was a ground swell—a growing fervor even at that time to secure our country’s southern border. While developing the story, I had the great pleasure to attend La Mole Comic Con in Mexico City in 2015. One of the first questions posed to me by our guides and translators was my feelings on the Wall. I knew right then that Fissure was a story for our times.
2. We’re lead through ‘Fissure’ by its main characters, Avery Lee and Hark. They represent the bridging of two peoples, and they stay together throughout the story regardless of what’s trying to tear them apart—be it their families or this incredible ordeal. They persevere because of this. Is this the intent behind ‘Fissure’? To underline a very clear, but no less important, message?
TD: 100%. One of the taglines for the book is, “What divides us will swallow us whole.” The fact that Avery Lee & Hark have to remain literally bound together, hand-in-hand in order to survive, is purposely unsubtle. Our differences make us stronger. When we are led to believe our differences are a threat to our stability, only then do we weaken. Why we allow ourselves to turn over that power to those seeking to exploit it for personal gain or an agenda antithetical to our common welfare, I’ll never understand.
3. The “malevolent supernatural force preys on a small backwater” trope is one we’ve seen before. Except with ‘Fissure’ that seems to be the point: This monstrous calamity causes its citizens to reckon with how they treat each other. Do you feel that’s when people really see each other for who they are,during times when entire communities are being tested?
TD: As a pretty big believer in the idea that we all reveal our true selves eventually, I certainly think crises seem to accelerate this process. It’s so easy for us to behave in very specific ways when all seems to be going in our favor, but it’s extremely difficult to remain true to ourselves or maintain a moral compass when the factors influencing us seem so much more powerful. It’s just human nature, no one is exempt, and of course I include myself in that. As an optimist, I want to believe our crises can galvanize and instruct us and not tear us apart.
4. A small hamlet in Texas is the location of our horror melodrama: El Sueño. I couldn’t find it on any map. How did you develop El Sueño with artist Patricio Delpeche, and what elements of this one-street town needed to be in place to properly reflect our modern-day United States?
TD: El Sueño[, or “The Dream”,] is completely fictional so it does not appear on any actual map. Well… maybe it did exist at one time, but it might have been swallowed up… Pato and I did develop the town together and we used references such as Gruene, TX with a dash of Juarez. I’ve been to Texas a couple of times and there are parts of West Texas that must be very challenging to endure. Not that I haven’t seen the same in Oregon, California, West Virginia, Washington and Montana. All places I’ve lived. There’s not a part of this country where you could not find towns or small cities where you’d ask how people can survive. It’s no mistake that El Sueño is named The Dream.
5. Tell me about how you and Patricio Delpeche staged the book’s incredibly well-framed action sequences—did you have detailed notes for your artist, work in tandem, or did Patricio take the reins?
TD: First, thank you for making note of this. Pato is a consummate storyteller, right? We had a pretty standard process in terms of me delivering a full script and Pato in turn sharing layouts and then later pencils/inks. He’s from Argentina so our communication was limited to email. We tried some experimental layouts here and there, like “shattering” the page for a double page spread when the fissure erupts to swallow the town. There’s a found-footage style sequence taken from a go-pro camera attached to a rescue work’s helmet. Things of that nature that you hope will help immerse the reader in the world and amplify their reading experience.
6. We’ve seen more and more comics pop up in the creator-owned sphere that serve as artistic responses to the current administration’s policies. For whom do you think these kind of stories provide catharsis: the creator or the reader?
TD: That’s really for the reader to decide, right? Writing definitely affords me the opportunity to work out some stuff on the page, consciously or not—but really that’s about where the control ends. I can’t decide how a reader will react to or interpret the story. My hope of course is that even a story that challenges our personal beliefs will be both entertaining and enlightening. It’s possible to get catharsis from things we can easily identify with as well as strongly oppose. That’s up to the reader!
7. As the VP of Branding and Design for Vault Comics, you’ve conjured striking, unique trade dress for the publisher’s line. It’s some of the best-looking books around. For the trade of ‘Fissure’, I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve upgraded the logo for the book. Is this a simply a case of artistic restlessness?
TD: Artistic restlessness is something I wrestle with every single day and I love it! It’s fuel. The minute that fuel runs out, it’s time to move on. Meanwhile, every single book we produce at Vault is a singular quest to make it the best possible version that it can be. The wonderful thing about single issues, trade paperback collections and even hardcovers is the opportunity to represent the material in a new way. The fresh trade dress for Fissure is not specific to that title, it’s something we’ve done across the board for all of our Vault trades. Expect even more!
8. You’ve said in the past that designing for independent comics has provided a “a clarity or purity of vision.” You’re amplifying the intent of a book’s creators with your logos and trade dress, which is a tremendous responsibility that can only be tenfold with Vault; you’re not only representing the creator, you’re representing the company, as well. How do you go about finding this clarity? What creative walls must be demolished in order to achieve it?
TD: This is the result of being part of superb team and having the full backing of publisher Damian Wassel, EIC Adrian Wassel and VP of Marketing Kim McLean. They trust in the process, they support the direction—they’ll challenge me—and that comes from a place that’s additive. At this point, entering our third year, I’m pretty sure they know my commitment and dedication to every single book is the same, even greater when the book is not my own. There’s not a book we’ve made that I don’t want on my shelves at home, that I’m not proud is on the shelves in stores.
That teamwork has obliterated a lot of obstacles. Designers are artists, and as such, a designer is not a tool. People can overlook this in the process and seek to impose their vision on a designer, when in fact, the designer is an extension of the creative vision. I’m thrilled to be in a position where I’m essentially unleashed and empowered to do my best possible work on behalf of our creators.
9. Since we’re talking, Tim, I wanted to chase after you about ‘Spiritus’, the Vault book you’ve been working on with Michael Kennedy. Are there plans for future installments?
TD: Spiritus shall return and likewise Atoll. Things are a bit more challenging schedule-wise now that I’m partner at Vault—meaning I knew going in my books would have to take a back seat, but I’ve made a commitment to finish every book I’ve started. Spiritus went on hiatus when artist Michael Kennedy embarked on a massive graphic novel and at the same time had some personal well-being concerns to attend to while Atoll was sidelined when artist Ricardo Drumond became a dad! There are some things more important than comics… there is right? Is there?
10. An irreversible catastrophe is unleashed in your town. How do you go about your own survival? Who do you rescue, and who has your back?
TD: Family first. Hark’s father, Hollis, has a line in Fissure, “Take care of your own.” That phrase is sometimes used in a pejorative manner, but to me that means trying to create a strong supportive foundation within our household in order to take care of others as well. Secure the family, assist my friends and partners at Vault. I can tell you right now I want to be in the stronghold with all of them. Then we band together and help others. Wait? Am I talking hypothetical disaster scenarios or comics?
The ‘Fissure’ TPB hits stores April 24.
Check out this 11-page preview of ‘Fissure’ TPB, courtesy of Vault Comics!
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