With years and years of experience in the comic book industry, Pornsak Pichetshote has had an amazing career in this incredibly competitive industry. Pichetshote’s work has been nominated for several Eisner awards for his work on Daytripper and The Unwritten. He has also worked on Sweet Tooth, Unknown Soldier, Swamp Thing, The Sandman, and many more titles. Pichetshote has also expanded into television writing by working on Cloak & Dagger and Two Sentence Horror Stories. Image Comics recently published his comic book series Infidel – which explores America’s xenophobia in the context of a haunted house narrative. Wanting to learn more about Pichetshote and Infidel, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Pornsak Pichetshote: I think in my childhood, I was all about trickster characters – smart alecks and con men. And that overlaps a lot with Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s original Spider-Man run. I loved those comics so much when I was a kid. While everyone else was fanboy-ing Wolverine and the Punisher, I was gobbling everything I could of old ‘60s Spider-Man. After both Lee and Ditko passed away last year, I’ve been thinking about making time to read an issue a day from those first 50 issues and tweeting about it. We’ll see if I ever get around to it.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in writing and editing? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Pichetshote: I went to high school in Thailand – and a pretty humble high school at that – so I didn’t think with that background I was qualified to be a writer in English. So, up until my sophomore year of college, I considered writing a “phase” I was going through for a couple months at a time. The summer of my sophomore year, though, I went home and found a journal I apparently kept my junior year of high school. There I was, talking about this writing “phase” I was going through, and I realized this phase that I thought was only happening for a few months had been going on for years. That’s when I realized I needed to really take it seriously.
Yanes: You have been an editor for a large part of your career. What is your approach to editing? Besides grammar, how do you approach working with writers to get the best out of a story?
Pichetshote: Actually, copy editors are more concerned about grammar. I’m more concerned about story when I’m working with writers. And the first thing I do – which I get the impression from other writers that not enough editors do – is ask: What was the intent of the piece? What does the author want this story to be about? And then I engage in a conversation with the author about that. A lot of time an editor foists their own vision for a story over the writer’s, and a big part of editing is being able to separate personal taste from story mechanics to determine why a story isn’t working, so you can help a writer realize their vision.
I find once a writer trusts that you’ve done that, and you really have their vision at heart, they’re very open to notes, because they’re confidant you’re really there to help them. From there, there are a multiple problems a writer can fall into when crafting a story (I feel like as a writer, I’ve fallen into all of them), but it’s amazing how often the answer comes down to not clearly defining (1) the motivation and conflict of the character (2) that character’s emotional journey or (3) the stakes of the conflict.
Yanes: You have worked on comic books and television shows. When writing for these two mediums, what do you think are the key differences writers should keep in mind?
Pichetshote: During my time at DC Comics, I became the head of DC’s TV division and a key person behind Geoff Johns’ team to bring DC properties to other media, so I got to discuss adapting comics to movies, animation, and video games along with TV. One of the things I came to realize during that time is that while comics, film, and TV all look very similar from the outside, if you pop their hoods open and look at how they work, they actually all run on somewhat different things.
Comics run on concepts. There are more grand, ambitious conceptual ideas in a good comic than most movie studios will have on their annual slates. That’s why Hollywood looks to comics so much for ideas. Many comics get by through stringing connective tissue across conceptual beats to form a narrative. It’s not the best comic in the world, but you can get by. But without any conceptual beats, they kind of fall flat. TV runs on emotion. And what I just said about conceptual beats in comics, you can say about emotional beats in TV. Movies – or at least the ones that Warner Brothers would look at DC for – runs on spectacle. Again, repeat that formula here. Once you realize what the fuel to each of the media you’re working with is you know the pillars you can build a story for in each of the media and hopefully integrate the other beats around it to make it a great narrative.
Yanes: Image recently published your comic book Infidel. What was the inspiration for this story?
Pichetshote: I came up with the idea of Infidel years ago, back when Obama was still president, and it was something I slowly developed on my off-hours. Back then, the initial spark came from how people were talking about this post-racial society we’ve become because we had a black president and seemingly had no problem with the rampant Islamophobia on the increasing rise. That dovetailed with my love of horror movies, and suddenly I found I had one of those ideas that was so simple but provocative I couldn’t believe anyone hadn’t done it sooner. As the years passed, and the themes of the book became more and more relevant to the world, I felt like I couldn’t just have the idea collecting cobwebs, I needed to put this book out there.
Yanes: Infidel is set in a haunted house. What are some classic haunted house stories you think influenced you?
Pichetshote: It’s hard to say what’s a classic and what’s not, but there were 2 Japanese horror movies that were pretty big influences. Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On, which was remade in English as The Grudge, taught me surrealism could be scary. And Infidel learned obvious lessons from Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water.
Yanes: When writing Infidel, was there a moment in which a character took on a life of their own?
Pichetshote: Both Aisha and Medina took on lives of their own, but probably at no time more so than at the end. In a lot of ways, Infidel is a debate between Aisha and Medina’s worldviews and when I started writing it, I went back and forth between them, not sure who I sided with more. The last conversation they have at the end of the book, and what Medina tells Aisha was a surprise to me, and was definitely a case of the characters teaching me something.
Yanes: What are your long-term goals for Infidel? Are there plans for a sequel or to develop it into a show?
Pichetshote: Well, right now Michael Sugar and the folks at Tri-Star have optioned the movie rights to Infidel, but I don’t have anything to do with that. That said, the wonderful Hany Abu-Assad, who directed the Oscar-nominated Paradise Now is attached to direct it, so I couldn’t be happier. I do have very loose ideas for a sequel, but I have to figure out a couple things that aren’t necessarily in my control before I could pull it off.
Yanes: When people finish reading Infidel, what do you hope they take away from it?
Pichetshote: Honestly, I hope it spurs conversation about its themes and some of the questions and concerns that inspired me to write it. If they do that, I’ll be very happy.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Pichetshote: Well, I was a writer on the second season of Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger and was really proud of the work I’ve done there. That whole season is available on Hulu now. And I was a writer on the second season of Two Sentence Horror Stories that airs August 6th on the CW. And there’s another TV show I’ve worked on that’s coming out this year that haven’t been announced yet, so folks should check out my Twitter @real_pornsak & IG: real_psak for that.
Otherwise, I’m working on my next comic project that I likewise can’t talk about yet, so I guess this whole answer is sponsored by me being coy.