Talking Rod Serling, "The Twilight Man," with writer and artist Koren Shadmi
Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone is one of the landmark pieces of television programming. Even if you’re never seen an episode, you know what The Twilight Zone is, and countless stories from the series’ run have been parodied that they’re part of the pop culture lexicon. A monster on an airplane wing? Having all the time in the world to read books, but your eyeglasses break? That haunting musical cue? They’re stories and ideas that have entered into our modern mythology.
In celebration of sixty years of The Twilight Zone and in honor of what would have been Rod Serling’s 95th birthday, cartoonist Koren Shadmi has written and illustrated the original graphic novel The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television. Published by Humanoids, the book is a dramatized biography that follows Serling through his years in the military, into his work in television and film, and up to his untimely death in 1975 at the age of 50. Shadmi was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and his work in comics, so read on to find out where he got his inspiration for this story, some of his upcoming projects, and which green-skinned lawyer he would love to have a chance at writing.
CN: How did you get your start in comics?
KS: I guess the first comics related gig I had was when I was 15 in my home country, Israel. For years I was the assistant of Uri Fink, who was one of the top local cartoonists. Years later I started writing and drawing my own comics, and my first 'real' comic came out in France when I was in my early 20s.
CN: How did you get involved with Humanoids on this project? Did you take it to them, or did they approach you?
KS: I took it to them! Believe it or not, we had a lot of rejections for the project initially, which boggles my mind, since this is such a no-brainer project with a built-in audience. I originally wanted to only write the book and have a friend of mine draw the artwork. Humanoids wanted it, but only if I was both writing and drawing. I see their point now, as perhaps the artist choice wasn't right for this project to start with.
CN: What struck me most about Twilight Man is how the main narrative works as a fascinating biography, but the framing scenes successfully homage The Twilight Zone. Was that your intention all along, or did you come up with that narrative device in the writing?
KS: I think from very early on this was the framing device, so it didn't really come during writing but more while formulating the story initially in rough notes. I think this framing device could have easily come off as cheesy, so I hope I got it right.
CN: What kind of resources did you use to construct Serling’s story?
KS: A bunch of biographies, including his daughter's book about him. A few Twilight Zone books, some interviews, and some material he wrote about himself. And of course his immense body of work: teleplays, tv shows and movies.
CN: Did you work with Serling’s estate during the process?
KS: I did not, although I just met both his daughters in Binghamton, NY during Serlingfest and gave them copies of the book—hopefully they dig it!
CN: One of the most touching moments in the book is when Serling writes a letter home to his father. Was this an actual event and a real letter, or was it dramatized?
KS: It is a real letter. I wanted to establish that Serling was very close to his father and how devastated he was when he learned of his death.
CN: Your black and white coloring is lovely and detailed, and the faint purple in the “airplane” scenes really help set those apart. Naturally, it harkens back to the original black and white broadcasts of Serling’s television projects. Was this an intentional nod to evoke the era, or do you prefer to work with a limited palette?
KS: I usually work in a limited palette, but this was definitely intentionally black and white. At some point the editors suggested maybe having the plane scenes in color, but I would only go as far as adding a bit of monochromatic purple.
CN: I was pleased that you included Serling’s work on the Planet of the Apes film late in the book. Were there any other of his projects that you wanted to include in the story that had to be cut?
KS: I wish I could have plugged more Twilight Zone episodes, but I only put in what I felt was necessary. There's an episode called 'Walking Distance' that is maybe his most biographical TZ episode, which I wish I could have plugged in, but it just didn't fit the narrative arc.
CN: Are there particular episodes of The Twilight Zone that you think are essential to truly “get” Serling’s intent with the series?
KS: One of my favorites is 'Eye of The Beholder.' But I also recommend 'Time Enough At Last' and 'The Hitchhiker.' All of them have the quintessential TZ shock ending.
CN: Do you have any upcoming projects lined up that you can tell us about?
KS: I do. I have another Graphic Novel coming out sometime next year about Anonymous, the hacker collective. It was written by tech writer David Kushner, who I've previously collaborated with on 'Rise of the Dungeon Master'. This new book is going to examine the rise and fall of Anonymous and their legacy.
CN: How about any dream comics projects? Like a particular character, series, publisher, or other creators you’d like to work with?
KS: If someone offered me to write or draw She-hulk, I would do it no questions asked! Otherwise I prefer to come up with my own characters and storylines rather than ride some established IP.
CN: How can readers keep up with you and your work?
KS: korenshadmi.com, or @korenshadmi on instagram.
CN: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Koren.
KS: Of course, thanks for having me!
The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television is available now.