The Eyes Have It: An Interview With `The Silver Coin’ #14 Writer Pornsak Pichetshote
by Tom Smithyman
Multiple Eisner Award-nominee Pornsak Pichetshote, known for his work on The Good Asian, Daytripper and The Unwritten, recently joined the creative team of The Silver Coin for issue #14. In a story out this Wednesday, Pichetshote writes about the horror of 2020 and the pandemic’s impact on a couple. In an exclusive interview, he discusses his own pandemic experience, how it shaped this story and why he focused the story on eyes.
Tom Smithyman: This story is the first of the series to be set during the pandemic. Why did you choose that timeframe?
Pornsak Pichetshote: The story follows a couple through their highs and lows during the 2020 lockdown – how the whole event doubled down on the cracks in their relationship – and how the coin complicated it even further. The story’s told in two tracks: the present day and the flashbacks which move backwards in time, telling the story of their year in reverse.
As for why during the pandemic, I’m sure part of it was research laziness. I just wrapped The Good Asian, which had intense historical research, so I didn’t want to jump into anything that would throw me back into that kind of detailed work again so soon. But the other aspect of it to me was I was watching so much TV that was bending over backwards not to mention the pandemic or Covid. And while I totally understand and relate to the decision-making process – it was a traumatic time that we’re all still trying to figure out how to process, and we’re all still very much traumatized by it – it made me start to wonder: at what point does refusing to acknowledge it become unhealthy?
At what point does it become denial? Even with this story, I’m very worried if it’s maybe too soon. Do people not want to think about it or be reminded about it? Does integrating it in stories cheapen those events and the way they impacted people’s lives? And the truth is, I don’t know. So for me, the story was my attempt at trying to ask those questions and talk about that, using it as a backdrop to tell this story about a couple that might be on the verge of breaking up and dress the whole thing up as a horror comic.
Smithyman: With mentions of the pandemic, George Floyd, the 2020 election and the hording of toilet paper, your story feels like you are trying to exercise the demons (maybe literally) of the past few years. Was writing this therapeutic or did it dredge up the dread you left behind?
Pichetshote: I think it was partly therapeutic in that it was a reminder of touchstones that – for all the horror of that year – they were things that we all went through together. There’s something about that knowledge to me, for whatever reason, is somewhat reassuring.
But honestly, I think the real way it was therapeutic was because it was dealing with the topic of break-ups. I know a lot of people whose relationships with friends and loved ones are different coming out of lockdown – some blossomed into more than friendships. Some ended. Some changed irrevocably. I went through a break-up of sorts coming out of the lockdown (a very, very different one, though, from the one I wrote about, but enough that I could tap into the feelings of it), so for me, this story was partly my way of processing it and helped me funnel my ongoing thoughts about it.
Smithyman: What was your pandemic experience? How did you cope during that time?
Pichetshote: I think everyone’s pandemic experience was pretty unique, and I suppose mine was as well. My mother lives with my sister in Los Angeles, which is also where I live. But my sister’s a doctor, and my mom’s high-risk. So when the world started shutting down, the family was very concerned about my mom living with my sister and her family because we didn’t know if she might inadvertently bring something back from work. So I decided to have mom move in with me into my one-bedroom apartment. It was pretty much me and Mom for about a year to a year-and-a-half, until vaccines started to enter the picture. Because she’s high risk, I saw no one during that time.
My only pod was with my sister’s family. Thank God, I had work to keep me busy, because living with my mother again in such close quarters was…a lot. I was working on The Good Asian at the time, while writing on staff of a TV show, so that occupied my days while my mother and I watched TV together during the evenings. And good things came out of that time: My family and I definitely got a lot closer, and so did my mother and me. But it was a lot, and being able to escape into the worlds of my work helped get me through it.
Smithyman: Was it difficult coming into a series like The Silver Coin after more than a dozen issues, or does the episodic nature of series make it easier to tell a tale?
Pichetshote: First of all, I have to say, I am such a fan of the book, and artist Michael Walsh has done such an amazing job bringing some of the best writers currently working on it, that for me, I really felt the pressure to bring my A-game. So it was less the episodic nature of the series that made it hard and more the bar of quality it’s established that really made me want to pull all the stops.
But one of the things I really enjoyed – besides getting to work with an artist who’s as much of the complete package as Michael – is the chance to be more formally experimental than I might be on one of my own books. There’s a lot of writers who work like this, but just to pick one out of a hat: I’m very jealous of a writer like Tom King for many, many reasons. One of them is that by writing an ongoing series where the premise is already established, he can take an issue off and just experiment with form, the way I enjoyed watching him do on his run of Batman.
I try to experiment with form as much as I can in my books, but because so much of it is trying to serve the plot of a new concept I’ve introduced in a way that really gives readers a bang for their buck, I feel like there are places I can’t go in my experimentation since I’m still trying to win readers over issue by issue. That pressure is alleviated somewhat when you’re working on a pre-established series. So I’m really grateful to be asked to work on something like The Silver Coin, which is already a beloved book where I get the luxury to experiment – and hopefully, in the process, expand the reader’s conception of the book.
Smithyman: What do you think the overall theme of The Silver Coin is?
Pichetshote: I wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking for Michael, who I think should talk about the overall themes of the book, but there’s definitely a monkey paw aspect to the way the coin explores desire, coupled with themes of perception.
Smithyman: Eyeballs play a large role in the story. Why do you think we’re so squeamish about our eyes and what were you trying to get across by featuring them so prominently?
Pichetshote: I think we’re squeamish about all the parts of our body, but I think, especially for those of us who consume visual entertainment (which is pretty much all of us, especially comic book readers), it’s such a vital and valued part of our lives, and yet it’s so fragile. I’m constantly worried about my eyes going, because not just my livelihood but the things I love to enjoy are tied into seeing things. What happens if we can’t see? I think Michael captured that so perfectly in his cover – a needle going into an eyeball. In some ways, since the story is about a relationship in trouble, that cover also stands in for how something as vital as love is also so easily destroyed if we’re not careful.
Also, since the coin itself incorporates an eye, those visuals made sense to build off of in ways that play into very specific story turns that I probably shouldn’t get into too specifically for spoiler reasons.
Smithyman: What was the collaboration like with artist Michael Walsh? How did discuss the story and the artwork together, or did you keep the work more separated?
Pichetshote: Working with Michael was a dream. It really, really was. First of all, he’s just such a beast of an artist, and it seems like he can handle everything. But the stuff he cares about the most is the stuff I care about the most – the acting of the characters, the emotion of it all. And then he just builds these great horrific visuals from there. We worked in pretty much the way I ideally love to work.
We have a kick-off call where we talk about what we’re into, so I can get a sense of what he wants to do and what he likes to do – and vice versa – which is even more important in a book like this which is his baby. From there, I have a story I want to tell, and I definitely have a ton of ideas regarding how to tell it. But Michael does what the great comics artists do. He picks the ideas he likes and takes a kernel of the ideas he doesn’t, re-inventing them in a way that makes them visually undeniable. I think even regular readers and fans of the book will be able to see Michael pushing himself to new places in this issue – especially in the coloring. I just got my comps and am pretty excited by it.
Smithyman: Thanks so much for your thoughtful answers.