While the ahead-of-its-time The Twilight Zone has fascinated and influenced countless viewers since it first aired in 1959, the man behind the show—the one who introduced the episodes—is equally as intriguing. With his new graphic novel, The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television, Koren Shadmi looks back at the life of the legendary Rod Serling, exploring the complexities of the great creator before, during, and after The Twilight Zone, as well as his undeniable influence on the rise of television as not only a source of entertainment, but of thought-provoking (and oftentimes chilling) intellect. With The Twilight Man out now from Humanoids, we caught up with Shadmi for our latest Q&A feature to discuss researching Serling, the process of portraying his life in graphic novel form, and what he hopes readers will take away from this memoir.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Koren, and congratulations on The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television! When and how did you originally come up with the idea to tell Rod Serling’s life story in graphic novel form?
Koren Shadmi: I discovered The Twilight Zone very late in life, when it first became available to stream on Netflix (I grew up in Israel where the show never aired).
When I watched the episodes, I felt a strong connection to the material and visuals, and felt the show was way ahead of its time. I was also curious about the enigmatic host and creator of the show, who would sometimes introduce the show with an eternally lit cigarette in hand. Once I started reading about Serling’s life I realized that there’s a lot of potential here, and it would make for good material for a nonfiction biography.
What’s your favorite episode of The Twilight Zone?
Koren Shadmi: My favorite episode is the classic "Eye of The Beholder," which makes it to many top TZ lists. First off, it’s beautifully shot—very mysterious and stark looking with a ton of atmosphere. It’s also an amazing meditation on segregation and human’s tendency to judge others by their looks.
How much research did you do on Rod Serling’s life before you started working on The Twilight Man, and what was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned while diving into Serling’s personal history?
Koren Shadmi: I read some of the biographies about him, including his daughter’s account of his life. I watched much of his early teleplays, not all of which are available. I read interviews and listened to recordings of Serling speak—towards the end of his life he gave a lot of public speeches at universities. I loved finding out about his gig testing out experimental aviation devices, a task that was so dangerous he almost died once.
Taking on a biography of someone as influential as Rod Serling seems like an exciting yet daunting task—what were your emotions coming into this project? Did you experience a lot of nerves, or were you mostly just thrilled to work on this?
Koren Shadmi: I can’t say I was too nervous, It was a little daunting in the sense that he did so much in his life, and had so much material written about him that I just didn’t know what to include or what not to. But eventually I narrowed it down to what I thought was essential. I was very excited to work on this project since it was my first time writing a graphic novel non-fiction bio.
How long did it take you to write and illustrate The Twilight Man?
Koren Shadmi: Writing was about 4 months, and illustrating was roughly one year.
Outside of The Twilight Zone, what is your favorite Rod Serling creation?
Koren Shadmi: I really enjoyed [the Playhouse 90 episode] "The Velvet Alley." I didn’t really have the time and space to get into it too much in the book, but it was one of Serling’s best teleplays. It dealt with the corrosive nature of success in Hollywood, and was maybe one of his most honest and biographical works. I think it might still be available to watch somewhere on Youtube.
Is there one Rod Serling project in particular that was never green-lit that you’d love to see come to fruition?
Koren Shadmi: I’m not sure, I do know I would like to see The Loner, which was Serling’s short-lived western series. I was told it was just re-issued after being unavailable for many years. The series is a sort of cerebral, existential take on the western genre.
Did you make any alterations to your artwork or writing styles to fit the atmosphere and time periods of this graphic novel?
Koren Shadmi: I change my drawing approach for each project that I work on. If you looked at some of my other books you might think they were drawn by other artists. That being said, for The Twilight Man I chose a fairly realistic, detailed style. I also tried to use more black and shadows to make it feel more noir-ish
You teamed up with Humanoids to release The Twilight Man. What made them the perfect fit to publish this graphic novel, and how did you pitch the project to them?
Koren Shadmi: I packaged the book originally with me as a writer and a friend of mine as the artist. When Humanoids read the script, they loved it, but they wanted me to be the one drawing the story. I was a little hesitant knowing the amount of work this would be, but I think at the end it was a good idea. My friend also took it well and isn’t upset about not being part of the project.
Reading The Twilight Man, it’s amazing how much Rod Serling’s experiences in real life influenced his work on The Twilight Zone, including the darker tone of certain episodes. Were you surprised to see the connections between his reality and the stories and scripts that he wrote?
Koren Shadmi: One of my goals in this book was to show the man behind the show, and explain why The Twilight Zone was the unique show that it was. There’s a lot of incredible art that was created in the post-war years that is a direct result of the traumas of war. I think Serling never fully recovered from his harrowing service as a paratrooper, and he admits that writing was a sort of therapy for him.
What was the most difficult or rewarding process of creating The Twilight Man?
Koren Shadmi: The whole thing was difficult. But I would say the most rewarding part was the research and writing, since I never really did this type of project. It was a learning curve, but also incredibly interesting and fresh.
Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from The Twilight Man?
Koren Shadmi: I think there’s a lot of Twilight Zone fans out there that have wondered about the enigmatic creator/host/writer of the show. This is a very accessible way for them to read about his life story and how important he was to the formation of television.
With The Twilight Man out now from Humanoids, what other projects do you have coming up? Do you plan to do biographies of any other real-life historical figures? Also, where can our readers go online to keep up with you and your work?
Koren Shadmi: I have a book coming out in April next year called A For Anonymous about the hacker collective. It’s written by David Kushner, who I’ve collaborated with in the past. I will probably do another biography in the near future, but I don’t know who it will be about yet. You can find my work at www.korenshadmi.com.