Comic Book Yeti contributor Andrew Irvin is back again, discussing Resident Alien with series creators, Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse. Join Andrew as he chats with Peter and Steve about their history together, the collaborative process, and seeing the Resident Alien TV show come to life.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Peter and Steve, it’s a distinct pleasure to have the opportunity to discuss the journey you’ve taken us on with Resident Alien. Thank you for making time to sit down for an interview today.
PETER HOGAN: And thank you.
CBY: I would be derelict in my duties if I didn’t acknowledge the plethora of fantastic contributions to the industry you’ve both made over the decades. So you’d worked on The Dreaming together in the late '90s, but when did Resident Alien arise in your conversations prior to its initial publication in 2011, and what sort of conversations went into building the world, particularly given the previous experience both of you have as writers with your own distinct stylistic approaches? PH: By early 2010 I’d reached the point where the time had really come for me to create something original of my own. Up 'til then I’d always written other people’s characters, which meant following a template that had already been established by Neil Gaiman, or by Alan Moore or someone else. I knew in any situation what those characters might do or say, but I’d never really created anything major of my own, where I’d have to find out what the characters were like as I went along, and it was time to give that a try. I wasn’t about to head into that territory alone, so I called up Steve, because we’d always worked well together in the past. I asked him what he felt like working on, and he immediately said "something with aliens." So we talked for a good long while about the specifics – in general terms what we wanted the alien to be like, what the story should be like, and what we wanted to avoid.
STEVE PARKHOUSE: I’d been out of comics for a few years. Peter and I had collaborated on an illustrated biography of Bob Dylan, amongst other things. I’d done some educational books plus a bit of teaching at the local uni and was really heading into mainstream when Peter contacted me with the idea of working together again. I was hankering after a story about a real alien, as opposed to the usual xenophobic nonsense in books, comics and movies that had been a mainstay of popular culture for decades. Most of the initial conversations around building the world of Patience were in our individual heads – and in my case, innumerable forays into Google. From my own visits to the States, I knew the kind of environment we needed, so it was really a question of collecting visual references, which now amount to thousands of files. Quite a few of the characters were drawn from observation, which is something that had characterized my work for some time.
PH: We did a five-page sample of script and finished art, and we sent it out to publishers. Mike Richardson at Dark Horse got back to us straight away, told us what he thought the story needed to make it work, and signed us up to do three eight-page episodes to appear in Dark Horse Presents. So, we started work on that in late 2010, and it came out the following year. At the time, we thought that’s all we might get…but Mike had seen the potential Resident Alien might have in another medium, and so he just kept on asking us to produce story after story while he was off talking to Hollywood for the next ten years, and the whole thing just grew and grew, in a very organic way.
CBY: Peter, you mention in the preface to the first Resident Alien omnibus that as soon as you started writing this project, a television adaptation was in your mind’s eye, and you noted the differences in pacing of character development between each medium. Steve, did this dual consideration leap off the page to you right away as well, and how did this inform the initial discussions around character design, setting, and staging of your action in the comics? When you’re working solely in a print medium, over-the-top, fantastic settings cost around as much as the mundane within the margins of the page, but with the production budget of screen adaptation in mind, how did it constrain or guide the both of you in moving the story forward?
PH: Well, the TV show was something we hoped might happen someday, and Mike thought we had a good chance of it actually getting off the ground, but like I say, it still took over a decade to become a reality. So, on a daily basis I don’t think we really gave it a second thought. We just concentrated on doing the comic, and that’s all we were dealing with. SP: I was too focused on how to interpret the scripts to concern myself with other media requirements. I was just happy to be busy, gathering references and psyching myself up to be back in the game. I’d taken a couple of years off to illustrate a series of children’s books, which was very enjoyable, but lacked the edge that working in comics can generate. I was still working on the first cover when a TV series was mentioned. I tried to dial down my enthusiasm at the idea because I’d been down those paths before. But when I realised that Harry’s story was shaping up like a soap opera, I knew I’d have to respond with appropriate artwork – basically low key and naturalistic. Since that’s my natural style anyway, I didn’t feel constrained. Essentially, Peter set the tone and I provided the embroidery. We both knew what was required, so conversation was pretty minimal.
CBY: Steve, you mention the minutiae of drawing ordinary things – populating a world with the elements that go unnoticed, and you specifically mentioned the undercarriage of vehicles. I notice your proclivity to drop in some very nicely rendered vehicles in the background, even when they’re not necessary to the foreground action. To what degree are these scene elements scripted in? And when they’re not, Steve, how do you determine what to throw into a panel? Are there certain objects you really enjoy illustrating, and can you think of any items you choose to avoid putting on the page if given the option?
SP: Peter has mastered the art of delivering scripts of great economy – and not too much visual detail. I’d like to think he trusts me enough to choose the staging that’s appropriate to the scene. I am essentially a figurative artist, creating characters is what I enjoy most. I struggle with anything that doesn’t have a face, like buildings, vehicles, anything inanimate. I would avoid buildings, interiors, cars, ships, trains, robots, rocket ships, industrial machinery if I could. But I love tractors. Especially old ones. And windmills. Unfortunately they don’t crop up much (if at all) so I’m stuck with my shortcomings. I’m still practising. That’s the challenge of comics.
CBY: So I can’t help but notice the parallels to Northern Exposure (Doctor stuck in a small town with a nurse from the indigenous community, feels like a fish out of water, but gets to know the community and find his niche). Instead of your sci-fi patina, it’s magical realism, but I thought I’d lead with asking, to what degree – if at all – was it an influence? Resident Alien has cast a narrative cold opening with a murder in a small Northwest town setting, also distinctly evoking Twin Peaks, which is further along the horror/noir spectrum. I don’t want to impose impressions any further, so could both of you please share what creative influences have gone into the mix as you’ve discussed both the plot arcs and tones you’ve built together?
PH: We needed to have Harry located somewhere comparatively remote, and I opted for the Pacific Northwest, just because I was picturing fir trees in my head. I’ve never actually seen Northern Exposure, but I’ll admit that Twin Peaks was very much on my mind…and also The X-Files, because that often had lots of fir trees in it as well. Beyond that, I was probably vaguely influenced by things that featured a stranded alien, from My Favorite Martian through to The Man Who Fell To Earth. SP: I never saw Northern Exposure, so I can’t really comment. Nor did I watch Twin Peaks on a regular basis. Since my contribution was to be purely visual, I took cues from mostly European sources; artists who were expert in depicting normal human interactions. Romance comics for instance. Spanish and Italian artists were and still are masters of everyday imagery. Classic American artists like Hal Foster and Milton Caniff. The British artist Jim Holdaway – and my all time favourite, Victor de la Fuente, the Spanish war artist. I must also cite Victor Ambrus, the book illustrator, and the animations of Studio Ghibli. CBY: To that end, you’ve been deliberate in the inclusion of Asta’s indigenous heritage as both a distinguishing element of her character and factor in her relationship to the world around her, particularly in scenes with her father and her attunement to Harry’s presence. They aren’t frequent, but what sort of deliberation and research went into the construction of the dream world she and her father explore, including the costumes, color palette, and imagery? The cover imagery pulling from these designs is certainly evocative of some of The Sandman imagery - how might both the incorporation of dreamwalking mythology and the visual vocabulary draw upon that initial creative experience you both shared with The Dreaming?
PH: Dan and Asta came about partly because indigenous people seemed to fit easily into that part of the world. Also, I needed someone that Harry could talk to and confide in, who had at least some idea that he wasn’t just a normal human being…so someone who had shamanic abilities seemed like a good idea. I saw some internet comments about how I was making this cliched assumption that all indigenous people were spiritually advanced, or something along those lines.
Which really wasn’t the case. I was saying this one guy is like that, and his daughter obviously has a mild touch of it as well. In the books there are also other indigenous people who aren’t like that at all. Anyway, as far as I’m aware indigenous people have been largely happy to see such a positive representation, both in the comics and in the TV show. I’ve done quite a bit of reading about Native American mythology over the years, though obviously that all varies quite a lot from one Indian nation to another. For that reason I’ve always avoided saying which tribe Dan and Asta are a part of. Anyway, I really wasn’t sure how I was going to portray Dan’s shamanic abilities until Steve came up with a sketch of Asta in this striking native outfit, and I immediately thought of using dreams as a vehicle. SP: I’m no expert in anthropology, so I thought it would be wise to be non-specific in creating Asta’s heritage. I had no direct access to any indigenous people, but my interest in shamanism, although limited, is deeply personal. It’s been a strong pulse in my inner life, and I knew that visions and dreams are fundamental to human metaphysical experience, regardless of tribe or culture. Celtic and Nordic mythology are deeply layered in the British psyche and my interest in both was formed decades before The Sandman. There’s an argument to be made for the link between art and magic – so I depended on instinct to create something that looked “right” and then backed it up with research. I could spend years doing research, and then miss every available deadline, so the accuracy of the imagery was a secondary consideration, while hoping that I was causing no offence. PH: From then on, virtually all the shamanic stuff we did was dream-based, which meant we could do some really interesting stuff visually. CBY: Beyond your previous experience together, you’ve both had the benefit of watching the comic industry evolve substantially over the years. As the second omnibus goes to print and the SyFy series has been renewed for a third season, what reflections can you share on how Resident Alien stands apart from, or as a continuation of, both of your past work in terms of internal factors in your own creative process, and external factors in the comic audience globally? Do you have ideas of why it’s resonating so strongly from the discussions you’ve had with fans, critics, and other industry professionals?
PH: I’ve been writing comics for a long time, and many of the projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on have been quite thoughtful and mature in nature – I’m talking about the Sandman spin-off stories, and the work I did for Alan Moore’s ABC line. To me, at any rate, Resident Alien is basically a development of all that. It’s a very human-based story, even if the lead character comes from another planet. One of the things that immediately seemed to touch a nerve with our readership was the fact that we had created an alien who wasn’t a monster. That hadn’t been done for quite a long time, and the world was obviously more than ready for it. As you know, that all plays out slightly differently in the TV show, but Alan Tudyk is still the guy that you’re rooting for. SP: In all honesty, I’ve had very little discussion with fans, critics or industry professionals. But I’ve discerned the evolution in the industry that you refer to. The whole premise or content of this medium has become a lot more sophisticated. Writing and drawing comic books may or may not be an artform, but storytelling most definitely is. The medium itself has become much more part of the mainstream, while remaining unique in its potential. This is probably due to the change in readership, who demand something a little more gratifying and who have driven the cross pollination into film. Resident Alien very clearly stands apart from my past work, which was largely concerned with caricature. My origins are in children’s humour comics, where I basically learned my trade as a writer and I’ve drawn cartoons since I was a kid. I believe Resident Alien resonates with a current readership because it’s essentially an easy read, but it doesn’t talk down. One of the most gratifying comments that I’ve read so far was on Amazon, where we were getting five star reviews. A man wrote in his review that his teenage daughter didn’t read comics, but she reads Resident Alien. So there it is: it’s a comic book for people who don’t read comics. CBY: Having worked with a variety of publishers on various titles and properties, could you relate for our readers the process of coming to work with Dark Horse on the comic release? What has the arrangement looked like in terms of production schedule, emphasizing quarterly over monthly publication, and their support in both delivering the books to market in the form you’ve wanted, as well as establishing arrangements for the television adaptation?
PH: I think Dark Horse have been superb throughout. They don’t mess with it creatively – they just enable the story to come out in the best way possible. Doing it as a series of miniseries has worked out really well – and we’ve slowly built our readership along the way. What I’ve noticed with the first Omnibus is that it seemed to attract a whole new batch of readers, perhaps because it’s a really chunky handful of reading. These days the question I get asked most often is, when’s the second Omnibus coming out ? CBY: On the note of the television adaptation, how did Chris Sheridan come into the picture, and what instilled confidence in both of you that he was the right person to carry things into production? As you’ve mentioned, there’s a huge team involved in producing the show, and I’m sure he’s responsible for carrying much of that responsibility. However, from the credits, you’ve both been involved in writing every episode of the series, which deviates substantially from the comic in some specific, fundamental ways. How does working with a room of writers differ from the dichotomy you’ve enjoyed on the comic, and can you relate some ways in which the priorities have shifted from page to screen?
PH: You’d really have to ask Keith Goldberg at Dark Horse Entertainment about how Chris came on board, but he was evidently the right person for the job. As you say, the TV show is obviously very different to the comic, but it’s also something that’s really well done and extremely enjoyable in its own right, and we’re both very pleased with it. The nice thing is that most people seem to like both the comic and the TV versions, which is pretty much everything we could have hoped for. But the TV show is entirely down to Chris and his writing team. Steve and I get a credit simply because we created the comic, so the show couldn’t exist without us…but neither of us have contributed to the writing of the show. I mean, occasionally they ask me my opinion about something, or ask me a direct question about the comic’s background, but that’s as far as it goes.
CBY: Since both of you have worked on properties created by others, how did this process differ in building a multi-media brand up from scratch? How much engagement in casting and production choices throughout the process has been offered or sought from your side, and what sort of delights and debacles have arisen as a consequence of broadening this creative endeavour beyond the conversations you have with each other (and your publishing team at Dark Horse) to communicating a vision to a whole television production unit, and more broadly, the SyFy network management/executive team?
PH: Again, I’m sure Mike Richardson and Keith Goldberg had some involvement there, but the TV people just left the two of us to get on with the comic.
CBY: Returning at the close from our dive into business matters, can you both share with our readers your recommendations around comics, books, films, TV, etc.? Beyond the forthcoming Resident Alien omnibus and recently aired season 2 episodes, from recent releases to classics you view as indispensable – what shouldn’t we be missing out upon, and what should we pick up next?
PH: What you should pick up next is Resident Alien Volume Seven : The Book Of Love. That starts coming out as a comic in November, and the collected trade edition is due to be published – I think – in June 2023. As for recommendations…I can never remember anything when people ask me, but the best movie of the year by a mile was Everything Everywhere All At Once. SP: I’m still influenced by films I saw at my school film club. I first saw Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai there, which sparked off my love of Japanese cinema. You can get a lot of Kurosawa’s major films on DVD. Also the great John Ford westerns. Studio Ghibli, of course. More recently, Guy Ritchie’s Snatch with an amazing performance by Brad Pitt. Inglorious Basterds, the list could be endless. Bookwise: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, invaluable to fans and professionals alike. Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. Anything and everything by Theodore Sturgeon. Comics? No, I don’t read ‘em. I just write and draw them.
CBY: I’d like to extend my sincere thanks for the time you’ve taken to sit down and field these questions today. Please share any links or other items of importance you’d like us to publish for our readers, and we will be sure to include them below. We look forward to seeing more of your creations in the future! PH: Thanks!