Chapter 1 of the Cowboys and Aliens II web comic is complete and online. The comic will be returning from a two-week hiatus on November 19th, 2007. Until then, here’s an interview with the Cowboys and Aliens II creative team, along with a sneak peak of chapter 2 — ed. N.E. Lilly
Cowboys and Aliens II is a massive web comic project that picks up directly where the first Cowboys and Aliens graphic novel left off. Zeke, Verity, and War Hawk (as well as several others who you will most certainly see more of) have just defeated the army of Rado Dar. But, the story doesn’t end there, as a larger Angaarian force is headed straight for Earth. To defeat the threat, they must take the fight into space. It will be up to our heroes to outwit the technologically superior Angaarans on the Angaarians’ own soil!
Writer Alana Joli Abbott is the author of two fantasy novels, Into the Reach and Departure, the co-writer for Steampunk Musha RPG, and has contributed to several gaming resources. Ms. Abbott lives near New Haven, CT, where she often partakes of the city’s famous thin crust pizza. This is her first published comic.
Artist Rick Hershey lives in Myrtle Beach, SC, where he began his freelance career at the age of fifteen, providing artwork for magazines, local newspapers, murals, caricatures, t-shirts, and any other company that would give him a chance. Currently, Mr. Hershey spends most of his time managing Empty Room Studios, providing artwork for tabletop RPG’s, and directing independent films.
Letterer Gene Kelly is an illustrator and graphic designer who grew up in the Midwest and now resides in the suburbs of Brooklyn, NY. When not chained to the internet designing for “the man” he retreats to the world of comics and illustration, which is his second true love (the first being his lovely wife, Mary).
Creative Director Jeremy D. Mohler attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Inc. and the Kansas City Art Institute, where he graduated with a BFA in Illustration/Design. During the latter years of school and since graduation, Mr. Mohler has done a wide variety of freelance work for a variety of publishers, from full color covers, to black and white spot illustration, web-design, and art direction for Empty Room Studios and Baeg Tobar.
The title of Cowboys and Aliens II has recently changed from Cowboys and Aliens: Worlds at War. Why and how did that change come about?
Jeremy: Well, we decided to split the project up into two separate projects. We really wanted to follow the main characters from Cowboys and Aliens, but it was getting to be more and more difficult with the scope of Worlds at War. So, we decided to make them into two separate, unrelated projects so we could do both. With Cowboys and Aliens II, we’ll follow the main characters from Cowboys and Aliens. And the other project, Worlds at War, will feature alien invasions around the globe at around the same time period, though the aliens and stories will be entirely different and unrelated to Cowboys and Aliens.
How were you each drawn into this project?
Jeremy: I was actually approached by Dan Forcey, the VP of Content Development at Platinum to run the project after he saw my project, the online world of Baeg Tobar. They liked what they saw and were interested in having me manage and build the online world for Cowboys and Aliens much like I had done for Baeg Tobar.
Alana: I got a call from Jeremy Mohler, who was putting together a new team. I’d done some editorial work for him before, and he’d seen my comic script for Steampunk Musha, which Rick and I had started but hadn’t found a home for. The chance to do a comic that was practically guaranteed to get read was a big opportunity, and I jumped right in.
Rick: Well, Jeremy had talked to me about the project a bit at the start of the year. He hadn’t had anything finalized, but I had talked to him about wanting to do more comic work. I read the original comic and really thought I could have fun on the project.
Gene: Jeremy was assembling the Cowboys and Aliens team shortly after I first joined Empty Room Studios and was looking for a letterer. After seeing some other projects I had drawn and lettered, he asked if I was interested. And I was.
How did you each get involved with the Science Fiction genre?
Jeremy: I’ve actually always loved the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. I first began by reading novels and comics in the genre and just sort of graduated over to drawing and developing content based on those genres.
Alana: If by get involved you mean get interested in: Back to the Future, seventh grade. I loved that series. And actually, that was my first science fiction Western, too, looking back (though whether or not it’s a particularly good example is up for debate; I loved it in middle school). As far as writing goes, Cowboys and Aliens II is my first published science fiction.
Rick: My Dad for the most part, he always had tons of Sci-Fi material laying around mixed with fantasy and horror. Add in the fact I am a child of the 80’s and it was pretty much a non-stop fueling of fantastical elements. I mean, my cartoons were fantasy warriors fighting off space robot over-lords... no cutesy animals teaching me Spanish.
Gene: I grew up loving sci-fi. My folks actually took me to see Star Wars when I was less than a year old. Well, not that I was really able to watch it, but they took me with them. Apparently I slept through most of it.
As I got older I watched Star Trek and Dr. Who and read the works of authors like Roger Zelazny. That and the usual batch of sci-fi themed cartoons and comics. It’s not too surprsing I got involved in this stuff creatively when I got the chance.
What was your first introduction to Space Westerns?
Jeremy: I’m not sure how most define “Space Westerns”, but I would probably have to say that Star Wars was my first introduction.
Alana: Not counting Back to the Future 3 (which has time travel rather than space), I’d have to say Firefly, which I saw right from the very beginning. (I even got to do a market survey on the promo material, then had the release marked on my calendar from April until the fall...)
Rick: I actually have a couple: the first being the film Westworld, then from there, most likely the cartoon Bravestarr.
Gene: Probably the old Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers and Bravestarr cartoons.
How would you define “Space Western”?
Jeremy: I would define the “Space Western” genre as a story about carving your own place out of the big “unknown” or the “frontier”. I’m not so sure it’s always about how something appears—for instance, it doesn’t have to actually have “six guns” or “space ships” to qualify—rather it’s the heart of the story. Finding your own way against all odds—that, I believe, lies at the heart of a good western, whether it’s a straight up “western” or “sci-fi”. A “Space Western” just pulls in elements of both the “Science Fiction” and “Western” genres.
Alana: To steal a line from Joss Whedon: “Millenium Falcon—good. Stagecoach, better.” Crossing the things we love about science fiction and space travel with the things we love about exploring an undiscovered frontier: that’s a Space Western. Cowboys and Aliens are just a plus.
Rick: Well, I guess it can go both ways. I know a lot of people say it is a lot like Serenity/Firefly... which is a frontier story, except transposed to a backdrop of space exploration and settlement. But I think Science Fiction Western’s with actual cowboys and American Indians with Science Fiction elements are just as creative and enjoyable.
Gene: Not nearly as eloquently as the others. Heh. For me, the space western is the untamed adventure of the American West mixed with the high-concept strangeness
(or low-concept camp) of science fiction.
What do you think the attraction is to Space Westerns?
Jeremy: Well, the same attraction there was for straight up “Westerns”: The attraction of man vs. nature and man being triumphant. And obviously—there’s no “frontier” left, so the next great “frontier” will definitely be the universe itself.
Alana: Science fiction seems like the perfect place to expand the Frontier genre. There’s some debate out there that the Western is dead—to which I saw pshaw! It’s evolving. Space is just one of the directions where the Western can expand—and bring a little rugged sense into what’s sometimes far too pristine and military a setting.
Rick: It’s fun and imaginative. It’s taking elements that most people are very familiar with and giving them new settings to play with... I think generally people will always be excited by the touch of familiarity within an entire new concept.
Gene: Cowboys, space guns, bad western slang. What’s not to like?
What is your overarching philosophy for the creative direction of Cowboys and Aliens II?
Jeremy: Hmm. I’m not entirely sure how to put the answer to that into words. Really, the main two things I’m concerned with are a high quality, believable story, and solid artwork. Two things I find lacking in allot of material out there—both on the internet and in print. Now, I’m not saying we’re perfect and we’ve had a few bumps along the way, but I’m putting as much effort as I can into making sure we have as high a quality product as possible. I probably annoy the hell out of the creative team—I hope they don’t think I’m too overbearing!
How much guidance and oversight do you provide to the Creative Team?
Jeremy: I actually try to provide as much help as I can without being too overbearing. Being an artist myself, I probably work with Rick the most, generally helping him occasionally with storytelling and layouts (though he doesn’t usually need a whole lot of help), or other are related issues. Really, I just do whatever I can to really push the product and try to make it as strong as possible. I’ve worked with Alana long enough to know that she is an incredible writer, so I give her pretty much free reign to do her thing, though I do read all the scripts as she creates them. I’m here to help where or when ever I can. Mostly, I make sure we’re staying on schedule, make sure we have content to put up, make sure the story is going in an appropriate direction, and just your typical managerial duties.
How will the work you’re doing on Cowboys and Aliens II figure into the upcoming movie?
Jeremy: In all honesty, nothing we are doing now will have anything to do with the film. The upcoming film is based entirely off of the original Cowboys and Aliens graphic novel, which can be found here in full—http://www.drunkduck.com/CowboysAndAliens/.
How is writing a Western genre influenced work different than writing for another genre?
Alana: When I first started working on this project, I e-mailed the professor who had taught my Literature of the American West class back in College. While he recommended just watching a lot of Westerns, he also gave me a list of themes that are typical in the genre: the shrinking frontier, coming of age, the definition of being a “man,” reinvention, and several more. Just having that list of themes and ideas made me start thinking about the story differently. Sure, we’re telling a story about an alien invasion. How does that story become part of the tradition of the West?
What did you do to prepare yourself for writing the continuation of the original Cowboys and Aliens story?
Alana: We’ve done a bunch of research, though we’ve focused on various parts of history as we go. I wanted to start right away by spotlighting the Apache culture that had been a little skimmed over in the previous volume, so I started doing a bit of research on Apache creation stories, Athabaskan words that might have been used among the Apachean groups, and the relationships between the several different Apache tribes and the surrounding American Indian groups (not to mention the white settlers). We headed into the script from there, trying to do a recap for folks who might not have read the original, build the characters a little bit, and start getting the characters to a place where they could act.
Why did the storyline of Cowboys and Aliens II move outside of the American West?
Alana: Right now? Because the aliens aren’t there. I have no doubts that we’ll be returning to the West, but at the moment, we’re giving the character to take the West to the world (and to space!) through their own actions and sensibilities. As they say... you can take a Cowboy out of the West, but you can’t take the West out of the Cowboy.
You mentioned “easter-eggs” that you put into the comic… can you point some of them out?
Rick: Well, the first thing, and probably the most obvious is the space ship designs for the two main alien fractions. Both are designed after U.S. landmarks. The first being the Seattle Space Needle and the second being the observatory towers from the 1964 New York World’s Fair. As for why I did this, well I wanted the space tech of the aliens to be really “steam and steel” as far as their look goes, something very reminiscent of the U.S.’s Industrial Age, but you know... it can fly and shoot lasers. So, I wanted to go with low-tech look and feel, and thought it would be cool to go with something very much American as far as UFO design.
Another thing is Kai. I tried to make sure all the characters were consistent in their looks, but Kai constantly is changing from panel to panel. Her hair, facial features, etc. I did this because she is our resident shape-changer, and thought it would be interesting if small changes to what she looked like were constantly there... but you still know she is Kai.
What are your inspirations for the look and feel of the comic?
Rick: Well, I didn’t really change my style all too much for this- but there are certain thoughts I kept hold of as I worked on this. First is that everything should look real—even the fantastical. I thought this idea would help ground the stories visual as something that really happened, was perhaps historical feeling, instead of your typical hero in tights comics.
The second thing was to focus on specific characters whenever the chance was available. With such a big cast, Five main characters and several supporting characters, any chance I can spot light one character I try to make it all about them. I think my heavy blacks and gritty style just add to all that.
Were there any other Science Fiction or Western artists that you researched that directly impacted your work on the comic?
Rick: My two favorite western painters are Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. Both of them traveled with cowboys and help paint the larger then life idealized vision we have of the cowboys and the frontier life. Without these two guys we might not have ever had the western American hero at all.
Can you let me in on any exclusive information, unknown insights, or trade secrets?
Jeremy: I’d hate to give too much away, but we’re planning to take the fight to the aliens. That sounds cryptic enough.
Alana: I tried listening to Americana to write my Cowboys and Aliens scripts, but bluegrass and instrumental country gelled much better. Does that count?
Gene: The Omega 13 device transports its users back in time 13 seconds, but don’t tell. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of good lettering to a successful comic. It can easily make or break a page’s clarity and readability. A good letterer will understand the audience’s natural reading tendencies and make sure the page flows without the reader consciously thinking about it. Chances are if the reader ever does notice the lettering it is because the job wasn’t done well and the reader experience has become broken or confusing. So be like a ninja, young letterers: silent but effective.
Rick: Well, In Cowboys and Aliens II I add a lot of little homages and “easter eggs” in my pages. I’m not ready to discuss them all yet—but might be doing a commentary of sorts down the line for each page. As for trade secrets... well, I’ll let everyone know that Cowboys and Aliens II is done entirely digital. Lots of people don’t know that for some reason.
What else can we expect to see from you in the near future?
Jeremy: I’ve actually got several projects in the works—a second one for Platinum called Worlds at War which also plays around with the concept of aliens invading earth in the late 1800’s, though rather than focusing on America, we’ll be exploring how the different cultures of the world during that time period handle the invasions. That should launch around the end of the year.
I’m also going to be making some announcements about my project Baeg Tobar toward the end of the year. I’ve got some exciting things happening on that front as well. So, there’s plenty to keep me busy!
Gene: I’ll be continuing to letter Cowboys and Aliens II, as well as the upcoming Worlds at War project, which should be a blast. Additionally, there are misc. illustration projects on the horizon which I’m looking forward to diving into.
Rick: Well, I’m working on my own comic with Alana for my Steampunk Musha setting. I also have an art book coming out that collects all my illustrations for 2007 and it’s going to be a big book. Other than that, I’ll be starting work on the next chapter of Cowboys and Aliens II.
Alana: I’m lucky to be getting to work on a second Platinum project that spun out of research we won’t be using for Cowboys and Aliens II. It’s called Worlds at War and deals with a similar concept: what happens when aliens invade a low-tech Earth? We’ll get to explore many different settings, and the star of the show will be a New Yorker newspaper man with an insatiable need to know the Truth. Think Mulder with a bowler hat. I’m also getting back to that Steampunk Musha script that Rick and I have been kicking around, as well as working on some short fiction and a new novel.
Cowboys and Aliens II: Chapter 2 Sneak Peek
N.E. Lilly is the editor of SpaceWesterns.com. When he isn’t reading submissions or indulging his love of the Space Western sub-genre, he’s developing websites for Science Fiction professionals and organizations through GreenTentacles.
Alana Joli Abbott is the author of two fantasy novels, Into the Reach and Departure, the co-writer for Steampunk Musha RPG, and has contributed to several gaming resources. Ms. Abbott lives near New Haven, CT, where she often partakes of the city’s famous thin crust pizza. This is her first published comic.
Rick Hershey lives in Myrtle Beach, SC, where he began his freelance career at the age of fifteen, providing artwork for magazines, local newspapers, murals, caricatures, t-shirts, and any other company that would give him a chance. Currently, Mr. Hershey spends most of his time managing Empty Room Studios, providing artwork for tabletop RPG’s, and directing independent films.
Gene Kelly is an illustrator and graphic designer who grew up in the Midwest and now resides in the suburbs of Brooklyn, NY. When not chained to the internet designing for “the man” he retreats to the world of comics and illustration, which is his second true love (the first being his lovely wife, Mary).
Jeremy D. Mohler attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Inc. and the Kansas City Art Institute, where he graduated with a BFA in Illustration/Design. During the latter years of school and since graduation, Mr. Mohler has done a wide variety of freelance work for a variety of publishers, from full color covers, to black and white spot illustration, web-design, and art direction for Empty Room Studios and Baeg Tobar.