‘These Have To Be Stories About People We Care About': Kelly Sue DeConnick On Dark Horse’s New ‘Prometheus’ Comics
Dark Horse Comics is bringing back its Alien comics franchise in a big way this year with a set of four mini-series set immediately after the most recent movie, Prometheus. The company has revealed the names of the four series writers: Aliens will be by Chris Roberson, Predators will be written by Joshua Williamson, Paul Tobin will write the Prometheus series, and Aliens vs. Predator will be by Christopher Sebela.
The company's been teasing a "fifth writer" on the franchise, and she's actually holding down the position you might call head writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick. DeConnick will be writing a double-sized "wrap-up" issue to close out the initial run of books, and she oversaw a lot of the goings-on in the writers' room as the series were being put together. We chatted with her by phone to find out how that experience was different from other comics writing jobs, and just what readers can expect from the first full-on Aliens/Predator/Prometheus comics crossover.
ComicsAlliance: To start, I wanted to ask what got you interested in doing a comic about Prometheus. Licensed comics aren’t always something that you hear about a creator doing at the stage where you are in your career, where you’re established and doing a lot of creator-owned work. So what attracted you to this property, this licensed project?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: I went to my council of consigliere. I went to [Matt] Fraction and [Brian Michael] Bendis and Warren Ellis about the gig. I was really dismissive of licensed properties. Ellis particular was like, oh contraire. “The guys who did the Alien comics for Dark Horse, [Mark Verheiden] made his bones doing the Alien comic.”
There was that, and the thing about it that was super tempting for me on a personal level was they were doing it—the Alien, Prometheus, AVP, and Predator books—were all going to be done in a writers’ room. They were offering me a semi-editorial position in that writers' room. And I had been jealous, frankly, of Matt [Fraction]’s room experiences. Both at Marvel and in the TV work that he’d done. I wanted to see, what’s that like? Can I do it? I think I’d be good at it! Let’s find out.
CA: So is it almost a head writer position? Or a show runner position?
KSD: I think when [Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief] Scott [Allie] offered it to me, it was lead writer.
I got to read everybody’s outlines and they want feedback from me on everything. It was pretty cool. It turns out I really like the writers group. That’s the thing I enjoy. Even when it’s not going that well, it’s a thing I enjoy.
CA: It sounds like this process has been going on for a while now.
KSD: Yeah, it has.
CA: A group of writers have assembled in a room, you’ve gotten to look at pitches. How long have you been involved in this?
KSD: Months. This has been going on for quite a while.
This is a licensed property that’s a super active universe. And an old universe. Not just that there’s years and years of history within the universe. But this, you know - this has been going on since 1979. So we actually had the experience of books being written and drawn and then having the studio say, “Oh wait, no. Not that.” We had to kind of start from scratch, which was amazing. I never experienced anything like that. It’s always so - once the inks are down, you’re going to have to fix it in dialogue. [laughs]
Whatever it is, too bad. Stuff got scrapped, entirely scrapped. We kind of went back to the drawing board literally after books were written and drawn. It kind of ended up being this incredibly cool thing, I think all of the books are better for it. But yeah, having the whole thing blown up after we were already in it was fascinating.
CA: That leads me to two follow ups. One, you talked about this being sort of like a TV writers’ room. This is kind of happening in a way similar to the way that a TV show is made, or even a movie. Where you have reshoots after a script is changed. Or if there’s a test screening and something just doesn’t go over very well. That is something that seems more specific to those media than comics.
I just wonder if it seemed like something beyond a comics experience to you, to be doing this.
KSD: Comics are a very collaborative art form, unless you’re a lone cartoonist doing the book from the ground up yourself. If you are me and you do not draw, they are a collaborative art form. I have a theater background, and for me it’s very much the same kind of discipline where there are other artists who are bringing their talents to the project. You have to curtail your control freak a certain amount. As the writer, you’re still ultimately on your own there.
With the room, when it comes time to write your script, you’re in the trenches by yourself. But I have to say, talking it through with this group of people, simply put, was a much more social experience than I've ever had before. It’s fascinating.
CA: You mentioned that this went to the studio and it was the studio that would say, sometimes, “No, this is not what we can do.”
KSD: I should clarify that Dark Horse has been at this a very long time. They know what they’re doing.
CA: They had Star Wars forever and the Alien license.
KSD: And the Whedon stuff. It wasn’t like they were, “We’ll just go ahead and do it, I’m sure the studio will approve.” It was a thing, everything had been approved. Everything was all the way it was supposed to be and they came back and said, “Oh well, we’re not going to be able to do this one part of it after all and we need you to change this.” We were into the process at that point, but it’s their property.
CA: What surprised me more than anything was you describing it as a positive experience, something that ultimately improved the work.
KSD: Sure, I’m not writing a check, it was a great experience for me! [laughs]
CA: I’m curious how it got to that point. Is it a matter of just bringing you back to take a second look at a scene?
KSD: The way that all of this is structured, it’s a staggered schedule and I am writing the wrap up. I'm writing the last piece of the puzzle and so its very easy for me to say it was fun and awesome because I actually hadn’t written anything to get blown up when that happened. The people who had their scripts turned in and drawn, I think there was actually one person who was on their second script. They probably did not think it was as awesome as I did.
I think, in the end, we all like it better. I think that’s probably the case. Everyone has remained remarkably positive in the room. That’s the thing I’ve been really impressed with. It’s a pretty pleasant atmosphere.
CA: I want to get into your approach to Prometheus itself. We’ve been talking process, I want to get into story and how it relates to the movie.
Prometheus is connected to Alien/Aliens and those movies, but it's kind of its own self-contained thing as well, its own separate franchise, and there's really only one movie to go off of. Is this a side story to the movie?
KSD: No. This takes place after the movie. Like we’re doing the sequel, only it’s in a comic.
The Ridley Scott universe is a super rich universe. There is stuff being developed everywhere. There’s also a video game too, that somehow fits into the chronology to all of this. At least one video game, there’s one in development right now. We are firmly in that universe.
CA: Did you get any marching orders or tips at the beginning? Because it seems to me like the movie Prometheus is destined for a movie sequel. Did you get any “avoid this” tips at the beginning for what you can’t cover?
KSD: Yes we did. I totally cannot elaborate on that.
CA: Fair enough. So it sounds like there isn't much division between Prometheus and Alien anymore. I remember when the movie Prometheus was coming out, there was a special caution being given to say that this is something separate from the Alien movies. Even to the point where there was this discussion of, "Is it an Alien prequel at all? How tied into Alien is it, really?"
CA: Once you’ve seen the movie, I think there’s no doubt, but before the movie came out—
KSD: I just think that Ridley Scott just likes to jack with people. That’s what I think.
CA: [laughs] Perhaps that’s all it is.
KSD: I’m going to get a phone call for saying that. I think that’s the case.
CA: From Ridley himself? A personal call?
CA: It seems clear with this comic that whole distinction has been pushed aside. You guys are viewing it all as one big--
KSD: That is not a thing. We never once have been vaguely coy about it at all. No. It has been firmly, oh yes, here’s the chronology and this takes place here. Trying to puzzle this stuff out, I literally have a four inch binder of print outs and notes and research.
All of this, what these comic books all have to come down to is the story, and this has to be stories about characters that we give a damn about. So we have to create for you people, real people in this world that you can quickly become attached to such that it matters to you if they are in danger.
That’s it, ultimately. All of the rest of this stuff is window dressing. It’s fascinating, chariots-of-the-gods window dressing, and you can lose weeks to it if you so choose. But if you are not careful to keep your eye on the prize, you’re book is going to suck and I do not want any of these books to suck.
If you want to read a coffee table book that is a series about what the meaning of all of this stuff is, there are websites which I wish I could refer you to. There are YouTube videos galore and all of that stuff is fascinating and exciting and I love that they did give us some permission to have some red meat in the books with regard to answers about the universe. But ultimately, these have to be stories about people we care about.
CA: The Xenomorph wiki exists. It doesn’t need to be recreated in comic form.
KSD: Exactly. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s super easy to, especially if you’re someone who loves puzzles and I love puzzles, get entrenched in this stuff and start trying to work your theories into everything and you can very quickly lose sight of the human beings on the page that have to reflect ourselves back in us and give us something to care about. It just always has to come back to that.
CA: One thing the Dark Horse Alien books in the late '80s and '90s did was create these stories set in that universe that didn’t necessarily have to have the characters from the movies. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything too badly for anyone who hasn’t seen Prometheus when I say that not a lot of characters from that movie make it.
So I’m sure that puts you as someone who is trying to create a sequel, you and your room of writers, and a little bit of a tough position. You talked about creating compelling characters. You may not be able to say, but I wonder if any of the characters that are left from the movie show up in the comic, or did you have to build characters from scratch in the world of the movie?
KSD: We talked at great length about including characters from the films and how we would be able to do it. We came up with some compelling options. We don’t literally use any of the characters from the film, but we are following the plot in its logical progression. I suppose there is a character from the film in it but its not like Charlize Theron turns out to have been an android after all, and when the giant spaceship rolled over her, she just got buried in the dirt.
CA: It’s not a way to shoehorn in someone from the movie in a way that doesn’t make sense, is what you’re saying.
KSD: No, there is a presence from the film that is continued into our storyline in a very logical way. The repercussions of what happened on that planet in that film are very much what we are dealing with. This is not a side story. This is what happens next.
CA: Is there an android whose name starts with the letter E?
KSD: There is!
CA: Good. I’m so pleased. Because we have to have the alphabetical-order androids.
KSD: We have solved that problem for you. Scratched that itch.
CA: I wonder, given the notion of sort of approaching this from a writing perspective like a TV series, what the plan is as far as the scope and size of the full story that you and your team are telling there. Will there be a finite story?
KSD: The plan is four, four-issue minis that tell individual stories, though the stories are related to one another, plus one, double-sized wrap up issue, that’s by me. And then ideally coming out of that wrap up issue, we have a core group of characters that people might wish to follow elsewhere.
CA: It could eventually turn into - the reason I brought up the TV thing - one of the things that seems to have seeped from TV into comics in recent years is this idea of seasons. Doing seasons of comics in much the same way there are seasons of a TV show. Is that a way that this could continue in an ongoing way but not be Prometheus issue #198, or whatever you would have.
KSD: Yeah, if it were up to me, all comics would adopt that format because I think it makes it more accessible to new readers. I think sometimes we appear to go out of our way to be inaccessible, which is something I don’t understand. Are we set up for that? No one has had a conversation with me about how it would go after that. I have no idea what the plan is after that. It certain could or if its their choice I suppose we could go in the continuous run for as long as the market can carry the book.
I like the season idea. There’s nothing about our set up that has that inherent in it. No.
CA: Despite the fact that there doesn't need to be a comic version of that wiki that has all the information about the Alien/Prometheus universe, this is the kind of comic that people who know every single thing from those sites will want to buy. This is a book that superfans are going to be interested in.
Have you gone out of your way to put a lot of Easter eggs? Nods to that deep continuity?
KSD: There is red meat in the books. There’s things like, the android that starts with E, we don’t at any point go, “Hey, isn’t that interesting how your name starts with the letter E!” But those who know it will say, "Ah, good job." But sure, we’ve got that.
CA: In the background of the panel, the magazine that Ash tried to choke Ripley with is sitting on a table [laughs].
KSD: There you go, the head of the Xenomorph on the wall of the Predator - whatever. This is not an actual example.
We also have Randy [Stradley] in the room. Randy has been editing the Star Wars and Alien universes at Dark Horse for I think 100 years. So he is our expert. He is our guy that we’re like, wait so, can they do this? He’ll say, “oh yeah, because in issue blah blah.” He has that encyclopedic knowledge of that kind of stuff. We also have a bible that they gave us, which is pretty cool.
CA: And you’ve got your four inch binder.
KSD: Next to the binder, the bible is probably an inch and a half, and it’s outside the binder. That is how much material I have.
CA: A full five and a half inches of material.
KSD: I do, I have five and a half inches of stuff. My plan is to just sleep with it under my pillow and see if I absorb any.
CA: Osmosis. Before we wrap up, this is not a Prometheus question, but I feel compelled to ask it because I feel like at this point in time I can’t talk to you without asking about it.
I cannot visit Tumblr once without seeing a selfie with someone with an issue of Captain Marvel #1. It’s a phenomenon. It is huge.
KSD: I don’t know what happened. I’ve asked a couple of times, “Who started this?” No one has given me a straight answer. It’s probably my fault, I don’t know. I re-blogged a few of them when I saw them and then I started getting tons of them. I checked my tag, and right now there are something like 30 of them in my queue, posting a little more than one per hour automatically. It’s cool. The thing I really like about it is, I like seeing the readership.
It’s not an all-female group. It’s not an all-white group. The ages are pretty spread out in our comic readers. I haven’t seen any 70-year-old ladies or anything but I’m still waiting. That’s been cool for me. I love that they share their digital codes. I think that is a very Carol Corps thing to do. To put the codes out there, i mean, they pay for them they can do whatever they want with them. It can’t be used more than once, so it seems totally fair to me to be able to put that up for someone else that may not be able to get it. I like that it encourages community and people to interact not only with just me, but with each other, which is cool.
At some point, I’m not going to be writing this book. At some point, I will not be captain of this ship. I want it to stay a ship. I really hope that this group of fans - it’s a close a thing as I have experienced to the Warren Ellis forum since the Warren Ellis forum. Those people that I met there are still my friends to this day. I hope -- and maybe this is grandiose, I don’t know. I kind of hope that some of the connections that are being made by the Carol Corps people are lasting friendships. That those are relationships that will still have meaning for them 10 years down the line.
A lot of these people want to make comments. They’re supporting each other. Learning and asking questions and trying things out and making dates, and that’s how we did it. It’s a cool thing to do being a part of a community. Plus they’re all really very sweet. I think she, as a character, attracts a kind of upward facing group. They are very generous group of human beings. And very caring of one another. So I like that.
CA: I said that I see it every time I go on Tumblr. I’m always pleased to see it, because anybody who’s ever posting one of those selfies, always has something positive to say. Not just about the comic itself, but the positive effects it's had on their life, that whole community idea. It’s a nice thing.
KSD: Yeah, it’s cool. I said something one time about, “OK I think we’re going to stop on Wednesday, I’m sure there are people that are getting sick of this.” Someone wrote me was like, “Yeah stop whenever you want to stop, but really not getting sick of it, I think it’s great.”