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Mark Verheiden On Taking ‘Falling Skies’ to Webcomics [Interview]

Although he’s not necessarily convinced he’ll encounter one any time soon, Mark Verheiden is a man who knows aliens. The prolific writer and producer spent years crafting tales for Dark Horse ComicsAliens and Predators series, and has expanded his credits to co-executive producer of the CW’s Smallville, which stars perhaps the most famous alien of all, Superman.

Verheiden’s latest project, TNT’s Falling Skies, will pull from his proven alien experience while zeroing in on the drama faced by a very human group of Bostonians several months after an alien invasion wipes out 80 percent of the Earth’s population.

What happened when the aliens invaded? What forges former citizens into hardened soldiers? Beginning today and spanning every two weeks through Falling Skies’ June 2011 television premiere, fans can follow the action via Dark Horse and TNT’s prequel webcomic by Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra. ComicsAlliance spoke with Verheiden about the new show, its comic book component and got his take on whether or not the truth is out there.

ComicsAlliance: Can you tell us a little about the genesis of the ‘Falling Skies’ comic book content?

Mark Verheiden: Falling Skies the TV show was created Bob Rodat and Steven Spielberg. The comic proceeded from the thought that it’d be fun to do a comic. We all love comics, and it would be a chance for us, with the online comic, to explore the world of Falling Skies before we got into the [TV] series. The series begins six or seven months after the invasion devastated the world, so the comic goes back a month or two before the invasion and shows how the characters got to where they are. That was part of the fun of doing the comic. It lets us explore aspects of the series that went on before the show started.

CA: What made this show a good fit for sequential storytelling? Is there a difference between telling the story on television than with a comic?

MV: The show is a very visual show. Very visual storytelling. Obviously it’s about an alien invasion. We have all the fun of having space ships, aliens, and action. There are some differences, though, between comics and television. The two are very different, you can get into peoples’ heads a bit more in comics. But the fact that it’s a sci-fi story gives people a lot of elements to enjoy in both.

CA: What’ve you thought about writer Paul Tobin and artist Juan Ferreyra’s take on the show so far?

MV: Their work is fantastic. Paul is doing a great job capturing the voices of the characters, and it was a difficult job as well, as he was working on this before things were fully formed. But Paul was able to find the voices of Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), Ann Glass (Moon Bloodgood), and the kids and found a way to shape their voices. Working with the people at TNT, Paul was able to create characters that are part of the webcomic, and the comic shows where the characters evolved in the program. Where we find them in the webcomic shows the evolution of things like the militia. It shows them getting to form the Second Mass, short for the Second Massachusetts, which takes on the aliens in the show.

CA: What do you think will be most unique about the Falling Skies comic compared to the TV show? Will readers see more action sequences? Get a closer look inside characters’ heads?

MV: You will be able to see where they were a few months before the show starts. There will be some hints as to what the invasion will be like for these people. One of the conceits of the show, one of the things we don’t do, is that you don’t see the invasion happen. There are no flashbacks. During the invasion the military was taken out, mass communication was taken out. Things were taken out so the characters have their own take on what the invasion was like for them and we reference that a bit more and we also see how the characters meet-up.

CA: What do you think it is about aliens that makes them great villains?

MV: They’re not always villains. Spielberg made ET and he was a nice guy. In our show what’s fun is the mystery about the aliens. We don’t know a whole lot about them at the start of the show. They’re also alien aliens in the show and not semi-human. There’s an alien character called a Skitter in the webcomic that’s a six legged monster. They also don’t speak English and they don’t even communicate, so the characters don’t really know what’s going on or what they want. To them the aliens are a fierce, unknowable enemy which makes the challenges our characters face much tougher since it’s a war that can’t really be negotiated. They’re an unstoppable force in the show, so our team of humans have their work cut out for them.

CA: From what we’ve seen, Falling Skies is a kind of human drama in a sci-fi setting. Given the early success of shows like The Walking Dead, and the previous success of Battle star Galactica (which you contributed a lot to), do you think there’s something in the zeitgeist that’s making viewers so responsive to these kinds of shows? How do you think viewers will respond to Falling Skies in this pop culture climate?

MV: It’s intriguing. When I think back 20 years ago there has been Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and slowly sci-fi became respectable in that last 25 years or so. It’s intriguing to see how the audience shifted. It seems material they might not have been comfortable with before that time has become more acceptable. You’re less sort of prone to write it off like, “Oh that’s some Buck Rogers show”.

Falling Skies
at its core is a human show. Tom Mason, it’s about him, his children, and these other people gathering and trying to find a way to deal with this alien threat. At the core the show is about humanity and decent people trying to hold on to what makes them human. These things are true for all dramas and hopefully people will enjoy the sci-fi stuff but also be pulled into the human drama of it.

CA: You began writing for Dark Horse pretty early on in the publisher’s history. How would you compare the process of putting together the Falling Skies comic book material to your earliest interactions with DH?

MV: As great. I’ve had a long, great relationship with Dark Horse. I knew [Dark Horse founder and president] Michael Richardson for thirty years, and long before Dark Horse was formed. We’re friends going way back. The early books were a blast to work on. I don’t mean this to sound like a slight. I did some work with DC and a little with Marvel, but when I worked with Dark Horse we tried to put out great comics, whether they were licensed or not didn’t matter.

That’s exactly what we’re doing with the Falling Skies comic, we’re trying to do the best stories that we can and make them fun. We’re not just trying to do something on the side to support the show. Comics should be great comics, and hopefully people will enjoy these.

CA: Have you found yourself drawing from your experience writing Aliens comics while working on Falling Skies?

MV: I think everything that you do adds into the thing you’re doing next. So I think the whole panoply of stuff I’ve done is part and parcel of what I do now. We started with an incredible canvas to begin with from Rob Rodat and Steven Spielberg. The things I’ve done on Aliens lead into things I’ve done on Battle Star, and all that stuff adds into what I bring to Falling Skies. Although I think there is a very different feel between Falling Skies, Battle Star Galactica, and Aliens.

CA: Do you believe aliens exist, and if so, do you think they’re anything like the ones you’re currently writing about?

MV: This is going to be a dull answer, but I do not think aliens exist, and if they do, I sure hope they’re nothing like the Skitters but more like ET [Laughs].

I really don’t though. It’s funny, I read so much about aliens and outer space, but I’m also an anti-conspiracy guy. I think people would talk and it’s hard to keep things like a conspiracy going, especially with something like this. You also have to wonder if the aliens came and landed, we would know about it. It would be hard to miss, so there’s no reason to play dumb.

That said, I’m happy to be proved wrong, though, and if a spaceship lands in Toronto or Los Angeles, I’m happy to say I was wrong and that I apologize.

CA: Is there anything else you want us to know about the Falling Skies comic?

MV: These comics are a great way to lead into the show and the comics are canon for Falling Skies. They’re not “imaginary stories,” to use a word DC used to throw around. So you can read these comics and that’s us saying how our characters met. But you don’t need to read the comics to enjoy the show. If you do, you’ll be fine, and if you don’t? You’ll be fine. They’re just a fun way for people to really get into the show and explore what we’re creating here.

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