For our next exclusive interview, we were fortunate enough to be able to have a chat with Christopher Sebela, the writer of the Aliens versus Predator strand of Dark Horse Comics’ upcoming “Fire and Stone” shared universe. We’ve already had an advance preview of some of Ariel Olivetti’s gorgeous interior artwork, so were itching to find out more about just what Christopher had in store for the series.
Here’s how the conversation went;
Big Comic Page: First off, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. So I guess we should start at the beginning – how did the whole “Fire and Stone” project come about?
Christopher Sebela: Dark Horse wanted to do more aliens comics, especially on the heels of the Prometheus film and the idea of doing them all together, doing 4 books that brought together the worlds of Prometheus, Aliens and Predators under one umbrella. Scott Allie wanted to do it as a writer’s room, where we all sit around a table and break stories together as group. So he was looking for writers in Portland and I’d been suggested to him as someone who knew a lot about Aliens and Predators and horror movies right around the time my book High Crimes had started coming out, so for me, it was a matter of right place, right time.
BCP: When the project was taking shape, how were the franchises allocated to each of the writers? Was it rock, paper, scissors, or something more civilised?
CS: I suggested leg wrestling, but no one else was into it. It was a pretty loose process, actually. Our first writer’s room meeting we sat down and started breaking each of the books in a very general way, establishing the universe they all take place in and what the whole Fire and Stone series would be about. Then what each of the books would be about. Decisions about who would be doing which book kind of unspooled as we went. I remember Josh Williamson was all over the Predator stuff as soon as it came up, so that seemed natural. I was hoping I’d get AvP all along. I mean, I get to play with both Aliens and Predators, making a big monster fight, it seemed like the best fit for me. Fortunately the rest of the room went along with my secret wishes.
BCP: Where does your AvP series fit in with the movies? Are there any ties there, story-wise?
CS: It fits completely outside the movies. I think we all agreed pretty early on to leave the movies behind. They’re telling their own mythology and we’re telling ours and ours is, I think, a lot cleaner, you don’t need to show up knowing here’s what happened in the AvP movies or Predators or anything.
BCP: While Dark Horse’s AvP comics output has always been of a high quality, the movies have been met with a fair amount of criticism by the public. Was that in the back of your mind writing this series – a desire to ‘overcome’ the negativity?
CS: Definitely. I watched both of those films more than once, and while there’s a lot of cool moments in them — and the first one comes up with a really neat mythology to explain everything — none of it ever clicked as a whole for me. So foremost in my mind was to do better than the movies did. I’m always hesitant when I get asked what I think of the movies, that some people might get mad about it. I always assume they will, but at SDCC this year, someone asked whether we were using the movies at all for the book and when I said no, a bunch of people applauded, so that made me feel like I wasn’t completely crazy.
BCP: What kind of tone are you looking to strike with the AvP series? Are we going to see all-out action, or more of a horror approach?
CS: Equal amounts. I’m a horror nerd from childhood so I definitely wanted to hit those creepy, disquieting moments of silence before everything turns into blood and teeth. But having aliens and predators means I can also have big crazy action scenes in there too. That’s why I was gunning so hard for it, it hits all my buttons and that’s what I was trying to do, write a book that hit those buttons for everyone else. I think if you show up for one or the other or both, you’ll find something up your alley.
BCP: You guys mentioned at SDCC that the project had to be completely re-worked from scratch at one stage. What happened there?
CS: We’d broken our stories and all gone off to write our issues. We got 2 issues in, script-wise, and art had started on all of the books, some of them getting pretty far, when we got word from 20th Century Fox that there were several things we had to change. While we were working on the books, they were working on Prometheus’ sequel, so it was a matter of getting the mythology of all these things on the same page. Which I think is cool, that they care enough to make sure that everything meshes across the films and the books. But at the time I was sort of a zombie when we got word that we’d have to go back and start over. But once we collectively got over it, I think it made all the books better as a result.
BCP: You’re working alongside artist Ariel Olivetti for the series. How have you found his work?
CS: Amazing. I’ve loved his stuff for a long time, so I was geeking out when I found out he was going to be working on the book. He’s supremely good and every page feels completely confident. I’ve written some things into these scripts that I had a visual in my head of how it would work, crazy biological horror type stuff and then I’d get pages from him that made them look even creepier and terrifying than I’d ever imagined, or reworked it into a visual that I’d never be able to come up with. And yet he makes it all look beautiful at the same time. It’s weird art magic on his part and it’s been my favorite part of working on this book.
BCP: You’ve been quoted as having an “encyclopedic knowledge” of these franchises. With that said, out of all movies, which one would you class as being your favourite?
CS: Argh, I knew this question was coming. You could ask me this same question in a couple weeks and probably get a different answer altogether. Right now, it’s ALIEN. It’s still a genuinely scary film and it feels so small and intimate and quiet, it’s so weird that it’s the one that gave birth to all these other movies. I think everyone was at the top of their game there and no one had any idea what they were doing was going to be as huge as it was, which is why it’s so effective, there were no expectations, no precedent. But, that said, my favorite Predator film is PREDATOR 2 and I will gladly argue with anyone who wants to argue about that.
BCP: One of the things we’ve been curious about is just how the ‘shared universe’ aspect of the stories is going to play out. Are we going to see characters crossing over into other titles, events converging, that sort of thing?
CS: Yeah, the cool thing about the series is that while all the books work on their own and you don’t have to read the others, reading the other books gives you a lot more nuance and context for everyone and everything that’s happening. The main characters from my book start out in Paul Tobin’s Prometheus. Then there’s overlap with Josh’ Predator. All of it overlaps with Chris Roberson’s Aliens. Then everything converges in Kelly Sue’s Omega book. It’s a weird puzzle when you look at it from a distance but I think it all fits together in a really satisfying way.
BCP: I know you probably can’t say much, but one of our review team was itching to ask if USCM were going to be making an appearance at any point in “Fire and Stone”, or whether we’ll get to visit Yautja Prime or any of the other Predator worlds?
CS: Yeah, I have been legally sworn under threat of pummeling not to talk about any of this stuff.
BCP: Bottom line – Aliens, Predators, Engineers, Humans – who do you think is the dominant species, and why?
CS: If you mean from a king of the mountain perspective, I think it’s the Aliens. When Hudson in ALIENS calls it a “bughunt” I think he hit the nail on the head. Aliens reproduce at astounding rates and they’re seemingly designed to kill and overtake other species for no other reason than they can and it’s only because they can’t fly spaceships that they haven’t come and killed the entire universe yet.
BCP: And finally, AvP aside, what else are you working on at the moment that our readers might be interested in?
CS: I’m writing GHOST for Dark Horse as well. In addition, my two creator-owned books, the eisner-nominated book HIGH CRIMES and supernatural noir book DEAD LETTERS. And my first issue of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK will be out from Boom! in December.
BCP: Thanks again for you time, Chris.
Aliens vs Predator: Fire and Stone #1 is on sale from Dark Horse on October 8th.