BCP Interview – Filip Sablik and Rick Loverd talk about BOOM! Studios sci-fi series VENUS!
BOOM! Studios recently announced details of Venus, a brand new sci-fi series from the creative team of Filip Sablik (Last Mortal), Rick Loverd (Berserker), and artist Huang Danlan.
In the initial press release, the team promised that Venus would evoke “the history of great adventurers from the pilgrims to the Western pioneers, from deep-sea explorers to polar trailblazers, all of whom searched for a new beginning”, and after having a chance to take a look at an advance copy of the first issue, we would definitely agree with that assessment.
In order to find out a little more about the series, its inspiration, and – perhaps most interestingly – the scientific plausibility of it all, we were lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with Filip and Rick about all things Venus.
Here’s how the conversation went;
Big Comic Page: Okay, so let’s start at the beginning. For our readers who may not be familiar with the series, can you tell us a little bit about the premise behind VENUS?
Rick Loverd: Presently, if you were on the cajoling on surface of Venus on a balmy Tuesday, you’d discover that runaway greenhouse gasses make it more than eight hundred degrees Fahrenheit. You would not have long to appreciate this discovery. More than 90 atmospheres of pressure would crush your space suit and melt you inside and out pretty much immediately. Venus is a survival story a most inhospitable setting. It’s only through sheer grit that the crew of the Mayflower mission could possibly survive in this place. And that’s if they don’t kill each other. Try and imagine that you’re stuck somewhere terrible in a life and death situation. Now imagine that the people you’ll need to depend on to stay alive are deeply flawed, maybe even psychotic. That’s Venus.
Filip Sablik: We’ve all read stories of amazing explorers and intrepid settlers that discover and conquer new territory. At the core of Venus is the question, what drives a person to plunge into the unknown? What compels them to keep pressing on in the face of almost certain doom?
BCP: Where did the idea for VENUS initially come from, and how did the pair of you end up collaborating on it?
RL: I’ve fervently felt for some time that Mars gets way too much attention in our solar system when there are so many other fantastic bodies to explore. Did you know that Venus and Earth are roughly the same size and that a couple of billion years ago they may even have been sister planets with liquid oceans of water? When I learned that, I wondered if Venus could ever be “fixed”. And it’s not so totally far-fetched to imagine it. I get to see the future a lot in my day job, meeting with scientists and having creative conversations. Venus is an amalgamation of a lot of ideas about what the world could look like one day.
Filip and I like to hike together on Thursday mornings in Runyon Canyon. It was on a hike that I told him about the idea to terraform Venus using the technology we may need to develop in order to combat climate change on Earth. He liked the idea and encouraged me to create some characters and write it, to which I replied, “why don’t we create it together?”
FS: Rick’s kicked around a lot of great ideas with me over the years, but Venus is hands down my favorite. I immediately fell in love with the combination of it being grounded in plausible science and the potential for rich, complex characters and drama. Besides being one of my closest friends, I’d worked with Rick as his editor on Berserker. That was such a great collaborative experience, that shifting into developing something together was completely natural.
BCP: Tell us a little bit about Commander (or should that be Captain?) Manashe. What’s her story?
RL: Manashe is the most famous commercial pilot of her generation. She’s an exploration of the cult of celebrity and what can go wrong when your heroism thrusts you into the spotlight. Pauline is a mix of a few real world characters: Charles Lindbergh, Sully Sullenberger, with a sprinkle of a few other people who fascinate us. Her back story is dark. She’s not always right. She’s passionate and aggressive, if not a bit controlling. Behind it all, she’s a wreck, but she’d never show that to anyone. It’s only in private that she allows herself to be vulnerable.
BCP: There are a lot of crew members in the first issue who seem to be reacting to the crash landing in very different ways. Who should readers be looking out for?
RL: A two year assignment on a hell hole of a planet, what kind of person signs up for that? Everyone on Venus is running from something. The Mayflower Mission was born of a private/public partnership, overseen by NASA. They are the forward team of scientists and military personnel, the first manned mission on the Venus after drones and robots set up their home base. Their job is to prepare the colony at Camp Augustine for many hundreds of people who will one day call Venus their home. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that their Captain, Kincaid, dies on page one. That throws the entire dynamic of the team into flux. You should look out for everyone, but get attached to no one.
FS: While Pauline is definitely at the forefront of the story, Venus is an ensemble cast comic. Each character has their own reasons for being on Mayflower, their own demons following them onto Venus, and their own unique skills that also make them the best choice for this mission. I would never play favorites, but Lieutenant Alejandra Reyes is a stand out initially. In addition to being the head of Engineering, she’s also an augmented human who can survive on the surface of Venus without a full protective suit.
BCP: It’s somewhat unusual that the battles the crew seem poised to be facing are actually against the environment itself, rather than, say, aliens. Were you ever tempted to throw in some more “out there” sci-fi elements, or was this always going to be a relatively grounded series?
RL: I do believe that there is life beyond Earth in the universe. In fact, I’d say it’s a good bet that there’s life in other places than Earth right here in our solar system. Mars may have once harbored abundant life, but Enceladus and Europa are fair bets to have extremophiles puttering around under their icy crusts even as I write this – which is something we couldn’t have known when I was a kid – imagine what my future kids may one day get to learn. So anyway, I wouldn’t say that aliens don’t have a place in grounded Sci-fi. A good example of this was the recent film Europa Report.
Fantasy and Magic are two realms to which we will not travel and Venus will be a grounded series, however there is a massive grey area between settled science and what is plausible. The universe is a pretty crazy place – there are probably planets out there where it rains diamonds, for example. Plausibility can be a great jumping off point for inspiration so, for us, it’s a fun line to walk.
BCP: Rick, you’re currently the Program Director for the Science & Entertainment Exchange. Can you tell us a little bit about what you guys do over there?
RL: The Exchange is a free consulting service for any writer, producer, director, actor, or studio executive developing a film, TV show, or video game that needs a science consultant while in development or production. We’re a program of the National Academy of Sciences, whose charter was signed over 150 years ago by Abraham Lincoln. We’ve completed over 1,300 consults on mainstream projects since our launch in November of 2008. We’ve also put on more than 250 events in New York and Los Angeles. We’re community builders, a bridge between science and entertainment, which means I get to be in a lot of fun rooms talking about really interesting stuff with people who are at the cutting edge of art and science. It’s kind of a dream job.
BCP: Why was it so important to the pair of you that the story you’re telling be scientifically plausible?
RL: TS Eliot is quoted as saying that “good writers borrow, great writers steal.” Presumably he meant from other writers—I like to steal from the real world, there are less copyright issues. I’ve always looked to fact-based research as a source of story. Writing involves so much heavy lifting, why make it harder on yourself? The real world can provide a blueprint of inspiration that will always be there and to which you can refer back when you run into the classic writing problems.
Even while building the world of Berserker, I consulted with an endocrinologist at Harvard Medical School. For Venus, Filip and I spent quite a bit of time drinking beer with climate scientists, NASA/JPL engineers, planetary scientists, and incredible science communicators. First of all, that was a hell of a lot of fun. Who wouldn’t want to learn about Europa from one of the people building the probe that will one day live there? Second, facts are excellent bedrock from which to build story. We don’t need to worry about breaking our own rules because our world isn’t totally made up; it’s based in something tangible. That can be a foundation and a sort of guiding light.
FS: Both Rick and I also feel responsibility to our readers to make the science as based in reality as we can. Stories have the power to open the reader up to new possibilities and ideas. One of our now not-so-secret hopes is that someone reading Venus will be inspired to dive deeper into scientific exploration or pursue a career in the scientific field. That’s much more likely to happen if we take on the challenge of doing our research.
BCP: How involved were you both in putting together the visual aspect of the book alongside artist Huang Danlan?
RL: Huang Danlan has had a healthy amount of design freedom, though we have given her reference images whenever she’s had questions. This project has many strong female characters in it and, since Filip and I are obviously male, we both felt that it was important to find a dynamic female artist as a visual partner for Venus. I’ve been thrilled with her ability to draw Pauline, Alejandra, and Dr. Gold as tough, smart, and savvy without sacrificing anything that might be referred to as traditional femininity. Honestly, Pauline reminds me of women at the center of my real life, who matter the most to me, and having an artist as talented as Huang Danlan, who can bring those qualities to the page has been critical to the human drama of the piece.
FS: It was actually Huang’s take on the character designs and technology designs that prompted us to ask her to join the project. Everything felt grounded in reality, but at the same time futuristic and fresh.
BCP: There are definitely no punches being pulled when it comes to the gory nature of the crash and the inherent risks of the hostile environment. Was it important for you to capture that sometimes shocking level of brutality?
RL: My first book was Berserker. I’ll admit, I may have been working something out of my system with that first title; however, my love of horror as a genre will always be present in my work. Also, Venus’ environment is completely inhospitable and we wanted to make no bones about that from the beginning. This frontier isn’t a place that should be sanitized; it can kill you in a thousand terrible ways. Everything is broken there, or will break down at some point: the climate, the machines, and the people.
BCP: There’s a definite frontiersman attitude to the story, with the whole Lewis and Clark “manifest destiny” approach being applied to space travel. Do you think humanity could ever be forced to take similar steps into space like the ones taken in this series?
RL: If we’re talking about the path of least resistance, there are a lot more comfortable places to claim your manifest destiny in our solar system than Venus. Primary among them is, of course, Earth. Secondary would be Mars. Part of the reason our characters go to Venus is because the prime real estate has been claimed already in the world we created for the comic.
I believe that within my lifetime there will be a city (or at least a large staging base) on the moon and a colony on Mars. I think that rare earth is pretty common on asteroids and that will lead people with commercial interests out into the solar system in the hopes of financial gains and better lives. As evidence for this, you can pretty much point to all of human history. Technology will make these things more than possible, it will make them inevitable.
BCP: And finally, if there’s one thing you could say to a reader who was unsure of whether to pick this one up in December, what would it be?
FS – Venus is a story we’ve been working on for years. It’s been stuck in our brains like a song you can’t stop singing. We absolutely love this world, these characters, and the rich possibility for stories that they both provide. Join us and explore.
BCP: Thanks so much for your time, guys.
Venus #1 (of 4) arrives in comic shops on December 23rd with a main cover by W. Scott Forbes (Arcadia, Effigy) for the price of $3.99 under Diamond order code OCT151194. Also available in a limited quality is a 10 Years incentive cover by Felipe Smith (All-New Ghost Rider), and a retailer incentive cover by acclaimed illustrator Steven Thomas. In addition, each issue of the mini-series will contain a backmatter essay written by a different scientific authority, including Randii R. Wessen of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Phil Plait of Slate’s Bad Astronomy Blog.
The Final Order Cutoff deadline for retailers is November 30th. Not sure where to find your nearest comic retailer? Use comicshoplocator.com or findacomicshop.com to find one! It can also be ordered directly from BOOM! Studios on its website.
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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