Man has looked to the sky, wondering about life on other planets for as long as anyone can remember. Writers James Tynion IV and Noah J. Yuenkel, who co-wrote the Thrillbent digital series “The House in the Wall,” have an answer to whether or not there is life out there — and it’s a resounding “Yes.”
“UFOlogy,” the duo’s upcoming six-issue BOOM! Studios series drawn by Matt Fox, tells the story of a teenager named Becky whose desire for a simple life goes out the window after an alien encounter. Along with her friend Malcolm, she tries to figure out what all this means only to discover that it all goes back to something that happened to their parents over a decade ago.
CBR News talked to Tynion and Yuenkel about Becky and Malcolm’s very different outlooks on life, working with Fox and their collaborative process.
CBR News: Your protagonist Becky desires normalcy, but is confronted with the far-from-normal when an alien touches her. How does she deal with this radical change in her life?
James Tynion IV: We’re talking about a young woman, the daughter of a sheriff and a doctor, who has a very good life. A life she’s proud of, and comfortable in. She’s incredibly smart, and she’s ambitious, but not in a way that makes her ever want to leave the world that she’s been raised a part of. She’s not the standard Luke Skywalker, staring at the twin suns and wanting to go to the flight academy. She’s the Luke Skywalker who wants to be the best, most successful moisture farmer on all of Tatooine, who is going to be really pissed off when all of this adventure and danger lands in her lap. Also: She is secretly not Luke Skywalker at all. That is another comic book entirely. But you should probably order just as many “UFOlogies” as “Star Wars” just in case.
Noah J. Yuenkel: Becky is in denial about a lot of things, and one of those is her fear of the unknown. No quicker way to confront a fear of the unknown than having a little piece of it loaded into your head and marked on your face. Normality, and the simple comforts of home and family — it’s what she wants to get back and might have to learn to live without. Growing up is hard to do; it’s harder when horrors from beyond the stars end up mixed in with the rest.
What does the alien’s touch do to Becky that winds up setting her apart from the normal life she wants?
Yuenkel: Shoosh shoosh shoosh! Seeeeeeecrets SEEEEEEEECREEETTTSsssSSSS!!
Tynion: [Laughs] That’s a really good question, because that’s the core mystery of the series moving forward. The key here is the question of what makes something alien, and the trouble is that oftentimes, it’s easy to rest on the standard tropes of grey aliens in flying saucers, and all the comfortable retro sci-fi from the last fifty years. The challenge is to bombard that comfortable, Amblinesque small town sci-fi feel with the weirdest, most outside the box understanding of aliens and the reaches of sci-fi technology that the two of us can imagine. That’s right at the heart of what’s happening to Becky. And detail-wise? You’re going to have to wait and see.
On the other side of the coin,”UFOlogy” also features a character named Malcolm who wants big things from life. How does he respond when he finds out about Becky’s “gift?”
Tynion: Malcolm is a few years younger than Becky, and while Becky has a number of delusions of her own, Malcolm’s are much bigger and rest much more firmly on the idea that there’s something out there beyond anyone else’s understanding. There’s an inherent belief at the core of Malcolm that he’s the one who is going to succeed where nobody ever succeeded before him, and find the truth at the heart of all of these mysteries. Even if the mysteries that he thinks are there might simply have mundane answers.
Yuenkel: Malcolm is, well chosen words on that question, the other side of the coin to Becky. He’s lost a lot of his world already, and his hopes are to get out there and find answers to the big questions, metaphysically of course, but also the questions to what happened all those years ago, when strange and mysterious things happened to his father and family. He’s lost things and he wants to find ’em and, for reasons of irresponsibility or maybe bad information, he tends to look to the stars to try and find them.
As you mentioned, Becky and Malcolm start to work together to figure out a mystery that goes back over a decade and involves her parents. I’m sure you don’t want to give too much away about that, but can you hint at how it connects back to what’s happening in the present day?
Yuenkel: That’s the tale! Mistakes were made, lives restructured, troubles put ungently to bed only to lurch awake once more. I can hint that… not all is as it seems? I spent all the good stuff on the scripts and all I’m left for a synopsis are cliches. James, you got anything snappy?
Tynion: Oh, I’ve got a snap or two, and maybe a dance number if you’re looking. There’s very much of a “sins of our parents” edge to this story moving forward and a world that tried to open itself up to a number of characters years and years ago, that frankly, none of them were ready or able to handle. We’re talking about events that destroyed people’s lives, and set them sprawling in new, mundane paths.
With Becky and Malcolm, we’ll have two leads who might be able to succeed where they failed, and maybe even change the world on a larger scale than either of them ever intended. Or, they could burn out in the same way the previous generation did, and find themselves even more lost. It’s dangerous to dabble with the unknown, but it’s also necessary in order to move forward.
What is your actual collaborative process like? Is there a lot of conversation and back-and-forth before actually getting to the outline and scripting stage?
Yuenkel: Tons! We had a bunch of conversations, and then we had more conversations, and then a few more after that. I mean basically you’re just trying to bounce an idea back and forth until you rough off the edges, so that’s what we did, more or less. “House in the Wall” was developed more or less simultaneously, or in a nearby string of phone-versations, but we got to the making of it first because Thrillbent has a peppier through-time than print comics.
I’ve been doing the literal scripting, but the script gets passed between me and James — and our excellent editors at BOOM!, Eric Harburn and Jasmine Amiri — enough that it’s sort of moot who did what by the end. We’re all in on the process together, because, well, you know. Collaboration! It’s collaborative, and in this case I mean that very genuinely. Me and James have tried collaborating in the past, which didn’t work very well. I guess time has made the both of us a little easier to work with.
Tynion To be fair, I think we should point out that we were stupid and in college the last time we tried collaborating, and so yeah! Maybe we tried to strangle each other once or twice in the past, but we have hypothetically grown up a little bit since then. Noah has been my best friend since the end of my freshman year of college, and we both went to school for writing, and both fell in love with comics at the same point in our lives. It’s impossible for us to get together and have a long conversation without getting into some kind of “what if there was a story like…?” We each have different tastes, and different priorities in storytelling, but we come from the same emotional core and with this story in particular, we found something that we were both eager and determined to bring to life.
How did you come across Matt Fox’s artwork and what made him the right fit for this book?
Tynion: Matt has been working on a graphic novel, “Long Walk to Valhalla,” for the Archaia group within BOOM! Studios, which is where he caught the attention of our amazing editors on the book, Eric Harburn and Jasmine Amiri. Pretty much from the second his work was put in front of us, we knew he was the right person for the job. It’s clear already from the pages that are coming in that Matt is going to be going big places, and I know both Noah and I are honored to be working on his first monthly series. His work so far has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Yuenkel: His art is amazing. Clear and lucid and never stiff. He’s been great to work with on the admittedly limited terms we’ve interacted (I live in the middle of nowhere, so we’re relegated to e-mail). He’s the real hero of this book, and when you see the pages I know you’ll agree.
“UFOlogy” #1 from James Tynion IV, Noah J. Yuenkel, Matt Fox and BOOM! Studios touches down on April 1.
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