"Bad Planet" Week: Talking with Thomas Jane & Steve Niles, Part 1

With the six-issue mini-series "Bad Planet" set to launch this December from Image Comics, and with it currently listed in the Diamond Previews catalog, CBR News thought this would be a good time to learn the ins and outs of this science fiction series with the creative team of writer/actor Thomas Jane, writer Steve Niles, penciler Lewis Larosa and inker Tim Bradstreet.

CBR first brought news of "Bad Planet" to readers in an interview with Jane back in November of 2004. At the time, the series was set up with IDW Publishing and Australian artist Chris Bolton was set to provide the art for the then summer, 2005 debuting series. But as is often the case in the comics industry, things didn't go exactly as planned and changes were made. In stepped Tim Bradstreet. While he was already set to provide some covers for the series, Bradstreet's role increased dramatically when the change in publisher took place. He brought with him penciler Lewis Larosa ("Punisher") onto the series and Bradstreet agreed to ink Larosa, in addition to providing additional cover art and art directing the entire series. With the creative team now firmly in place, it was time to get the series going.

As Jane told CBR News last November, "Bad Planet" opens with a giant freighter hurtling through space about 400 years ago, towed along by a little tug boat. The tug ends up exploding, which sends this freighter hurtling off into space towards Earth. Cut to 400 years later, present day, and scientists have discovered that this object, or as they see it a "meteor," is set to crash on the Earth. It's not so large as to do "Armageddon" level damage, but it's big enough to cause some serious localized damage. But as everyone knows, it's what's inside that really counts.

When the "meteor" finally crashes, the pieces land in two plances-- one in Washington D.C. and another somewhere in Africa. Unknown to scientists, inside the meteor is a freighter like craft filled with thousands of predatory alien creatures. The good news is that once exposed to Earth's atmosphere, most of those creatures die off immediately, but there's one predatory creature-- a spider-like being about the size of a dog-- that survives, which certainly isn't good for the inhabitants of earth.

"They don't burn, they're unstoppable and impenetrable," Jane told CBR News last November. "Eventually there are hundreds of thousands of these things and they just start eating everything. People just don't know what the fuck to do! They're eating the planet!"

The series is populated by three main characters. There's Veronica Falcon, an astronomer who works in the tiny observatory that first discovered the meteor. In Africa, there's a young ten-year-old boy who sneaks on to the crashed ship, hacks into its systems with his computer and ends up inadvertently setting off the ship's distress signal. The auto-response from the system reveals that the owners will be right on their way to pick it up, the only problem being this alien race lives a good fifty light years away, so there's little chance of them helping out to battle these creatures devouring Earth.

As the signal travels through space, an inmate at an intergalactic prison hears about the distress call. When he hears the news he breaks out of prison and hitches a ride down to earth to help stop these things. Similar creatures destroyed his own home world and he decides to go to earth to help stop these things.

All this week CBR News will chat with the creative team of the series, starting things out today with the first of a two-part interview with Thomas Jane and Steve Niles. The interview was conducted last Friday morning by conference call. We found Niles in his Los Angeles home while Jane was in Toronto, Canada, having only a short rest after being up until 5:00 AM shooting "Kill Shot," based on the Elmore Leonard Novel, starring Jane, Diane Lane and Mickey Rourke.

CBR News: All right, let's start with how you two first met and how this thing all came together. It was during Wizard World Long Beach last year, right?

Steve Niles: Yeah, two years ago or so. Tom was promoting the first "Punisher" movie and a mutual fried of ours, Todd Casey [formerly of Wizard Magazine], introduced us. We had another mutual friend already in Tim Bradstreet. Tim's the one who suggested Tom talk to me about some ideas he had. At first I was like, "Oh Christ! Someone wants to pitch me their story idea!" But then, Tom told me the idea and it was a really cool, original, science fiction idea. We started spit balling and figured out quickly we work well together. Here we are now, doing comics, movies and all kinds of crap together.

CBR News: Tom, how soon after meeting Steve did you know he was someone you wanted to work with? Were you immediately comfortable with one another?

Thomas Jane: I think we went out for lunch, right Steve?

Niles: Right.

Jane: Yeah, we talked on the phone and somehow I convinced Steve to go to lunch with me. So, we went to get sushi and then we learned we were both from Washington D.C., we both grew up in that area and were into punk rock as kids. Then I found out Steve used to be in a band and I actually bought his records back then. It was hilarious.

Niles: Yeah, so we found all these coincidences and ended up hitting it off right away. We realized we could probably do a lot of cool shit if we teamed up.

Jane: We just had kind of the same sensibilities. Growing up in the same part of the world, watching the same movies, reading the same books and comics. We discovered we had kind of a shorthand dialogue right away that was just kinda there. It was really easy.

Niles: Yeah. We were both raised on "Twisted Tales" and that kind of stuff. We really had a lot in common, so it made a lot of sense to do some work together.

CBR News: Tom, why do you think it is that Tim suggested Steve for this project versus any of the other hundreds of professionals he knows in the industry.

Jane: I really don't know. I guess you'll have to ask Tim, really.

CBR News: I'll do just that on Wednesday.

Jane: I was out, doing a national tour for "The Punisher." The last stop was San Diego. So, when I flew in town, Tim and I grabbed some dinner. At dinner, I told Tim the ideas I had and how I wanted to make this book. Tim just said, "You know, you should call Steve Niles." It's kinda wild because Steve was doing all these horror books and mine was this science fiction thing, but Tim's good like that. He's got good instincts about this kind of stuff. He always suggests great artists and has a great mind for talent.

Niles: How long have you known Tim? Jonah, can I do a little interviewing, too?

CBR News: Please!

Jane: Let's see. When I took "The Punisher" job, I initially turned it down since the script really wasn't there. Then the script got a little bit better, but I wasn't quite there yet. [Producer] Avi Arad would call and talk to me about it. I had some of the comics and read them and thought, "This is fucking not cool. This is a guy in a black spandex suit, he's got a skull on his chest and he's got white boots. This is sort of lame." So, I told Avi I just wasn't a super hero type person. They came after me for "X-Men," but I just didn't feel it. I wasn't a Marvel kid growing up and I just didn't feel like I was part of their Universe. Then Avi Arad sent me some of the MAX "Punisher" stuff with Tim Bradstreet's covers and there's this guy, in a basement with a T-Shirt on and he's just surrounded by weapons. It was then I thought, "Wow, fuck man, this is 'Taxi Driver.' This is fucking cool!" I took the job. I kept pounding everybody to get a script and a look that was similar to that.

When it came time to do some publicity stuff, I called up Marvel and said, "Listen, we gotta get this guy who did these covers to do a painting of me as the Punisher." I thought that would go a long way with the fans and would tie the two worlds, comics and movies, nicely together. They called Tim and we did a photo shoot at a little studio in Santa Monica that they set up for us. We met there, hung out all day. Tim took pictures for reference photos and stuff. That's how we struck up a friendship and how it all began.

So, Tim did these paintings and they didn't know what the fuck to do with these paintings. We had these things, but Marvel doesn't do painted movie posters. That was their policy. They do photos and want to make sure it looks like a real movie. Then, when Lion's Gate showed us these photos they mocked up for the poster I thought, "Oh My God! This looks like a TNT movie. This is horrible!"

Niles: (laughs)

Jane: So, they showed us several different things, but no one was really happy. I brought in Tim's paintings and I said, "Now, what the fuck is wrong with these?" Everyone's eyes lit up and they just kinda went bananas. Next thing I know, Tim's done five posters for the movie and the rest is "Punisher" history.

CBR News: So, Tim's the lynch pin that's brought this whole project here together.

Niles: Yeah, in a way.

Jane: "Bad Planet," as it is today, would not exist if Timmy had not been involved.

CBR News: Steve, how long have you known Tim?

Niles: I've known Tim for a long time. We've talked for years, tried to get some projects off the ground a couple of times. He's turned me onto other artists over the years, so when he recommended I listen to Tom's idea, I paid attention.

CBR News: So Tom, it's possible, had you not done "The Punisher," you may not have your first comic coming out this December.

Jane: You know, I grew up around comics and stuff and was always a fan of the medium, but I never imagined that I'd be doing one. So, yeah, doing "The Punisher" exposed me to the inside of the industry because I was always just a fan. I mean, I didn't know who these people were who actually made the books. I figured they never came out of their closets and they were all buried in the dark somewhere…

Niles: Well, that part is true.


CBR News: Tom and I first discussed this project in November of 2004 and there have been a lot of changes with regard to publishers and artists, but what about the story? Has the story changed much since last November, or has it pretty much changed the same?

Niles: There's just more. Much more to it. The first time Tom and I got together we made a big, bullet point outline for the entire series. Now, we're still working from those original bullet points, but every time we got together to work on the story, we expanded on it. We're at the point now where we definitely have a second series in mind.

Jane: And now the first series ends on a kind-of cliffhanger, which sets us up for the second series. The story's about twice as long as we originally thought.

CBR News: So that's the biggest change since we first talked?

Niles: Yeah. When we first talked did we have Lewis on the series yet?

CBR News: Nope, Chris Bolton was the artist then.

Niles: Yeah, so we made a change in artists at the suggestion of-- once again-- Tim Bradstreet. Evidently, he's behind everything with this series! (laughs) So, Tim said we had to look at this issue of "The Punisher" he did and it was incredible. Just great. So, Lewis started to send us concept sketches of his interpretation based on what he read in the outline and it was just dead on. Really cool stuff.

Jane: We always thought this story would work best depicted realistically. So we wanted an artist who could bring a realistic approach to the story. The story's so fantastical, you want to make sure you have an artist that will help root it in reality and that's what Lewis brings. A real authenticity. He's a real illustrator.

Niles: That's the thing, we're dealing with a story that has four different alien life forms and it's really important that people find some of them frightening and interesting-- basically anything but silly-- and Lewis definitely delivered there.

CBR News: It's interesting you chose Lewis for this series as he's relatively young when it comes to his years in the comics industry, but you've paired him with this industry veteran in Tim Bradstreet. Some creators-- on a project of this size-- might shy away from working with a guy who doesn't have a lot of experience in the industry. Was there any concern on your part? And did Tim have to reassure you this was your guy? Did he vouch for him?

Niles: You know, there was a little of that, but Tom and I talked to Lewis and he was really enthusiastic and wanted the gig. That right there was a big part of our decision. For me, I was really excited that Tim would be doing the inking on this. Other than his covers, we rarely get to see a lot of Bradstreet interior stuff. We've already started to see some of his inks over Lewis' pencils and they're just a knock out.

CBR News: It seems that some of these delays and set backs you experienced have brought a number of positives to "Bad Planet." As a result, Tim's involvement in the series has grown dramatically and your approach to the story and presentation has changed considerably, becoming more cinematic. Hindsight being 20/20, were these delays actually a good thing for "Bad Planet?"

Jane: You know, we never really looked at them as delays, although that is what they are. (laughs) I always felt that the delays were always because the story and the project itself and the people were evolving and growing. So, every time that happened, it inevitably slowed us down. One of the advantages of publishing this book through Image Comics is that we get to set, to a certain degree, our own pace. We didn't have a book that absolutely needed to come out in the Summer of 2006. We didn't have a target date we had to adhere to and therefore if there were bumps along the way or if the series grows or something great happens in the development of the story, we were allowed to take the time to nurture that, instead of having to adhere to a corporate deadline. Especially with this project being Steve & my first collaboration, my first comic and the first time I get to play as Publisher and learn those ropes. It's nice not to have those types of pressurized deadlines. Of course, we still have some deadlines. Like, I have to call Lewis when we get off the phone here and say, "Hey, where are our pages!"


Niles: With comics, extra time never hurts. It's funny because I didn't really look at them as delays either. I saw each false start or delay as growth. Each time we'd find out a bit more of what we wanted this project ultimately to be. The first time I saw the pencils and inks of what's become the "Bad Planet" poster and the cover to #1, that's when I knew we found what we were looking for.

CBR News: Sure, it's a very unique looking image.

Niles: Yeah, I'm really happy with it.

CBR News: Tom, you just mentioned how this was your first collaboration. Let's talk about that a bit. How did you and Steve work together. Was it all e-mail? Phone? In person? How'd this all work?

Jane: All three. We were always talking, eating lunch, talking out ideas. Generally Steve would have all these great ideas, then I'd run home and write them down, and then Steve will forget he had those ideas and I'll say they were mine! (laughs)

Niles: (laughs) Yeah, that's right. I'm really good at coming up with ideas, but I have absolutely no recall. So, Tom would write them down for me and come back and say, "What about this scene here? Remember this? We should do that!" I'd inevitably respond with, "God, yeah, that's a cool idea. Whose idea was that?" (laughs)

CBR News: Steve, how did you guys handle the scripting chores?

Niles: It was literally the hot potato method of writing. I'd write five, ten pages, then throw it to Tom. He'd work on it, then he'd throw it back to me. We'd just keep going back and forth until we had an issue done.

At this point we have three issues in the can and the whole thing outlined. It's been a great way to work as it's moved things along really fast.

Jane: Yeah, it's been really nice. If one of us got stuck, we'd throw it to the other guy who'd look at it from another angle. One thing Steve said to me at the beginning was, "Look, this is your baby and somebody has to have the last word on it. That's going to be you." That works great for me because sitting on my couch, coming up with this whole thing in 2004, and then to trace the evolution of it through to bringing Steve on board to help create it, then to Bradstreet to help visualize it and approaching artists like Bernie Wrightson and getting him on board, then meeting Mark Schultz ("Xenozoic Tales," "Cadillacs & Dinosaurs") at San Diego… you know I showed Schultz the poster [Lewis did] and he was on board right away. That was huge for me as I grew up with those guys and they're so iconic in my mind. Then getting all these artists who've come on board like William Kaluta, who's going to do a cover ….

Niles: Yeah, I just got a look at Mark Schultz's cover and it's just great. It's fantastic. It's really everything we dreamed about when Tom and I first started talking.

One of the things Tom & I totally agreed on was the look of some of those Wally Wood great E.C. science fiction covers and Mark Schultz turned one in and it's just dead on. That's kind of been the best part of this whole thing for me-- the lead character, that big alien you see on the first cover, that's the convict. When he first started out he began as a big humanoid looking character. We've tossed him back and forth and I just love where that character's wound up and I think he's got a great look to him.

CBR News: So, what is the cover artist line-up you have for this series?

Jane: Well, there's Bernie on the cover to #2. You've got the pencils for that. It's an absolutely fucking gorgeous cover. He made the alien convict look a bit like Frankenstein.

Niles: Yeah, Tom went and got, at the suggestion of Dave Stevens (who's doing a cover for us, too), went and got a bust made of the lead character.

CBR News: Talk about that a bit Tom. How'd this come about?

Jane: Well, I was talking with Dave Stevens and he said, "Listen, if you're going to have all these cover artists, what would be great-- since you have such a unique looking lead character-- is if you had a bust for all the artists to work from. That way all these artists, who have unique styles of their own, can be sure they're all interpreting the same character." It's something you might not have to think about were the character human-- you could do a few sketches and everyone would have the general idea-- but this guy is so unique and specific looking I thought it was a great idea.

So, I found a sculptor named Christopher Swift. He works at Stan Winston Studios. I took the drawings around to Christopher and he fell in love with it. So, he produced this bust which is jaw droppingly gorgeous.

Niles: It's pretty small, isn't it. How big is it?

Jane: It's about six inches tall. The head's about the size of an egg.

Niles: It was so cool to see, so soon in the process, this character in 3D.

Jane: Absolutely. The first person to work off it was Bernie. I ran it over to him as soon as it was done. Then I passed it on to … who did I send it to?

Niles: Was it Schultz?

Jane: He never worked from the bust. I sent him photos of it, but he never worked from it. He's pretty amazing, that Mark.

CBR News: Any chance this thing could become a merchandised piece at some point?

Jane: I hope so. I'm not sure how all that works, but I'm hoping. If this series works and people are interested, I'd be all for it.

Hey, Jonah, you on e-mail there right now?

CBR News: I am.

Jane: I want to send you a file with a mock-up of Bernie's cover and also Schultz's pencils.

CBR News: Cool. When is Schultz's cover scheduled?

Jane: Well, you know what Steve? I just got the inks last night.

Niles: That's news to me. Cool!

Jane: It's a gigantic file, so get ready for that. It's going to be the cover to issue #3.

CBR News: Tom, you mentioned to me before the call that you have something real special planned for issue #3, but didn't say what it was. What have you cooked up for this issue?

Jane: "Bad Planet" #3 is "Bad Palnet #3 in 3D!"

CBR News: Really?

Jane: Yeah. You know, just thinking about the references we're pulling from and what not, I got turned onto Ray Zone when I was a teenager reading comics from Pacific like "Twisted Tales in 3D" and "Alien Worlds" did a 3D special.

Niles: Do you remember all those 3D comics, Jonah?

CBR News: Of course. I've got a number of those old Pacific's, but hell if I know what I did with the glasses.

Jane: (laughs) So, I became a member of the Southern California Stereo Club. They have a meeting down on Wilshire every month in a church basement. Everybody brings their 3D cameras and 3D slide shows and they have 3D glasses…

Niles: This is how we get the mad scientists, by the way. They're incredible! (laughs)

Jane: So, I dragged Steve down there with me and we spent an afternoon watching 3D movies and their slide show. It was really cool! We ended up striking up a friendship with Ray Zone. Ray's the master of stereoscopic imagery. He's done the separations for all the good 3D stuff that's ever been done since the '70s. We took him out and we came up with the idea of doing a 3D issue. What we're going to do is about 11 pages of full-color 3D in "Bad Planet" #3 and we're really excited about that.

Niles: We thought it would be really cool to do a 3D segment as opposed to an entire gimmick issue. We're using it where it'll work, where it'll be most effective. It's going to be really great.

CBR News: So, it'll ship with those little red/blue glasses?

Niles: Yeah and the samples Ray has sent us look just incredible.

Jane: And just so people know, it's full-color 3D, not like in the old days where it was just red lines and blue lines and you'd basically be reading a black and white comic book. These days, Ray is doing full color stuff that's just gorgeous.

Niles: It's really incredible. I hope people check it out.

We're back tomorrow with part two of this interview, including a look at issue #3's cover by Marck Schultz, additional preview art and much more. In the mean time, don't miss the first "Bad Planet" trailer over at Thomas Jane's Web site and look for an exclusive Web movie to premiere here on CBR later this week.

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