"Bad Planet" Week: Talking with Thomas Jane & Steve Niles, Part 2

As "Bad Planet" Week here at CBR continues, we bring you part two of our discussion with the writers of the Image Comics series, Thomas Jane and Steve Niles. If you missed the first part of the interview, no worries. You can find part one of the interview here where Tom & Steve talk about how the series came together, the challenges faced by the creative team and plans for a portion of issue #3 to be presented in 3-D.

"Bad Planet" week continues tomorrow when we talk with series penciller Lewis LaRosa who gives us a first look at his pencils for the series. Thursday we chat with inker/art director Tim Bradstreet who'll give us a first look at inks from the series. And Friday we bring it all home for you with a special, extended preview of art from the series. You can follow all the action easily by bookmarking the "Bad Planet" Week News Index, which will be updated whenever we post a new story.

CBR News: I want to go back to talking about the creative process on the series for a bit, if you don't mind. In developing this series did you have any interesting creative arguments? Steve, is there something you wished had stayed in? Or Tom, was there something you wanted that Steve didn't?

Niles: You know, there were some little, tiny moments, but nothing that I remember. Tom benefits hugely from the fact that I can't remember shit. (laughs) I'm sure there were little moments where we wanted to do something where we didn't have time or space, but so far it's been cool. Really, this is Tom's idea and his sandbox he's letting me play in, so I don't kick and scream too much if an idea gets nixed.

Jane: Except for the naked, teenage, Venus vixens that we were going to try and work in.

Niles: Yeah, but I put my foot down on that one. (laughs)

CBR News: Why?

Niles: Ahhhhhhhh ….

Jane: Because Venus chicks have three tits and Steve doesn't dig that! (laughs)

Niles: It would have ended up being a Top Cow book! How's that? A little inside nerd humor for you! (laughs)

CBR News: That's hilarious man. You may have made the right choice putting your foot down.

Tom, what was going on when this idea first came to you? What was the inspiration for this?

Jane: Well, let's see, I was all fucked up on Vicodin! (laughs)

Niles: (laughs) And the truth comes out!

CBR News: (laughs) What, from accidents sustained playing the Punisher?

Jane: No, actually, I had been in a car accident. I totaled my car. Well, I didn't total it total it, but it was in the shop for six months. So, I was laying in bed, I was all messed up.

Niles: Yeah, staring out the window at space.

Jane: Yeah, I was laid up for about a week, hobbling around the house with ice packs strapped to my body, giggling to myself. And these images started to come to me in a fevered dream.

CBR News: You can't ask for better inspiration than a Vicodin haze!

So, from the moment of conception, this project has really been your baby, Tom. You've been shepherding this project along the entire way and, like you said earlier, you've been acting as Publisher of this project, since Image offers you that sort of freedom. And this is your first comics project and thus your first real contact with the industry. From a total outsiders perspective who is now on the inside, would you mind sharing some of your impressions of the industry?

Jane: Well, it's a creative industry like any other. There are people who are very passionate about it, then there are people who just want to make money, and then there's the artists who are always getting screwed over. It's pretty much just like the movie industry.

CBR News: Really?

Jane: Yeah. I dunno, I still feel kind of isolated because I don't really interact with people in the industry outside of the people I'm working with. It's really all about making this book as good as we can, so all I really know is what's going to make it good and then going about making that come true. That really comes down to communicating with all the artists and trying to bring everybody together with a single kind of vision. That's done by sending around reference photos and looking at different books and stuff. Then you gotta pay them and figure out page rates and try to work out deals that make sense to everybody. Then I'd talk to the publisher to find a good publication date. That's really my exposure to the industry and that's about as deep in I want to get.

Niles: If you want somebody to bad mouth the industry, ask me!

Jane: (laughs) Right!

CBR News: So, how did you guys end up publishing with Image Comics?

Niles: That's a good question. How did we end up at Image?

Jane: Called 'em up!

Niles: (laughs) That's right, we just called 'em up and said, "Hey, can we publish a comic through you guys?"

You know what, I worked with them when I did "Fused" about four years ago when Valentino was still running it. Now with Erik Larsen running things it's a much different place. Image has been absolutely great, giving us great exposure and giving this project every chance in the world to sell.

CBR News: Did you guys have a sit down meeting with Image or did you do it all over the phone?

Jane: Well, I called up Eric Stephenson and sent him the outline. I told him who was involved and showed him some sketches Lewis did, stuff like that, and it happened pretty quickly.

Niles: Yeah, they really got behind it.

Jane: And they helped us print up a bunch of posters for San Diego…

Niles: And bookmarks, stuff like that.

Jane: … and we signed posters as fast as our little hands could sign posters. We probably gave away 400-500 signed posters.

CBR News: Yeah, I remember seeing that. I had to push my way in to get a picture of you two and Tim. You guys were quite mobbed at the Image booth.

Niles: It was great, especially considering how crazy San Diego was this year. The fact that we could get that many people coming around the booth was fantastic.

CBR News: Yeah, rising above the noise at that place isn't always easy.

Niles: Ohhh, man, I know.

CBR News: Tom once told me that turning "Bad Planet" into a film would be difficult because it would require an immense budget. Now that you're getting closer to publication and considering the contacts you both have in Hollywood, have you been showing this project around? Has there been much interest from Hollywood yet?

Jane: We're absolutely not showing this to anyone on the Hollywood side yet.

Niles: Yeah, we're concentrating on just getting the comic done right now.

Jane: Right now, there's a lot of cross-over business and potential between Hollywood and comics and everyone's scouting comics to make the leap to their next movie, but if you're going to make a comic book, make a comic book. Don't make a comic book to be used as a stepping stone to be turned into a film because, if that's what your ultimate goal is, you'll probably make compromises as far as your artists and story go. If your ultimate goal is, "Well, this will be a movie and in the movie we'll do that and then we'll hire a great cinematographer to do this and in the movie we'll …" That's not the way to go about making a comic book. If you're going to make a comic book, make a fucking comic book and make it because it's a comic book. Make it because you can't see it as anything else other than a comic book. If it's a novel, write a novel. If it's a painting, paint one. If it's a movie, then go make the movie. But if it's a comic book, then make the damn comic book and make it the best damned comic book you know how to make. That's what "Bad Planet" is. It's a comic book and it wants to be everything comics have to offer.

Niles: I honestly have not thought about the Hollywood side. I've been asked this question, but I haven't been thinking about it that way because I've been enjoying the process of making this science fiction comic. I actually think we'd limit ourselves if we were thinking about "Bad Planet" as a movie.

Jane: That's right. You'd be limited because you'd start asking questions like, "Can we film that? How'd that work on film?" Whereas in the comics medium you can bend time around and tell the story in so many more different ways that you'd be limiting yourself by trying to envision it as a movie first and a comic second.

Niles: Yeah, like leveling the nations Capitol! You can do that kind of stuff easily in comics. We've got this great scene where a ship, coming in for a landing in Washington D.C., takes off the top of the Capitol building, then it slows and smashes into the Washington Monument, which then falls over. Now, if we were to start thinking about this in terms of what we could do in films, we may have just had the ship simply skid to a halt on the Mall so we wouldn't have to worry about so much model work or whatever.

Jane: By the way, that's our little tribute to "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers."

CBR News: Yeah? You mentioned yesterday that Issue #3 of the series pays tribute to the great 3D science fiction films of yesterday, but are there any other tributes to be found in "Bad Planet?"

Niles: Oh God, tons!

Jane: Oh yeah, the whole fucking book is a tribute to science fiction movies and comic books. That's where we got a lot of inspiration from. We're firmly rooted on the shoulders of all the stuff I grew up with.

CBR News: That was going to be one of my next questions actually, to talk with you a bit about your favorite science fiction stories and authors. What might some of those be?

Niles: Man, I dunno. There are so many. I don't know quite where to start. As a kid, with regard to films, I was into everything from "2001" to "Silent Running."

Jane: Oh, "Silent Running" was cool.

Niles: Oh yeah, it was great.

Jane: I loved those little robots!

Niles: And as a kid I was a little film making nerd. I read "Starlog" and I tired to make space ships because I was following all those guys like John Dykstra who were doing all the model work at the time, which all exploded when "Star Wars" came out. I was always hugely into all that. Right on up to "Battlestar Gallactica" when it was on television the first time.

Jane: I remember thinking "Dune" was pretty neat, for what it was. I was pretty knocked out by that.

Niles: And I was one of those kids you knew like, "So, how many times did you see 'Star Wars?'"

CBR News: (laughs) Were ya?

Steve. Yeah, I was 11 or 12 or so.

CBR News: Well, how many times did you see it?

Niles: Oh, like three or four times.

CBR News: Oh, so you weren't one of those guys who saw it like 50 times.

Jane: (laughs)

Niles: No, I hated those nerds who'd sit around saying stuff like, "14 times! 14 times!" This was actually when you had to go to the theater and stand in line and watch it. This was back when movies would actually run in theaters for six months to a year at a time. I remember that was a point of pride at school.

Tom, I swear, wasn't this in "Boogie Nights?" Isn't there a scene where people are standing around asking each other, "So, how many times have you seen 'Star Wars?'"

Jane: Oh, man, I don't remember.

Niles: Yeah, I think there is, during one of the pool scenes when one of the characters are meeting each other.

CBR News: Yeah, that sounds about right.

Niles: Yeah, it was a thing that was happening all over the country at the time.

CBR News: Tom, were you one of those nerds who saw "Star Wars" a million times in the theater?

Jane: Nah, I don't think we had the money. I'd have to sneak into a theater to see it multiple times. I probably only saw it once, but I loved it. Plus, you have a really good memory when you're a kid. You only need to see it once and your memory takes over from there.

Niles: I just remember having to see it a second time because when my Dad and I saw it, you remember that scene with the white ship coming over in the beginning? I actually started to hyperventilate! (laughs) I couldn't believe it.

CBR News: (laughs) That's awesome. Just awesome.

What would you guys like to say to people who might be on the fence about ordering "Bad Planet?" What should they know? Why should they pick up this book?

Jane: To tell you the truth, Jonah, I'm not quite sure who's going to read this book. I mean, I've been making this book for myself. I grew up really spoiled with artists who were so good that when I pick up a book today, if the art isn't just knocking my socks off, I won't buy it. And the stories, they have to be really fun and interesting.

Look, I grew up reading E.C. comic reprints that were so well written and drawn. Then, in the '80s, Bruce Jones was writing all that "Twisted Tales" and "Alien Worlds." The writing was so good it was like poetry. Then you had guys like Bolton, Dave Stevens, William Stout doing interiors. They were just a knockout.

Niles: And this was really the last time period where there were alternatives to super heroes in comics, which we're luckily starting to get a bit more of now. One reason why people should pick "Bad Planet" up is just for that-- it's a straightforward science fiction story and it's not dudes in leotards trying to beat each other up, not that there's anything wrong with that. One of the things that comics really needs, to attract readers like Tom, is not fifty shelves of super hero stories.

Jane: I gotta tell you, it's hard for me. It's been a long time since I was able to go into a store and go, "Hey, what kinda horror and scifi books you got right now?"

CBR News: So, "Bad Planet" fills that void in some ways.

Niles: I hope so. I really think it could for people. It's something a little different and I hope more people do stuff like this.

Jane: Yeah, that would be nice. Maybe we'll help inspire some people to tell stories like this again. E.C. used to adapt writer Ray Bradbury into comic form-- and this is reprints from the '50s for God's sake-- and that lead to me going out and reading "Farenheit 451" and then that led to Robert Heinlein and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" & "Starship Troopers" and then that led to Arthur C. Clarke reading "Childhood's End" and then that led to William Gibson and so much more. It opened up whole worlds and doors and that all came from reading an old E.C. comics reprint of a seven-page Ray Bradbury adapted story. There's something there. If someone were to pick up this comic and do the same, that would be great.

Niles: And not to go on a complete rant, but I don't thing people fully realize the damage that Wertham did to comics. When E.C. was around in the 1950s you could get a western comic or a war comic or a romance comic or you could get a freaking comic about the District Attorney if you wanted to. Or a comic on psychoanalysis! There was virtually every genre represented, but then Wertham and his Comics Code destroyed all those titles and reduced comics to super heroes.

Jane: Yeah, super heroes were big in the 1940s, but then the 1950s came and we saw romance, crime, horror and war comics, but then all that stuff got shut down. You couldn't even put it in the title. So, the publishers looked for something else and, sure enough, super heroes made a comeback and the Silver Age was born. We haven't fully recovered since. That stuff is running strong, but there's a serious imbalance. In the 1970s the underground stuff started up and there was more social commentary and that was fantastic. It was like a real literary boost was happening in comics. Then that stuff kinda died out. It can still be found with guys like Charles Burns and there are tons of guys doing great stuff in that world, but as far as just an entertaining comic book that's not about super heroes, they're hard to find. They're certainly out there and "Bad Planet" is one of them.

Niles: Yeah. I'd love to see "Bad Planet" be the start of some straight forward science fiction stories. We've seen a resurgence in horror comics, so I'd love to see that same thing happen with science fiction and comics. Then I'd love to see some war comics and pirate comics. Whatever.

Jane: My only fear is that the guys who would be attracted to this sort of material aren't looking for comics like this anymore. They gave up a long time ago.

Niles: That's the big problem. The question everyone asks is how do we get people back in comic stores or at least how to get the comics back in front of the right people?

Jane: Right, because then when something does come around there's just no audience for it because it dried up years ago.

Niles: I still get e-mail, four years later, from people who are just picking up "30 Days of Night" who are really excited that there are horror comics out there again. So, hopefully, maybe "Bad Planet" can help do the same thing for science fiction. We just need some more niches.

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