BOOM! Studios is the home of a number of high concept miniseries including tales of Zombies, Cthulhu, rednecks, secret societies, witches and more. The publisher's latest project, "Station," is something of a cross between "Whiteout" and "Astronauts in Trouble." When an astronaut is killed on the international space station, you're left with the ultimate closed-door mystery.
You may remember writer Johanna Stokes from other BOOM! projects as "Mr. Stuffins," "Pirate Tales," "The Savage Brothers," and "Zombie Tales." In "Station," the writer crafts a strong mystery featuring a colorful cast of characters, a fascinating location, and the appropriate sense of awe and scale. Check out the double page spread of pages 8 and 9, seen below.
Illustrated by Leno Carvalho, the first issue of "Station" is on sale now, with three more to come in the storyline. To walk us through issue #1, Johanna Stokes turns in this week's COMMENTARY TRACK.
As always, SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN FULL EFFECT.
"Station," baby! This project's come a long way from me waking up on my couch one morning, rolling over and calling Ross Richie of BOOM! Studios to say, "What if we did 'Whiteout' on a space station?" His response of, "When can I have it?" set the wheels in motion and from there I started developing the story, figuring out what I wanted to do was a little less "Whiteout" (simply because it wasn't driven by an investigation), and a little more "Alien" or "The Abyss," minus anything supernatural. I love those high pressure stories where the real crisis is internal but there's no time to deal with it because everything is spinning out of control externally, where people are trapped together in an enclosed environment not knowing who they can trust but depending on each other for survival.
Right off, I wanted it to be clear that while this story is fiction, it isn't science fiction. The International Space Station is really up there, orbiting the Earth every 92 minutes at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour and has been doing so for the past 10 years. 16 countries have come together, putting aside politics and cultural differences, for this one beautiful accomplishment, which scientists tell us is essential for the long term survival of the human race. Our future depends on space travel and the space station will play a key role in helping us move beyond Earth.
It's near impossible to learn about the space program and the men and women who have dedicated their lives to it, always pushing the boundaries of science and exploration, and NOT be inspired by the nobility and audacity of the human spirit. I looked at all that and, with my writerly brain thought, "How can we turn this all to hell?" And so began "Station."
Here we meet Dyson, a space tourist aboard the I.S.S. Most of us know, thanks to Lance Bass, that space tourism is a real thing. If you have an extra 20 million dollars lying around you can hitch a ride and live on the Station for a week. And while that dollar amount may seem extreme, several people from around the world have already gone up and more are scheduled on into 2011, most of them being self-made billionaires we've never heard of before, not well known pop singers.
While I tried to stay as close to modern day, real world stuff, I did bend the rules, a bit, sending Dyson up on the space shuttle, as tourists would typically go up in the Soyuz, but I wanted to spend some time getting to know this crew.
This double-page spread sums up the whole issue for me. The loneliness, the hopelessness of someone drifting off into space, knowing their fate. As I explain a couple pages later, space suits are designed to keep astronauts alive for eight hours in the void of space so this guy will be out there, alone with his thoughts, until he eventually suffocates or freezes to death, his body drifting through infinity forever. Every time I think about it I get chills. Someone posted to the BOOM! message boards and said he liked this spread so much he made it his desk top image. Kudos to Leno Carvalho!
Speaking of Leno Carvalho, our wonderful artist, let's just go ahead and talk about his work here. I do not envy him his job, particularly on this project. Right from the beginning, I asked him to capture the claustrophobic feel of the International Space Station where every square inch of ceiling, wall and floor serves a function and man, did he deliver! He put such delicious details on every single page -- dozens of knobs, exposed wires, complicated paneling -- all contributing to that sense that we're trapped here with no where to run. I love it. Look at the care that went into those top three panels and then how he lets it all drop away in panel four to bring emphasis to the emptiness those characters are feeling. Brilliant. And then in panel five he tightens it up again, shoving everyone into this small space. Really nice choices.
Over the next few pages, the crew members struggle with the loss, dealing with it in different ways. Up there, everyone is their brother's keeper, so when there's such a critical failure, everyone shares a sense of responsibility but they all express it differently. Karen wants to talk about Nicolay, his accomplishments and who he was, Ana is hung up on his death, unable to focus while Lud and Tessloff are uncommunicative and angry, lashing out at each other, frustrated with their lack of control over such a desperate situation.
So one of the fun things we get to do as writers is weave our life experience into our stories. With "Station" being my first solo project, I really wanted to give a nod to my folks in it as a thank you for the encouragement they have always offered in my creative endeavors. The physical appearance of Commander Shey, the leader of the U.S. crew, is roughly based on my dad. I sent Leno a few photos of him and Leno took those and created this character. But even though my dad doesn't see himself in these drawings, he still refers to this as [SPOILER ALERT] the book where I kill him off! "How's your project going," he'll ask. "You know, the one where you kill me off?" In retrospect, knowing I wanted our hero to be this young, fish out of water character, perhaps I should have sent Leno pictures of my dad from his Air Force days and based the character of Dyson on him, instead.
And then there in the fourth panel of the page is a picture of my beautiful mom. The line Shey delivers here is a thank you to my parents. "Of all the journeys I've ever taken, the one I'm on with her is still my favorite." My folks have been together for 40 years and even though there were arguments or tough times, there was never a doubt that they loved each other and I'm so grateful to them for their dedication to each other.
Here at the bottom of the page, we have Dyson trying to help by putting some foodstuff away for Ana, but because of the effects of weightlessness, a packet gets away from him, drifting behind a panel. As he reaches for it, he discovers a hidden syringe taped to the back of the panel and that's when our story really begins and it all hinges on him. If someone else had been up here instead of him, they might have tried to stay out of the way but because Dyson is who he is, he wants to help in whatever way he can, even if it's the simplest of tasks. If he had been another astronaut, accustomed to the effects of weightlessness, the item might not have gotten away from him and if the syringe hadn't been found at this point in time, whoever sabotaged the S.A.F.E.R. would have had the opportunity to retrieve the syringe, ensuring no one would ever know Nicolay's death wasn't an accident.
I always love it in stories where man's free will collides with destiny, where there are choices characters can make but a sense of inevitability about the outcome of those choices and how we struggle against that everyday.
Love this shot. It reminds me of those old murder mysteries where the detective gathers all the suspects in a room and tells us one of them is a murderer and then takes us on a ride, unraveling the clues bit by bit.
I certainly hoped you've enjoyed this first issue and will stick around for the following three as we take the characters out of the frying pan and into the fire, tear the station apart around them as they tear each other apart inside, even as they know they need each other if they hope to make it out of this alive.
Thanks once again to Johanna Stokes for stopping by THE COMMENTARY TRACK this week to discuss her newest creation. "Station" #1 is available in comic shops today for $3.99.
For more from Stokes, check out the four-part series she wrote here at CBR back in 2005, "Girl in the Clubhouse." ( https://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=author&id=20 )
As always, if you have any titles or creators you'd like to see in THE COMMENTARY TRACK, or you're a creator with a book coming out that you'd like to talk about in detail, drop us a line. We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we've had a shortage of those so far. We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!
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THE COMMENTARY TRACKS