CBR has the exclusive first interview with Stokoe about the new project, and if one thing was obvious from talking with the acclaimed creator, it's that he's positively effusive about the opportunity to contribute to a longtime favorite.
“I always joke that when other kids were getting older and falling out with superhero comics, they went deep into [Dan] Clowes and Fantagraphics books and all that, but I got into ‘Aliens’ comics," Sokoe tells CBR. "I got almost all of my comics at a local used book store, so I my selection was pretty limited, but I loved -- and continue to love -- a ton of those older series. So, on a personal note, this series is a chance to go digging around that specific area of my creative DNA.”
The four-issue series pits an engineer named Wascylewsk against the eponymous horde, and much like the doomed crew of the Nostromo, his resources are extremely limited.
“'Dead Orbit' mostly takes place on the space station Sphacteria in a rather forgotten and secluded area of space,” Stokoe explains. “It's a pretty ragged, worn looking setting. [The Xenomorphs] are definitely not there to give the space station crew a helping hand, so I'd say they're as much of an antagonist as an unknowable monster can be. I don't really consider them to be that sinister; they just have a very violent, predatory life cycle which sucks if you're a human and happen to be their neighbor.”
The key to capturing the unique character of the franchise lies not in voice, but in atmosphere, something Stokoe is intent on getting just right.
“When I was starting on the plot idea,” he said, “I rewatched the first two films and wrote down a bunch of notes to try and figure out what I really loved about the series and how to expand and explore those ideas in comic book form. The one note I kept coming back to was, ‘Comics have no sound -- this really could suck,’ because those films have such an iconic sound design and there's really no decent way to match that feeling in comic form without it being a little hokey.
“Like, that cold tone of MOTHER counting down to self destruct, the weird ‘braaap’ of a pulse rifle... there's no good comic equivalent to that, and it's such a huge, and often overlooked, part of the series.”
The solution? Doubling down on visual detail, or tripling down, considering the artist’s penchant for lush, hyper-detailed backgrounds.
“The narrative bounces between pre and post alien attack on the station,” he said. “I'm having to draw the same settings in various states of disarray, but still keep it recognizable, which has been a bit of a challenge with all the million little pipes and terminals and whatnot. It's definitely a big departure from the ‘Orc Stain’ environments, but more technical sci-fi stuff is always fun to draw.”
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of reference available.
“The wealth of amazing physical designs on those films is something else,” Stokoe said. “It's next to impossible to get stuck drawing a design element for this story because there's so much inspiration already built in.”
He points specifically to Ron Cobb's designs for the original Nostromo interiors, dating back to pre-production of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” in 1979.
“That guy can draw a hallway like nobody's business.”
But with all deference to Cobbs, for Stokoe and so many others, it all comes back to one man when considering the lasting appeal of the series. So much of the industrial set dressing, as well as the unmistakable profile of Xenomorph XX121 itself, spirals back to one quiet artist from Switzerland.
“It’s a Giger painting that moves,” Stokoe says of the creature, but also the property itself. “The lack of eyes as well is my favorite. Imagine how different the series would feel if they gave the Alien googly movie monster eyes? It'd look like a deranged hotdog!”
Stokoe, of course, has no intention of bringing a frankfurter to a pulse rifle fight.
“More practically, I just want it to look good!" he noted. "I've found the best ‘Aliens’ stories are always really simple plots with nice looking dressing, so I'm aiming for that. At its core, ‘Dead Orbit’ is just about a quiet guy who doesn't want to die and have a cigarette.”
It’s game over for the Sphacteria when James Stokoe's "Aliens: Dead Orbit" launches April 26, 2017. "Aliens: The Original Comics Series Volume 2" goes on sale April 12, 2017