Layman Heads Out of This World with "Mars Attacks"

The invasion begins... in June. Those words -- minus the month distinction -- graced the very first card in the "Mars Attacks" series from the Topps trading card company back in 1962. The words also happen to also act as a great way to announce the forthcoming "Mars Attacks" comic series from IDW Publishing, written by John Layman ("Chew") and drawn by John McCrea ("Hitman"). The property celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and will mark the occasion not only with new ongoing comic series, but also by releasing 55 variants covers for it, each of which recreates a card from the original set. Interested buyers can hunt for each issue on their own or simply buy the Complete Box Set. In addition to being cool collectors' items, the cards remain notable for featuring art by EC Comics science fiction maestro Wally Wood.

While some adults balked at the idea of kids collecting the cards because Wood's artwork depicted copious amounts of death and destruction, for most young fans this only added to their mystique. One childhood fan of the card series happened to be filmmaker Tim Burton, who in 1996 took his own turn with the property and directed a feature film adaptation starring Jack Nicholson, Annette Benning, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan and a host of other big names. Another fan of the series is writer John Layman who has captured plenty of imaginations with his comic book work.

Aside from a few pages of preview artwork and an early April Fool's gag from Topps that convinced many fans Layman would also be working on a musical version for Broadway, not much has been said about the newest iteration of the property. To pull the curtain back on the invasion, CBR News reached out to Layman about reteaming with John McCrea, his history with the property, and how he snared the writing job.

"I am a fan and a collector of the cards, and I let [IDW Editor-in-Chief] Chris Ryall and IDW know the moment I heard they had the property," Layman said. "They had already lined-up John McCrea -- an old friend from my WildStorm days, we worked on 'The Monarchy' together -- and I guess IDW figured we'd be a good fit. I'm not really a fan of the movie. I saw it once years ago, and don't really remember much of it, other than I thought it was largely more dumb than funny, with an occasional good moment or visual."

As a fan of the original card series, Layman made a point to incorporate more than just the designs and themes into the comic book. "I'm lettering it as well, and I had the idea to break up scene and 'chapters' with their own little trade dress that resembled the old trading cards," Layman said.

However, Layman wants potential readers to know that a working knowledge of the "Mars Attacks" brand will not be necessary when picking up the comic as the new series features a rotating ensemble cast.

"To maximize accessibility, each issue is more or less a one-off, a small self-contained story of the early part of the invasion, at least the first mini, that builds to a climax," Layman said. "That is, the first four issues more or less stand on their own -- much like I do with 'Chew' -- and then come together for a climax."

One of the stars of the book was seen in that first preview, but astronaut Buck Spender gets to take center stage for the first issue, but he will show up later on in the series... if he survives.

"Astronaut-turned-U.S. Senator Buck Spender is a hero of one of the stories," Layman told CBR News. "I plan on weaving in and out of various stories and characters in the ten issues -- two-arcs -- I have planned. It won't follow a single character, but a character featured in one issue may show up here and there in later issues, weaving in and out like 'Pulp Fiction,' albeit on a larger scale."

While McCrea was already attached to the project when the writer came on board, his presence only acted as an added bonus to a project Layman was already itching to tackle.

"John and I go back a decade or more. I got to work with him as an editor, and hang out with him far too infrequently," Layman said. "He was already attached when I came on, but the idea of working with John, especially on something as crazy and funny and violent as 'Mars Attacks,' was a definite draw. The colorist John brought on board, Andrew Elder, is also absolutely spectacular."
In addition to the new comic, Topps also has a new series of "Mars Attacks" trading cards in the works that will feature artwork by McCrea, but Layman will not be involved in that process.

"Nope," Layman said. "Apparently Topps likes him as much as IDW and I do. And rightly so, he's doing the best work I've every seen him do, and I've loved John's stuff for years."

Lastly, CBR News asked about the April Fool's Broadway musical gag, which despite seeming far fetched fooled many -- this site included -- due to its release several days before April 1. Considering the initial announcement and craziness surrounding "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark," a "Mars Attacks" musical sounded just crazy enough to work.

"That was funny, but unfortunately timed to hit the same weekend as Emerald City Comic Con," Layman explained. "It was the sole topic of conversation everywhere I went which, uh, became less funny as the weekend wore on. Still, the joke ended up suckering a lot of people, hook, line and sinker."

Layman hopes to get folks reading the book just the same way, but without resorting to trickery.

Layman and McCrea kick off the alien invasion in "Mars Attacks" #1 from IDW in June.

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