Morse Unearths "Strange Science Fantasy"

Recapturing the unfettered adventure of Silver Age anthologies with an added dose of modern commentary, Scott Morse's "Strange Science Fantasy" returns in July from IDW. The six-issue miniseries will expand upon the concept introduced last year on Morse's blog, whereby the artist would create a series of short standalone adventures in the style of classic Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko comics composing, as Morse said at the time, "a complete story featuring characters that might or might not appear in the next issue." CBR News caught up with Morse to discuss "SSF's" latest incarnation.

Morse began publishing "Strange Science Fantasy" on his blog, where he made several strips available for a brief time, and then printed these in a limited edition of only fifty copies for sale at Comic-Con International in San Diego in 2009, where he also debuted "The Ancient Book of Sex and Science," the second in a series of "Ancient" art books featuring the work of animation artists and designers. The first two issues of the "Strange Science Fantasy" IDW series will reprint the scarce original stories, "Dawn of the Gearheads" and "Shogunaut," before moving on to new material. "The first two stories are newly edited reprints, but they're needed for the full scope of the series to ring appropriately," Morse said. "There was such a huge outcry from retailers about wanting to carry the books, and from fans not able to score the limited editions, that it seemed appropriate to put them in wide circulation. The characters involved play into the series in a bigger way, as well."

IDW's solicitation text for "Strange Science Fantasy" #1 describes Morse's short stories as "seemingly" unrelated, suggesting that there may be more at play than at first meets the eye. Asked whether the one-off adventures are in fact building toward something else or whether there is a different sort of interconnectedness at play, Morse said, "Heh heh. Both. The whole series works in an interconnected way. I'm always a big fan of tying things together. The hope is that, thematically, you'll get a nice punch in the gut when you see how they intermingle.

"The stories themselves stand alone. The themes will resonate, however, in the long run, and you'll see characters again."

Morse established the "SSF" banner to follow the style of the old Marvel anthologies, in both tone and style and the fact that these characters may or may not get a second appearance. "Aesthetically, the old pre-hero Atlas/Marvel titles like 'Strange Tales,' 'Tales to Astonish,' 'Journey Into Mystery,' they all inform the feel of 'Strange Science Fantasy.' The storytellers from those old stories seemed hell-bent on telling fun stories, not on creating franchises," Morse said. "Franchises of course fell out of them when they hit on something that had legs, but they were first and foremost entertaining themselves, it seemed. I know they had quotas and were, at the end of the day, selling books, but they were also honing a craft that's fallen away: short-form, economic character development and storytelling through the use of iconography and archetype. I want to tell fun stories, shooting from the hip. Keeping them organic is letting me explore classic myth relationships and archetypes in a way that a long-form storyline might prove a disservice."

As fans of the creator are well aware, design plays a strong role in a many of Morse's projects, either in terms of the physical book itself or how the content is presented, and this sensibility will continue to play out in "Strange Science Fantasy." "The differences readers of 'Strange Science Fantasy' might experience are really a result of the design, both visually and structurally. It's similar to what I tried on 'Soulwind,' actually, and that differs greatly to the initial inspiration for the series (the old Atlas/Marvel stories)," the cartoonist said. "I think comics fans will find something to enjoy about each and every issue, and then enjoy the series on a second level for a second reason. And it's all by design."

Morse, who has worked in animation with Pixar, Dreamworks and others, said that though there are superficial similarities between that medium and comics, skill in one does not necessarily translate to the other. "Animation and film storytelling are seemingly related to comics storytelling, but in reality, they're drastically different in execution. I work in both fields, film and comics, and try to use every tool in my belt in each, really," Morse said. "Comics pacing is heavily reliant on the rate of speed a reader lends to the conveyance of the images and story points, where film forces a rate of speed and pace of storytelling. The style of art and pacing in comics, therefore, needs to be much more iconic, on the whole, where film allows softer transitions where needed. They're different animals. Over all, the things I use in both fields tend to reflect economy of communication, whether that be in graphic design (i.e., bold shapes, color, layouts, cutting), or in storytelling (what to show, when to show it, and why I'm showing it)."

Joining Morse for one-page backup stories on this miniseries is "100%" and "Batman: Year 100" creator Paul Pope. "Paul loves comics. Period. And he wants to make comics. He saw that I was making some 'pure' comics, using a vehicle that might allow multiple storytellers (ie, the old Atlas/Marvel one-off format), something he could sink his teeth into, bite off, chew and feel satisfied by contributing to on a small scale," Morse said. "He actually suggested joining up, and he's welcome to join me on any endeavor he wants to. Paul's an amazing storyteller and thinker, and of course an astounding artist, so it seemed like a no-brainer. I've given him free rein to use my characters or his own, to execute his pages as he sees fit. He 'gets' the project and knows how to roll with it, so I just sit back and enjoy what he delivers. Hopefully you do, too!"

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