Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have a message for Newsarama readers: not all aliens want to eat us.
In their new graphic novel Forager, the All-Star Western duo are teaming with artist Steve Cummings as they take a all-too-human family on a interstellar cruise ship vacation that gets rocky when their daughter begins hearing the call of an extraterrestrial voice promising their imminent arrival.
Comics have a long history of science fiction works and both Palmiotti and Gray have written their share of sci-fi stories, but for Forager they’re breaking with the trend of invading (or eating) aliens and into a more optimistic, otherworldly first contact similar to the likes of Starman, E.T. and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
Forager is set to be released this November as a 60 page graphic novel, but the only way you can get it then is by supporting it via Kickstarter. Forager is the fifth Kickstarter project for Palmiotti, and after his four previous ones achieved their goals (and then some) this one looks to do the same; at press time, the project has $17,617 of its $22,500 goal with 25 days to go.
Newsarama: So guys, what can you tell us about Forager?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Simply put, a couple that are having marriage difficulties decide a family vacation might help their problems and they take their six-year-old daughter Ellie with them on a week’s vacation aboard a luxury Star Liner orbiting the Earth and Mars. Soon after reaching orbit Ellie begins hearing voices from what she calls angels, claiming they are, “coming for our world”. As the days pass Ellie alarmingly slips in and out of a catatonic state for short periods of time, each time explaining that the angels are getting closer. The story is about first contact with an alien intelligence, and how it changes the world. It’s an interesting look at what we know and don’t know about the life around us. There is also some deep space exploration and ideas in the book that are classic sci-fi themes.
Justin Gray: The idea crystallized around the time the first Prometheus trailers hit and I remember thinking everything space related is frustratingly similar. I kept watching and continue seeing these movies where everything wants to eat us. There are so few exceptions like Close Encounters Of The Third Kind or Starman, which is basically E.T. for grownups, where the aliens aren’t looking to conquer, eat or use us as hosts or whatever we’ve all seen for decades. For me there are two places where we can benefit the most from exploration – space and the ocean. I’m not going to wander off on a science tirade but I would recommend people read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles.
Newsarama: You two are both happily married, and no stranger to family vacations – you and Amanda have been together for years. What makes the Travers’ vacation different?
Palmiotti: Unlike Amanda and I they are having troubles with their relationship and have a child. We also never took a vacation off the planet, but if that was possible, Amanda would be the first one on that ship.
Gray: This goes back to one of the core elements of the book. Much of the story is about a family and how their lives change, how everyday life and particularly work can drive a wedge between couples and their children. There is dramatic tension in relationships that we wanted to explore.
Nrama: This is in the future, but how far – and what’s the world like that you can take a Star Liner trip from Earth to Mars?
Gray: I find it interesting when technology becomes commonplace. The technology we have now would have been inconceivable a hundred years ago. Yet we have all these amazing things at our fingertips, but people being people we tend to use them for things like sharing funny pictures of cats. Someday, providing we can keep from extinguishing ourselves, we will have space cruises. Along with the idea of aliens not wanting to eat us there’s the impact they would have on our world. That is something that has always fascinated me.
Nrama: Your last graphic novel, Weapon Of God, had some real action heroes – but the Travers’ don’t seem to be action heroes at all. What are they like?
Palmiotti: They are normal people in a world where everything they know is challenged by what happens to their daughter.
Gray: They’re a normal couple with dreams and flaws like the rest of us. The rational behind Ellie was that everyone believes their child is special and for Ellie that’s probably more true than anyone in human history.
Nrama: Things start getting shaky when young Ellie begins hearing voices from what she says are angels, but might be aliens. Can you describe these events happening to Ellie?
Gray: Without giving too much away, what Ellie hears, as a six year old on the Asperger spectrum, is interpreted in ways that confuse the people around her. No one is entirely sure if this is some kind of condition that is damaging to her or if these angels she is hearing are real.
Nrama: You and Justin are no stranger to science fiction, but this is far removed from the typical apocalyptic type of thing – more like the original Lost In Space meets the wide-eyed wonder of a movie you mentioned earlier, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Can you talk about doing this type of science fiction?
Gray: As I mentioned earlier the landscape of pop science fiction in film and TV is largely the same kind of stuff people have been watching since the fifties. The Host is just an emotionally void and shiny version of The Body Snatchers. Don’t get me wrong I love the genre. We wanted to create a book that looks, feels and reads completely different from anything we’ve done.
Palmiotti: We wanted to o something fun, positive and all ages and Justin had this great idea and we went for it. It’s fun and uplifting to change up what is expected now and again.
Nrama: The title of this, “Forager,” what does that refer to?
Gray: It is the one sci-fi cliché that we wanted to keep, the idea of naming the ship something ridiculously obvious.
Stepping out from your previous Kickstarter books, Forager is billed as “all ages.” Can you talk about your decision to do that?
Palmiotti: We consider a lot of what we do “all ages” but for the kickstarters we have been putting together ideas that are outside the normal superhero books and fall into a more adult category. We are pushing the envelope in our work these days…just one look at All-Star Western #23 tells you so, and having this book be all ages is something we think, unexpected as well. The greatest thing about comics is that you can write anything you can imagine. We imagine a lot.
Gray: Partly too because people have it in their head that “all-ages” means childish or simplistic. For us it just means we’re not using gratuitous gore, gratuitous sex or gratuitous language in the story. What Jimmy said is true we have sex and violence in a number of our books, but again we’re interested in doing all types of stories.
Nrama: I’m really impressed with Steve Cummings art; you and he worked together just recently on the Mera issue of Ame-Comi: Girls, but from the size and release date of Forager it seems like you’ve been working on this for awhile. How’d you find Steve, and what made him the guy to draw this?
Gray: Years ago I was working on Legends of the Dark Knight and my editor was the always excellent Joey Cavalieri. Joey put Steven and I together on that three-issue project and we got on really well. Steven lives in Japan so we kept in touch online and we talked about working on something and I was always pushing to get him work here and there. The thing was I looked at Forager and Jimmy and I both agreed it shouldn’t look like anything we’ve done before. I suggested Steven because his work is so clean and I know we could design a color palate that would emphasize his strengths and reinforce the specific look we wanted. It was also important on one level that Steven is an expat living in Japan and his vision of science fiction is different for it. I have to say that personally it was not an easy time for Steven to take this project on. The work ethic, professionalism and dedication he brought to the book should not go unnoticed.
Nrama: In the fine print to this I noticed that you specifically say that you and Justin aren’t taking any money from the Kickstarter for yourselves even though you’re the writers and the business owners in effect. Why is that? And if I can ask, where do you plan on making money for this for yourselves?
Palmiotti: The initial amount is for all of our artists and we felt the amount was a lot of money and in the end, we just want our guys paid and happy. We felt it would have been a bit of abuse of the system to put a page rate into the mix. If the books makes more than the amount, we just take the $ and roll it into another project. It is about getting our ideas out there not getting rich.
Gray: We budget our costs to cover all of the amazing creative people we work with and make sure they’re getting paid for the work THEY do. Asking people to financially support us while we work on these kinds of projects wouldn’t be right in our opinion. The reality is these projects are written well in advance. They’re created in our spare time separate from the work for hire work we do. The reason being is we write these stories for ourselves and, as thankfully it turns out, the people that support our Kickstarters.
Nrama: We’re conducting this interview on a Friday, and as of this interview, this Kickstarter is just a day old and has already raised over half of its $22,500 goal. Is that a surprise?
Gray: Truthfully? Yes. I was hanging out with a friend who has no ties to the industry yesterday when Forager came online and he had no idea what Kickstarter was. I showed him the campaign and he looks at me and says this is so exciting and it really is. The amount of vocal support that accompanies these pledges is one of the things I like best about it. These books have an audience that is invested as opposed to being in the position of working on a title where each month you’re bleeding readers.
Nrama: Not to jinx it, but at this rate you might hit your goal with weeks left to pledge. Any thought about stretch goals?
Palmiotti: Yes, more art prints, added content and some crazy ideas we are still working on.
Nrama: After watching you with these Kickstarters and sitting in on a recent one-man panel about Kickstater you did at MegaCon, I can really see how you turned this into a business. Ever thought about formalizing this into a company yourself to publish others via Kickstarter? You’ve been an editor and publisher before with Event, Marvel Knights and Black Bull, so you can’t say you don’t have experience.
Palmiotti: It is too much work and time to put these together, the thought of doing someone else’s makes me want to run away. It will never happen. If I was 16, maybe…but I am far from that. Just packing and shipping the books takes me weeks.
Gray: These kickstarters are far more labor intensive than I think some people imagine. The production is being done by at most three people. When you get your kickstarter package realize it has been sitting in Jimmy’s house, packed by Jimmy and our great friend Patrick. I was at his house when we were preparing to ship Sex and Violence Volume 1. We sat on the floor of his studio and signed every single copy and honestly that is incredibly rewarding. This is a case where Jimmy is, labeling, packing and driving your kickstarters directly to the post office and handing them over for shipping. Most likely cursing me the whole way because I’m all the way up in New York.
Nrama: As opposed to most of your earlier Kickstarter projects, Forager is using Print-On-Demand to let you print exactly the number of books needed in what is in effect a Kickstarter only edition. Can you tell us about doing it with Print-On-Demand and making it work for you?
Palmiotti: I want to make sure the people that support this feel they are getting something special and not part of a huge print run. These kickstarters are personal to us…we babysit these, pack them ourselves and create things like the prints that you can get nowhere else. This is an exclusive Kickstarter experience and we feel we owe each and every person the best we can do to make it a fun one.