Groom Lake #1, cover AChris Ryall and Ben Templesmith are planning to abduct science fiction fans in March with the release of Groom Lake. Written by IDW Publisher and Editor-in-Chief and drawn by the co-creator of 30 Days of Night, Groom Lake is a 4-issue mini-series that explores one of mankind’s most monolithic unsolved mysteries—the existence of extraterrestrial life. Using bits and pieces of recognized lore from organizations that believe in extraterrestrial life and drawing from historical information and locations like Area 51 and Groom Lake in Nevada—Ryall and Templesmith plan to explore not only the information that is available—but they’ll be paying homage to classic science fiction stories and characters as well.
Newsarama sat down with Ryall and Templesmith to discuss Groom Lake—and some of their personal beliefs on extraterrestrial life.
Newsarama: To get started, Chris, can you give readers a little background about your history with extraterrestrial lore, conspiracies, and the UFO phenomenon.
Chris Ryall: Well, my parents discovered me in the middle of some wreckage in the New Mexico desert in 1947. I tried convincing them I rocketed here from Krypton but they knew it was more likely that I was the offspring of some bug-eyed, grey-skinned aliens.
But really, I've been interested in and reading about UFOs pretty much since I could read, and this interest was certainly fostered by things from my childhood like Cose Encounters (the Walt Simonson-drawn Marvel treasury Edition and the Fotonovel, I mean...who knew there was also a movie by the same name?), Gold Key UFO comics reprints and even Escape From Witch Mountain. So it's always been an interest—even now, I'll watch any History Channel special on UFOs even though I know damn well they're not going to show me anything new.
NRAMA: Ben, are you also a big believer?
Ben Templesmith: Well, if you look at history, we've gone as a species from thinking the Earth was flat, that we were the center of the universe, quite literally, having a god that created little ol' us and apparently leaving the rest of the universe as a barren lifeless wasteland? I definitely doubt that as science explores the universe more and more. Besides which, the numbers on the probability of their being more life out make it a virtual certainty. Plus, with all the mass sightings (not the obscure ones, but the real ones like the Washington DC lights, etc.) and you'd have to be a trusting idiot to not think something was going on. Government will always deny and cover up, of course, to do otherwise is admittance that they're powerless to do anything. So yeah, for me, knowing that there's intelligent life out there is a forgone conclusion in my book.
NRAMA: How did you and Chris get hooked up for Groom Lake?
CR: I'm sure Ben's answer is that this book is penance for something he must've done wrong to somebody...
BT: The usual way. He breaks into my house late at night, ties me up, and tortures me with a large pair of tongs until I agree to what he wants.
Actually, I've really been hounding him for years about working on something....anything he wanted; I loved Zombies vs. Robots. It's one of my favorite books. Ash and he are a great team.
NRAMA: What is the most important facet of this project from the separate perspectives of writer and artist?
Groom Lake #1, cover BCR: I'd say from my perspective that it's taken what I think in my biased way is a fun, unique look at the lore surrounding aliens and secret bases and all of that. And I also think it'll look a helluva lot better than any previous comic that touched on similar material.
BT: For me I guess it's just about serving the story well and working with a writer I really like. Chris has a fantastic sense of humor.
NRAMA: What's the basis of Groom Lake, Chris?
CR: Well, it basically tells the tale of how the truth isn't necessarily out there—it's under there; as in, the real base under the Groom Lake lakebed. We see the aftereffects of an alien abduction that kicks off the story, and how it leads the main human character, the son of the abductee, to this base and the real global conspiracy behind aliens. The fun thing has been using real bits of the lore, purported abductee stories and rumors and other things considered to be true by the MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) crowd and working them into the story. So it's ultimately a fun, sometimes scary, sometimes goofy comic that nevertheless gives some veracity to these "real" elements. There will be lots of nods in here that only the well-versed will pick up on, just my way of working in some of the things I've read over the years. It's very much not a mockery of any of these things.
NRAMA: Who are your key players in this story?
CR: The abductee's son is a kid named Karl Bauer; basically, he’s a sheltered hick who is pulled into this huge world he never knew existed. He's led there by Special Agent Leticia Pope, a true ball-buster who's been tasked with keeping this entire base and the existence of aliens a secret—which likely won't remain secret, not if we want to tell any kind of good story here...
She's backed up by the "public" face, Project Blue Book, but when things go alien-tits-up, she calls in Project Black Book. They're not people anyone should ever meet. Karl is helped a bit by Roberta Lazar, a jaded base worker who's grown numb from all the insane things she's seen. If only she could find someone to give her a new raison d'etre...
Our lead alien, Archibald, is a typical grey, of sorts. He's kind of the ultimate tourist here, taken in by things like cigarettes and chocolate, all the things that can hurt us but have no effect on him. We're a real curiosity to him, and he seems like a pretty affable...alien. But the mistake some of the humans make, much like when they trust a lion enough to stick their head in its mouth, is assuming that because he's mostly docile that he's lost all the instincts that made him who he is.
There are a handful of other aliens, too, blobs and a giant robot and others who all look very familiar to anyone who's watched their share of Sci-Fi movies.
Groom Lake #1, cover CNRAMA: Ben, what sorts of elements did you want to bring to this project—since it's not a straightforward horror project like your typically connected to—that would give this story a unique look and presence?
BT: I am probably trying to go a bit lighter in tone and more quirky. I'm banking on there being plenty of disgusting dirty moments in the book for me to illustrate though. Changing up the textures I use a bit, adding a bit of Zipatone too.
NRAMA: Do either of you think that the general populace is being led to believe that we're alone in the universe?
CR: I don't know that anyone is actively leading us any which way, necessarily. But it seems that many people are at least open to the idea that we're not the only little speck in the galaxy that has life. Incidentally, the idea of a disinformation campaign is touched on in this series.
NRAMA: You've mentioned elsewhere that the alien character—Archibald—originally had a different name; what's the story behind that original name and his current one?
CR: I originally had him named Ng Johnson, "Ng" being my nod to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, one of the best books I've ever read, and certainly the only book I've read over 30 times or so. "Johnson" was him just embracing American culture and taking on a somewhat ordinary last name. But Ng started to sound too Asian to me, and the more I read these books about Area 51, the more I kept seeing a recurring mention of an actual grey alien named Archibald who is supposed to be guarding the base or some such. You know, according to the many "retired military colonels" who've written books about such things.
NRAMA: How do the two of you work together as a team? How closely do the two of you assist one another with various aspects of the project? Or is your partnership more of a "We let each other do our own thing..."?
CR: I always write full scripts, but with the caveat that I am fine with any art changes that make the script better (and pretty much all of Ben's art makes the scripts better). But that said, Ben is also very faithful to the scripts he draws. So far, anyway, it's all been a thrill for me. And since Ben works out of our office here, I can always just stick my head in there and force him to get off Twitter and draw another page.
BT: I don't know about Chris, but I'm just a fan of getting a script, done the way the writer wants, with a story they want to tell, then let me go do my thing. Chris will probably have a lot of tweaks to get me to make later though, as I'm hopefully going to try my hand at lettering the sucker too.
NRAMA: Finally, what can readers expect when they get their hands on Groom Lake?
CR: Hopefully the above gives a good indication of what there will be in the 4-parter (starting in March). But if anyone needs more enticing, issue one features a mutated, exploding crotch, too.
Groom Lake #1 hits comic shops in March, and can currently be pre-ordered via those same shops.