"I don't laugh at people any more when they say they've seen UFOs. I've seen one myself!"
--President Jimmy Carter (1976)
APE Entertainment isn’t making light of UFO sightings either; in fact, they’ve got a new online anthology which explores mankind’s fixation with spaceships from beyond and spacemen from the stars. In UFO Anthology: Encounter with the Unknown, various creators will be exploring the very real mystery of unexplained space phenomena that is intertwined with the realm of Science Fiction; with subject matter ranging from sightings to abductions. APE’s anthology is relatively new, having launched over the course of the month of November, featuring a story written by up-and-coming talent Elton Pruitt. Pruitt’s work has been published in a number of anthologies in the industry including collections like and ; he’ll also be featured in Image Comics’ in February.
Newsarama contacted APE Entertainment’s Submissions Editor, Troy Dye, and writer Elton Pruitt to discuss APE’s new UFO anthology and to discuss the prospect of extraterrestrial encounters and the existence of life beyond our galaxy.
Newsarama: First off, Troy, let's talk about Apecmx.com and APE's webcomic initiative; is the UFO anthology APE's first online anthology? What other sorts of offerings can be found online with Apecmx.com?
Troy Dye: Ape Entertainment’s print division has published several cool anthologies, like and , but UFO Anthology: Encounter with the Unknown holds the distinction of being our first online anthology. Should it become popular, we’re going to consider making the jump to print.
On the Web comic side of things, Apecmx.com offers an eclectic mix of creator-owned and in-house titles, like and the , , , and to name a few. Content ranges from “all ages” fare to action-adventure to comedy and everything in between.
Nrama: Elton, your latest story, "Anything For You...", is the first selection in the new UFO anthology; what's the story about?
Elton Pruitt: : "Anything For You" is the story of a geeky kid named Randall who's always on the outside looking in, in the sordid and unforgiving popularity contest known as high school. All brains, no social skills -- that's Randall. The story's set around the Valley High homecoming dance in 1957 and kicks off with Randall finally working up the nerve to ask the girl of his dreams, Betty, to be his date for the dance. From there, it's kind of a whirlwind of UFOs, death and destruction, and a love that knows no bounds.
It's by far the most fun thing I've ever written.
Nrama: Do the two of you believe in extraterrestrial life? What do you guys think drives the human fixation with life beyond the boundaries of the Earth?
Dye: Yes, I do. I have to. Especially since we have a Web comic called “Little Green Men.” But seriously, Earth is a mere dust mote in the cosmic scheme of things, or something like that. Yes, I do believe that “they” are out there…somewhere. The universe is so big that it seems mathematically impossible that the Earth is the only planet to support life, intelligent or otherwise. I really do hope that they contact us within my lifetime…and decide not to eat or enslave us.
I think that people are fascinated by UFOs and aliens because they represent this great mystery. They’re a riddle that we can only solve in the farthest reaches of our imagination. Most people have a difficult time processing all of the cultural differences here on Earth. When you throw the idea of an alien culture into the mix, the possibilities are endless. I think these concepts really grab people’s imagination. It’s the perfect vehicle for storytelling.
Pruitt: I absolutely, positively believe we're not alone in the universe. I guess that's due in large part to my parents, who've actually had a couple of encounters with UFOs. From the time I was old enough to even ponder such things, the story of the first UFO my parents saw both captivated and intrigued me. As a kid, I'd look out at the night sky and wish with all my heart that I'd someday get to have a UFO experience of my own. I guess I'm having that now, though in a much different way than I ever imagined!
As to what drives our fixation with the mystery of that night sky, I think it's a lot of the same thing that drives our interest in religion. What is our place in the universe, and what is it all about? Are we alone, and if not, who (and why) are the other beings? The religious angle has always fueled my personal interest in the subject of alien life. Did Jesus visit the aliens? If not, why not? And if so, was he an alien Jesus or the same blue-eyed, bearded savior we're used to?
Dye: Your parents have seen UFOs? Cool. I’ve had a few UFO encounters myself, but I’d rather not talk about it. I’m going to turn them into a story for the anthology. And yes, I was sober. Let me be clear, though. I’m not saying I saw aliens. I saw an unidentified flying object. There was a military base nearby, so my theory is that that I saw some kind of experimental aircraft that the military is playing with.
Pruitt Yeah, my parents saw a UFO when my sisters and I were quite young, the five of us in a car driving down a rural Arkansas highway. And they saw another one -- and had a downright disturbing experience as a result -- when I was an adult and they were living in Memphis for a time.
Nrama: Elton, what sorts of UFO-type science fiction helped inspire you for your current project?
Pruitt: Two things inspired this story.
First, the aforementioned UFO encounters of my Mom and Dad. My original intent was to write a story based on one of those experiences, which at the time was the only experience I knew about (it happened when I was a wee sprout). But in talking to my Mom about that, I learned of their more recent encounter driving back to Memphis one evening that, quite frankly, scared the bejesus out of me. I labored for a couple of weeks trying to write a story based on that, but it never quite worked. I was just too close to the source material to mold it into a decent story.
So, the second thing. I was so creeped out by trying to translate this disturbing true story into something fictional, that I decided I needed to do a complete 180 and try to write something fun and upbeat. Over a refreshing Vino's IPA, I started musing upon those cheesy 1950's B-movies, back when UFOs were at their peak in the consciousness of popular culture. And from there, Randall's story damn near wrote itself!
Nrama: Troy, what sorts of submissions are you looking for for the UFO Anthology? Are there any prerequisites to submitting projects? Or is the anthology invite only for the time being?
Dye: As for what we’re looking for in a submission, we looking for well-crafted, down-right entertaining stories that are roughly 15 pages or less in length. It could be any genre, but UFOs, or aliens, must play a role in the story. You’d be surprised at how many pitches I’ve read where UFOs or aliens are completely irrelevant to the story. We’re looking for complete, self-contained stories that have a beginning, middle and end. No snippets of a larger arc or flash fiction. We want good old-fashioned entertaining stories, not something hastily put together because we’re accepting submissions.
The anthology was initially only open to a small group of comic book creators, but I’ve had so much fun putting this anthology together and have met so many cool people, like Elton, that I’ve decided to open it up to any and all creators out there. You can get all the details at: www.apecmx.com/ufo/ -- just scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Nrama: As a submissions editor, what are some key elements of a good submission?
Dye: The most important element in any submission, hands down, is the art. I’m a writer, so just saying that hurts a little. Comics are a visual medium. The art really has to be top-notch. Unfortunately, most people have a hard time differentiating good from bad art, but if you go to your local comic store and take a good look around, it should be readily apparent. But just because we put more weight in the art department doesn’t mean that we overlook the writing. We’ve turned down plenty of gorgeous looking submissions because the writing was terrible. To that point, if a book is going to sell in this challenging market, both the art and writing really have to be on point. In addition, the easier concept is to market, the better. Your book really has to sell itself, not only to us, but to retailers and consumers as well.
Nrama: Elton, you've been published in a number of anthologies including and , what other projects do you have on the horizon?
Pruitt: At the moment, I'm trying to place a miniseries called , which is an action/adventure story set in the near-future Middle East that ties into the Iraq war and the ages-old enmity between Iraq and Iran.
I'll also have a story in Volume 4, due out in February from Image, called "He Floated Away." That's actually the work I'm proudest of in my career to date. It was inspired by a Husker Du song, "She Floated Away," off their brilliant 1986 opus, Warehouse: Songs and Stories.
And at some point in the future, I'll have a story in a Goth-themed anthology called . T.J. Kirsch, who drew for Oni, is the artist on that, and I'm tickled pink to get to work with him again. (And no, I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a Goth.)
Nrama: Guys, what sort of advice do you have for would-be creators who want to put together their first professional project?
Dye: If you’re a writer, find yourself a ridiculously good artist who’s dependable and has a great work ethic. Vice versa for artists. There are plenty of Web sites out there where aspiring, and pro, comic book creators alike hang out, network, and put projects together. A lot of times, the key to getting published is having your work seen at the right time by the right person. Like in any industry, networking can do wonders for you.
And most important of all, never give up. It’s easy to get bogged down with frustration, rejection, and life in general. Stay focused. Learn from your mistakes. Keep at it. God, I sound like a self-help guru.
Pruitt: Seriously. That's how I did it, anyway. I paid established, pro artists to draw the first stories I wrote, and hired Kristen Simon (editor for Shadowline) to edit me. I learned an awful lot from those first two or three stories, and getting them published opened some doors, and it's just been an ongoing labor of love from there. Slow, steady progress up that seemingly interminable hill!
If you want to write, plant your butt in the chair and write. And know that you've got to get a lot of bad writing out of your system before you can start writing the good stuff.
Dye: Elton brings up a good point. Be prolific. Whether you’re a writer or artist, have a sizeable body of work for people to look at.
Pruitt: Yeah, just do your best to do the work and get it out there, and move onto the next thing. A year from now, your best work will be better than what you're capable of doing today, but don't let that stop you from getting what you're doing now out there. I think the worst thing an aspiring writer can do is spend years laboring on the same project that never sees the light of day. Write it, get it published (hopefully), and then start writing the next thing. Build up that body of work and publication credits -- that's your resume in this crazy business!
Nrama: Troy, can you tease any of the upcoming stories popping up after the conclusion of Elton's project? How often will new stories appear on Apecmx.com?
Dye: Let’s see, next we have a high-school alien conspiracy story titled “Angst” by writer Raphael Moran and artists Atul Bakshi, Ed Watson, and Tim Tilley. Then comes a cool reflective and emotional piece called “Life is Funny” by writer Chris Beckett and artists Jason Copland and Osmarco Valladão. After that, we have one for baseball fans, titled “The Shot Heard ‘Round the Worlds” by writer Dino Caruso and artists Sami Kivela and Jessie Lam. And then there’s a really fun father and son tale titled “Astronautica” by writer Michael Loniewski and artist Chris Tupa.
At some point a few Ape alumni’s will jump into the mix, like Skipper Martin (), Jay Carvajal () and Kevin Freeman (). All three are extremely talented guys. Readers won’t be disappointed.
New UFO pages are launched every Sunday and Thursday until we run out of content…which won’t be for a while. Now that we’ve made a public call for submissions, I’m hoping we’ll get a whole new wave of stories to share. I’ll keep the UFO anthology alive as long as we keep receiving good stories.