What do you do when you put Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri in the same room and tell them to get creative? You get this year’s Pilot Season books from Top Cow. This pair of creative titans – and Image partners – dreamt up the five one-shots that comprise this latest edition of Top Cow’s Pilot Season initiative, with Kirkman writing the script and enlisting a top-name artist to draw the story.
After the release of Murderer, Demonic and Stealth earlier this year, the penultimate title coming out is Stellar, now scheduled for a July 21, 2010 release. Illustrated by Bernard Chang, Stellar charts the tumultuous trajectory of a genetically-enhanced super-human who is exiled from Earth after finding out she’s toxic to the human race. After driving her four fellow test subjects insane, she’s banished from Earth and tries to find a life in the outer reaches of space – knowing that she can never return home.
“Stellar is an outcast from her people and while she has these amazing supernatural abilities, it’s those same powers that force her into a world of virtual isolation,” explained interior artist Bernard Chang, whose work on this book marks his work for Top Cow --- and Image as a whole.
“Stellar is a space adventure, flying from planet to planet, righting wrongs and saving communities in this intergalactic landscape she inhabits,” explains Robert Kirkman, who co-created the concept with Silvestri and wrote the script. “The experiments that Stellar went under were to endow humans with the ability to exist out in space and get enhanced human abilities, but a side effect was that it made her toxic to humans. She’s completely alone, from Earth, and from even interacting with any other humans. Her powers even go so far as to hurt any organic beings, leaving her at arms length from anyone.”
Although she must remain at an emotional and physical distance from any living being, Stellar still seeks to protect others – especially considering her four fellow test subjects are doing everything they can to kill.
“Although she can’t be near anyone she still uses her powers to help people – and to protect them against the other four test subjects who turned evil after the experiments. Those other four took a wrong turn when they were banished from Earth, leaving a mess for Stellar to clean up.”
Stellar and these four other test subjects are gifted with the standard set of superpowers --superhuman strength, the ability to fly, and hold her breath. They also have the ability to live in space and travel through it, which Kirkman says “take my word for it, is rough.”
Initially conceived as just a one-word title and name of the character, it was a series of e-mail and phone conversations and in-person meetings during conventions that fleshed out the idea between Kirkman and Top Cow founder and artist Marc Silvestri. For Silvestri, it was a chance to think back to his childhood and the sci-fi of that age.
“In her design, you can see I played with different materials and shapes. I wanted to evoke a sense of some of the classic sci-fi costumes of the 1950s and 1960s,” explained Silvestri,” while juxtaposing a form-fitting rubber-like suit with hard plastic-like tech pieces that contoured the body.”
If you’re thinking this skews more sci-fi than what Kirkman is known for, you’d be right – unless you read his under-rated early series Tech Jacket.
“I really haven’t had a chance to do a lot of sci-fi outside of Tech Jacket,” said Kirkman, who recently revived the character in the pages of Invincible,” but it’s cool to be able to work more in that realm. I think that science fiction is an overlooked genre in comics, and I wish there were more space comics. There’s limitless possibilities with that kind of stuff.”
When it came to enlisting artists to take Kirkman’s script and Silvestri’s designs and flesh them out in comic form, they knew that just anyone wouldn’t do. Working with Top Cow publisher Filip Sablik and editor Phil Smith, the duo bounced around ideas and looked into availability before deciding who to hire.
When it came time to pick out an artist for Stellar, Kirkman knew who he wanted.
“I’ve been a fan of Bernard’s work since the Valiant days with The Second Life of Dr. Mirage, so being able to work with him is exciting,” Kirkman explained. “Bernard was on a list of potential artists for the Pilot Season books, and his name jumped out immediately. I know he does a bit of Marvel & DC work between his Hollywood art work, so it’s pretty exciting to get him on this project.”
“And he draws good chicks.”
As it turns out, Marc Silvestri agrees.
“When you get a guy like Bernard on a project, you give him enough room to bring in his own flavor. When I designed the main character Stellar,” said Silvestri,” I laid out the look and tone. Bernard took those designs and breathed life into them and designed a host of space monsters and tech to flesh out the universe. I can’t wait to see the finished pages!”
While Bernard Chang has done a host of different things both inside and outside comics, the idea of drawing a story primarily set in space seems like no easy task. But for Bernard, he takes it all in stride.
“While I don't necessarily have a long resume of sci-fi books, at the end of the day, every story comes back down to human emotion and storytelling, and those are two things I've put in the forefront of all my work,” explained Chang. “It's about capturing the humanistic thread that connects us all, whether it’s set in space, in a modern city, or the Wild West. There also needs to be a balance between just making things look pretty and actually telling a story with a sense of space and unique characters. “
Being able to jump in and breathe life to an entirely new concept in the span of twenty-two pages can be thrilling, and Chang was feeling it from the first pages.
“The beginning sequence in the book was fun in that Stellar faces off against an alien beast,” said the artist. “Action sequences -- showcasing fluid movements -- are always challenging, so it was awesome to tackle that and I think the finished pages reflect my enthusiasm.”
Joining Kirkman and Silvestri on the ground floor for an all-new project was a pretty enticing prospect for Bernard Chang, but it was the voting process of Pilot Season that sealed it for him.
“I'm a very competitive person by nature; so when Filip first approached me about the project, the voting aspect definitely made it more interesting,” said Chang. “It’s also very rewarding to be at the genesis of a new project, to be able to help create a set of design standards.”
What's been your favorite Pilot Season title so far?