The recent John Carter film might have colored people’s vision of the planet Mars, but the upcoming graphic novel D.O.G.S. Of Mars hopes to show a darker, more monstrous side to the red planet. Here’s a hint: forget John Carter, think Ripley from Alien.Mixing science fiction and straight-up horror, D.O.G.S. of Mars follows Earth’s first Martian colony as it finds out what happens when the sun goes down. Leading the team is Zoe, a swashbuckling captain who is a throwback to the age of exploration. At her side (and sometimes in her face) is her second-in-command Turk, who doesn’t quite trust her commander, especially when things start go wrong. And things go wrong pretty quick, as nighttime on Mars brings fearsome monsters straight out of gory Japanese manga as drawn by artist Paul Maybury. Originally published as a digital comic via ComiXology, D.O.G.S. Of Mars is now on it’s way to bookshelves in an expanded full-color edition by way of Image Comics.
Set to be released on May 2, 2012, Newsarama spoke with the primary writers Tony Trov and Johnny Zito as well as the artist to learn more about this homage to sci-fi/horror movies like Alien and The Thing.
Newsarama: First off, what does the D.O.G.S. in D.O.G.S. Of Mars stand for?
Tony Trov: Division of Global Surveyors… Which is kind of a play on the real life Division of Planetary Science and NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor.Nrama: Is that why they’re sent to mars, for some sort of surveying mission?
Trov: D.O.G.S. Of Mars takes place in a not too distant future where our crew is attempting to terraform the planet. There are always talks going on about colonization on not so distant planets. It feels like this is the next step in space exploration. Inspired by projects like Mars-500, I still think that space is still a very scary place.
Newsarama: The graphic novel begins with a flash-forward to an attempted mutiny by the first officer, Turk, against Commander Zoe. Why’d you decide to lead off with this and then jump back?
Johnny Zito: Originally it was in chronological order, but in an effort to better set up the themes and established the characters we moved this scene to the top of the comic. Later, when we catch back up with this scene, we're able to cut away to and reveal something sinister going on at the same time. The two scenes play in juxtaposition until elements finally collide and the story rockets ahead without any clues as to where we're going.Nrama: What can you tell us about Zoe, the captain of this mission?
Paul Maybury: I think she lives in a state of mind where her emotion takes a back seat to her mission. As evident in the book, the rest of her crew have a different mentality This leaves her as a very isolated character throughout the book. I wanted her to be athletic, but not overly beautiful. She has sort of a funny nose and her hair is wild and unkept. I think these details ground her in reality when the rest of the world is so fantastic.
Zito: Zoe is a swashbuckler in the old tradition of Horatio Hornblower. She's gone out to the frontier to forge a bold new path for her fellow man. When the monsters first show up Zoe's the only person not losing her mind with fear. She sees the whole nightmarish ordeal as just another obstacle in the way of her mission. However, she's human and full of contradictions; her noble ideas about exploration are in direct conflict with the instinct to survive. She's isolated out on the edge of civilization but is married to another officer. Her second in command is efficient and reliable but she distrusts her anyway.
Nrama: Speaking of Zoe’s XO, what can you tell us about the first officer, Turk?
Trov: She might not be the captain, but she likes to get her way. You know the old saying, "Girls in space, be wary."Maybury: To me, she's there to hate Zoe, as they're complete opposites. While Zoe looks a bit more crazed, Turk is well put together with her hair tightly up. I still wanted her to be endearing, so I gave her these two strands of hair that comically dangle in front of her like antennas. If you're going to have someone who's always criticizing the other characters and yelling, you might as well give her something like that to soften her up. Towards the end I made the decision to have her take her hair down to symbolize Turk and Zoe becoming more alike as they fight a common foe. Again, its little touches like this that give me the most enjoyment when drawing a book.
Nrama: Outer space, science fiction, alien monsters, and a female commander – I can’t help but picture a young Sigourney Weaver as Zoe here. Am I crazy?
Zito: D.O.G.S. Of Mars is certainly inspired by space/horror epics like Alien, Event Horizon, Sunshine and Super Nova... But we always sort of pictured Rosario Dawson as Zoe and Michelle Williams as Turk. The monster is very important but sooooo much of the story is that Lord of The Flies tension between the Captain and XO.
Trov: Yeah. Honestly, we always thought about Rosario Dawson as Zoe. She's the perfect equation of sexy and monster killer.
Maybury: Yeah, it's definitely the blueprint for any sort of stalker alien story, isn't it? I tend to love anything that is derivative of that formula. They used to show this anime on the Sci Fi channel in the late 90's called L.I.L.Y. Cat, and it's sort of a mixture of Alien and The Thing. It's a good example of how you can take a couple of homages and fuse them together into something really enjoyable. I definitely looked at that whole genre while creating the look of this book.Nrama: These monsters are pretty wild looking, in their actions and the way you draw them. What were you thinking when designing these creatures?
Maybury: Well, first off, I was told coming in to this project that it had been pre optioned for an eventual film. With this in mind, I really wanted to design something that could be replicated with an actual suit, and not just CGI. There are a couple of monsters, without giving too much away. One transforms normally, and the other one transforms from a mutilated host. I wanted the condition of the host to affect the stature and growth of the monster. Part of this is to tell the two of them apart, but it also makes for some humor with one that looks a little deformed running around crashing into things. It's nice when you get to bring little details like that to a story as an artist.
Nrama: Looking at the three of you, I realized you’re all alumni of DC’s Zuda webcomics line. How do you think that shared experience brought you together for D.O.G.S. Of Mars?
Zito: Well if not for Zuda we wouldn't have had much of an opportunity to meet each other. I didn't know Paul's work before his exposure on Zuda but when I did I instantly became a fan. For Trov and I Zuda was certainly like story-telling boot camp. We learned a lot and we wanted to apply this education to new projects. Thankfully we were in a position to team up with Paul and make that happen. We discovered that the three of us shared a lot of the same influences and had many similar ideas for D.O.G.S.’ look. Our first time hanging out in San Diego we just rambled on about submarine lighting, Japanese gore-core and David Bowie.Trov: Zuda Comics was training ground for many great artist and writers. We're lucky to work with so many over the past few years. I think the nice folks of DC Comics really dropped the ball with the opportunity of expanding on such of a great talent farm.
Maybury: It's a weird coincidence, really. I had a spectacular failure through Zuda with Maxy J. Millionaire. In 2010 I was invited to Comic-Con International: San Diego by a friend, and couldn't really pass up a free place to stay during that show. It had been my first time attending since 2004. I had briefly mentioned to Sheldon Vella (also from Zuda) that I was looking for something to do with myself, and he put me in touch with Johnny and Tony. We all met up and the rest is sort of history. On a side note, just to add on to the Zuda connection, prior to taking this job I had been writing the full length Maxy J. Millionaire book.Nrama: It’s interesting you mention that. I know you’ve been working on your own projects, so why did you decide to go back and work with others on this big graphic novel project?
Maybury: I took some time off to really get down to writing a few of my own projects, which I'm currently developing. I realized it had been a few years since I'd done any long form work, with the exception of a few anthologies, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get back in the habit of drawing comics. It's very much like working out, if you don't keep up with it you get sort of flabby and it's a real pain in the ass getting back into it. Both Johnny and Tony are extremely pleasant people, and very encouraging. They were the perfect trainers for getting back into shape.
Nrama: The fourth person in this crew is film-maker Christian Wesier, who acted as a co-writer for this graphic novel. Can you tell us about his involvement?
Trov: I met Christian while working in the art department of a film he was producing called The Best and the Brightest. Zito and I just had just sold LaMorte Sisters to Zuda Comics and then trying to get Moon Girl off the ground. We told Christian about this space horror comic idea and he was very interested in helping expand on the story.
Zito: Trov and I have worked on lots of stuff together and we were really trying to push ourselves. D.O.G.S. Of Mars is a bit more adult than our DC Online work and deals with some heavier themes. Christian really forced us out of our creative comfort zone and challenged us to break our own conventions. He nurtured every new contrivance and was a ruthless editor between drafts. We're amazing lucky to work with fantastic people. D.O.G.S. Of Mars has more substance than you might expect from a slasher and that's because of how many talented people contributed.