In 1962, the Topps trading card company decided to cash in on the success of a series of cards retelling the Civil War in violent illustrations with Mars Attacks, a riff on monster movies of the day that saw skull-faced, giant-brained Martians slaughtering Earthlings with disintegrators, giant insects, and general chaos.
Parents were not amused.
Like most things parents didn’t want you to see, Mars Attacks earned a huge cult following among kids, some of whom grew up to make imaginative things of their own. One of them was Tim Burton, who renewed the Mars Attacks cult following in 1996 with his campy motion picture, which also inspired a pretty cool line of action figures from Trendmasters this writer still has a complete set of, including the hard-to-find “Martian Girl.”
Mars Attacks has also enjoyed a history in comics, with an acclaimed series Topps’ comics division did around the time of the film, and now, like all good monsters…it’s returned. In the new limited series out this week from Kyle Starks (Oni’s Rick and Morty) and Chris Schweizer (Crogan Adventures), the Martian invasion hits Earth in the midst of a family conflict…and now, a dysfunctional father and son must rely on each other to survive. We talked to Starks about his new book, and why it’s so much fun to have Martians destroy civilization.
Newsarama: Kyle, tell us the story of your Mars Attacks book. I assume it has something to do with Mars, attacking.
Kyle Starks:You better believe it does. Basically, the story will run parallel to the old Topps cards account of the Martian attack, so as those actions unfold we follow a father and son with a strained relationship try to survive both the invasion and each other, frankly. But it's going to be funny, violent, action-packed and with the amount of Martian mayhem everyone expects. It's going to be a ton of fun, I promise.
Nrama: Tell us about your main character, Spencer.
Starks: So, this book definitely has two main characters – Spencer and his dad, The Major. Spencer is a young adult that hasn't found his thing yet, hasn't found himself being able to commit to anything, which is a real thorn in the side of his retirement home dwelling, ex-military, elderly father. Spencer is sort of a well-intentioned, repeat failure who knows he's a disappointment to his father, who's an aging widower dealing with the reality of his own mortality.
But it's fun. It's all very funny, but those guys got stuff to work out, and I don't know if this Martian Invasion is great timing for that.
Nrama: That’s life, you know? Mars always attacks when it’s least convenient. How did you come on board this book?
Starks: Dynamite reached out to me to see if I had any interest – I have had some success with ultra-violent, sci-fi properties – and I said if I had a good idea for it, I'd do it.
The next day, I basically awoke with a story that was really fun and exciting and interesting to me, so I was in.
Nrama: What’s it like working with Chris on this?
Starks: Chris is my actual best friend and America's Secret Best Cartoonist, so I'm thrilled. He was gracious enough to color my Eisner-nominated Image book Rock Candy Mountain last year, and he was a dream to work with.
Getting to work with his art, though, is thrilling. He's so good. Everyone is about to get their minds blown. And that's not friendship bias or hyperbole – he's truly that good.
Nrama: How did you first encounter Mars Attacks? What, to you, represents the fundamental appeal of that concept?
Starks: My first encounter was definitely the Tim Burton movie, and it's very much my jam. It's funny, it's action-packed, it's violent, it has some very, very nice character driven moments. It's bonkers. This book is going to really draw from the original card series though, which the same story, and also curiously close to being sequential art in its own right.
In terms of what I think is the appeal to Mars Attacks, I think that humans fundamentally love survival stories, especially against great odds – we can all envision ourselves in the same situations.
Mars Attacks is like the anti-zombie apocalypse though, because instead of a metaphor for the inevitability of death, we find ourselves looking at cartoon psychopaths with frost rays. It's the most hilarious apocalypse.
Nrama: Do you have a favorite bloody, horrific death from the original card set?
Starks: I think the one that affects me the most is probably "Destroying A Dog," because geeeeeeez. That is just petty mean.
Nrama: Y’know, even the aliens in Independence Day didn’t kill a dog. How do you characterize the Martians in your version?
Starks: Pardon my French, but as overpowered, little assholes, honestly. They can do whatever they want with almost no repercussions, and they're real smug jerks about it. They are going about their mission of taking over another planet in the most ridiculous, contemptuous way, just because they're all a bunch of little space bullies. It's terrible, but I sort of love them?
Nrama: The book comes out on the month of the 80th anniversary of another famous Martian invasion involving Orson Welles. Any references to that in your book?
Starks: I, unfortunately, wasn't aware of that, but I also think it would be remiss to write any issue – something that should exist forever in time – referencing a very specific anniversary, also? I will say that Stephen Spielberg's War of The Worlds influenced the story in that “Normal Person in Martian Invasion sort of way.”
Nrama: How do you think you would fare in a Martian invasion?
Starks: I would fare terribly, I suspect. A lot of hiding in basements. But Schweizer would be great. He's a burly manly man. Maybe together we could form some kind of Mad Max Master Blaster situation?
Nrama: Why should people check this out?
Starks: I believe that comics should be fun. I think in the limited amount of time you live in those pages, you should leave with a smile on your face and a real sense of enjoyment. You should be properly entertained. Mars Attacks is going to hook that up so hard. This book is fun.
Nrama: What’s next for you?
Starks: Well, every month I write Oni Press’ Rick and Morty, of course, but I believe the next thing is supposed to be announced (soon). I'm very excited about it, but I can't talk about it until then. It has murder in it, though. So many murders. And it's with another person I think you could argue a case as the best artist in the industry, too, so I'm really fortunate right now.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to discuss that we haven’t talked about yet?
Starks: How dry do you think those Martian eyeballs are? Like, they don't have lids, right? Are they self-secreting or? I don't know, but it's surely very, very dry on Mars, right? Maybe those guys are all so crabby and mean because they just need some dope eyedrops.