Who Wants to Go Back to Earth Anyway?!: Andrew Gaska Ignites AFTERSHOCK AND AWE into Hit ’70s Sci-Fi TV Series SPACE:1999

Posted on: Apr 22nd, 2013 By:

SPACE 1999, the ’70s Gerry and Sylvia Anderson sci-fi series, returns in SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, a 168-page graphic novel from New York-based guerilla design studio Blam! Ventures and published by Archaia Entertainment. Sometimes comics reboots are just about nostalgia, but writer Andrew E.C. “Drew” Gaska has plugged up many of the holes in the science, plot and characterization quite masterfully. Let’s admit that the concept of the moon being blown out of earth’s orbit and then traveling around the galaxy at speeds fast enough to take the crew to other planets was a bit far-fetched. But the show also had an amazing cast including then husband and wife Martin Landau (Captain John Koenig) and Barbara Bain (Dr. Helena Russell), who had also teamed up on MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, veteran character actor Barry Morse (Dr. Victor Bergman) and ultimately sexy Catherine Schell as shapeshifting alien Maya. And the Eagle, well, it was one of the coolest spaceships ever featured in TV science fiction!

ATLRetro recently caught up with Drew, a regular on Artists Alley at DragonCon who nurtured his pop culture roots as a veteran consultant for the digital gaming industry including such hit titles as GRAND THEFT AUTO and the Max Payne series. His current passion is breathing new life into some of his favorite licensed properties from childhood. He penned CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Archaia, 2011), an illustrated novel which solves the mystery of what happened to astronaut Landon, who was also captured by the apes and lobotomized. And next up, he’ll be tackling the 1970s TV series, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY.

Each of these projects is worthy of its own interview, so for now, we’ll stick with Moonbase Alpha. And we should also note that the stunning visuals on the book are thanks to a triumvirate of artists, legendary who produced the book with artistic team Gray Morrow, Spanish artist Miki and David Hueso (GI JOE:STORM SHADOW).

ATLRetro: How did you first encounter SPACE:1999? Was it a childhood favorite or did you discover it later, and what did it mean to you?

Andrew E.C. Gaska: Basically I discovered SPACE: 1999 as a child in the 1970s. My father was a police officer, and he worked until midnight, so I stayed up and watched TV with him during the summer. At 11, it was THE HONEYMOONERS. At 11:30, it was TWILIGHT ZONE. At midnight was STAR TREK. and 1 o’clock was SPACE: 1999. I really only saw the second season of SPACE:1999. I really liked Maya turning into animals. Also, my best friend while growing up had the 24-inch Eagle toy from Mattel. We used to play with it with our STAR WARS toys. I was into all science fiction. I wouldn’t watch anything else except THE HONEYMOONERS and THREE’S COMPANY and science fiction shows. Those were the only choices and really shaped who I am now. Actually…that’s kind of frightening.

I was reintroduced to SPACE: 1999 in the ‘90s by the book, EXPLORING SPACE 1999 by John Kenneth Muir, who eventually did the foreword to AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. It led me to looking for bootleg videotapes of SPACE: 1999, which wasn’t available in any official release at the time. I’d buy bootleg tapes at conventions and got really into it again. Of course, I bought it all on DVD when it came out later  – and again on Blu-Ray!

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

How did Aftershock and Awe come about? Was it you wanting to work in the Space:1999 universe or were you approached?

Back in 2005, I formed BLAM! Ventures, my guerrilla design studio, to acquire licenses for creator-owned properties. The plan was to get the rights, get a book about 80% done, and then shop them around to publishers to get released. I went to Paramount and tried to get STAR TREK. I went to Universal, to Fox… I basically hit all the big ones. Of the ones I hit, PLANET OF THE APES was the only one that gave me a response right away. That led to my CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES novel and its coming sequel, tentatively called DEATH OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which I am working on right now. One of the companies that we had tried to get properties from was ITV. We approached them about SPACE 1999 and UFO, but they were going through a lot of changes in their licensing department so we could only got so far, and then the interest would drop. Later we found out they were constantly shifting people around in the licensing department, so I gave up on it for a while. Then ITV decided to reboot the entire department, and while they were doing that, they brought in an outside licensing firm. When that firm was going through some old files, they found all the proposals I had sent them. They contacted me and told me they thought the ideas were good for the brand, so we made a deal.

It’s been very frustrating dealing with licenses and getting clients to understand that what we are trying to do is intended to benefit the license, not steal part of it.

Why is a series set in 1999 that never happened still so relevant now, in your opinion?

A lot of detractors say SPACE: 1999 is just like STAR TREK, but really it’s not. STAR TREK is very positive about the future. Space is well understood by the crew that encounters it. Each episode ties things up neatly. There are not a lot of mysteries or outside forces, whereas in SPACE 1999, every episode is a mystery or there is a greater force in play. It could be God if you will, but there is definitely some guiding force that is responsible for getting them in and out of the predicaments that happen to them. I liken SPACE 1999 to gothic space horror. Space is a terrifying place and you never know what is going to happen to you. There’s more out there that we don’t understand than that we do understand. SPACE: 1999 takes its cues from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY [1968] which obviously inspired it greatly.

In regard to the charge that it is no longer relevant, the date was one of the hurdles I had to overcome in writing AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Most of the advice I received from inside the entertainment industry was all you have to do is change the date. I was like, no, this was supposed to be continuation of the original series. So instead I approached it as an alternate history, like what direction would the world have took if the South had won Civil War or Hitler won WWII. The most obvious difference between the real world and the world of SPACE: 1999 was that we had a moonbase in 1999. It struck me that President Kennedy was so fascinated with the space program, and if he had not been assassinated, perhaps our technology would have gone in that direction rather than in cellular phones and the Internet. What you can do with alternate history is shine a light on specific aspects of our own history that you can’t do otherwise without ruffling some feathers.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

Which character was your favorite to delve more deeply into and why?

That definitely would be Professor Victor Bergman. To me, he is the most likable character in science fiction. My friend described him as a “cuddly Captain Picard.” He’s learned, he’s wise, he’s soft-spoken, and he really cares. He’s definitely the heart of Moonbase Alpha, so he was very important to me. One of the things we do in AFTERSHOCK AND AWE is go into his journals, and I had to make sure the writing sounded like his voice. One of the things that was most gratifying for me was hearing from a lot of fans that they could hear his voice in those journal entries. It’s a shame that [the producers of SPACE:1999 Season 2] kicked him off. They even said that they did so because they thought having an old guy on the show turned it into your living room versus a futuristic science fiction show. So there aren’t any old guys in the future?

AFTERSHOCK AND AWE gave you the opportunity to fill in gaps and inconsistencies in the show. Is there a particular gap or inconsistency that gave you the most satisfaction to explain?

Yes, and it’s probably obvious to anyone who has read it: Shermeen Williams. Basically she’s a character who shows up in one episode [A MATTER OF BALANCE] in the second season of the show. In that episode, she is 16 years old. If you do the math based on the amount of days since leaving orbit that’s mentioned in the episode, when the moon left Earth, she would have been 10. I asked myself, what’s a little girl doing on the moon at that time? In the ‘70s, they didn’t think anyone would notice or care. I found a reason and made it relevant for one of the main characters, specifically Victor.

Drew Gaska. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

You mean having Victor as Shermeen’s guardian. Why Victor in particular?

Basically he was older and wiser, so everyone was always looking to him for advice. Victor was always the father of Moonbase Alpha. So I thought, why not put him into that role literally by having him take responsibility for a child? It also explained why [Shermeen] is allowed to get away with so much crap in that episode in season 2. It’s because when John looks at her, he sees Victor. If we get to continue the license, one of we’ll be continuing the series 30 years later, and one of the things we’ll be doing is catching up with the characters. We’ll show flashbacks of scenes that happened in the episodes but that you did not see. For example, we’ll see what Shermeen was doing with Victor throughout the series. She was always there behind the scenes in season 1.

I liked what you did with John and Helena to flush out their back story and lay the foundation for the start of their relationship. Can you talk a little about that?

When you watch episode one, BREAKAWAY, there’s a scene that’s also in the comic, where basically Helena gives John a whole bunch of crap for putting his life at risk. He replies smugly, “I didn’t know you cared.” It seemed like some sort of hint at their relationship status. In the second episode, there’s a back story about Helena’s husband who was a lost astronaut. That set up in my mind where she was coming from. In regard to John’s past, in SPACE:1999 EARTHFALL, by E.C. Tubb, who was a brilliant author published in the ‘70s, he established Marcia Gilcrest as John’s fiancée in a short scene in the beginning. When John learns that he has been made commander of Moonbase Alpha again, she says, “look at me, John, I couldn’t possibly live on the moon.” And she couldn’t, because she was a socialite. Having John deal with these issues allowed me to show more depth in his character. And I was also able to use Marcia to show what happens on Earth. When the moon moves out of orbit, she is on Fiji and gets into serious problems when the tectonic plates begin to shift.

Which leads perfectly into the next question. In the graphic novel, you also explore the impact of the moon’s dislocation on the Earth itself. Why did you think that was important to add to the SPACE:1999 saga?

Two reasons. One was that when Gerry Anderson tried to get the show green-lit from Lew Grade, the producer who funded the show, he had a very strong eccentricity. He said he would fund the show only if we never see anything that happens on Earth, because he had seen too many science fiction shows that happen on Earth. When I heard that, I thought, ‘but there was so much that could be told about that!’ Also, people always complained that the science was wonky. There’s a lot of real science about what would happen to Earth if moon was ripped out of orbit.  I thought that a great way to ground the story in science was to show the effects if Earth lost the moon. There are other comics in which that happened, and which did not deal with the consequences. That makes it fantasy to me, and we are dealing with science fiction, not science fantasy.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

How did you research the science for the book?

The History Channel has a wonderful program called THE UNIVERSE, and there was also a Discovery Channel special called IF WE HAD NO MOON. There are books on the subject as well, but I started with those programs.

Even people who aren’t big fans of SPACE:1999 wax passionately about the Eagle. What’s so special about this spacecraft?

To me, the Eagle is one of the most brilliant designs there’s ever been in science fiction. It looks like it really could be part of the NASA arsenal. It looks like a real space vehicle, but it also looks like it could be a brick in the atmosphere. If you suspend disbelief, it just has such beautiful details such as the spines on its back. In every one of those top 100 spaceship lists on the Internet, the Eagle always is well towards number one. It has endured even more than the show.  With AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, we had a chance to bring in new story elements that work well with the ship.

If you can extend the license, where do you hope to take SPACE: 1999 in the other volumes?

Basically the point of AFTERSHOCK AND AWE was to reintroduce the concept to audiences. There are a lot of people who have never seen SPACE:1999 who would be really turned on by it if they have something new. We’re also introducing a new set of characters who are searching for the lost moon in the next series MISSION ALPHA.  They’ll be passing through the areas of space that the moon passed through and seeing the ramifications of what happened in the episodes. It’s 30 years later by that time which opens the gate to multigenerational survival stories. We have six graphic novels arced out which take the series to its logical conclusion. You will in the end find out what the mysterious force that guides them is, why the moon was blown out of Earth orbit, and why everything has gone down the way it has throughout the series. Whether or not you’ll get to read that depends on sales, so if you like AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, recommend it to a friend. We’ve got some good stories to tell, and SPACE:1999 does not need to be left to languish any longer.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

What else is BLAM! Ventures up to?

My next licensed property that I am working on is BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY [based on the 1970s TV program]. It will be a series of illustrated novels, similar to THE CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES book. I’m also working on a sequel to Apes that is due out in 2014. And there are some comic properties I am working on as well, so expect to see a lot from BLAM! Ventures in the future!

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Rediscovering the Magic of THE DARK CRYSTAL at the Plaza Theatre with Atlanta Comics Artist Heidi Arnhold

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2011 By:

Art Opening & A Movie Presents THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982); Dir: Jim Henson and Frank Oz; Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Franz Oz; “The Small Game of Revilo”art exhibition featuring works by Brian Colin; also appearing will be Heidi Arnhold, artist, LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL. Tues. June 7, opening reception 8-11 PM with movie at 9:30 pm; Fri. June 10 at MIDNIGHT; Sun. June 12 at 3 PM; Plaza TheatreTrailer here.

Cover art for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL: TRIAL BY FIRE, the series' second volume written by Barbara Randall Kesel, illustrated by Heidi Arnhold and toned by Jessica Feinberg. (Tokyopop, 2007)

With the popularity of Yoda and the success of stop-motion movies like NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, it may be hard to imagine how revolutionary THE DARK CRYSTAL actually was when it came out in 1982. Long before CGI, Muppets creators Jim Henson and Franz Oz wanted to show the celluloid potential of puppetry—they even billed it as the first live-action movie with no humans on screen—and take fantasy. So they came up with a mythic tale that provocatively took place in “in the age of wonder,” in which two noble, elf-like Gelflings set out on a quest to a fulfill a prophecy that will free their world from the grip of the evil Skeksis. For the imaginative character designs, they turned to fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, with whom they would collaborate again on LABYRINTH (1986). The project was highly anticipated by science fiction and fantasy fans and won some critical acclaim, but sadly tanked at the box office.

Like BLADE RUNNER (also 1982), DARK CRYSTAL was perhaps ahead of its time and destined to gain more appreciation with age. The fantasy film is the latest in a parade of under-appreciated and cult features which the Plaza Theatre has brought back to the big screen. If you’ve only seen it on a TV screen or haven’t seen it at all, here’s a rare chance. Afterwards, be sure and visit The Center for Puppetry Arts’ museum to appreciate all the craftsmanship and detailed costuming that went into an actual Skeksis which appeared in the film.

The screening is part of the Plaza’s Art Opening and a Movie series, featuring an opening reception for the exhibit “The Small Game of Revilo,” a collection of surprising sculptures featuring whimsical and fearsome small forest animals by Brian Colin which will be on display in the lobby through July 3. Also on hand will be Heidi Arnhold, the artist of two volumes of LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (THE GARTHIM WARS and TRIAL BY FIRE), a manga graphic novel prequel published by Tokyopop and set hundreds of years before the film. She’s also drawn a manga version of STAR TREK and is one of the artists for Archaia Entertainment’s upcoming FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II anthology, out July 2011. ATLRetro caught up with Heidi to find out how an unknown artist won a professional debut as cool as DARK CRYSTAL, why she thinks the movie has such staying power, and a little bit about her affection for rabbits.

How did you get the opportunity to be the artist for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL?

When I was a senior at the Savannah College of Art (SCAD), I met Tim Beedle [former Tokyopop editor] at Editor’s Day. The Sequential Art Department hosts the event once a year and invites editors from various publishers to visit and give portfolio reviews. I made [Tim] my top priority because my style seemed best suited for them. Much to my surprise and excitement, he liked my stuff and gave me his card! I walked out of the review room clutching it in my hands like he’d just given me the golden ticket.

The evil Skesis, as drawn by Heidi Arnhold in LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

I kept in touch with Tim after I graduated in hopes that a project in need of an artist would open up. Little did I know that he was working on LEGENDS at the time, and the first artist had decided to walk. Initially Tim had intended for me to work on something else, but he needed someone to take over the book fairly quickly. One day he asked me if I was a fan of THE DARK CRYSTAL, and I thought he was just making small talk and didn’t respond right away. Shortly afterward he hinted that there was a reason he was asking me that, and I got it through my thick skull that this could be my chance to move forward in the career of my dreams. After sending him sketches and several test pages over the next couple months, I was approved! Tim told me over the phone, and I did an awkward victory dance in the back room at my workplace—thank goodness nobody was looking! And that’s how it all began.

Were you a big fan of the film already, and if yes, when did you first see it and what impact did it have on your art?

When the prospect of illustrating LEGENDS was placed on the table, I’m embarrassed to say I had yet to see THE DARK CRYSTAL at all. I missed out on many awesome things when I was younger, mostly because VHS tapes were pretty costly—or so my parents tell me—and my family wasn’t doing so great financially. I never saw LABYRINTH or FRAGGLE ROCK as a kid either. I’m very glad I was able to grow up watching shows like SESAME STREET and MUPPET BABIES at least!

Another page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

However, once I had seen the movie, I was enchanted by the characters and backgrounds. I’ve always had a connection to the fantasy genre, its whimsical elements in particular. Even before I was green lit as the artist, I could tell the world of THE DARK CRYSTAL was going to give me the opportunity to cut loose and have some fun.

Your artwork is very detailed and really makes the movie come to life in the graphic medium. How did you prepare, any funny stories and how many times did you visit the actual skeksis at the Center for Puppetry Arts museum?

Back then I was working at the UPS store, and on my slow days I used their printer to fill a binder full of Dark Crystal reference material—shhh, don’t tell them. I watched the movie over and over. I sketched from screenshots. I referenced Brian Froud’s art book [THE WORLD OF THE DARK CRYSTAL]. I coveted the days when it was quiet at work because I’d get to practice drawing Gelflings and Skeksis to my heart’s content. Skeksis anatomy turned out to be a source of frustration for me. I could not draw the Chamberlain with the correct

Artist Heidi Arnhold.

proportions to save my life. Tim was being so patient as he repeatedly tried to help me visualize how Skeksis were supposed to look. Before too long I began to have dreams about drawing the Chamberlain constantly, and I think that made something inside me die a little—I stopped sending revised drawings for a brief period after that. Tim graciously allowed me to send several test pages containing Gelflings only, claiming that I’d be able to draw Skeksis in my sleep the more I worked on the comic. Luckily, he was right!

And yes, I did visit the Center of Puppetry Arts in 2008. I remember how exasperated I was, because I wish I had gone sooner! I could actually examine the Garthim Master up close, and I understood certain details in his robes much better in person than I ever would have from a screenshot. I was kicking myself that I’d never even considered going down there earlier to use such a valuable resource.

DARK CRYSTAL was really groundbreaking in its use of puppetry in a feature film. How do you feel it holds up today and why should people come see it?

The Dark Crystal has always been such a unique film to me. It gives a fascinating insight into the scope of Jim Henson’s vision, and it redefined the boundaries of puppetry, both technologically and in subject matter. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. I think the movie sits in a specific category all its own, and for that reason it has earned a special place in cinematic history. Everyone should see it at least once!

The cover of Archaia's FRAGGLE ROCK Vol. 2, coming July 2011.

You’ve also drawn FRAGGLE ROCK for Archaia’s anthology. Is that out yet and what was that like and are those stories from the TV series or original ones?

I illustrated a lead story for Volume 2 , Issue 2—that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?—titled “The Meaning of Life,” written by Joe LeFavi, which came out in January of this year. It’s part of a three-issue run that will be collected into a hardback book in the coming months. Volume 1 is already available, and I highly recommend it! All the stories in the anthology are original, and they really hold true to the feel of the show. I think they’ll hit home with a lot of longstanding FRAGGLE fans and give newcomers a chance to fall in love with them as well.

A page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II (Archaia Entertainment)

What are you working on right now?

Currently I’m in a holding pattern to see if a project I’ve been visually conceptualizing will be picked up. The story is really fantastic, and I hope that we’ll be able to share it with everyone soon! In the meantime, I’m working on a short-term project that I’m also not allowed to talk about. I know, it’s super interesting, right? Being sworn to secrecy doesn’t make for fun interview responses.

Finally, how many rabbits do you have and have you played with them today?

I have three bunnies! Two boys, a Netherlands Dwarf and a Rex, and one girl, a Mini Rex. The boys are roommates and haven’t bonded with the girl yet, so playtime is sectioned off to different areas of the house. The boys have a room all to themselves, and my little lady is downstairs with me right now! She keeps nudging my feet while I’m sitting in my office chair, because she knows it will make me turn around and pet her. Bunnies are the BEST.

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