“It was just a matter of narrowing down which powers would be useful in space, or just fun to write about” Peter Dabbene creator of the ARK graphic novel talks about meta-humans in space and the perils of publishing
In the epic sci-fi graphic novel ARK, from writer Peter Dabbene and Arcana Comics a crew of humans and ‘meta-humans’ (human/animal/plant hybrids) discover their fate is not as they thought when a mysterious message from earth reveals the true nature of the mission to their stars is not as they first seemed. But that’s not all, add in some socio-politcal unrest and a good old fashioned ‘whodunnit’ plot and ARK is a brilliant throwback to the world of classic 70s sci-fi like Silent Runnings and Battlestar Galactica. Keen to find out more about the book and the inspirations behind the weird and wonderful creatures on board the ARK we contacted Peter to get the lowdown.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration for ARK – it has a very 70s sci-fi feel for me like Silent Running, Soylent Green, or Dark Star, would that be fair and tell us a bit about where the ideas for the characters and the scenario come from?
PD: I’ve seen all of those movies, so they probably did have some residual influence, along with the original Battlestar Galactica TV show. If you recall, there were plenty of non-Cylon episodes on that show, where significant amounts of tension were created just by the fact that these people were kind of… stuck with each other. 🙂
I always liked the quiet, remote, distant feel of those stories — and for me I’d put all the sci-fi stuff we’ve mentioned alongside the classic mystery convention of having characters stuck together in one place, with murders happening — you know, stranded by a snowstorm at an old mansion, that sort of thing.
And then I’d also throw in superhero comics as an influence too — Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men was an example of super-powered characters who you could enjoy, just watching them do normal stuff. And I’ve always had a soft spot for animal-powered superheroes, like the old X-Men villains the Ani-Men, for example, or Animal Man. So that was part of the inspiration for the meta-humans. I read a lot of science magazines; there’s so much weird stuff that plants and animals can do, it was really just a matter of narrowing it down to which powers would be useful in space, or on another planet, or just fun to write about.
Tell us a bit more about the meta humans? Which animals are they based on and how important is it for you to set scientific ground rules to write them to (For example you have them being sterile in the first book)
PD: I didn’t go into great detail about which animals the metas are based on, simply because I wanted to avoid too much exposition, and because it’s kind of fun (I hope) for the reader to try to figure that out. I did give some clues with the names, in some cases — Lee is an eel meta-human, Dick (as in Moby) has sperm-whale attributes, and Iris is flower-based. Some of the others include geckos, fireflies, ants, parrots, and kangaroo rats.
The name of the game in sci-fi is pseudo-science — just a way of saying that if you ground everything in current or very likely to happen near-future technology, then you’re very limited as to what you can do. I like to throw in science stuff when it fits, but I also don’t want to bog the reader down with it too much. For example, I didn’t get into how the ship works in detail in ARK — maybe future volumes will reveal more of that, when it’s appropriate. More will be revealed about the metas, as well.
The isolated setting is great for creating tension but what happens if you want to introduce new characters? Will there be a group of crew members we’ve just not seen yet or do you think the characters you have can fulfil all the plot ideas you have?
PD: I wanted to avoid what I call the Star Trek situation — that is, disposable characters you’ve never seen before, introduced for one episode or storyline and then you never see them again. I get how that works in television, with guest stars and such, but I don’t want it to seem like I’m just creating a character and throwing him or her in on a whim for future stories. So what you see in ARK is pretty much what you get — for now. There are other things I have in mind for the future stories, though, and plenty of characters who have small (or nearly nonexistent) roles in this first volume of ARK will be more important to future storylines. Hopefully that makes it more interesting, as we’ll have different points of view on the same events.
Like all good sci-fi ARK isn’t just about spaceships and aliens there’s plenty of social comment and analysis (racial divides, genetic engineering, even a religious element with the Ark comparisons) how important are those elements to telling a good story in your opinion?
PD: I think it’s very important to have multiple “levels” to a story — on the surface, hopefully a good action-adventure mystery, but one of the reasons science fiction works so well is its ability to lay another level of meaning below the surface. Stories that hit on more than one level are the ones that people tend to read and recommend, and the ones that have some chance of really impacting people, and that’s always my goal.
How did you hook up with artist Ryan Bayliss, what do you think be brings to the book and have you guys worked together before or is ARK your first collaboration?
PD: I hooked up with Ryan after searching the internet for an artist. I’d looked locally (New Jersey, USA) but had no luck, and finally found Ryan’s website. I liked his style, and he studied sequential art, so I knew he knew how to tell a story instead of just drawing pretty pictures. ARK is our first collaboration, but we’re at work on a very expansive sci-fi graphic novel called The Adventures of SpamFram, which we hope to complete in the next year. Ryan and I work very well together, and even though he’s in the UK and we work via e-mail, I think we have a pretty good rapport, and we’re both happy with the results of the partnership.
You’re releasing the book digitally after facing some problems getting it out there in print. Tell us a bit about your experiences of getting ARK published?
PD: Well, ARK is being issued in print, but it is definitely a struggle to get printed books out there. People can order it from Amazon, or directly from Arcana, but apparently Diamond Previews decided they weren’t going to list all of Arcana‘s titles anymore, and that’s the main way to get your book in comic stores. So we’re doing what we can as far as the print version, but the digital version is available and ready to be downloaded from ComiXology at any time.
Arcana has been very supportive, but like all publishers, they’re trying to figure out where the industry is going, in terms of digital vs. print. The distribution problem is a big one, but Arcana‘s selling ARK directly to comic stores and dealers at a significant discount, so hopefully some stores will stock the book that way.
Do you see digital as the saviour for smaller-scale books like ARK or does it still have its downsides?
PD: Digital is definitely another tool in the arsenal, but I wouldn’t say it’s a savior, exactly. The lower barriers to entry in terms of cost is definitely a good thing. But there are a lot of people who still go into a comic store or bookstore and just browse before deciding what to buy. So you don’t want to miss those people. I think there needs to be more of a physical presence for digital books, maybe something along the lines of what Barnes and Noble does with the Nook — you go in the store, see a poster or a sample copy that catches your eye, and download the book to your iPad right there, with the comic store getting a cut.
The lowered costs for digital also means a lot more competition in the marketplace. One of the reasons I was happy to work with Arcana is that they’ve got a good reputation for putting out quality stuff, and I think with so much material available out there, a lot of readers will buy with more confidence seeing the Arcana name, rather than some unknown start-up label.
What are your hopes for ARK in the long term, how long will it run for and do you have an end mapped out for it or are just waiting to see how things progress?
PD: Arcana agreed to a three book series of graphic novels for ARK, so I certainly hope to see that through, but of course it all depends on sales, and whether it’s financially viable for me to do that. I mean, I think I’d want to tell those stories at some point no matter what, but it’s a question of whether that happens inside five years, or fifteen, or more.
I have a lot of ideas for the sequels, and I could easily extend the series beyond three books if the demand was there. But I don’t want to do an open-ended ongoing series where the funding gives out and the story never gets completed — I like an ending when I read a story, so I want to give that to the reader in each volume, even if it leaves an opening for the next story.
As for greater hopes, my ideal would be to see ARK picked up as a TV series — I think it would be really great, and it drives me crazy when I see some of the dreck that SyFy Channel and other similarly themed networks put out there. Of course, the chances are very much against that happening, but it’d be nice if it did.