The last writer to touch an Aliens vs. Predator comic was none other than Randy Stradley, the very man responsible for starting the license off. In Aliens vs Predator – Three World War, Stradley wrapped up the current story-arc and the story of Machiko Noguchi. The series ran from January 2010 to September 2010. And that was it. Until Dark Horse started its Fire and Stone series and Chris Sebela stepped up to the plate to write the first Aliens vs Predator comic in nearly 5 years.
Having spoken to some of his fellow partners-in-crime – Paul Tobin and Chris Roberson – for the Fire and Stone series, we hunted Chris Sebela down to ask him some questions on his work for Dark Horse’s Aliens vs Predator – Fire and Stone.
AvPG – First off, Chris, thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to answer our questions. We really appreciate it. What have you been up to since you finished work on Aliens vs Predator?
Chris Sebela – Lots of stuff. We just recently wrapped up HIGH CRIMES, my creator-owned book with Ibrahim Moustafa that got nominated for a couple of Eisners last year, in advance of a trade coming out from Dark Horse in July. I’ve also been working on DEAD LETTERS, a creator owned detective noir book I’m doing with Chris Visions and writing the ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK comic, both out from Boom. I’ve also been working on stuff that won’t even come out til next year. It’s been a busy aftermath.
AvPG – Can you tell us a little about how you first got involved with writing for comics?
CS – I’ve been into comics all my life and I definitely toyed with writing them for a long while but it wasn’t until about 5 years ago when I really decided to go for it. I packed up my life and moved to Portland as a way of sorta hitting reset on my existence and recommitting myself to writing for a living. Fortunately there’s a couple publishers here in town and a buttload of creators here, so it was the perfect choice as far as networking and making connections. But mostly it was down to me getting brave enough to actually send in pitches to publishers and hoping they didn’t hate them and moving cross-country to pursue a goal, you kinda have to ditch all the fear-based stuff and just go for it full throttle and hope it works out. Luckily it seems to be working out so far.
AvPG – I understand your first encounter with the Alien series was through James Cameron’s Aliens. I was hoping you could tell us a little about the first time you saw it.
CS – That was my first encounter actually watching a movie with a xenomorph. My first encounter with the Alien series was actually this big picture book I had as a kid all about horror movies. There was a big double page spread from ALIEN of the shot where Lambert is face to face with the xeno and losing her shit. I would stare at that as a kid and freak myself out over it. ALIENS is the first one I actually saw, over at a friend’s house on VHS. I remember being aware of it for awhile and being freaked out all over again. Like, even just one xeno freaked me out, and this was that thing multiplied by 100. It’s weird seeing them out of order like that. I had all the fear but it was all based on supposition, and ALIENS turned out to be much more of an action film, but it was so intense to a little kid that I was onboard completely from that moment on.
AvPG – If I remember rightly you were a fan of the original run of Aliens vs Predator the comics. Did you ever play any of the games or watch any of the films that would come from that original idea? What did you think?
CS – I don’t have any particular memories of playing the games outside of dumping some quarters into the arcade game, the beat ‘em up one from the early 90s. I definitely saw both of the AvP movies. I like parts of that first one, because it really made an effort to create a mythology that made this all make sense, and while I didn’t necessarily buy into all of it, I admired the attempt. I still think there’s some cool stuff in there. The second one, Requiem, I’ve mostly expunged from my head. I tried to rewatch it before working on the comic and got far enough to remember that it all takes place in some small town and how much worse it got from there and shut it off.
AvPG – Prometheus was released in 2012 and opened some significant possibilities for the Aliens series – as well as changing a significant piece of history of the series. It received a very mixed reaction from the fandom. I was wondering how you felt about the film?
CS – I really like Prometheus. There’s definitely some moments that don’t make sense from a logical point of view, but I never got the hate for it. Maybe it was because that trailer was so good, no movie could live up to it? I was always cautiously optimistic about it and it lived up to my expectations. I actually enjoyed it more on a second viewing, right when we started talking about the books in earnest, digging into what it all really meant, it made Prometheus feel a lot stronger of a film than anyone gave it credit for.
AvPG – Now that the series has been out for some time, have you had a chance to check out the response to the series? What did you think?
CS – I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reaction. I wasn’t sure how it would go over, because I was writing it as a fan, but everyone likes these things for entirely different reasons and I wasn’t sure if what I liked AvP for is what other people liked it for, and, yeah, it was a bit nervewracking. But everything I’ve encountered has made me feel good that I hadn’t screwed it up.
AvPG – How did you come to be involved in the Fire and Stone series? Were you specifically interested in writing an Aliens vs Predator story?
CS – I wasn’t specifically aiming for one particular book, I just wanted to get in the room. I knew it was a thing that was happening because Kelly Sue DeConnick was talking with Scott Allie about it in a very general way. I’m friends with her and was just getting my foot in the door in comics at that point so I jokingly asked if I could be a part of it and Kelly Sue knew how much of a nerd I was for both franchises and thought I would be an asset in helping to keep the mythologies straight. I had to prove myself to Scott by sending him my first book, Screamland, which is a horror book and the first couple issues of High Crimes, which is action-driven and apparently he liked them enough to invite me to join up. Being local to Portland, to be able to come to his house every couple weeks and sit down with the team and talk the book out was also a huge advantage. I’m still not entirely sure how I got involved, it all kinda feels like a wished on a magic lamp sometimes.
AvPG – From our discussion with Paul Tobin we know that Fox asked that some changes be made to the series. He mentioned that these changes resulted in being able to use actual Aliens rather than some form of lesser alien. How did these changes apply to you and the AvP series?
CS – Oh, I had to toss everything and start over. We all did. We were all 2 issues deep, scriptwise, when we got those round of notes from Fox and we had to hit reset and break all the stories all over again. But in a way it really freed us up and I think made all the books better, let us really go nuts and use as many pieces as we could.
AvPG – Were you also using these “lesser aliens” for AvP? I remember some earlier cover art depicting the Deacons from Prometheus. Was the entire series using the Deacons?
CS – Yeah, initially we were using Deacons and sort of tracing their evolution into full-on xenomorphs, using the Deacon we see at the end of Prometheus, but that hewed too close to what they were talking about for Prometheus 2, which makes sense. But like I said, that pushed us to come up with a new angle and that gave us the freedom to use as many xenos as we wanted without having to trace any lineage or anything, so I think it was a decision that was for the best in the end.
AvPG – Due to the nature of the Fire and Stone series, there was a lot of crossover between the properties. For example, Paul’s series was called Prometheus but it included a lot of Aliens. Your series was called Aliens vs. Predator but their conflict wasn’t the focus of the series, it was about the mutants. How did you approach writing the stories with these crossovers in mind?
CS – We broke the stories together in the writer’s room, so we knew what everyone else was doing and how our books intersected and what each book would be in terms of story and tone. We all agreed pretty early on that mine was gonna be the blood and guts monster movie of the crossover, so I approached everything from that perspective. All the oppressive paranoia and tension leading up to just wholesale slaughter and these things tearing each other apart.
AvPG – The bulk of the Fire and Stone series is about Elden and his transformation and you probably get to play with him more than the others. How did you collaborate with the other writers to ensure his journey over the multiple stories worked?
CS – Again, that was all down to the writer’s room, we all mapped out each character and their general arcs and we figured out who was taking who. I lucked out in getting Elden. I had some ideas of how far I wanted to take him and we all mapped out a way this would all make sense. But then we were all writing our first scripts at the same time, so I would send mine to Paul Tobin so he knew how to make Elden start out in Prometheus so he’d wind up where he is when AvP starts. Then Kelly Sue got all of our scripts to make sure everything matched for her Omega book.
AvPG – Elden alludes to a lot of interesting possibilities with the Engineers throughout his monologues but they’re not really explored. These rants alluded to things like him becoming an Engineer and their having access to time travel. Was this something that you wanted to explore but weren’t allowed? Or was it just the ramblings of a mad construct?
CS – It was a lot of seeding stuff that we just didn’t have time or room to explore, but that we thought were interesting possibilities. Some of them could just be Elden losing his mind and ascribing things going wonky in his head to gods and Engineers and the like. Or it could all be real. I like when stories explore possibilities without chasing each rabbit down its own particular hole, leaving it open for the reader to turn over in their own heads.
AvPG – When we spoke to Paul we asked about Elden being a construct and how that made him different to regular synthetics. He commented that he thought of Elden a lesser synthetic that used true bio-blood. However, in Omega, he is referred to as a meat robot implying more than just regular blood. I was wondering what your thoughts on it were and how much the idea of Elden being a construct was discussed?
CS – There was a lot of discussion of what kind of construct he was. We didn’t want him to be an advanced model like David or Bishop or Ash, the goal was always to have him be lesser, to be the put upon punting toy of everyone. Elden is sort of a hybrid, shaped after a human but with a lot of his DNA coming from “lesser” species like pigs and dogs, domesticated animals that would make him more domesticated in turn and therefore a more easily led construct than the synthetics with actual artificial intelligence or any illusion of free will.
AvPG – In Aliens vs. Predator the 2 main characters are both quite unlikable in certain ways. Elden is obviously on his killing spree and Francis took advantage of the then child-like Elden to try and get what he wanted. How difficult was it to write a story with characters such as these?
CS – Not very hard. I like unlikeable characters and trying to wring something relatable out of people who might otherwise be complete bastards at first glance. I think while Elden and Francis have big streaks of unsympathetic behaviour, they have good reasons for some of it. Or what seem like good reasons to them. Francis is dying, so he’s desperate, and he’s a scientist, so he’s curious. These things just happen to combine in a terrible way. Elden is waking up out of this forced servitude and he’s dealing with becoming something alive, with his mind becoming useful and self-aware, complete with all the pain and confusion that comes with it. I never thought at any time that they were completely unredeemable, I always allowed the possibility that even though everything they’re doing looks awful to us, it might have a positive outcome of some sort, because these characters are holding on to this hope.
AvPG – You wrote dialogue for all the Predators. I was wondering if that was something you might still have and would be able to share?
CS – Sure. It’s not very dynamic. I never saw Predators as very chatty, even when they spoke, it’s clipped, military style. You say just enough to be understood, no dragging things out.
So, here’s the translation of the Predators’ two balloons on page one of issue one.
From Panel 2-
CHIEF: (Predator speak) This one is mine.
From Panel 4-
BERZERKER: (Predator speak.) It’s ours, Chief. Ours.
So yeah, nothing super necessary for you to actually know what they’re saying. I feel like if you understood them, listening to Predators talk would be like listening to police radio. They’re talking about things in a very matter of fact, clinical, coded kind of way. I think it all works best left to your own translation in the end.
AvPG – One of our members, Ultramorph, wants to know “what do you think the end-game would have been for Elden had he not done what he did in Omega?”
CS – I think he would have become a wandering force of nature. I don’t think there was ever an endgame in Elden’s mind, except learning more about the world he was a part of now and trying to decipher what he’s becoming. I think he’d continue to change and adapt as he went, both physically and mentally. Maybe he’d have become a kind of Engineer, given an eternity to live and a universe to explore, he’d have wound up learning everything, becoming a sort of proxy god. Or maybe he’d have gone off the deep end and slaughtered the world. There was a lot of potential for Elden from where we left him at the end of AvP.
AvPG – He also asks “Elden never meets an Engineer in FaS, and that seems pretty intentional on the part of the writers. Did Fox ask you to keep him away from the Engineers?”
CS – No, that was our decision. A lot of it was juggling all the timelines, there was only so much we could do while still telling our individual stories. Especially in Prometheus, where Paul had the unenviable task of setting all these things up to spin off into their own books, space was at a premium. But also, to my mind, with Elden having these possible delusions of godhood or Engineerdom, it made sense to keep them apart. How do you tell yourself you’re becoming a thing when you’re staring that thing in the face and seeing what a huge gulf there is between you and it? I personally didn’t want to limit his potential with the truth showing up, so it worked out with my take on everything.
AvPG – Another of our members, Guan Thwei 1992, wants to know more about the relationship between the Engineers and the Predators. “Elden kept saying things such as “my people, the Engineers, we created all this” while fighting Predators, yet he looked at one of them and said “I don’t know what you are” which seems to send mixed messages on whether Engineers created Predators or have no part in their creation nor are they too familiar with them either.”
CS – There are some questions that we didn’t want to answer. Some of them we weren’t able to answer, it wasn’t our place to give that answer, so we danced around the idea of whether the Engineers created the Predators, but it wasn’t something we intended on actually getting into.
AvPG – Now that Aliens vs. Predator – Fire and Stone has been out for a while and you’ve had chance to see the feedback, is there anything you would want to go back and change?
CS – I don’t think there’s a thing I’ve written which I wouldn’t want to go back and tinker with, but you write the book you write when you write it. I’m happy with AvP and the whole crossover we managed to make happen. It was a weird process and I learned a lot playing in a sandbox with other writers whose stuff I liked, it was the first time I really wrote in a group setting like that.
AvPG – Randy Stradley recently spoke about there being a second Fire and Stone series on the way. Will you be returning to play again?
CS – I can’t say yes for sure but I can’t say no for sure. I’ll just give a noncommittal shrug and a wink.
AvPG – Thank you for taking the time to our questions. Before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to tell our readers?
CS – Thanks for reading the books and liking them. Working on something you’ve been obsessed with all your life is super strange and it makes writing, which is already fraught with self-doubt, even harder. Reading the nice things people have said, it was a huge relief knowing people who are die hard fans read what I wrote and actually enjoyed it.