Jason Neulander is the driving force behind what he calls his Austin-based “live action graphic novel” Intergalactic Nemesis. Jason was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about origins of what initially started as a radio drama that’s since spawned a comic miniseries and soon an iPhone application.
Charles Webb: So how’s everything been going?
Jason Neulander Everything’s going great.
CW: Just to start, could you give our readers an overview of what Intergalactic Nemesis is about? For instance, what are some of the details of the story, what media platforms is it launching on, and why did you choose to present it the way you have?
JN: The story takes place in 1933 and it kind of hearkens back to the serials of that era and it tells the story of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Molly Sloane and her assistant Tim Mendez. The two of them basically stumble upon the story of the century which is that Earth is about to be invaded by sludge monsters from the planet Zygon.
The project has been around for a while, previously as a radio drama. We later turned that radio drama into a live stage play that basically kept all of the components of the radio drama — the sound effects, the audience acting as the studio audience in the 1930s. That version proved so popular here in Austin that we ended up playing in a few theaters. Then it spawned a sequel, leading us to tour the country with the show.
In the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about taking this story that’s been told in an audio format and translating it into a visual format and that’s where the idea for the comic book came from. So here we are.
CW: It sounds kind of like the process some of the BBC radio dramas like Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy went through, moving from sound to visual formats.
JN: Yeah, I’d been thinking about the ways in which we could tell this story. I mean, the story we’re telling is one that is definitely a twist on an old theme. So a lot of people would definitely recognize this twist of the old “invasion from outer space.” Something I’ve been trying to do is taking that storyline and translating it into as many forms of media as possible just to reach as broad an audience as possible.
So, for example, we’ve actually taken the comic book and brought that back into the live show. What we’re doing is taking the comic artwork and projecting it on a huge screen while three actors and foley artists do all the sounds and voice work. And then we’re alternately releasing a mobile phone app of Intergalactic Nemesis that takes the artwork panel by panel with the studio performances of the actors playing as well.
JN: We’re going to start with the iPhone but we’re not limiting it to the iPhone.
CW: Are you using one of the existing comic readers for the iPhone?
JN: I think we’re going to come up with something proprietary because I don’t think we’re going to release this like the traditional comic book. It’s more of a multimedia format. The app is not only going to contain the comic book artwork, it’s going to have the voices and sound effects as well as a commentary track — each issue would have a little 2-minute documentary short that contains details about the making of the live action graphic novel.
CW: Why did you decide to initially approach it as a radio drama way back when you and your friends put the first iteration of the project together?
JN: I tell you, the real reason is because that was the cheapest way to make the story come to life. [Laughs]
We had no money and we were creating the scripts on the fly, and we were pitching around for the utensils that would make the various sound effects.
CW: Where were you broadcasting it originally?
JN: We recorded live at a little coffee house in downtown Austin. And we recorded on a cassette tape four track — this was back in 1996. We did about 10 episodes and each episode was about 15 minutes. Basically, the summer after we recorded it, the whole thing was broadcast in serial form on Sundays over a 10 week period.
CW: Any plans to release those original tapes?
JN: If I could even find any of those original tapes! I’ve managed to dig up a handful of those episodes but honestly I have no idea where most of the tapes are. They’re kind of lost to history.
About four years later we revisited the project and refined the story and recorded it digitally. That’s the version that we have recorded.
CW: It’d be fascinating to hear, I think — to hear a project progress and grow over time as this has.
JN: Yeah, and it’s been kind of organic. You know, the only advertising is word of mouth and it was amazing that we were able to fill this coffee house with people but that we had to turn people away. We recorded a few episodes a week for five weeks and people kept coming back week after week to follow the story. And it was kind of like, I don’t know, the original version of Lost.
That gave me the inspiration to just try to keep the project alive and think of ways to make it grow. It’s funny, because it’s hard to imagine a zeitgeist surviving for 14 years — but here we are and the project is still in development.
JN: There are some people to this day — a number in the hundreds. But the radio show, the most recent version has an audience in the thousands and thousands. And this comic book has the potential to reach an entirely different audience.
I think there are a lot of people who still follow from the standpoint that we all know each other. And then there’s me and the people involved in the production of the project which includes me and the guy who does all the sound effects.
CW: I know the Austin arts community tends to be very supportive. Did you find that was the case?
JN: Austin is a really great city. It’s a great place to do work cheaply. [Laughs] So the result is that the sky is kind of the limit.
You know, because you can find space cheaply, you can find business owners like the one who owned this coffee house saying, “Sure, you can use my place, what the hell?” With no logistics to deal with we were able to make this project happen. And because of at the time — and this is still the case — because there were so many young, creative people looking for an outlet to do something fun and interesting it was easy to round up what was at the time a fairly big cast. And [then get] a bunch of people who weren’t in sound effects before but were willing to try it.
You know, interestingly, the guy in charge of the sound effects back then now does it for a living. And that was his introduction to doing sound effects.
So, Austin is a pretty great town that way.
And the other part is that it’s a
great place for experimental work. For something that became pretty popular it was definitely something that started as an experiment. It was initially a poor man’s version of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
There’s nothing wrong with that. [Laughs]
CW: Tell me a little about the cast. You said there were three members of the cast who perform the live version of the comic.
In 2006 when we launched our national tour I launched an intensive casting process which led me to a lot of people who were extremely talented and also able to leave town to work. That’s the process that led me to these three amazing actors that include Michael Trejo, Shana Merlin, and Christopher Lee Gibson.
Those are kind of my main actors for the show at this point and they’re the main ones performing in live shorts before major films at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. They’ll be the performers that will be performing when we unveil the full version of the live action graphic novel in September at Dell Hall at the Long Center on the 3rd and 4th.
CW: Are you selling tickets for that now?
JN: Tickets aren’t on sale yet, but we are making a big announcement as we speak. As a matter of fact I’m compressing video from that to upload onto Youtube so our viewers can see it. That press announcement got a lot of excitement from the press.
What we’re trying to do is perform these live action shorts here at the Alamo Drafthouse and at a couple of comic conventions [to get interest going]. We recently attended Comicpalooza in Houston, all in an effort to see if we can get those seats filled in September. And then with that we’ll see if in 2011 we can put on another national tour.
CW: Can you give me a little detail about the upcoming comic?
JN: Well, we’re doing it totally independently and it’s a seven issue series. There’s kind of a low-res version that I’m releasing online and there’s the [print] version that’s available at stores around Texas. Then we’re looking at outlets to get it distributed online — and of course people can buy it from our website.
And issue #1 is out and #2 was shipped from the printer on March 11th. Issue 3 is finished and just needs the final round of editing before it goes to the printer. And issue 4 is being penciled and inked literally as I speak with you now.
We expect the entire seven issue series to be out and available in stores by the end of July, middle of August.
CW: Did you come to the book as a comic fan or more of an adventure serial fan?
JN: Great question!
I am definitely an adventure serial fan. My comic book connection prior to this was reading what one would consider kind of the “greatest hits.” I’m a big fan of Alan Moore and I just finished the Lone Wolf and Cub series. But I’m not personally a huge superhero fan and never have been. The closest I got was Dr. Strange — I liked Dr. Strange when I was a kid.
The guy doing the artwork on the comic, Tim Doyle, is a real collector. He’s got volumes and volumes of comics in plastic sleeves. Being able to collaborate with someone like that on a project like this has been an incredible gift.
What I bring to the table is the ability to tell a story effectively. And I have a vision from the business side of how to get this project out to the public. And what Tim brings is this awesome comic book sensibility that I don’t really have the background in. So as I’ve been writing the scripts — you know, the way our collaboration works is that I’ll pass on the initial script and get feedback based on his reading it. You know, [he’d say] things like “You know, it’d be cool to explore this section of the story visually.” Then I’ll do revisions based on that and he’ll do thumbnails of the entire thing. From that we’ll look at the entire thing allowing us to get a clear sense of what’s working and what’s not. From there we collaboratively revise based on whether the thumbnails are working or not. From there he’ll go off and draw the entire story. I’ll then take the final version of the artwork and do another revision of the dialogue — which is really the most fun part because it’s at that point that I really get to form and improve the dialogue.
My background is in theater and I really understand how to put words in characters’ mouths and make it sound as if a person is really saying them. So even if that person is a His Girl Friday, 1930’s type character where no one ever really talked that way.
Words are more character-driven than they are situation-driven. So that part of the process — the fine-tuning of the script — is really fun.
CW: Anything you want to tease for our readers?
JN: Yeah, if you’re a fan of Star Wars and Raiders and those two projects in relation to one another as harkening back to that pulp era you’re really going to love this book. And another thing is that we’re really not some giant mega force publishing this — we’re just a bunch of folks in Austin who fell in love with this story and wanted to share it.
CW: Well, I wish you the best of luck and thanks for your time.
Here’s the site for Intergalactic Nemesis.
You can find recent video of a recent performance here:
If you liked this interview, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at Monster In Your Veins