Resident Alien by writer Peter Hogan and artist Steve Parkhouse is one of my favorite comics to premier in recent years. The delightfully bucolic British series blends classic science fiction tropes, police procedurals, and a low-key style into a thoroughly absorbing, wonderfully paced mix. At the center of this story is a stranded alien named Harry who takes on a job as a doctor in a small Washington town.
The comic rings with echoes of Northern Exposure, Twin Peaks and Doc Martin. The first issue of volume one begins with Harryfishing on a gorgeous Pacific Northwest lake. He’s dressed like an ordinary person, but his face is completely alien. When a murder occurs in the small town that borders the lake, the alien steps in to help solve the murder. He falls in love with the town and becomes a fixture. Though he always looks like an alien to the readers, he uses hypnosis to convince people he’s a real human.
Writer Hogan reflected on the way he and artist Steve Parkhouse created the series: “Yes, well, the thing was – the reason all this happened was because Steve Parkhouse wanted, who I’d worked with before – he wanted to do something to do with aliens. So, I went away and thought about it. And the first thing I thought was I didn’t want the alien to be the monster. I didn’t want him to be the villain. I want him to be the hero. I want him to be a nice guy. And that was something that really seemed to touch a nerve with readers. It was like they’d been waiting for it. After 20 years of alien monsters, they were ready for something different.”
In fact, the core idea of this series had been brewing for even longer than that; as Hogan revealed, “It actually germinated – I had a friend in New York – an English guy. And this is nearly 30 years ago. I was visiting him in New York. And I asked him, ‘Well, how does this work? Have you got a green card?’ And he said, ‘No, no, no. I married an American woman, and I’ve got this thing.’ And he held up a resident alien card. And I just thought, ‘That’s fantastic. What an amazing title for a story!’ Then it went to the back of my mind and stayed there for 25 years.”
Like many expats who land in a different culture, our alien has begun to fall in love with the people he is living with. That ardor for humanity may come from experiences back on his home planet. As Hogan discussed, his previous life was far from perfect. “We’ll continue to get glimpses of that. In fact, in the fourth series, The Man with No Name – that’s the one coming out in September – there are developments in Harry’s personal life. And you will also get a few more glimpses of his home planet and how and why he came here. In fact, he likes humanity. In some ways, he likes them better than his own world, his own people. He’s going native.”
I asked Hogan if the hook for him was more about the town itself, or the murders that he encounters, or the alien aspect, or perhaps a synergy. Like many writers confronted with a project of this type, Hogan said: “It’s a bit of all three, I think. We’ve developed a nice supporting cast, and that’s something we’ve added to with each series. I think it’s the human interaction – that’s, for me, the core of it. The mystery side – it’s always a bit of challenge to come up with something that you can wrap up in 4 issues, for one thing. While the big storyline of the government’s awareness of him and also is he ever gonna get home – that kind of rolls on from series to series.”
Indeed, only a handful of people even suspect he is an alien, and one subplot that has run through the entire series has been the government attempting to investigate his life. “The [government storyline] kind of stays in the background, and we move it along at an incredibly slow rate because we’re in no hurry to make it go faster,” explained Hogan. “But yeah, it will proceed – but like I say, very, very slowly. And it’s kind of a side issue, you know.”
Indeed, the veteran writer of Tom Strong and several Sandman spinoffs loves playing with classic tropes in this series. One of the more delightfully subtle ideas is that the alien hypnotizes people in a way to convince them that he looks human. “We sort of set the idea to always show he was an alien, was something we decided on from day one. We thought people would get it. People would understand that he’s hypnotizing people, or there’s some reason they don’t see him as an alien. And, sure enough, the readers took that one on board.”
Hogan continued, “I think there are people who can kind of see him, and that’s where the acceptance thing is coming from. Whether that will develop more is something that I’m still working on really.”
Fans of the series have much to look forward to beyond this week’s debut. As Hogan said, “I’ve written the fifth series, and I’m thinking on the sixth. There’s a lot to come.”
The first issue of latest volume, Resident Alien: The Man with No Name #1, drops September 14.