We’ve got another fantastic BOOM! Month interview for you today! 28 Days Later has been a big success for BOOM!, and a really popular series at TFAW, so we tracked down writer Michael Alan Nelson and artist Ale Aragón. They’re the creative muscle behind one of my favorite books out there right now. Here’s how it all went down. –Warning, spoilers below–
TFAW.com: Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to talk with us about 28 Days Later.
Michael Alan Nelson: My pleasure.
Alejandro Aragón: Thanks for this interview, I appreciate it.
TFAW.com: The 28 Days Later comics take place between the events of 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, and center around Selena, one of the survivors from the first film. We’re 20 issues in, and the story has had a lot of highs and lows already. Can you bring new readers up to speed on the series?
MAN: For those who haven’t seen the film, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic Britain following the rampant spread of the Rage Virus. It’s a virus that induces uncontrollable rage and ebola-esque bleeding in those infected. And Infection occurs within 15 to 20 seconds of contact with the virus. The population has been practically wiped out. Those few still alive are most likely Infected.
Our hero, Selena, escaped the island at the end of the film 28 Days Later. This series that I’m writing is about her return to Britain, acting as a guide for an American journalist. But after the crew sets out, all but three are killed by the time they make the mainland. From there, Selena, Clint, and Derrick struggled to make their way south toward London, where American forces hope to repatriate British citizens exiled due to Infection. They battled Infected, rogue military agents, crazed survivors, and even a king. The journey wasn’t easy, and it ultimately claimed Derrick’s life along the way. Now, it’s just Selena and Clint, the American reporter, who are finally about to reach London.
TFAW.com: Captain Stiles was a formidable antagonist in the series. With the explosive ending in issue #20, can we expect some breathing room for Selena and Clint?
MAN: I wouldn’t say breathing room, but they definitely do have a chance to catch their breath. For a moment or two, at least. Selena will finally get a chance to do what she came to London to do (and no, it wasn’t for the money she’d earn as a guide). This will create a different kind of tension for Selena and Clint. The final arc runs parallel to the second film, 28 Weeks Later. So if you’ve seen the sequel, you know that the repatriation of London turns out to be a little less permanent than people had hoped.
TFAW.com: What are the biggest challenges to bringing 28 Days Later from the screen to the page?
MAN: There are several challenges, from staying true to the universe and the characters from the film to coming up with storylines that everyone approves of. But the biggest challenge for me is maintaining a level of story quality on par with the film. 28 Days Later is a simply brilliant movie. The chance to have written a series within that universe has been an honor and a treat.
That said, I’m always nervous about my work not living up the standard of that film. Part of that is just professional pride, obviously, but another part comes from being a big fan of the franchise. I want fans of the film to read my series and enjoy it just as much as they enjoyed the film. The last thing in the world I want is to diminish anyone’s enjoyment of the franchise. It’s my job to maintain a level of quality this franchise deserves. Of course, whether I’ve lived up to that or not is up for my readers to decide.
TFAW.com: What’s been your favorite moment in 28 Days Later so far, Alejandro?
AA: Ouch . . . good question. I’ve had luck working with Michael, he is a writer who brings a lot of brilliant moments to work on. I really enjoyed the moment where Selena and Stiles are arriving to the city of Manchester. That was a big event for me. It felt like entering the movie. But I think my favorite moment so far, it is coming soon on issue #22. I can’t talk about it but, I am only going to say it is a fight. Issue #22 is one of the best scripts I have ever read.
TFAW.com: What are the best parts about working on 28 Days Later for you, Michael?
MAN: I get to be horribly, horribly cruel to my characters. Having a story in a post-apocalyptic world opens up so many different aspects of humanity that aren’t always realistically available within a story otherwise. People, both good and bad, do some pretty strange and oftentimes horrific things once the veneer of civilization has been stripped away. Those extraordinary actions allow for some interesting ideas.
Captain Stiles is a perfect example. Blaming Selena for Major West’s death and hunting her down across an apocalyptic wasteland for revenge might not seem to make a whole lot of sense. But this is a man, a soldier, who has lost everything. Everything. His job, his family, his friends, his home, his country, his culture, his very way of life. What would that do to someone? Especially someone who has spent their life finding enemies and killing them? For a man of action, all of that loss, all of that rage needs to be directed somewhere. Preferably at an enemy. But how do you fight Infection? You don’t. So he goes after the only enemy he can find: Selena. And he goes after her with such zeal because it’s the only thing he has left.
Selena’s ultimate reason for agreeing to go back to London is based on a similar mindset. When everything is taken from us, we hold on to the last tenuous piece of that lost world in a death grip. And that grip makes us do things that we might not even consider under normal circumstances. But these aren’t normal circumstances, and I think that having a universe like 28 Days Later allows me to take characters to those extremes that I might not normally be able to in a non-apocalyptic setting. I’m not saying it can’t be done (I’m sure it has been and done well), I’m just saying I personally find it more freeing.
TFAW.com: Selena’s a really strong, hardened character. She knows what it takes to survive and doesn’t pull any punches. Recent events have shown us a softer side of Selena we haven’t seen too much of. Was it difficult to make these tonal shifts?
MAN: It’s always difficult trying to make a character well-rounded and relatable. I think the trick to making it work is to do it gradually, so when that softer side finally shows itself, it doesn’t seem completely foreign and out of place. From the start of the series, we see Selena slowly poke her head out of her shell from time to time, but when she does, it’s usually followed by some tragedy. Naturally, she’s going to wall herself off, get harder, get stronger. But everyone has limits. Everyone. If your character, no matter how bad or tough they are, doesn’t have a breaking point, they’re going to come off as pretty two-dimensional.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some stories where the hardcore hero who can kill anything with his pinky finger is a lot of fun to read. But for a series like 28 Days Later that’s more grounded, I needed to make sure Selena had some vulnerability, even if she did keep it buried too deep for anyone to see. So what we see throughout the series, is Selena’s armor slowly being chipped away by what she has had to suffer. This allows those occasional moments of vulnerability to sneak through.
TFAW.com: Clint and Selena are getting pretty close–to the point where they embraced after their time apart in issue #20. Was that planned from the beginning, or did the story evolve that way?
MAN: The relationship between Selena and Clint was planned from the very beginning. It was part of Alex Garland’s original story outline. The hard part, of course, was getting that relationship to come about organically. Though, it makes it easier when you’re dealing with two people who are, for most of the story, the last two people on earth.
TFAW.com: Do you have any plans to give us any updates on Jim or Hannah?
MAN: No, the vague mentions from Captain Stiles are all there is. Sorry. I didn’t want to go too deep into those characters, since I have no idea if the franchise has other uses for them or not. Since what I’m writing is considered canon, I didn’t want to hamstring any future projects or come up with something the creators didn’t like. Also, this was a story about Selena and where she is now. We know that Jim and Hannah were basically taken away from her, but that is just one tragedy in a long line of misfortunes she’s had to deal with. They were a part of Selena’s past, but they weren’t the most important. They’re not the part of her history that gets her to take up her machete again.
The look and feel of the book is absolutely in keeping with the films. Can you tell us a little about how Alejandro came to be involved with the book and what his work brings to the table?
MAN: I’ve never been directly involved with choosing artists, and for good reason. I have no idea what I’m looking for. Thankfully, the girls and boys over at BOOM! do know what they’re looking for and are able to find the right people for the job. I do know that Alejandro came on after Declan left around issue #12 or so. Declan really created a mood and a tone for the series, so when he left, I was worried there would be a tonal shift in the art. But Alejandro came in with guns blazing. He’s got the tone down and really does a great job in capturing the emotion of the characters. He does a fantastic job of making me look like a better writer than I really am.
TFAW.com: How did you come to work on 28 Days Later, Alejandro?
AA: I always wanted to work with BOOM! Studios (I wanted it really bad ?). I was fan of a lot of books they were publishing like Cthulhu Tales, Fall of Cthulhu, 28 Days Later, Unthinkable and many others. So, I went to BOOM! Studios’ website. I visited their forum and I found there is a section where you can make a post and upload your stuff, experience, and personal information. Ian Brill (my editor right now) contacted me a few weeks later, and since that day, we kept in touch. One day, after five or six months, he emailed me asking if I’d be interested about work on one issue of 28 Days Later and just . . . I couldn’t believe it. I still remember that day like one of the most amazing moment of my life.
TFAW.com: Were you a fan of the movies before you started working on the book?
AA: Yeah! I am really fan of both movies, especially 28 Days Later. The truth is, I am a big fan of Danny Boyle’s movies. When I found that he was working on a horror film I couldn’t wait to put my eyes on it. I only had to see Jim walking alone on the empty streets of London, those shots of the buildings, all in complete silence, to know I was in front of a brilliant movie (of course, I never thought I would have the chance to work on the comic about this film some day).
TFAW.com: You’ve done some really powerful stuff, like Derrick’s goodbye in issue #14. Do you feel affected by your own work after you finish a panel or a page?
AA: Wow, thanks. I am glad you like it, but I think that was all merit of Michael. Speaking about that scene, I remember I followed the script 100%. Working with him is always an honor.
And my answer for your question is “Yes.” Not always, of course, but the truth is sometimes it happens. It all depends on how much you identify with a character. I believe in the art like it’s some kind of exorcism, and working on crime noir and horror books is like being getting out the trash every day. Sometimes I ask myself why I enjoy working on crime noir and horror books so much, and to really get to the truth, I think this is the way I have to deal with a lot of things. When you put your heart in your work, and when you work from your heart and give everything you have, there will be always emotions involved.
TFAW.com: You’re from Argentina, right? What work do you do to capture Britain’s landscapes?
AA: Yes, I am. When I got my script, the second thing I did (first I read it, of course) is my research. Movies, books and Internet, too. Then I try to focus on those details which make the buildings or landscape looks unique and different respective to other places of the world. Sometimes I got it, sometimes not, but I always try. I will quote a few words of Eduardo Risso which express clearly what I feel. One time he said: “I am not historian, I am comic artist” ? That was really cool and I am agree with that sentence. I work hard so the readers can feels the characters are in Scotland or England, but I am sure, if you seek obsessively, you will find a few mistakes too.
When I am working on any story, my intention is not get a perfect representation of reality. I feel happy if I can create the right mood and atmosphere, if I can transmit emotions. That is my goal on every page.
AA: I usually count 30 days since I get the script. Then I have to read it and do my research. I usually spend a couple of days working on the thumbnails, these must be approved by my editor, and then it’s time to start! I can get a few days more or less but, generally, I have between 25 and 28 days to get done the book (penciled and inked).
TFAW.com: Michael, you got the gig because you wrote a six-page story about Selena, right? Have you incorporated any of that story in the comic?
MAN: No, that “mini” took place during the original onset of Infection. It was about Selena and Mark, along with a man named David (not Selena’s husband, David) trying to escape a parking garage. I’ve used bits of its tone and similar situations throughout the series, but I never put it in whole cloth anywhere. It was really just a character study on Selena and her ability to survive.
TFAW.com: Do you have a set ending in mind? Has it changed since you got started on this adventure? Where are we in relation to the ending you have in mind?
MAN: Yes, in fact I just finished the final rewrite of the last script. This last four-issue arc, “Homecoming,” is all that’s left, and then it will be over. Some of the specifics have changed since I started writing the series two years ago, but we always knew where we were headed and what would happen once we got there. Some of the scenes are different than I originally had anticipated, but the outcome is still the same.
TFAW.com: You’ve been working with BOOM! since they started back in the day. How has it been to see your books help push the company to the success that they’ve achieved in such a short amount of time?
MAN: Well, first let me say that as much as my ego would love to say that yes, it was indeed my books that helped propel BOOM! to success, the truth is Ross Richie is the reason BOOM! is where it’s at today. He knew the right people to hire, from creators to editors to marketing managers, and how to shape the vision of his company into a success. I’m just very fortunate that he likes what I do and has let me tag along for the ride. And I’m very proud of the work I do for BOOM! It has been such a joy to see my work in print, not to mention how incredibly thrilling it is to know that people actually read my books.
TFAW.com: What other BOOM! books are you digging right now? Do you have any other projects on deck?
MAN: Obviously, anything with Mark Waid’s name on it is a must read. His “I” books are fantastic, but I’m in love with his Potter’s Field and Unknown series as well. For my own projects, I have Insurrection v.3.6 and Malignant Man coming out very soon. As for more Hexed, there is nothing in the world I would love to do more. Hopefully, with the release of the softcover very soon, we can hook some more readers and really get some demand going for Hexed to return. But it all depends on Hexed fans getting the word out. If there’s enough interest in the series, we’ll be able to bring it back. So if anyone out there reading is a fan and wants more Hexed, spread the word far and wide. Shout it from the rooftops. I’d do it, but my neighbors already think I’ve stopped taking my lithium.
AA: Irredeemable, The Traveler, Dracula: Company of Monsters and I can’t wait for: Hellraiser, Planet of the Apes, and Insurrection (and yes, I am still a big freak comic reader).
TFAW.com: Anything else you want to let us know about?
MAN: If you like what I do, I have a huge back catalog of books at BOOM! that you should check out like Dingo and Fall of Cthulhu, just to name a few.
TFAW.com: Thanks for talking about 28 Days Later with us guys!
MAN: Any time.
We want to thank Michael Alan Nelson and Ale Aragón for taking the time out of their busy schedules to chat with us about 28 Days Later.
We’re also psyched that Ale offered up this sketch of Selena for our 28 Days Later Contest. All you gotta do to enter is post your favorite 28 Days Later moment (from the comic or the films) by March 22, 2011. For complete rules and alternate entry methods, please visit the 28 Days Later Contest page.
What has your favorite 28 Days Later moment been? Post your comments below to enter to win this sketch!