One new name in the comic’s biz is Cy Dethan, who broke into comics via his Starship Troopers strips for Mongoose comics – a series he continues to write for Markosia. SciFiPulse caught up with the writer and talked about Starship Troopers, as well as some of the other things that Cy has been working on.
SciFiPulse: On your website, you say you’re busy kicking lumps out of the UK comics industry. What about the industry? Is it that needs a kick up the butt in your opinion – and what can be done to improve it?
Cy Dethan: Wow, an easy one to start with, eh? I guess I should preface anything I say here with the caveat that I honestly don’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about.
That said, I think there’s a case for suggesting that the industry is in danger of actually being left behind by creators. People are starting to find their own ways into comics, and there are resources opening up that are only going to facilitate and accelerate that process. Self-publishing on the web, for example, is no longer seen as something you only do if your work’s not good enough to be picked up. Increasingly, it’s becoming a viable, even attractive, first choice.
Personally, I’m loving the glorious, blossoming chaos of it all. The industry as a whole can either fight the trends or embrace them – but I doubt it can ignore them for long.
Then again, as I mentioned, I really don’t have the first clue what I’m talking about.
SciFiPulse: You got your break in comics back in 2006 when you somehow sold Mongoose Publishing on the idea of doing a Starship Troopers strip. What was it about Starship Troopers that you felt suited it to a comic and how did you go about pitching it to Mongoose?
Cy Dethan: I’d been playtesting games for Mongoose for a while when I heard they were looking into publishing Troopers comics, so I figured I had half a foot jammed in the door already and put together a pitch. The Mongoose universe was sort of a “reimagining” of Starship Troopers, drawing from a variety of sources and expanding on them to create something new. It seemed like a perfect fit for a comic adaptation, as the background is so rich and the CGI TV series and movie had established some truly extraordinary visuals.
In terms of a pitch, I sent in a synopsis and a sample of my writing. On the strength of that, I found myself writing a monthly six-page series for Mongoose’s Signs & Portents pdf magazine. It all basically snowballed from there.
SciFiPulse: You’ve done quite a few comics based in the Starship Troopers Universe. Where do you take your notes? Would you say that your comic stories follow on from the movie, or is it a completely different universe, much like how the second movie differed from the first?
Cy Dethan: My primary guidelines come from the Mongoose version of the universe, but I’ve been given a lot of freedom in my interpretation of the material, and I’ve never felt restricted as a result.
I’d like to think that, whatever your first contact with the Troopers universe might have been, you’ll feel at home with the comic. That said, the universe I’ve been handed to play with is unbelievably huge and the comic is not a literal follow-on from any individual source.
SciFiPulse: In your bio it says that you are a magician. Does this mean you are a member of the secretive Magic Circle or are you just an enthusiastic amateur?
Cy Dethan: I’m what you might call a reformed professional, and not currently affiliated with any particular society. For about three and a half years, while I was establishing my copywriting business, I earned my living through magic – which was something I’d been studying for most of my life, and still do in my free time.
I think there’s a strong connection between good storytelling and compelling magic. They share a common grammar and, surprisingly often, similar methods.
SciFiPulse: One of the more intriguing comics you have done is Cancertown. Can you tell us a little about this comic book – and what its appeal may be to readers?
Cy Dethan: At heart, Cancertown is about a man trying desperately not to be the hero of his own story. Morley’s not a coward – in fact, psychologically, he’s almost completely incapable of fearing for his life. He is, however, profoundly disconnected. He’s a man with a foot in each of two worlds, neither of which makes any sense to him. In the real world, he’s a borderline sociopath with an inoperable brain tumour. He’s broke, alone and possibly even dying – but he has a purpose. Unfortunately, that purpose involves stepping into another world, a world he calls Cancertown.
In Cancertown, Morley has more influence than he knows. People there are starting to recognise him – starting to tell him he belongs with them. Even as he fights that world’s ever-tightening grip, he finds himself wondering what he’s even clinging to. Without his relationship to Cancertown to define him, would he even exist?
The book’s got monsters, gangland politics and a giant eyeball getting slashed with a straight razor in chapter 2. It’s your basic full-service nightmare factory – a one-stop crazy shop, if you will.
SciFiPulse: Like many other comic creators you would have read comics to a degree when you were a kid. What comics attracted and inspired you as a child and what was it about them that drew you in?
Cy Dethan: Naturally, 2000AD was high up on my list, along with the relaunched Eagle with all its craziness (Doomlord was a particular favourite). American comics fascinated me as well, but they occupied a very different section of my brain. There was such a wonderful ferocity, even cruelty, in British strips like Nemesis the Warlock and Judge Dredd that was almost completely absent from the Marvel stuff I was reading (and loving) at the time. Sadly, it was almost impossible to find DC titles reliably where I lived, so I missed out on masterpieces like Swamp Thing entirely.
Like a lot of comics readers my age, I discovered Watchmen, Dark Knight, V For Vendetta and Ronin all in a rush around 1986-7. From that point on, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Of course, I got a little sidetracked for the following twenty years or so…
SciFiPulse: We’ve a shed load of talented comic writers and artists in the UK. Whose work do you most enjoy and if you were to try and sell someone else on checking his or her work out – how would you pitch it?
Cy Dethan: Well, you have to go a long way to match the likes of Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis, both of whom are gods to me. However, if I were to champion any one under-appreciated British creator’s cause right now, I’d pick Paul Grist. Jack Staff is one of my absolute favourite comics, and Paul Grist plays with time in his writing in a way that is just beautiful to watch. It’s constantly surprising, always engaging and quite simply a delight to read.
SciFiPulse: Having done Starship Troopers, you’re already familiar with television and movie tie-ins. Is there any other television series or movie that you’d like to adapt to a comic and what kind of stories do you think you’d be able to tell within that particular universe?
Cy Dethan: Sapphire and Steel: hands-down, the finest piece of British TV sci-fi I ever watched.
The great thing about that show for me was how conceptually diverse it was. The main characters were utterly unknowable on the one hand, and yet completely consistent on the other. They could be monstrously inhuman or enormously compassionate without ever seeming untrue to their natures. You could capture the entire premise of the show with the words “superhuman time police” but the series was equally at home telling World War II ghost stories as it was dealing with futuristic mutant death-babies. Awesome storytelling, and so much potential yet to explore.
SciFiPulse: What can you tell us about your latest Starship Troopers comic that hasn’t been talked about much in the press releases?
Cy Dethan: The upcoming one-shot, War Stories: Tasch, gave me a chance to widen the scope of the comic quite a lot. When I started out on the book, I was very much aware that I was going to be dumping readers in at the deep end with a lot of new characters. I also knew that, as the series progressed, the unavoidable fact was that some of these guys would die, and I never wanted those deaths to be meaningless or cosmetic. I adore the Aliens movie, but I couldn’t tell you how many times I had to watch it before I worked out which character was Wierzbowski. Wierzbowski and Crowe, the two guys with no lines, die in the first fight and we never even knew them.
The War Stories are an opportunity for characters to introduce themselves and really show what they’re capable of on their own terms. Also, since they take the form of flashback episodes, we’ll get a chance to reacquaint ourselves with characters who have already died, so that they can still sow story seeds and have an impact on the trajectory of the series. I think this adds an enormous amount of flexibility to the types of story I can tell.
Come to think of it, I’ve got an Aliens spin-off forming in my mind. I can see it now: the two unsung heroes of the movie engaging in existential discussions and obscure, meaningless wordplay as an unstoppable tide of Aliens bears down on them in a storm of phallic-headed death-bites. I’d call it Wierzbowski and Crowe are Down! It’d be like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead with swearing and pulse rifles…
SciFiPulse: Another comic book you’ve done is The Case Files of Harlan Falk. What can you tell us about that character and if you were to do another story with him, where do you think you could go with it.
Cy Dethan: Harlan Falk is probably the one human alive who really understands that most monsters have a genuine grievance against the people they terrorise, enslave, reanimate or eat. He’s a man with an eye on the bigger picture.
The first Falk story I wrote featured the character resolving a zombie siege at an English holiday camp. I thought it could be an amusing take on the subject and might make a decent eight-pager for an anthology book (I’m a great believer in British anthology titles – there’s some wonderful stuff going on in that field). However, in doing the preparation work for this introductory story, I found myself writing up Falk’s background as a way of thinking my way into the character. When I stepped back and looked at the bio I’d written for him, what I found staring back at me was a full four-part series. In that moment, The Case Files of Harlan Falk came into being in a much more comprehensive sense.
So, Harlan Falk became a full-on monster negotiator – just as comfortable brokering a peace treaty between rival faerie clans as he is settling demarcation disputes between an over-imaginative child’s invisible friends. He’s utterly impartial, totally ruthless and only has one unbreakable rule: no-one lays a hand on the negotiator.
SciFiPulse: Finally, as someone who is still relatively new to the world of writing comics, what advice would you have for other people who want to break into the industry?
Cy Dethan: Never follow a publisher into a convention toilet in the hope of a pitching opportunity. I’ve seen that happen and it doesn’t end well for anyone. Pitch with passion. If you love your stories, give people every opportunity to share your excitement over them.
Publishers and editors are not obstacles to be overcome. Don’t be fooled into thinking that there’s only one way into the business. There are publishers out there who will look at your script without art attached or vice versa. There are publishers who will actively put teams together if they believe in the story (I’ve worked for two of them).
Cheat the system wherever possible. Don’t assault the front gates when the back door’s unguarded. Your talent is a lockpick, not a battering ram.
Above all else, treat all advice about breaking in with scepticism. People can succeed at things without the first clue about how they did it. What worked for them may not for you, and you may have tools in your toolbox that they didn’t have.
Not sure if any of that’s helpful, exactly, but that’s about all I’ve got.
- Thanks Cy for taking the time to talk to us, and best of luck with Starship Troopers One Shot.
- You can find out more about Cy Dethan and his work in comics at his website at: www.cydethan.com
By Ian M. Cullen