From "Aliens" to "The Abyss," James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment has delivered more than a few legit sci fi film classics over its history, and now Dynamite Entertainment is bringing one of the minds behind the technical side of that classic film library to comics with Geoff Burdick's "Militia." Announced yesterday at Dynamite's panel at Comic-Con International at San Diego, the mini series created by the Lightstorm Vice President of Production Services & Technology focuses on the desperate story of humanity's surviving members fighting back against alien invaders. Dynamite debuted the project with a special poster giveaway and comments from series co-writer Doug Murray (we'll be back later this weekend with a full report on the panel), and as Burdick told CBR, the series aims to get down and dirty with the kind of science fiction Cameron fans are familiar with.
CBR: Geoff, I thought we'd start just by getting a little bit more about you and your background to help fans connect your name with what they've seen on screen in so many of Cameron's classic films. As a production and technology VP, I'm sure you've got your fingers in a lot of creative pies as the films get made, but do you have a specific effects wheelhouse that you came up in that you still consider to be the area you've had the most impact in?
Geoff Burdick: Well, I was a junior in high school when “The Terminator” came out, and I knew then and there that I wanted to work with Jim. Seeing “Aliens” in college only cemented my resolve, so I was bound and determined to do whatever it took to make that happen. I literally started on the ground floor, right out of school, repairing the full-size alien queen and power loader.
Over the past 19 years it’s been a matter of perseverance, as I endeavor to keep up with Jim as he continues to push the film-making envelope. Whatever the role, whatever he requires from my department, we’re there (which, as you can imagine, is challenging and ever-changing, considering his unique vision, creative brilliance and technical expertise)!
The other side of any first time interview with someone coming from films is to ask a little bit about your comics background. Are you a longtime comics reader, or someone who's come up with the more modern day stuff that's hit in the wake of graphic novels and trade collections gaining popularity? What are some of your favorite titles as a reader, and how have they affected your storytelling sensibilities?
I’ve always been fascinated by comics, and like many my age, grew up on all the classics of the Bronze age in the 1970’s (including horror comics). The graphic novel phenomenon always seemed like a medium that was made for translation to film, as it’s so cinematic in nature. So I was fascinated with milestones like "Dark Knight Returns," "Watchmen," "Kingdom Come," "V for Vendetta," "From Hell" etc.
In film, as you and your readers well know, you refer to storyboards, and the comics medium is in large regard a form of storyboarding, just as the cover of a comic book is a form of concept art. So the growing synergy or cross pollination of Film and Comic books has been a natural progression.
When I have free time, I actually enjoy many of Dynamites current titles (thanks to all of the cool free samples I received, lol). I really feel that Nick Barrucci’s connection with and interest in film-making is already transitioning to the printed page with many of Dynamites titles.
Who would have thought a property like "The Lone Ranger," "Buck Rogers" or "Zorro" could be so revitalized? Part of the reason why we were so excited to work with Nicky and his crew and their writers and artists is their passion for storytelling. They've attracted film and TV pro's with their focus on storytelling and artwork that compliments film-making.
More specific in terms of what you're bringing to a project like "Militia," what in your view are the strengths of comics as a medium for visual narrative that you wanted to get involved in? How do you view your comics work as different from your film work?
#1 Budget. You have no bounds when it comes to taking your creative vision in any direction and sharing it with an audience.
#2 Creative freedom to control your vision. Not an easy thing to achieve in this field.
#3 Seeing your vision in a visual form, in a rapid format. Not requiring years of pre-production, production and post production.
#4 Comics are fun!
It compares in some regard to the early phase of film pre-production with developing concept art and storyboards. Pre-visualization. Many of the dynamics involved in establishing the look of a comic can be compared to establishing the look of a movie. But film is routed in the reality of physical production: set construction, locations, shooting etc. An incredibly fun, but much more arduous process. And a collaborative one, with hundreds of people involved in creating a vision. Comics are much more personal.
At this stage in the game, what do you want to say about the high concept and the core of the story for the series? What's it all about, so to speak?
What if the entire earth was effectively wiped out in less than a minute, as part of an alien armageddon? There's no fighting back. No valiant heroics. It's over. 99% of humanity is gone, forever.
For reasons that will become clear, a group of young survivors emerge, and come together out of necessity. Again it's not about fighting back. We’ve lost, as we know it. It’s all about staying alive. But by proxy, they become a Militia.
It pays homage to a lot of films I’ve loved over the years, but attempts to treat the characters and story is a truly realistic light, something I think is very rarely done.
In general, what's the origin of the series for you as a writer? Is this a concept you've been carrying with you for a while looking for some outlet to tell the story in, or is it something you created specifically to fit the comics world?
I've always been an aspiring writer – short stories, scripts. A lot of my stories come about via nightmares! Militia came to me one day, and was something I originally envisioned as a feature, television series or webisode, but we always discussed it as a comic as well. It just seemed to work within all those environments.
We've spent time developing “Militia” on various platforms. In that way it's unique – it was designed as kind of a hybrid property.
When the opportunity came to meet with Nick Barrucci and Dynamite and discuss the opportunity, I jumped at it! It was something I could do in my spare time and still move the project forward.
Before I try to pull a few extra story secrets from your brain, I know that no comic gets made without collaborators and that on "Militia" you'll have folks working with you on the scripting as well as the art. Can you tell me a little bit about each of your collaborators from co-writer to cover artist to interior artist and how they've helped you (or even surprised you) in bringing your idea to life?
"Militia" is a labor of love that's being worked on with a group of my friends and colleagues here in Los Angeles. My producing and writing partner is James Latta – one of the most creative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. There are plenty of others – experts, Emmy and Academy Award winners in various fields. That said, this isn’t about creating a "franchise." It is about creating a project we could all work on together and have a blast doing.
On the Dynamite side, we are hoping to work with Doug Murray ("Jungle Girl," "Red Sonja") as co-writer, who created the classic and acclaimed war comic "The Nam", and actually served in combat in a forward area in Vietnam. So he will bring an even more realistic edge to our story.
We are fielding various artists for interiors and covers now under the guidance of Dynamite, but also plan on tapping into numerous film artists and Hollywood designers in our circle such as Greg Nicotero over at KNB Effects Group ( Chronicles of Narnia, Transformers I and II etc. ) on the alien creatures and Lou Zutavern ( Batman Returns, Terminator 2, Titanic ) on the alien vehicles. Just to mention a few.
One of our first variant Dynamite "Militia" comic covers is rendered by artist Dan LuVisi whom our circle kind of discovered and brought into the Film industry in 2007/2008. He's an up and comer now as a cover artist, but was involved in our very early conception of the project and rendered the top secret promotional images your seeing, well over a year ago.
We've taken it to a whole new level now design-wise. With some of the best, veteran concept artists in the industry on-board. We are moving very fast and the results are very exciting. It might as well be a Feature Film for what has been put into it. But again, it is a labor of love for all of us. To be able to tell the story of "Militia" in a cinematic style, but on the printed page, will be just as gratifying for myself and our entire team. That is the beauty of the comics medium.
For this initial foray into the world of "Militia," how long of a series are you guys looking at? What's the main thrust of the opening arc in terms of how it brings readers into the world you've got in mind through the story?
As always, characters are key. That’s a fact regardless of what medium you’re using to tell your story. So we’ll be introduced to a variety of young people that may – or may not – have a part in the story we’re going to tell. After that, things are going to move VERY quickly!
The book is planned as a monthly, but we’re ready to take this as far as we possibly can – it’s really a unique story in that it lends itself to some things that, at least as far as I’ve seen, haven’t actually been done before. But Nick and Dynamite are the experts, here, and we’re happy to have them steer this in the direction they think best.
Obviously, the #1 concern in any storytelling medium is character. Who's your lead in the story, and what's their big goal for this series? With a military bent to the project, I assume we're going to be looking at a whole squadron of soldiers. What's the dynamic of the cast like?
Remember, a militia is made up of civilians! They’re fighting as soldiers, but not part of the regular army.
No real army is left in the world of “Militia,” and as the story unfolds, we’ll see why. So our characters are really just young people that our readers can really identify with, on every level. But make no mistake, they are at war.
I can tell you that the initial "9" lead characters (shown in the promo image) cover a very broad spectrum of human characteristics. Set amongst extraordinary circumstances. Ones that create heroes...and perhaps some villains.
Part of the dynamic between characters, is what will these unreal circumstances do to our cast? How will they evolve or devolve? That if you lived at the end of days, knowing the next half hour might be your very last alive, do you become George Washington or Mad Max? This is what will challenge them and define them. Literally on an hourly basis. This is how dire the circumstances are.
Finally, I wanted to ask a little bit about the tone of the series in terms of being a military book and (from what I assume) more specifically a military sci fi book. Those genres despite being focused in a very specific social realm also have a lot of variance from down in the trenches action stories to high command high drama stuff. How do you think this series picks up the reigns of military sci fi and makes them its own?
Though the military as we know it doesn’t figure prominently in our story, there is a kind of attitude that will naturally emerge within our characters – it’s bound to happen. So we’ll see them face situations that are extraordinary, but framed within the harsh reality of not being used to those environments. Still, this IS proudly 100% sci fi...with some action and horror mixed in for good measure.
We will have a historic parallel that these characters are "living history" much like average citizens did during the American Revolutionary War. When they were forced to step up to the plate, organize and fight to live. Murray, Latta and I are all students of military history, so we are very excited at the prospects of telling this story.