Liam Sharp, the artist known for his detailed work on series like DC's "Testament," "Gears of War," and "Event Horizon" through his own Mam Tor publishing line, tackles the notorious extraterrestrial chest-bursters in "Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven," an original hardcover graphic novel shipping from Dark Horse in April. Sharp's project, which he is both writing and drawing, will be the second "Aliens" title since Dark Horse's relaunch of the property last year, not including the current "Aliens vs. Predator: Three Worlds War" miniseries. Weighing in at 40 pages, "Fast Track to Heaven" also represents the first in a new line of shorter hardcover OGNs from the publisher. CBR News spoke with Sharp about writing and drawing an "Aliens" story and the enduring appeal of the original films.
The story of "Fast Track to Heaven" begins with a rescue mission aboard a derelict space station used for transporting personnel and cargo to and from Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Of course, the mission becomes something quite different once the Aliens are discovered. "I think it's a good set-up for all pulp stories!" Sharp said of the rescue-mission catalyst. "Whether you're stranded out at sea, lost in the desert, Antarctica, or in the depths of space - it's the fragility of the things we rely upon, the failure of the machines that propel and support us. And also it's about our innate fear of the unknown, which we somehow manage to transcend."
Unlike most "Aliens" stories, "Fast Track to Heaven" is set very close to Earth, relatively speaking. "Naturally, being close to Earth hopefully racks up a little of the tension," Sharp told CBR. "But this is quite a small, intimate story. The threat to Earth is implicit, not explicit as such..."
The format of Sharp's project is also somewhat distinct from other "Aliens" comics, arriving as a 40-page hardcover graphic novella. "I'm a huge fan of the European graphic albums that come out in a similar hardback format, so I was delighted when Chris [Warner] told be about Dark Horse's planned new line and invited me to do one for them," Sharp said of the format. "Being that length meant I could write and color the book, too, which is a big bonus. It's really been a joy, actually, to work on. I'd love to do more like this."
"The Aliens universe is quite convoluted so - given that my story is relatively short - I wanted it to be accessible to anybody, and as close as I could get in tone to the original movie," Sharp told CBR. "[Editor Chris Warner] wanted something that really pitted the everyman with the Alien, so my story is very much about the humans, too. It's set at a contemporary time to the first movie, more or less, and you'll see some of the design elements are taken from that. I've also made a few clear nods to the original classic Walt Simonson graphic adaptation of the movie, which was terrific. Other than that, I've avoided looking at other Aliens comics - there's too much temptation to be influenced!"
Knowing that Sharp took his influences from the original "Alien" film and early graphic novels, it is perhaps unsurprising that Sharp said his story explores the concept from its roots. "I hope it'll feel a little retro, kind of a classic short story," Sharp said. "The characters are stranded, unimportant cogs in the big machine. I tried to make them very human, full of varied personal ideologies based on their life's experience. The intention was to make it seem, in a short space of time, that they all had back-stories and weren't just two dimensional. They are also very conflicted about what they should do in the situation they find themselves in - so for a brief while, there's a bit of a morality play going on. And they're really clutching at straws when they're trying to figure out the bigger picture."
The cover image shows off Sharp's talents as an illustrator, though he said that the interior art would be "more comicsy." "I was always a big fan of the classical adventure stories when I was a kid - like Jason and the Argonauts, 'The Iliad' and 'Odyssey,' 'Beowulf,' that kind of thing. Epic voyages with great monsters. I think that often the best science fiction and horror stories offer these staples in new, exciting forms," Sharp said of drawing science fiction stories like "Aliens." "Certainly the wandering crew waylaid by some unfathomable danger is a recurring and appealing theme!
"When it comes to Aliens, though - where do you want me to start? I'm a big fan on so many levels of the first movie, and Cameron's follow-up," he continued. "But the first movie was seminal because of the exceptional talent that came together for it. When Alejandro Jodorowsky's 'Dune' movie fell apart, Ridley Scott took almost all the team over to do 'Alien.' Jodorowsky had been visionary in assembling that team - the first time non-studio talent from outside of the movies had been sourced - and Scott was smart enough to pick up on that. So you had Chris Foss (the legendary airbrush-wielding sci-fi cover artist) designing spaceships, Moebius (one of my greatest influences in comics) designing the characters and spacesuits, and H.R. Giger doing the Alien itself - and the whole thing came from an idea by Dan O'Bannon (who wrote 'The Long Tomorrow' drawn by Moebius, which later influenced 'Blade Runner'). Amazing. Then you have the great cast, and Scott directing... it's a landmark feature in so many ways, and as such just an incredible thing to be associated with, in any capacity!"