The mission of the ESS Savannah is to boldly go where, quite literally, no man has gone before in order to discover and retrieve life-saving resources for an increasingly desolate Earth. That's the concept behind "50 Girls 50," a brand new series from co-creators Frank Cho and Doug Murray along with artist Axel Medellin. Debuting in June from Image Comics as a four issue miniseries -- with plenty of room to expand from there if sales warrant -- takes full advantage of the interests of all the parties involved, from Murray's lifelong love of sci-fi and his experience as a comic writer on books like "The 'Nam" and "Jungle Girl" to Cho's penchant for creating dynamic and stunning female characters and Medellin's solid visual storytelling. CBR News spoke with Cho and Murray about the origins of the project, the process of picking Medellin as the artist and how the three of them have come together to create a comic packed with pretty ladies and alien environs.
"When we stopped doing 'Jungle Girl,' we talked about doing another project. Frank wanted to do something for Image and he was looking at some concepts we could do quickly," Murray told CBR. "I had an idea for a science fiction series that would feature a bunch of good looking women but also real science fiction storylines and some weird aliens. So we talked about that. He did a lot more work on the character designs and I did a lot more work on the plot. When we came up with something we were both happy with, we presented it to Image and went from there."
"This is pretty much Doug's vehicle," Cho said. "He pretty much hit a lot of what I wanted to see. We've got dinosaurs, we've got primitive aliens and giant bugs and women getting their clothes torn off. Issue #3 is all about dinosaurs. Doug wrote a great story about a race of dinosaurs that were descendants of these hyper-intelligent reptiles. So, you have the women who are evolved from apes versus the reptile people who evolve from dinosaurs. Issue #4 has more aliens in a haunted ship type of story. I'm pretty sure Doug has a lot more sci-fi ideas he wants to see, so we'll see what happens in the future.
"Doug and I talked about the comics of 1950s Wally Wood," Cho continued, explaining where the influence for "50 Girls 50's" distinct visuals came from. "Wally Wood was the big source of inspiration and design sense. Just look at the space suit; it's got the rubber hose and knobs and buttons!"
Not to be outdone by his artistic partner, Murray devised a story that harkens back to numerous sci-fi classics while also playing up some underused themes, not the least of which is sexy space ladies traveling the galaxy for a damn good reason.
"The basic concept is that it's 60 to 70 years [in the future] and the Earth is running out of resources," Murray said. "They've mined the near planets they could reach, and the asteroid belts. Star travel seems to be impossible, but a scientist comes up with a warp drive that can work -- but it kills anybody inside the field, except women who have three Y chromosomes. There are only 50 of those on Earth, which is where the title comes from. The plan is to build ten starships with five women in each ship. These ships are like Allied van lines. The concept is that these girls will go through the wormhole and come out in a different star system, grab everything they can and then head back to Earth. The problem is, when they tested the system, they tested it inside the solar system and it worked like a charm. But when you go outside the solar system, it doesn't work. When they try to make their return trip home, they wind up somewhere else completely. They're really on their own. They can't communicate with anybody because they're at stellar distances. They have to rely on themselves and their own resources at all times."
In the time span of the first four-issue miniseries, the women of the ESS Savannah find themselves hopping all over the universe and seeing a variety of planets and aliens. With each jaunt that doesn't get them to Earth, they get more information to help them actually succeed in their crucial mission.
"The basic concept gives me room to do pretty much anything I want because it's all open-ended," Murray said. "When I did 'The 'Nam,' I tried to do what I thought of as a slice of life thing. It was a real time thing where every issue took place a month after the previous, and that issue could cover a week or it could cover a day. I'm doing kind of the same thing here. When we pick them up after they come out of the wormhole, I can play around with the timeframe and I can play around with the stories I want to tell that way. I always have a place to go. If I come up with a story that takes place on a water world, I can do that because I've got that out there."
With the characters designed and the mission established, that gave Murray the opportunity to really dig into the personalities. The fluid creative process Murray and Cho enjoyed by working for Image lent to some unexpected but important story changes along the way.
"Well, quite by accident one of the characters named Oksana actually became the central character in the first story arc," Murray said. "When I write, I don't deal with a really detailed layout. I do a rough layout and then let the characters talk to me as I write. Oksana became the one who stood out. We had decided to make one of the characters a germaphobe; whenever she got dirty, she'd freak out. Frank had put that on a different character, but then, when we did the first pages, I had a scene where Oksana falls and trips into a mud puddle. From there, I made her the one who was a germaphobe. That lent itself to the storyline, so I came back to it in the second issue. I have this girl who spent the whole first issue in the most uncomfortable place in the world for her because she was always filthy, and now she has to go back down there. She's really unhappy because she doesn't want to get dirty again, and the story flows out of that. Basically, her character became the key character in the first three and a half stories."
With tons of plans and stunning, complex characters already lined up, there was just one last key ingredient needed to make "50 Girls 50" work: an artist.
"There were times where I wanted to jump in and draw it myself, but I just don't have the time," Cho said. "I'm a Marvel exclusive artist and Marvel has been treating me very well. It was something I wanted to do, but realistically I had no time." So with nearly all of the elements in place, the creators took a unique route to find the perfect artist for "50 Girls 50" -- they held a contest.
"It was actually a lot harder than I anticipated," Murray said of their efforts, which kicked off in 2009. "When we set out to do the contest, we thought we'd get a dozen, maybe 20, entries. We ended up getting 130 entries, a lot of which were really good. Most of them were competent, but we got a bunch of them that were professional grade. That made it real hard to come to a decision, which is why we added an extra page and a deadline. That gave us more to work with. What we did was, we took a group of finalists, gave them one more page of script and gave them three days to finish it. From the people who actually finished, we picked our winner."
As it turned out, the winner was Axel Medellin, who so impressed Murray, Cho and the folks at Image that he's already landed another gig pencilling "Elephantmen." Medellin passed the initial test, but more importantly, dominated the final exam and even added in a few extras that showed how good he is at pacing and interpreting scripts.
"Alex was a really good storyteller," Cho said of Medellin. "He was the best storyteller of the bunch and that's what we were shooting for. He has a very nice, clean style that was easy to understand. I think Doug had put in a little sequence to see if the artists were paying attention. When they crash land, the airbags are deployed and Doug wanted to see which of the artists could see what he was going for. Axel threw in a little visual comedy with their faces pressed against the airbag and all that. It was pretty funny."
Despite the storyline's incredibly high stakes, fun seems to be the goal for "50 Girls 50." While larger stories might be hinted at and the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, the key, as far as the creators are concerned, is to tell a story that grabs the reader's attention, takes them on a wild ride and shows off some strange corners of the galaxy. Murray wants to make sure potential readers understand that, while the story will appeal to hardcore sci-fi fans, you need not be one to enjoy the story. Cho takes it a step further, comparing the comic to a huge summer blockbuster, "kind of a popcorn action adventure story in a science fiction setting."
"50 Girls 50" crash lands in stores in June