With half the titles involved in Aspen Comics' 10 For $10 Initiative already in stores and fans' hands, the publisher is gearing up for the second half of the campaign. So far, the lineup has spanned numerous genres, including J.T. Krul's fantasy series "Jirni," the magic-based book "Charismagic" vol. 2, the neon tech-funky "BubbleGun" and even a ninja espionage story in "Legend of the Shadow Clan."
In August, creator and Aspen co-owner Frank Mastromauro, along with artist Marco Lorenzana, brings an investigative sci-fi edge to the initiative's line-up with "Overtaken," a series which puts an extraterrestrial spin on missing persons cases. "Overtaken" marks Mastromauro's second 10 For $10 title, joining his writing gig on "Shrugged" vol. 2, a slice of life series highlighted by its fantastical elements.
CBR News spoke with Mastromauro about "Overtaken," its alien life forms, leading characters and technology, an update on "Shrugged" vol. 2 and his thoughts on whether or not the truth really is out there.
CBR News: Frank, seeing as "Overtaken" is a sci-fi tale, when does the series take place, and what is it about?
Frank Mastromauro: It takes place in the present. "Overtaken" is my spin on the backs of milk cartons (which you don't really see anymore) of missing people -- you don't really know where they all go. This is my story on where those people end up with a sci-fi spin.
"Aliens" is one of my favorite movies, and I love monster movies. It could be the crappiest movie on Syfy, but I'll still check it out. It's impossible these days to tell anything that's totally original, but I didn't want to do a classic alien abduction or invasion story, so I found a cool way to mix the two.
The main character, Will Harden, is an investigative reporter who can't accept the fact his wife was taken by aliens and he goes on a quest to figure out what really happened. He then unravels a conspiracy that's been going on for years regarding UFO sightings and encounters. I'll touch on real life things to give the story gravity and weight, like crop circles, Area 51 and the two flight attendants who still swear to this day that when they were crossing over Europe, there was a huge ship in front of them and they had to divert the plane -- the pilots were fired on charges of drifting.
What can you tell us about the extraterrestrials in "Overtaken?"
There is one element of them I truly don't want to give away, but the alien race themselves are sort of like the squirrel in the tree that's lived there forever -- but then comes a bulldozer, ready to knock it down, cultivate the grounds and built a resort there. The aliens are fighting for their land, their home. Humans are the ones that wound up thinking this would be a great place to cultivate, but the aliens are there -- which the humans didn't know -- and the shit hits the fan.
There are two different alien races the humans are caught in the middle of: One is heat-based, the other cold-based. Both come flashing down with humans stuck in the middle while our main characters are trying to find their way back home.
What can you say at this point about Will Harden -- who is this guy? Is he jittery over the situation he's found himself in or considering his occupation, does he remain relatively composed?
Jittery isn't the right word for him -- he just cannot accept the fact that aliens are responsible for his wife's disappearance. He has a clear conscience and can see things around him in an analytical way. He can dissect a situation and use his wits -- he thinks on his feet. Actor Chris Pine would play him in a movie -- he has quick comebacks.
From issue #1 to #2, there's a gap of time. We initially meet Will's wife, but after a gap where a few months have passed and she's gone missing, Harden's exhausted his normal route of finding a missing person. It's happened before in the town he's in, and even though the police there are competent, they don't have the resources or the knowledge to open up cold cases from decades earlier.
Harden can't accept that and keeps digging deeper. He won't accept no for an answer with his wife being gone. After the gap, she almost starts upstaging him -- the "damsel in distress" isn't really her, it's Will, who's in this spot he knows nothing about, in this strange environment. She's been surviving there for some time and now she's practically saving him.
Is that Will's wife on the covers of "Overtaken" #1?
Yes. On one cover, she has short hair, from our PR back in March, but on the actual $1 #1 cover for August she has longer hair in a ponytail. There's a reason why her hair is shorter -- we'll have another look for her where it's really short. The cover with her shorter hair is after a Ripley-esque transformation where she needs to fight to survive.
Now, she's outfitted in some pretty fancy gear on several of the covers --
I wanted to create a life suit that's completely self-sustaining. They're going to a different planet that's similar to but different from Earth. The US Government designed the suit for people to survive on unknown planets. It's an uphill battle for survival the entire time. The suit is maneuverable -- the things on the back are jet-packs allowing her to hover.
"Overtaken" becoming a reality was largely up to Aspen readers, correct?
Yes -- I put "Overtaken" up against "Awaken Skies" for fans to vote on which series they wanted to see first. I would have bet anything "Skies," which stars a girl with wings, would have been picked. I thought it had the look people would gravitate towards after only seeing a few images. I was blown away and surprised people chose "Overtaken." Pretty much all of "Skies" deals with flight, maneuverability and people being able to do things in the air that you normally do on the ground. Their jet-packs would basically make them move like hummingbirds -- I incorporated this idea into the tech of "Overtaken."
You have another series in Aspen's 10 For $10 line-up -- how has "Shrugged" vol. 2 been received thus far?
I'm almost done with the whole second volume, which is nuts. This volume deals with things I'd talked about with Michael Turner well before he passed away, in regard to human nature. The first volume dealt with Theo finding his place, dealing with voices in his head and learning about Ange and Dev. The second volume still has those issues but also plays to the fear of what happens when you're in high school for four years and you're on top of the world your senior year. Then it ends and the question beckons -- what are you doing with your life? That happens so often -- it happened to me and Mike, and while we felt we had good heads on our shoulders, you're pulled in many directions. That hits home for people.
"Shrugged" volume 2 deals with that fear, building what it is and the anxiety attached to it. It's about finding the courage to deal with that fear -- this is the main crux of the second volume. Where does that courage come from to ensure your life winds up on the right track? I'm happy there's an audience out there who likes this book -- at its core it's the one series we have at Aspen people can probably relate to the most.
Earlier you stated you're all about the monsters -- Vince Hernandez said something similar in an interview regarding his "Charismagic" book a few months ago. What's with you guys at Aspen and cool looking creatures?
I would have thought people think we're more about the hot chicks than monsters. [Laughs] But yeah, Vince and I love action/adventure movies and monster movies. I have an "Abominable Snowman" screenplay I wrote years ago sitting on my desk. "War of the Monsters" is my favorite PlayStation game of all time.
The largest monster figure I own is a King Kong vs. T-Rex statue when the Peter Jackson movie came out. It weighs 35-40 pounds -- it's huge. I initially had it in my office, but every time Vince sat down for meetings I'd have to move it because he couldn't see me. [Laughs]
And for our final question: Is the truth out there?
There's no chance we're the only beings in this gigantic, immense, endless universe. Whether we'll find out now or decades from now, there just has to be something else. We're advancing so fast with technology -- who the heck knows where we'll be 20 years from now? I'm looking forward to it. Bottom line: I can't imagine we're the only life forms out there.
Aspen's "Overtaken" #1 by Frank Mastromauro and Marco Lorenzana goes on sale for $1 August 21