Al Ewing's "Damnation Station" returns this month in "2000 AD" prog 1850 from Rebellion. Drawn by artist Mark Harrison, "Damnation Station" revolves around a group of humans drafted to fight in an intergalactic war for Earth's alien overlords The Host. Ewing is the mind behind many of "2000 AD's" recent hits including "The Zaucer of Zilk" and "Zombo."
Ewing, who was recently tapped to write Marvel's "Mighty Avengers," spoke with CBR News about "Damnation Station 2," teasing what happens next in a story he describes as the "Foreign Legion in Space," revealing what it's like to finally hit it big stateside and the new artwork of incoming artist Mark Harrison.
CBR News: Al, what is "Damnation Station" and what's the next chapter debuting in "2000 AD" prog 1850 about?
Al Ewing: "Damnation Station" is a kind of "Foreign Legion In Space" drama about a small volunteer force tasked with locating and eliminating intergalactic immigrants -- refugees, for the most part, shamefully -- on behalf of Earth's "landlords," the alien species known as the Host, who own our entire galaxy and recently decided to charge us a form of rent by enlisting us to do their dirty work. So it starts off from quite a grim and hopeless place and doesn't really get much lighter from there.
When "Damnation Station" concluded, Damnation Station recruit Joe had revealed himself to be -- not quite human, surviving a gun blast to the chest. Is Joe a mutated human, a spy from The Host's enemies or something else entirely?
Joe Nowhere is -- something else. It's connected with the Host's enemy, but I can't really go into detail beyond that, because spoilers! You'll find out all about it in a matter of weeks.
Are alien overlords The Host on the up and up?
The Host is absolutely not on the up and up, and Earth has no incentive whatsoever to trust them. What Earth does have is a reason to fear them -- they could destroy us at any time, and the only reason they haven't is because of alien cultural standards we can't fully comprehend.
So it would have been made very clear to those in power what would happen if they stepped out of line with the Host's plans, to the extent that it's in the interests of our rulers to sell the line that the Host is humanity's friend and minimize any kind of resistance or even complaint. (I'm using the singular person here, but singular and plural are very complicated for the Host.)
Where did you get your inspiration for "Damnation Station?"
Well, originally Tharg approached me looking for a 'future war' type of story, since the prog was missing something along those lines. My first thought was to do the Foreign Legion in Space -- a band of people running from their old lives by joining up with the military of another country, or in this case, another species.
At the same time, I'd become fascinated by an excerpt from a Frank Herbert story, "The Tactful Saboteur," involving a battle of wits between a man and an alien with very different cultural codes, and I wanted to make my alien species similarly unknowable in terms of its cultural mores, to the extent of having the entire culture based on a pair of alien terms that don't quite translate to English -- the chu-ro and cho-ra.
I was probably picking up a fair bit from politics and the media, as well -- that constant, low-level fear of the other that's infected our daily lives and the headlines of our newspapers. That would have been in my head to some degree while I was writing.
Can you explain the concepts of "chu-ra" and "chu-ro," the dual basis for The Host's cultural code?
The rough translation is "obligation" and "counter-obligation" -- the Host equivalent of society is run by a system of debts and counter-debts. It's a careful balance -- if one side goes too far into debt, penalties will be incurred, which usually translates as the Host sucking out your mind and eating it. So, if you have a particularly tasty mind, interactions with the Host become very complex battles of wits where the Host is constantly attempting to push you into its debt so it can eat you. As to where I came up with it - I was just trying to add an element of risk to the interactions between the Host and the Commanders, Grand-Pere and later Joe.
What does artist Mark Harrison bring to the story?
He's a fantastic artist, and he gives every page the feel of a big-budget blockbuster -- he's very keen on the little details that draw the reader into the story, and more often than not he consults me about them, which is nice -- it's like watching him dress a film set or craft props and costumes. There's a wonderfully immersive quality to his art that I'm really enjoying.
Will series co-creator Simon Davis be contributing any artwork this time around?
It's Mark Harrison all the way!
How many segments will "Damnation Station 2" last?
It's twelve episodes, with the penultimate one double-sized because of some double-sized action happening.
"Damnation Station" first series was several smaller arcs of two or three issues by a variety of artists. Why go with one big long story with only one artist this time around?
Well, it's the same conglomeration of smaller arcs again this time, but I suppose one reason to have the same artist on all of them is that they link up much more strongly than in the first series. There really is a straight line that runs from the first episode to the last.
A few years ago, you mentioned the plan was for the complete "Damnation Station" to be two books long; the perfect size for a trade. Is this still the case or will we see more "Damnation Station" after this series?
No, this is it. I can't imagine coming back to "Damnation Station" -- it's incredibly hard to write and takes a lot out of me, so I think the best thing is to have just the two halves of the story -- the cold war and the hot war -- and leave it at that. Besides, once this book is finished with, it really will all be over.
It seems you're blowing up right now with high-profile books like "Mighty Avengers." How's that feel to finally get the attention you rightly deserve? I know it's tough to take compliments as an Englishman, but I hope you'll indulge me!
It's odd, and occasionally scary -- the challenges are bigger and weirder. That said, I am fairly confident that I can at least carry on doing what I've been doing, which is attempting to write comics to a certain internal standard. If people like the comics, that's nice, if they don't, well, that's okay too. Hopefully more people will like them than not.
What's next in your stateside domination?
I can mention that there are upcoming projects! I don't know when I'll be allowed to say more than that, though. But there will be some news dropping at some point about secret things.
"Damnation Station 2" by Al Ewing and Mark Harrison debuts in "2000 AD" prog 1850, on sale in the UK and digitally in the App Store on September 18.