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DF Interview: Erik Burnham blasts off in Galaxy Quest!
By Byron Brewer
Once upon a time, a troupe of has-been actors that starred on an old sci-fi show was enlisted by an alien race to save them from an intergalactic tyrant. Despite being way out of their depth, the cast somehow managed to save the aliens and stay alive ... but their actions in outer space may have had dire consequences for another world.
Now writer Erik Burnham and artist Nanco Arranz pick up on that thread as the cast of Galaxy Quest returns in a four-issue miniseries for another bombastic journey into space.
What challenges meet this rag-tag crew in Galaxy Quest: The Journey Continues? Dynamic Forces caught up with Burnham and space-drilled for the 411. Here is what we learned about the IDW series.
Dynamic Forces: Erik, how did this Galaxy Quest assignment come about for you? Is it something you pitched to IDW?
Erik Burnham: Back in December of 2012 or so, my Ghostbusters editor Tom Waltz asked me out of the blue if I might have any ideas for a Galaxy Quest mini, something that would play as a direct sequel. I asked what he was looking for in the plot, and he said to go pretty Star Trek with it. (Funny, yes, but that’d be more execution than concept.)
So, I came up with something and sent it off and then, well, I got super busy and forgot about it. A few months later, I found it on my hard drive and asked Tom what was up. His response? “Oh yeah, dude! That was TOO Star Trekky!” So I refined it with both his input, and the folks at CBS. It got the green light pretty fast after that, even though it’s actually coming out two years after the initial conversation!
DF: Were you a fan of the 1999 film starring Tim Allen?
Erik Burnham: Of course! That movie was great. The characters, though all funny, reacted so genuinely to some of the absurd things … I just got a big kick out of it. And what a great cast!
DF: For the uninitiated, tell us about the premise behind this sci-fi property and how you view it in translating the adventure to the comic book page.
Erik Burnham: For those who don’t know, in the world of the film (and comic) Galaxy Quest was a sci-fi TV show not unlike Star Trek. It ran a few seasons and went away, and life went on. But a super high-tech alien race saw the transmitted episodes and mistook them for historical documents. They recreated the organization and technology of the show based on those episodes, and rebuilt their culture around it. And then a villainous alien decided he wanted that technology (more specifically the enigmatic Omega 13) for himself. So, the aliens went to Earth for help from the people in the historical documents, not realizing they were getting actors from a TV show.
And so we get the actors in space, forced to live their roles a bit and fighting for their lives in reality … and with their reactions come the comedy. This could’ve been tweaked into something more dramatic, or something much sillier. They walked the line, and that’s what made it work.
Of course the cast made it back home alive and in one piece, so the comic’s job is to figure out a way to drag them back into space. They know they’re actors. They know they’re not the parts they play. And there’s not going to be a new alien race confusing them for those parts. That’s the trick.
DF: Obviously from its very foundation, there has to be some humor in here. Is it difficult to write an engrossing comic book story and still inject the giggles and chortles?
Erik Burnham: Mileage varies with what’s funny or engrossing, of course, but humor is the kind of thing that comes most easily to me as a writer.
I find it’s easier when you’re dealing with well-known actors. Their voices and delivery are already familiar enough that it’s easier to imagine the reaction they’d deliver to anything the plot throws at them. Same trick I used for Ghostbusters!
DF: Are we looking at an actual sequel to the movie here, or perhaps an entirely fresh start?
Erik Burnham: This is played as a direct sequel, yes. The cast is back on Earth and gets drawn back into space… and how they get drawn back? That’s directly connected to events from the first movie.
DF: Tell us about your cast. Everyone back from the film?
Erik Burnham: Yes – plus an expanded role for Brandon (played by Justin Long in the film). It’s a big cast for four issues, but they’re all there.
DF: Any new characters or refreshing aliens about?
Erik Burnham: Oh, yes. I didn’t want to fall back the Thermians (though they do have a cameo at the end of issue #2) for this plot. We have a new race – the Drythans – and their problem is what starts the story. Their planet is fighting a civil war. Just as one side is about to take an advantage … time rewinds 13 seconds, and they’re not as lucky on the second go ‘round.
That makes Jason directly responsible for altering the course of a war, and when they do find out, they’ll demand he and the others make up for it. One of these aliens, Dak, will be guiding the cast to his planet, and a dangerous situation or two.
And on top of all that, there’s still some play in the Hollywood side of their lives. Y’know, like cosplay and photo ops at conventions. We’re hitting the big issues.
DF: How has it been working with artist Nanco Arranz? Does he get the “feel” you are looking for in this book?
Erik Burnham: It’s been different; I’m working through a translator with Nacho, so sometimes what he delivers is not quite what I imagined. I know that sounds like a knock, but I don’t mean it to be! It adds a distinct flavor to the mix, and his storytelling has been great. Also I want to give a shout out to the work of colorist Esther Sanz; she’s been fantastic, and really brings Nacho’s pages to another level.
DF: Erik, what are some other current or near-future projects you might want to discuss?
Erik Burnham: The rough thing about this is most of the stuff I have in the pipeline isn’t ready to be talked about yet!
As I write this, there’s one issue left in the TMNT/Ghostbusters crossover from IDW. I pitched in on the Frozen Cinestory from Joe Books, which is out now, and the conclusion to Ghostbusters vol. 2, Mass Hysteria part 2, just hit in trades.
I’ve also been working on a mythology steeped creator-owned book with Erik Evensen, and I wouldn’t mind plugging his book, Beast of Wolfe’s Bay; after all, more folks digging his work only helps our creator owned enterprise! I think that’s everything I can talk about right now!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Erik Burnham long for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Galaxy Quest: The Journey Continues #1 hits stores Wednesday, January 21st!
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