“If the Predators don’t get you, the Alien will!” That’s the tag-line for Dark Horse’s new series Alien vs. Predator: Thicker Than Blood, and it has to grab your attention. The first issue establishes the protagonists and quickly tells you that the creative team does not pull any punches. It is a fast-paced horror comic, with twists and turns around every corner — and some Aliens and Predators might wait there, too. In addition to reading the first issue, I got the chance to interview author Jeremy Barlow and series artist Doug Wheatley.
The first issue of the series came out on December 11, 2019. The second issue follows on January 15, 2020.
Rogues Portal (RP): So far, my experience with the Alien vs. Predator universe is a bit limited (mainly to the two movies). What fascinates you both about those characters, and why do you think they need to share a world?
Jeremy Barlow: It’s all about the sheer terror, right? Separately, each species represents a different primal fear. The Alien is inscrutable, a nearly unstoppable biological weapon. The Predator is intelligent, a hunter that outsmarts you before it rips out your spine. You can pit these two against each other in any scenario and not predict which one comes out on top. It’s exciting.
Doug Wheatley: The Alien and Predator are both hunters that are motivated by entirely different reasons. The predator is motivated by the challenge and honor of winning the day. The Alien — because that is all it is — is a killer, and I think you could say that, like a virus, it has the need to spread out; multiply until there is nowhere else to go. What makes this most interesting is humans populate the same universe and are often stuck in the middle. The odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us, and this has the makings of a good story.
RP: I read that this is the first stand-alone Alien vs. Predator comic series in over a decade. Are there influences from past storylines you had to keep in mind, or is this a completely independent story in this universe?
Jeremy: We went out of our way to make this series stand out from what’s come before. No dark corridors. No jungles. No Space Marines. Our setting in “Thicker Than Blood” pops—a space luxury liner—and gives us all sorts of fun environments to splatter some guts in.
We love the Alien vs. Predator continuity and are very much a part of it. But “Thicker Than Blood” is its own thing.
RP: In this issue, you play with the idea of new surroundings, like the scene on the beach. Are there other places you would like to make them fight?
Jeremy: That’s a big part of us creating something new. We’re essentially on a Las Vegas hotel in space, which gives us a ton of unexpected and visually stunning locations. The beach is on the ship’s Lido Deck—and it’s only the beginning. Doug’s designs and art direction have been phenomenal.
Doug: I have a few ideas — they may even be good ideas — and so, sadly, I must keep them to myself for now. I’d hate to possibly spoil a future series before it’s even pitched.
RP: In the end, the kids have a hard decision to make. Would you rather be hunted by an Alien or a Predator?
Jeremy: An Alien, for sure—because my death would be quick and gory and I might not see it coming. Unless it drags me back to the Queen and Face Hugs me. Crap. Can I change my answer?
Without giving too much away, there comes a point in our third issue where one of the Predators has to make an even tougher decision!
Doug: I’ll go with the Predator; The Predator has a history of joining forces with humans and recognizing talent. I cook a mean steak, maybe I might convince a Predator that it would be a mistake to kill me and lose out on a good meal … rather than becoming a meal for an Alien.
RP: I have so many questions regarding the story because I want to know more about the characters, where they come from, and what the Predators want on board this particular ship. I know you cannot go into detail but, can you tease some ideas or images you play with in the upcoming issues?
Jeremy: I’ll straight-up spoil it! Our main characters, Maria and Tyler, are crewmembers aboard a luxury cruiser called the Double Down. The captain is their mother, and their father is a cartographer. Because he can’t resist taking a detour into an uncharted sector on their way home, he accidentally steers their ship into Predator space and dooms everyone onboard.
The Predators are already en route to another destination when they cross the Double Down and lay siege to it. It’s a boat full of soft tourists; it should be a quick and easy target, right? But then Tyler and Maria ruin everything.
RP: Can you give us a look behind the scenes? What does your collaboration look like for this project?
Jeremy: Editor Randy Stradley asked me write this series, and we bounced some ideas around over beer and cheap tacos. We both liked the image of an unlikely crewmember surviving on a derelict ship, hiding from an Alien and a Predator and pitting them against each other.
I took that basic premise, found my emotional entry point, and wrote a story about two kids caught between the Alien and Predators, reconciling their relationship before they die. Or fight back. I won’t give it away. But not everyone makes it out alive. From there, I wrote a formal story pitch and series outline. Randy brought Doug in. I wrote the scripts, trying to measure up to Doug’s talent, and here we are.
Doug: First, I read Jeremy’s script at least twice before I start Layouts.
Second, once I complete the layouts, I send them to Randy Stradley and Jeremy for feedback and/or approval.
Thirdly, I draw and ink the pages and send them in for color and lettering.
RP: When I write, I mostly sit in silence – sometimes I listen to soundtracks or classical music. What is your ideal work environment?
Jeremy: I’m with you—music on in the background, but it has to be instrumental. Vocals are too distracting. So, it’s a rotation of classical music, film scores, old school jazz, or my current favorite, synthwave electronica. Gunship, Waveshaper, Time Cop 1983, and Zombie Hyperdrive are a few outstanding synthwave artists going right now. My most played film score is probably M83’s “Oblivion.”
Doug: Music for layouts, audio books for finished pages, silence for the tough drawings or stubborn pages. Meditation when it gets bad.
RP: Doug, you mentioned the painter Alphonse Mucha in other interviews. I did not know him, so I looked him up. His artwork is awe-inspiring — a lot of detail and depth. Similar to your attention to detail and expressive facial expressions here. How did his work influence you, and where else do you draw inspiration from?
Doug: I love his sense of design, space, and color. I am inspired by everything. Great movies, great artists, great music, the light of the sun shining through the trees in a forest or a kitchen window at the right time of day, or the lack of light during a storm. Most of all, I am inspired by the writer. When I have a REAL story in front of me, when the characters truly populate and struggle, love, and grow in the story the writer creates for them, magic can happen. Jeremy has written that kind of story here, thanks Jeremy!
RP: You both worked for established franchises before (Star Wars, Alien, and Predator) with a certain continuity and style. What is it like to work on such properties, regarding things like establishing new styles or creating new characters? Do you have much wiggle room there?
Jeremy: Creating new characters and new worlds is always my priority, no matter the franchise. It gives me room to dig into a story’s emotional heart. Knowing the characters will be alive and unchanged by the end of the series undercuts the dramatic tension for the reader, and it’s not as fun to write. So, I always push for as much leeway as I can get, while still staying firmly in the property’s world and keeping true to its tone. The publishers and licensors have been open to this approach, though. I’ve been very fortunate.
Doug: When I work on a “Franchise,” the first thing I do is put together a visual bible of pre-existing designs if one does not already exist. I learn the visual language of world the original creators and those who came after have developed. I want the reader to feel as though they are back in that world they loved, whether they visited it through a movie or a book. This approach frees me up and allows me to be creative and self-express within that language so I don’t feel at all confined by what came before but create with the goal of expanding that language with new expressions.
RP: Are there other franchises you would like to work with or mix?
Jeremy: I would kill or die to work on MAD MAX.
Doug: Magic—something Harry Potter-ish or Harry Potter as an Auror, a Dark Wizard Hunter, I would absolutely love to work on that! Combing the Wizarding World for dark demented and twisted Wizards or Witches would be fun!
I would love to do some Super Hero stuff. I love The Incredibles and Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse movies. They are near to perfect and very inspiring.
There’re some games I think would work great as comic books. Fortnite could be a fantastic place to develop story and characters. Assassins Creed, War Robots etc. Fantasy would be fun. Conan or Game of Thrones. Westerns maybe, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly would make a great franchise series for both TV and comics. End of the world stories are great! Horror, suspense, time travel would be fun. I want to work on everything! I love telling stories! Give me an interesting, inspiring, who, what, where, and why, and I’m in!
RP: Who would you like to work with in the future?
Jeremy: I’d love to work with Doug again. He brings out the best in my scripts, and I push myself to write something worthy of his tremendous talents. We’re a great team, and we could tackle any property and put a fun and unique spin on it.
Doug: I would love to work with Jeremy again. There are moments in AVP: Thicker Than Blood that I am grateful to have drawn. This book is our first collaboration, and hopefully not the last; I feel we are just getting started!
RP: If you had the opportunity to attend a space cruise – would you do it and what would you like to see?
Jeremy: I recently read about a guy who hitched a three-month voyage on a cargo ship. He didn’t speak the crew’s language, he didn’t bring along a laptop or a phone—just some books to read, which he burned through more quickly than he expected. From there, it was three months at sea in reflective isolation. No internet. No social media. It sounds amazing. Sign me up!
Doug: I stand outside in my backyard every night, staring up at the stars waiting for that very thing, but nothing, not even a standard abduction or probe session in orbit. If I could go on a space cruise, I’d love to see the other side, straight across would be fine, a few bathroom breaks along the way would be nice but not necessary.
RP: Thank you very much for this opportunity and for taking the time to answer my questions!
Jeremy: Thank you! We appreciate you being interested in our series.
Doug: Thank you!!! Great questions!