We Talk Alien Vs Predator and Ghost with Chris Sebela
We recently got the chance to discuss comics with comic veteran Chris Sebela. Maybe better known for his work at the indies on a variety of titles, he has also taken on Carol Danvers and the Fantastic Four. The focus of our discussion was Alien Vs. Predator and Ghost, but as usual some other things came up in the discussion, breaking and entering, pregnant women and dripping bugs.
Graphic Policy: Ever since the appearance of the xenomorph’s skull in Predator 2, fans have been clamoring for a matchup between the two, but previous versions of the battle have fallen short somewhat, especially the movie versions. Did that have any effect on your approach to the series?
Chris Sebela: I was and am right there with the fans that the movies definitely left a lot to be desired. I’m a fan of the original AVP comics stuff, but I made sure not to revisit that as I didn’t want any of it to bleed through, but I went back and watched the first AvP and enough of AvP: Requiem to confirm I didn’t like it the first time. None of that really altered my approach though, which was, simply: don’t screw it up. Giving myself the AvP I always wanted was my main priority. Not that every fan of either franchise is going to love what I love about these franchises or these creatures, but I feel like I’ve been almost a lifelong fan of these things, I’ve been there through their highs and lows, so I hopefully knew enough to steer the boat and not sink it.
GP: The new series involved a mixture of the xenomorphs, the predators and the aliens from Prometheus, a decent mix of different characters, but do you feel that anything is missing from the shared universe? Another species or another setting perhaps?
CS: I felt like the writer’s room was very cognizant of letting the books go nuts, but not letting them go infinitely nuts. I think we were pretty well balanced, we never went too far out in one direction or another to tip things wildly in one direction. The universe itself doesn’t need another species, at least not one that poses any sort of challenge to the dominant lifeforms. We have Engineers, Predators, Xenomorphs, Constructs, I think we’ve got lots to choose from, and that’s before you start throwing the black goo around and creating new variations on old themes. Settings, though, I feel like yeah, there’s lots more ground that can be covered in a universe that’s this big and this all-encompassing, as long as it’s never the Predator home planet, because I never want to see that and have the fanfiction in my head officially contradicted.
GP: The first movie of AVP set up the Predators as the heroes, but that was a difference from their depiction until that point in their own movies as they were mostly villains. Do you think they are rightfully more heroic than the xenomorphs, or do you see it a different way?
CS: I think one of the failings of the films was trying to pose either side as being heroic or vilainous. They’re both unstoppable killing machines that would kill anyone who got in their way. Making Predators the heroes makes sense because audiences can relate more to a vicious murdering thing if it also has 2 legs and 2 arms and a head and a torso like we do. Who could relate to the slithering, dripping bugs with inner mouths? I mean, someone probably can, but not a lot of people. Predators can be posed as leaning heroic because they have a code that they hunt by: they don’t kill pregnant prey, they don’t kill sick or wounded prey. But these seem more like the finer points of sports handicapping than actual morality. I dunno, in the end, I feel like Predators are as capable of heroic acts as the people you pass on the sidewalk, a lot of them could be, but if they were given the choice, would they?
CS: I think them being so different in concept and theme makes jumping between those two books and all my other books less of a challenge. It’s a good thing to have, sometimes you’re not just in the mood to get as bleak and claustrophobic as you need to be to write AvP. Sometimes you want to write about a family dynamic, to have people talking to each other without constant threat of danger, so there’s Ghost. Or any of the other books I do, it’s all about keeping my fingers moving when I sit down to write, so having all these options means even if I’m in the midst of a spectactuarly awful day, I ideally have something to work on that fits my headspace.
GP: Ghost is interesting in that it looks at the main hero from a different standpoint, and addresses the fact that a lot of the actions that heroes undertake are in fact often illegal (breaking and entering, assault). Why did you choose to focus on this aspect of the character?
CS: I felt lucky being asked to join up when Ghost got expanded from that first 4-issue arc that Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto did. It felt like a chance to really tell the story of how Elisa decides, “I’m going to take this thing I can do and help strangers with it”. I wanted to track the progress of Elisa coming back from a huge trauma, with all sorts of deficits, and being strong enough to pick up this weird mantle she’s been saddled with and making the best of it. I wanted her transition into Ghost as a hero in this world to feel genuine and earned, not that she just came to grips with everything and wrapped it in a neat little bow. Sometimes it’s hard to make even the smallest life choices and not have the “what if” haunt you afterwards. These are bigger life and death, crazy or sane decisions that are just amplified and distorted. I didn’t want to do a villain of the week format, I wanted to focus on Ghost and, more importantly, on Elisa and how she recovers and rebuilds. That involves weighing the power of what you can do with the right or wrongness of what you should do, only with Elisa and Ghost, it’s much higher stakes that often floats right over the grey area of the moral spectrum. No one is born a paragon of goodness and few people achieve it and maintain it, for Elisa, I was interested in the inverse, how no one is (re)born a monster and what it takes to claw yourself back to some kind of state of grace.
CS: Not really. It was harder for me to write sibling relationships, because I’m an only child. That’s a thing I don’t understand. Being a human being in this world who is confused and screwed up? That I understand. I felt like I understood Elisa from the get go and that was ultimately the biggest hurdle to cross for me to write her, getting to know who she is when she’s not handing people their asses.
I had some of hesitations when I started in on High Crimes, which also features a female main character, but I also felt like I knew her enough that she’d tell me when I was screwing up, when I was making her do things that weren’t what she’d do. I’m definitely aware of not screwing up and I try to make sure that I don’t. I’ll check some things with women I know to make sure I’m not completely off-base because I’m not confident to the point of delusion. And I’m still learning as I go, I will be forever learning to see outside of myself. Writing women is as hard as writing men, it’s getting inside their heads and figuring out ‘why do you do this?’ or ‘where did you get this from?’ that’s the killer part of the process. And I like it more, to tell the truth. It makes my job harder and easier at the same time. I got into writing to tell stories and build characters. The further away these fictional people are from my personal daily setting of white dude, the better.
GP: Was a more realistic female character a goal, or just something that came naturally?
CS: It’s not a spoken goal, but sure, it’s always a goal. Considering that “unrealistic women” or “no women at all” has been such a standard setting in comics for so long, who wants to read more of the same old same old? I don’t. And I definitely don’t want to write it. That’s why when I talk about Ghost I refer to her as Elisa more often than not, or why the Captain Marvel fandom is called CarolCorps and not CaptainMarvelCorps, it’s these women when they’re not in uniform that’s infinitely more interesting. None of the superheroics stuff matters if it’s just an empty suit stuffed full of cliches and tropes.
GP: We never really got to see Ghost long enough for a collection of villains to be established as her adversaries, but do you even think that a superhero needs a main arch-nemesis as is so common? Or can they exist without them?
CS: I think the closest we got was Dr. October, because she was so tightly associated with how Elisa became Ghost. I felt like there was a time for her to come back, but I was more interested in the chaos that spins out from Ghost even existing in this world. All of this ties into the rest of the baggage that comes with being a superhero. By your very existence, you open the possibility for bigger and weirder things to come wandering into the world. And having the element of surprise is helpful when you’re dealing with a hero whose main power is she can’t be touched if she doesn’t want to be, so diversifying the gallery of potential threats is always more fun.
But I do think superheroes do need an arch-nemesis of some kind. Hell, we all have them in our lives, even if they only exist on our Facebook friends list these days, there’s always someone who sort of exists in your life to remind you of the times you screwed up or the choices you didn’t make. Regular villains are great for physical trauma, but heroes always heal. I think the reason archenemies are necessary is because they inflict psychic trauma, which is, for my money, the far more lasting and crippling of traumas.
GP: Is this the end of Ghost as we know her for the moment?
CS: Sadly, yeah. It’s the end of me writing her and I believe it’s the end of her running solo for the time being. I’m proud of what we managed to do in a short space, that we got to rebuild a hero from scratch and push her (sometimes roughly) out of the nest into full-blown Ghost status. With all that and Project Black Sky still happening, I wouldn’t be shocked to see her turn up there running circles around the rest of the capes.