Larry Young - Writer / Creator of "Astronauts In Trouble"
Chatting with Jennifer Contino and Steve Chang - 1999
 
The characters of Astronauts In Trouble: Live From The Moon. Heck Allen, cameraman. Annie Franklin, Segment Producer, with her ubiquitous cap. Dave Archer, The Most Trusted Man in America. Ishmael Hayes, the rich man who seeks to launch a rocket ship into space, and have The Channel Seven News Team cover the story. Lively dialogue where characters make ironic, if not necessarily profound observations, as well as atypical situations, where space is unknown, mysterious and uncharted.

K2K: When you were younger were you a fan of superhero comics and other genre comic books? What were some of your favorites?
LY: Oh, yeah; absolutely. I read almost everything from World's Finest and Strange Sports Stories to Li'l Hot Stuff and Archie's Pal, Jughead. If it was a comic, I'd read it. I liked different ones for different reasons as I grew up, but my first comic book was Superboy #145, so I guess I've always had a soft spot for the Man of Steel.
 
K2K: How old were you when you decided you wanted to have a career in comic books and how did you go about achieving this goal?
LY: I suppose I was around 13 or so when I realized that making comics was a job you could actually "have", instead of comics appearing on the newsstand in some magical way. I've always wanted to be a writer, so I studied English courses in high school and majored in English (with a concentration in the American Literary Renaissance, Hawthorne, Melville, those guys) in college. I wrote a comic, hired the artists, got it published, did the marketing. And here we are.
 
K2K: What was the first comic book you worked on?
LY: I wrote the never-published Casual Heroes #4 for Image Motown, as well as the series bible for that series, and a couple of two-pagers featuring the astronauts for Negative Burn #46 and THE Jinx Charity Special, but the first actual full-length book was AiT: Live From The Moon #1
 
K2K: How did Astronauts In Trouble: Live From The Moon come about?
LY: Mimi Rosenheim (who would become editor of AiT) and I were at the San Francisco Museum of Science watching the Pathfinder Mars mission in July of '97. As they were showing the NASA feeds from the probe, just before the critical landing, they switched over to a detailed computer animation of what they assumed the landing must be like. The announcer said, "We're showing this animation because, of course, there are no cameras on Mars." Mimi leaned over and said, "Wouldn't it be cool if there were?" And the whole story of "Live from the Moon" just blew into my head at once; the news crew, the world's richest man, the conflict, everything. I literally fell out of the chair. It was one of the oddest experiences of my life. I spent the rest of
the year writing the script and trying to find a publisher. Everyone was quite encouraging, but no one wanted to take the chance, the way the market was, to publish an unknown writer. So we decided to just pay the artists ourselves, and either self-publish or hope that someone would pick it up once the art was completed.
 
K2K: The miniseries was published by Gun Dog Comics. How did Astronauts In Trouble get to that point?
LY: Rob and Steve Snell were going to publish their own book, and knew that I had mine pretty much ready to go. We decided to join forces and present a line instead of just be two more monkeys with their own books in the back of the Previews catalog.
 
K2K: What made you decide on Astronauts, as opposed to say, cowboys or policemen?
LY: When we saw "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," I told my wife that Mike Myers obviously spent a lot of time as a kid soaking up the spy movie thing. That movie is just so obviously a labor of love from somebody who loves the genre. She said to me, "You know, that's you and the astronaut thing." And she's 100% right. When I was a kid, I read all the Heinlein, all the Asimov, all the Silverberg and all the Ellison I could get my hands on. "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and "Have Spacesuit; Will Travel" were two of my favorite books as a kid. I love "2001," "Planet Of The Apes," "Space: 1999," "UFO," "Capricorn One," if it has an astronaut, and he's in trouble, I just love the hell out of it. And all of this pop culture SF that's been percolating around in my brain since I was a boy just lined up and filtered out into Astronauts In Trouble. I just love astronauts. I think it's the spacesuits.
 
K2K: What do you believe readers find appealing about Astronauts In Trouble? How will this series attract the fans of different genres?
LY: Well, AiT is structured much like "Sin City" as a series of mini-series. I've set up a world, and I want to poke around in all the corners of it that I possibly can. Live From The Moon is like one of those big Hollywood summer blockbusters, while Cool Ed's is like those ten minutes in a Tarantino flick when Steve Buscemi is talking. The story doesn't have any bearing on anything, but you're riveted for those ten minutes. In "Space 1959", I wanted to go one further and have each issue be a particular commentary on an individual genre, while still adhering to the rules I've set up for my world. The first issue is a bit of a crime noir, and the second is my take on the superhero, believe it or not. The conclusion is more of a political thriller in the Grisham mode. So there's a little something for everyone, and it's on purpose!
 
K2K: How would you describe the art of Matt Smith and Charlie Adlard?
LY: Matt's art is like that old clunker you drove in high school; it got you where you wanted to go, you had a lot of fun times in it, but the time came when you just couldn't get it out of the garage anymore. Charlie's art is like hitting the lottery and finally getting that pristine replica of the 1960s Batmobile you've always wanted in your driveway. It's perfect.
 
K2K: Why did the miniseries change artists in mid-stream?
LY: Matt couldn't do the book anymore, so we hired Charlie. Charlie's the man. He can draw whatever I can think up, and he constantly surprises me by being able to see exactly what I want on the page, all the way over in England. I think he's telepathic. Actually, I really wish he were, because we'd save a lot on transatlantic phone calls.
 
K2K: What do you believe is the purpose of art in a comic book story?
LY: Well, to tell the story. I feel like this is a trick question of some kind.
 
K2K: Was it a conscious decision to have Astronauts In Trouble in black and white, as opposed to color?
LY: Well, the decision to produce the comic as a B&W was a style choice mandated by economics. It didn't really take a brain surgeon to see that doing a color book would be wildly more expensive, and, since two-thirds of it takes place on the moon, which would be all grey tones anyway, that would sort of make it silly to do in color. But the choice of artists was made because their work was so fitting to B&W. When Matt couldn't finish the first story arc, Charlie was the only guy we thought could finish it and his stuff is just amazing. And, in Cool Ed's, he really makes the characters in that his own, and "Space 1959," well, it's just amazing. Charlie's the man. Have I said that already?
 
K2K: Live From The Moon has a documentary/ movie serial feel. Are you a film buff and did this play a part in your writing AiT?
LY: Sure, I like movies as well as the next guy. But I think that feel was more a function of the kind of story I wanted to tell. They're TV journalists that we follow through the story, so that's the hand the reader's dealt.
 
K2K: The series has a unique opening and closing transition. Were you inspired by such shows as The Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, Wild, Wild West, with their introductions and conclusions?
LY: Oh, yes. The fade-in/fade-out thing was my little nod to the Wild Wild West. I loved that show as a kid, and I really appreciated how you could figure out what had happened in the episode by the animated scene breaks, if you happened to miss the beginning. So I figured I'd nod in that direction and play with the expectation that the reader was the "audience" for the Channel Seven News Team's broadcasts. By the time it came to actually script out everything, it evolved into a story point of its own.
 
K2K: Why is Astronauts In Trouble: Live From The Moon #3, (With Heck and Annie in space suits on the moon) your favorite cover?
LY: It's no secret that the wise-cracking cameraman is based on me and the no-nonsense segment producer is based on my wife. Thematically, with Heck and Annie on the lunar outcropping looking out on their destiny, it just speaks to me personally about me and the Mrs. putting our project out there for all the world to see. Plus, that one is undeniably Matt Hollingsworth's best coloring job, with #1 and #5 tying for a close second place. But Hollingsworth knocked #3 out of the park. He should get a medal or something.
 
K2K: I see that you, Brian Hibbs, Mimi Rosenheim, and Comix Experience had a cameo in Thunderbolts #27, as well as issues of Transmetropolitan. How did this come about?
LY: Actually, that longhair in TBolts is CE manager Rob Bennett, who is a man among men, as well as a true coffee achiever. I think Kurt offered to put us in there, so Bri asked me to take photo reference for Bags, and there we were. I show up in Transmet every once in a while because Darick comes to my house and drinks all my beer, and I tell him to pay me back by putting me in the background. I have to say, I really appreciate all the Channel Seven logos he drops in there, and how The City's newsballs say AiT on the side. It's pretty cool. But nothing beats Joe Casey making Larry Young, "Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.," a minor character in Deathlok. That is just the coolest.
 
K2K: What were some of the memorable moments you had when completing the five issues and waiting for #1 of Astronauts In Trouble: Live From The Moon to ship?
LY: When I first saw Hollingsworth's color for the cover for #1, which was the same week I finished lettering the second page of the second issue, I just looked around my drafting table and thought, "Well, this is a comic book now." As opposed to some crazy idea I had, it had actual form.
 
K2K: How did working in a comic store inform you about the varying tastes of readers, retailers, and creators?
LY: Seeing what the folks in San Francisco like, what they think of different publishers' practices, that sort of thing, all points me in the direction I want to take my own company. Avoiding the pitfalls and seeing what works and applying it. It's good to not be producing in a vacuum.
 
Cool Ed's is a one-shot by Larry Young and Charlie Adlard, where the story is about a trip to the local watering hole, only the journey is via spaceship and the local bar is on the abandoned Hayes Corp Moonbase.
 
K2K: How did Cool Ed's come about?
LY: When it looked like AiT: Live From The Moon was being well-received, I figured I'd be a chump not to keep riding the wave. I wasn't ready to do another miniseries yet, so I figured I'd do a one-shot to keep the name out there. Cool Ed's was so well-received, Charlie and I are going to do another one-shot later in the year based in that bar on the moon.
 
K2K: In this issue, you had Jimmy from Live From The Moon tell a slightly skewed version of events from the miniseries. The art contrasted from his written words. What inspired you to do such a sequence?
LY: In 1995, I drew and wrote the first AiT minicomic after reading a bit in Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics" about how the juxtaposition of words and pictures is what really defines a comic. The story I did, which I reprinted in the back of the script collection, The Making Of Astronauts In Trouble, shows in pictures a guy crashing and dying on a lonely planetoid, but the text was his last thoughts remembering his eighteenth birthday. The juxtaposition was pretty powerful, and I always try to do that at least once in a story because it's a strength of the comics form. It's something that works extremely well in comics and not so well in other words-and-pictures media.
 
K2K: Cool Ed's is done under the PlanetLar/AiT imprint, as opposed to Gundog Comic's imprint. How was reader reaction to the miniseries and what made you strike out on your own?
LY: I was quite gratified in that everyone seemed to like it fine. I started my own publishing house because that was always the plan. I'm a bit of a control freak, so much so that I letter my own book, for Pete's sake! The plan was always to get strong enough to strike out on my own. The Snell's sure helped that along, I have to say. They were great.
 
K2K: Tell us about Planet Lar 1999.
LY: Go to: http://www.astronautsintrouble.com/planetlar1999.html and read it for yourself!
 
K2K: What is Onomatopoeia?
LY: Onomatopoeia is the in-store newsletter I write and edit for the San Francisco comic book store, Comix Experience. I just finished our 50th monthly issue, and that's a lot of funnybooks under the bridge, believe me.
 
"Astronauts In Trouble: Space: 1959" takes place during that year, as the newly-formed Channel Seven TV station has its Kit Draper, fledgling TV reporter and Chet Archer, former photographer, now TV cameraman, and Bob Block, liason from the network, cover a story concerning the accidental killing of a janitor. But there's more to the story than meets the eye, as the story takes them from the city to the jungles of Peru, along with Winsome Sinclair, cargo pilot. By Larry Young and Charles Adlard, with covers by Kieron Dwyer and John Heebink.
 
K2K: Why did you pick the year of 1959?
LY: Because I get a really strong sense of branding and a heapin' helpin' of borrowed interest by sounding like the already-established Space: 1999. It's a marketing thing, through and through. The whole story suggested itself to me when I thought of that title. I think it's important to let the reader know what's going on with the title of your work. It's not hard to suss out there's going to be astronauts, there's going to be some trouble of some sort, and the year places you firmly in a cultural context, when you see the logo Astronauts In Trouble: "Space 1959".
 
K2K: The series has a feel of a detective story. Are there any genres you'd like to see more of in comics?
LY: Personally? I'd like to see some more straight-forward SF adventure comics. No cute stuff. Just action. I'd love to see something along the lines of Jonny Quest, an adventure book that's kid-friendly but not talking down to the audience. Maybe I'll have to work something up.
 
K2K: The theme in Astronauts In Trouble: Live From The Moon was Freedom of The Press, and Space: 1959 has Freedom of The Press vs National Security in the shadow of The Cold War. What makes this theme important?
LY: Well, I'd have to disagree. I see the theme of Live From The Moon as "absolute power corrupts absolutely", with the subtheme of "be careful what you wish for." The theme of 1959, which hopefully will be more clear once it's finished is "you can sacrifice everything for a greater cause, and the greater cause might not care", which is a pretty big part of THE X-FILES, come to think of it. But certainly First Amendment issues are important, and that should go without saying. I mean, I'm a big fan of being able to write about anything I want, without the government oppressing my creativity. C'mon; America's a great country.
 
But I admit I like to write those thinly-veiled rants the cameramen get about being able to do what you want under the guise of Freedom of the Press.
 
K2K: There have been ads for The Comic Book Defense Fund. What is it and why is it important?
LY: The CBLDF maintains legal counsel for comics industry professionals running afoul of local First Amendment issues. It's important because somebody's safe-guarding free speech.
 
K2K: Why don't kids read comics today?
LY: I blame Nintendo. Or PONG, really, come to think of it. The cathode ray tube is a demanding mistress.
 
K2K: What would you do to change the industry in order to attract more readers to the world of comics?
LY: I'd make all comics available as graphic novels in regular bookstores. I'd get DC to publish 240-page SUPERMAN telephone books, with half new stories and half reprints of old SUPERMAN tales, and then go crazy and make them add another 120 pages of text interviews and blueprints of the Fortress of Solitude and whatnot and sell it for $4.95 on every newsstand in America. It's not a secret to me why everyone wants that Superman doll from Target: it's the only superhero everyone knows. Put those Superman phone books next to the candy in a grocery store check out line, and you'd sell 7 million a month to every tired mother in the country.
 
K2K: Is there anyone, writers or artists, that you'd like to work with?
LY: Well, I'm pretty lucky, because the astronauts have been pretty well-received, so I'm getting to do some neat stuff with some pretty talented folks. Coming up before the end of the year will be THE BOD, with ELVIRA artist John Heebink, and BOILERPLATE, with CHRONOS and PROPOSITION PLAYER artist Paul Guinan. I'd like to do something wholesome with Kieron Dwyer on pencils, and I've got an idea Darick Robertson would be perfect for. But George Lucas could call me. I'm all for that.
 
K2K: Overall, would you consider Astronauts In Trouble: (Live From The Moon, Cool Ed's, and Space: 1959) to be a science fiction, detective, or adventure story? Why?
LY: There're elements of all of those in each one. I'd classify it as "bizarre pop culture stuff filtered through Larry's brain," which really should become its own genre one of these days. :)
 
Larry Young is known as the Wise and Terrible Minister of Propaganda at Comix Experience, in San Francisco.
  
Larry Young's web site is: http://www.astronautsintrouble.com
 
Written by Jennifer Contino and Steve Chung

Jen has loved reading comics since her earliest days of reading. The whole world of good versus evil-with colorful tights thrown in as an added bonus-has intrigued her since she first viewed Wonder Woman, Batman, or the Adventures of Superman. She's always wanted to work in comics and talking with creators / artists / writers, etc. is more fun than work.

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