Olly MacNamee: John, your horror sci-fi series Outer Darkness returns this week, but for anyone who’s thinking of picking this book up, what have people missed so far? It’s a very different kinda sci-fi than many may be expecting.
John Layman: Outer Darkness is my attempt to fuse sci-fi with horror, which is a genre mash-up I love, and don’t see nearly enough. Outer Darkness is about a spacecraft on a continuing mission, where everything that’s ever died is out there in space, lonely and angry and corrupt, demons and ghosts and all sorts of unholy abominations. Outer Darkness follows the crew of The Charon, which is equal part scientist and shamans, engineers and exorcists, red-shirts and reverends. Plus, pretty much everybody on the crew hates each other.
OM: Now, Captain Rigg isn’t your usual heroic captain is he? He’s hardly someone who inspires trust and faith in. And, that’s part of the problem isn’t it, and a big part of the tension that is palpable onboard the ship?
JL: This goes back to everybody on the ship hating each other. I like writing bastards, and I wanted a crew that was utterly dysfunctional, at least in terms of getting along with each other. Of course, what may not be obvious is that Outer Darkness is a story about redemption. But there needs to be something to initially redeem from, ya know?
OM: In this new issue we get a glimpse at Rigg’s past and possibly a hint at what he once was and what he’s become. Has he learnt to be hard and put up a front from past experiences?
JL: The backstory of everybody is getting doled out slowly, and in Issue #7 we start to see what’s motivating the very-driven Captain Rigg. Spoiler: It’s love. Lost love, to be more specific.
OM: But, one man does not a crew make. And, you’ve certainly littered yours with a wide array of fascinating characters, many with a penchant for magic, too. Where do you start when coming to build a world – and a history – that’s a blend of both sci-fi and the supernatural? And, how much input did Afu Chan have in this process?
JL: Most of the characters were created before Afu got on board, but I got lucky, in that he is a design wizard, so he’s really brought everyone to life in unique and unexpected ways. In fact, there’ve been smaller background characters who’s roles have slowly increased, just because I love Afu’s designs for them so much.
OM: You’ve mentioned elsewhere how you rewatched a lot of classic Star Trek in preparation for this series. But, what horror did you go back and rewatch? The Amytiville Horror, perhaps, ahead of issue #7?
JL: Not much. A lifetime of horror is pretty ingrained into my DNA, especially foreign horror movies, and especially Asian horror movies. The horror aspect of Outer Darkness hasn’t taken much in the way of research.
OM: Now, with this second half of this first season, you’ve promised readers more character focused issues. At this point on your own journey with this series, do you have any favourite characters you’re itching to write more about?
JL: Well, no. I think the editor promised more character-focused issues, because I think he’s still getting used to the Outer Darkness issues being, largely, done-in-one. Each issue is its own “episode,” but they build on each other and at the end of an arc, they hopefully build to an explosive climax.
OM: I couldn’t help but notice that after the dramatic events of the last issue, we’ve not seen Alastor Satalis yet? Are you hoping we’d forget?
JL: Outer Darkness has a big crew, and while I try to juggle everybody, there is simply not room in every episode, given the ensemble cast. But the conflict between First Officer Satalis and Captain Rigg is central to this arc, and indeed the entire 12-issue “first season” of Outer Darkness. Look for it to move to the forefront of things during issues #9-#12.
OM: He’s not the only one with a problem with Rigg, is he? With even Gallu, The Charon’s god-engine – angry at him, it certainly feels like something big is building and building. What can you tell us about this second half?
JL: Rigg has a plan, and he’s going to enact it at the end of the first season. And it’s awful. People are going to hate him even worse at the end of issue #12.
OM: Finally then, John, how far have you mapped this particular series? You must surely have an end point?
JL: In a perfect world, it would go 36+ issues. Three 12-issues seasons, each very different and distinct from one another. But I’d like to do world-building one-shots in between arcs, preferable with different artists so Afu can concentrate on the “main” story. Annuals and zero issues and Halloween specials, things like that. Maybe even a crossover.
OM: John, thanks for your time, and all the best with Outer Darkness #7 and beyond.
Outer Darkness #7 is out now from Image Comics.
Read all our reviews here of the series so far.