Back To The Future Meets Idiocracy: Paul Constant On Planet Of The Nerds From Ahoy Comics

by Olly MacNamee

With Ahoy Comics having announced their second wave of comic books, not only did we get the chance to catch up with Stuart Moore again, but I was fortunate enough to bend the ear of new comic book writer, Paul Constant, who will be putting out his own nostalgia-tinted time travel caper, Planet of The Nerds, which looks like great fun as three High School jocks find themselves out of time and out of options.

Here’s more on this new fun series from Constant himself:

Olly MacNamee: Paul, while this isn’t your first writing gig, am I right in saying this is your first comic book writing gig? How did this new series, Planet of the Nerds, come about?

Paul Constant: You are correct! I’ve written a few short pieces for Ahoy Comics—-I wrote all the backup stories in The Wrong Earth, for instance-—but this is my very first full-sized comic book. I’ve been writing book reviews and journalism and other non-fiction for over a decade, but in comics I’m practically a newborn.

As to how Nerds came about: I used to write about books and presidential politics for an alternative weekly here in Seattle, and a comics writer and editor named Tom Peyer used to read my writing in the paper, and we’d occasionally correspond. I’ve been a fan of Tom’s since Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run, which he edited, and I’ve always picked up everything he writes, from his amazing run on Hourman to his work on the super-fun Marvel Apes event series, so it was a big thrill to know he was reading my stuff.

Tom moved away from Seattle and I got another job and time passed. But then one day he reached out and said he was starting a new comics company and asked if I had any pitches. As it happens, the idea for Planet of the Nerds had been in my head for a couple years, so I wrote it up and sent it back to him, and he and publisher Hart Seely approved it. I’ve been writing regularly for Ahoy Comics ever since. Writing comics has been a lifelong dream of mine, so this is, literally, a dream come true.

OM: With a comic called Planet of The Nerds, can I assume you to be a self-proclaimed nerd yourself? What are the comics of your childhood you cherish? I think we will always fondly remember the past, and the 80’s brought us Fantastic Four by John Byrne, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Spidey’s black suit and, for me anyway, the last great Uncanny X-Men run at the hands of Claremont.

PC: We must have grown up around the same time, because those are some of my childhood favourites, too! I taught myself how to read on old Charlie Brown and Superman collections when I was three, and Peanuts and Weisinger-era Superman are still my absolute favorites. The Claremont/Byrne Uncanny X-Men was a formative run, and the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League changed my thinking about what superhero comics could do.

I sent my first-ever fan letter to Mark Gruenwald. He had a long run on Captain America that I loved more than anything, and he also wrote Quasar and an underrated New Universe comic called DP7. He actually responded to my fan mail with a handwritten letter and a packet of photocopies of his scripts and pitches, which was literally the greatest thing that ever happened to me at the time.

OM: How would you best sum up this new series, and its tone, to any would-be readers out there? “Nerds Won!” doesn’t quite cut it.

PC: It’s a time-travel-adventure-comedy in the vein of Back to the Future or Idiocracy, and the premise is that three high school jocks from the 1980s are cryogenically frozen in a freak accident and revived in the modern day. In the 80s, the jocks had it all–they were popular, they were feared, they were worshipped. But in 2019, nerds turn out to run everything—-everybody watches superhero movies, everyone uses computers all day, and the richest people on the planet are nerds. Our jocks are understandably upset to find out the pecking order has been reversed, and they vow to get their revenge.

OM: In the first issue we meet our would-be heroes, but they aren’t your average comic book protagonists are they? In fact, Alpha Male, Chad, your typical High School jock, is downright deplorable. I sense that this will be a book about redemption, perhaps?

PC: That’s a very apt description of Chad. Speaking as someone who was a full-on nerd in high school, and someone who knew a fair share of torment from the popular jocks–thrown down a flight of stairs, had gum thrown in my hair, that kind of thing–it was an interesting challenge writing such an aggressive gorilla of a bro.

I tend to think that every villain believes they’re the hero of their own story, so I had to really put myself into the perspective of a bully. So yeah, we’re going to learn more about Chad in future issues, and I hope that even readers who had it worse than me in high school might be able to develop a little bit of compassion for him.

OM: But, they’re not all deplorable, are they?

PC: They’re not! Steve and Drew are a little more empathetic than Chad, and they’re both harboring some pretty big secrets that we’ll learn about as the series goes on. But just because they’ve got some redeeming qualities doesn’t mean they’re wholly innocent–I’m not convinced that your typical high school nerd is going to make a fine distinction between the jock who’s giving them a wedgie and the other jocks who are doing lookout at the door of the boy’s room looking embarrassed, you know? Every one of our protagonists is going to do a bit of self-reflection and personal growth—-in between all the punching, running, and scheming they do over the course of the series, of course!

OM: The 80’s has never been more en vogue, what with Stranger Things, Back To The Future (BTTF) comics and a whole collectible industry, it seems, geared to the pangs of nostalgia we all feel for our childhood. But why the year 1988 specifically? One year later and you could have had ’em watching Tim Burton’s Batman! Was it an important year in your life, or am I clutching at straws here?

PC: First of all, I’m fairly certain that Chad would rather cut his own tonsils out with a dirty spork than sit through something as unspeakably nerdy as Tim Burton’s Batman. But yeah, 1988 is, to me, kind of peak 1980s. I’m a little younger than the characters at the beginning of Nerds, so 1988 was a mostly uncomplicated time for me—-the last year of elementary school. But historically, it was a pretty huge year. In 1988, McDonald’s started popping up all over eastern Europe and the Communist Soviet Union began teetering into capitalism. The first major computer virus spread on what would eventually become the internet. I guess you could say it was the end of the 1980s and the very beginning of what we know as the modern world.

OM: Speaking about the BTTF comics, you’ve got BTTF artist Alan Robinson illustrating this series. How did this partnership come about? Was Alan onboard at the pitch stage or later? It’s great fit, style-wise, for this fun book.

PC: I wrote the first issue script without an artist attached, and then Tom and I started talking about what we thought this book needed in terms of art. We both agreed that we needed an artist who could add a lot of detail without being busy, who could portray complex emotions and body language in just a few lines, and who displayed impeccable comic timing without going too broad. Tom scouted around and came back with Alan, and as soon as he started sketching the characters, it was as though he’d been working with me from the very beginning. He immediately became the book’s co-creator and my equal partner.

Alan is a natural-born comic book artist. He took everything I could throw at him in the scripts for Planet of the Nerds–period details, slapstick, fight scenes, heavy artillery, pathos, political satire–and every single page he delivered surpassed my expectations.

We’ve got a great team joining us on the book. The great Randy Elliott is drawing a series of fun backup stories that give us more context on each of the main characters in Nerds, Felipe Sobreiro is doing some brilliant work on the colors, and Rob Steen’s lettering really enhances the story in some fun and subtle ways. I can’t get over how smoothly everyone works together to build something that’s more than the sum of its parts.

OM: While the initial setting is Earth in 1988, by the end of the book, our characters are very much out of their comfort zone. They may as well have landed on another planet. What can we expect going forward?

PC: We’re gonna have so much fun. We’re playing with all the classic 1980s movie tropes, so in one issue we’re doing a Porky’s-style sex comedy while in another we get to do a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-style insane slapstick chase sequence. At the same time, we’re trying to really examine these labels that we give ourselves and each other that define the deepest parts of us. I’m proud to call myself a nerd, but what does that word really mean? Does “nerd” carry the same weight today that it did 40 years ago? And if not, has it changed for better or for worse? Plus, there’s a big riot at a comic book convention! So really, this book has something for everyone.

OM: Thanks for the interview, Paul, and all the best with Planet of the Nerds when it comes out this April 17th.

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