Carl Potts on Alien Legion: Uncivil War

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Carl Potts is just as responsible for my comic fandom as Stan Lee, Bob Kane or Will Eisner. Not only was he responsible for helping industry luminaries Jim Lee and Art Adams break into the business, Potts also wrote or edited many of my favorite comics in the 80s and early 90s, including Dr. Strange, The Defenders, The Punisher War Journal, Strikeforce: Morituri, Marvel Fanfare, Shadowmasters, and the original graphic novels Last of the Dragons and The Alien Legion: A Grey Way to Die. That graphic novel spawned a very successful ongoing series under Marvel's more mature Epic imprint. Now, thirty years since its inception, the Alien Legion is back with an all-new mini-series, Alien Legion: Uncivil War. The first issue is scheduled to hit the shelves on 6/25/2014. The former Marvel Editor-In-Chief took some time to discuss the past, present, and possible future of his beloved space warriors. 

I've been reading comics since I could read anything, and I remember the 1980s as being this huge explosion of creativity. During that time, Marvel was doing some really exciting “outside the box” product lines with the original graphic novel series and the Epic imprint which featured more mature concepts like Void Indigo, The Lightness and Darkness War, Star Slammers, and your own title, The Alien Legion. Can you describe the origin of the Alien Legion concept? Was it planned as an Epic title from the start, or could it have fit into Marvel’s “cosmic” family with Silver Surfer, Nova, and Guardians of the Galaxy? 

The origins of Alien Legion go back long before I joined Marvel's editorial staff in early 1983. In the early and mid '70s I tried cooking up a drawing a couple of short stories to use as samples and to develop some story ideas. One story featured an all-human foreign legion-like force in space. The other story featured an alien with a serpentine lower body. One day when I was looking at the pages for both stories together, it occurred to me that the legion force should be composed of a wide variety of alien races. The serpentine character became the leader.

Years later, when I was hired by Marvel, I developed the Alien Legion idea and pitched it as a new series. It was initially approved as a Marvel imprint series. I was too busy editing and doing creative work on other projects to write or draw the series myself.  The plan was for me to edit and oversee the creative work. I hired Alan Zelenetz and Frank Cirocco to work on the book. They did additional development and so are credited as co-creators.

After we'd worked on the book for a few months, the editor-in-chief decided to change the terms of the deal we'd agreed on before beginning work on the series. I gave back the money that Marvel had paid us so far in order to retain ownership and control over the property. I was approached by Archie Goodwin. Archie was starting up the new Epic Comics line of creator-owned titles. He wanted Alien Legion to be the third title in his new line ([Jim Starlin's] Dreadstar and [Steve Englehart & Marshall Rogers'] Coyote were the first two titles). 

Even though Alien Legion was conceived independently of the Marvel Universe, it could have easily have been developed to be part of the MU, had we continued down the original path of Alien Legion being a Marvel title.

As far as I can tell, Alien Legion was the longest running original creator-owned title for the Epic imprint. [Sergio Aragonés'] Groo had many more issues published but Groo had seen print with one or two other publishers before coming to Epic.

Alien Legion really seemed to touch a nerve with the audience. I have many people tell me it was one of their favorite comics, including Game of Thrones co-show runner and head writer, David Benioff. 

As an aside, I inadvertently contributed to Marvel's cosmic family by launching the original Rocket Raccoon limited series by Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola.

I was surprised to find out, as I was doing research for this interview, that you broke into the industry as an artist. I had always remembered you as a writer and editor. Did you design all of the original characters? Where did you find the inspiration for the designs of Sarigar, Meico, Spellic, and Jugger Grimrod?

I moved to NYC in 1975 to break into the comics business as an artist. Much of my initial work was done for Neal Adams and Dick Giordano's Continuity Studios. They were packaging B&W magazines for Charlton that were based on TV shows - Six Million Dollar Man, Emergency! and Space 1999. I got into advertising work there too, drawing storyboards, animatics and comps for major NYC ad agencies. Eventually, I worked full time in advertising and worked on comics jobs at night and on weekends.

I designed some of the major characters including Sarigar and Montroc. Cirocco and I went back and forth developing the look of most of the characters. I think Cirocco came up with the basic look for Grimrod.

As the series continued, other creators came on board and we added additional characters. Chuck Dixon and Larry Stroman made the most contributions.

What sort of freedoms or constraints did you have with Epic? Were there stories, characters, or dialogue that you got away with in the mature reader line that you probably wouldn't have had the Legion launched in the Marvel Universe? 

There was no major adjustment in the content based on the book being published through Epic rather than Marvel. I always wanted the title to reach the largest possible audience that the subject matter of a combat unit would allow. The more graphic you get, the possible audience gets narrower. I was not into showing gratuitous graphic gore or sex, or using a lot of four letter words just because we could. Epic did offer us the freedom to go places we couldn't have under a Marvel imprint, if we wanted to. However it was not a requirement.

I sometimes see a character with an interesting design but a very complicated costume and think that the next artist is going to pull their hair out trying to replicate it. Despite the diversity of race, the Alien Legion maintained a simple uniform aesthetic. Was that a conscious decision on your part?

The legionnaires had to be physically diverse, having evolved under a wide range of environmental conditions. Diversity is a major theme of the series. However, in the Legion, this diversity is also made to be as "uniform" as possible for practical and discipline reasons. That's why these diverse legionnaires are crammed into uniforms that are as "uniform"/alike as their body types will allow.

Also, I never liked the "animal head stuck on a human figure" type of alien design and steered away from that approach.

The new series, Alien Legion: Uncivil War features the second major creative duo to work on the original Alien Legion series, writer Chuck Dixon and artist Larry Stroman. I don’t think there’s anything Chuck Dixon can’t write well and Larry Stroman is one of a number of 1990s-era creators who I am constantly surprised doesn’t get more work. What makes collaborating with these two terrific talents so special?

In addition to being very talented, both Chuck and Larry are fans of the series and that enthusiasm carries over into their work. The series has been blessed with contributions from a number of great creators. Chuck and Larry have been associated with Alien Legion longer than any other team and have made many valuable contributions to the mythos.

I've long held the belief that "Inking" is a rather misunderstood and underappreciated yet vital component to the comic medium. On Alien Legion: Uncivil War you are handling the inking duties. How do you approach inking Larry Stroman's pencils? Are your inking choices weighed against the tone of the story or more influenced by the pencil art itself?

Regarding inking in general: The best inkers are those who have a significant amount of drawing knowledge. Pencil lines are easily smudged. Even tight pencils can become "fuzzy' due to hands running over the pages, pages being stacked and shuffled and so on. This smudging means that the inker has to interpret the pencils at times. Those inkers with significant drawing knowledge will do a better job of interpreting than those with weak drawing knowledge.

Regarding inking Larry's pencils on this new series: Larry did tight pencils on this series and, for the most part, I wanted to ink them faithfully. There were only a couple of panels, scattered across the four issues of the series, where I thought something looked a bit odd in the drawing and felt the need to revise it a bit. Inking Larry's pencils was a lot of fun but my eyes started to give out on the pages with tons of thin lines!

Things change rabidly in Hollywood, but as I understand it, Jerry Bruckheimer currently holds the rights to the film while you retain the writes to publish the comics. You are working with a smaller press in Titan Comics to publish this series. Will this be your home for future Alien Legion tales or would you consider partnering with Dynamite, IDW, Image or perhaps the DIY route with Kickstarter? If Kickstarter is a possibility, would you plan to produce complete graphic novels or publish individual issues? It would almost seem to come full circle if Alien Legion returned to the much-missed original graphic novel format.

When they bought my "Alien Legion" screenplay, Bruckheimer Productions also purchased all rights except for comics publishing. I still control those rights.

Originally, the new series was supposed to come out from Dark Horse. However, during the production of the series, Dark Horse had a round of weak sales and cancelled a number of new projects in the pipeline, including Alien Legion. I waited around for a while, hoping Dark Horse would green light the series again. After a few years of waiting, I finally gave up and shopped the project elsewhere. I was in negotiations with several publishers for the new series but chose Titan, primarily because I'd been happy in my previous dealings with them when they produced a couple of Alien Legion collections years ago. Also, I have known series editor Steve White for many years, back when he was an editor in Marvel UK's offices.

We will see the market reaction to this new four issue series and then decide if we will produce more. Kickstarter or similar approaches to coming up with the funds to produce a series are a possibility.

The Alien Legion film has been in the development stage for a long time. In a perfect world, how would you prefer to see it come to fruition? Live action or animated? A big Hollywood summer blockbuster or a Netflix original series in the vein of highly successful series like "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards?" What actors would you like to see play or voice major roles?

My ideal would be for a big feature film that is designed from the start to then move into a cable series. The same set and CGI assets and the actors (at least those who played characters who survived the movie!)  would be shared across both the film and TV incarnations.

Live action married to high end CGI is the ideal for me.

Unfortunately, the actors I thought about when the comics series first began are too old for the parts now. There are lots of people who could play Montroc. I originally thought of Lance Hendrickson or Clint Eastwood for Sarigar and Rene Russo for Tamara. If you've ever seen Sean Bean in Patriot Games, you know he has the intensity to be a brilliant Grimrod.

These days I've heard others mention Vin Diesel a candidate for Grimrod.  Also, Jason Statham has been suggested. I'll have to think long and hard about which actors and actresses from the current crop of would be right for each part. 

Old school Alien Legion fans like me loved it because it had some similar elements to the original "Star Wars" trilogy—characters got hurt, not everyone was what they seemed on the surface, the locales the Legion found themselves in were gritty, and so forth. For the younger generation whose thoughts on "Star Wars" probably run more towards droids saying, “Roger roger!” and Rastafarian water-breathers, what would your pitch be to sell them on the new Alien Legion? Or is this a title really aimed for the diehard Legion fans?

Alien Legion was conceived long before the original "Star Wars" films came out. However, since work on the comics series did not get underway until '83, the first couple of "Star Wars" films were somewhat of an inspiration during the development of the comics series.

I am hoping we've produced a series that will appeal to new readers as well as seasoned vets!

If readers like what we've done, I hope they will spread the word and encourage their friends to pick up the series.

In addition to Alien Legion: Uncivl War, Carl wrote The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics: Inside the Art of Visual Storytelling. It was published in Ocotober 2013 and I would encourage anyone interested in working in the business to look for it. There are few people in the industry with the scope of knowledge that Carl Potts has to share. Remember, he discovered Jim Lee! Learn from him and you could be the next big star in comics!