For the next several weeks, Indiewire is exclusively premiering
new episodes from the third season of “Tales From Beyond the Pale,” the
audio play series produced by Glass Eye Pix. Episodes will be available
for two-day windows.
Listen to the previous episode here. In this second episode, comic book writer and poster artist Brahm Revel presents “Junk Science,” the story of an astronaut who comes around a haunted spaceship. Listen to “Junk Science” above, and read his thoughts on the project in the interview with Indiewire’s Eric Kohn below.
This episode feels a bit like “2001” meets “Aliens.” What inspired you to write it?
My first thought was, how can I make a story that will play to the strengths of a purely audio based storytelling medium? Normally I work in comics, which is the complete opposite of radio, all visuals and no sound, so thinking of specific ways in which sound could drive the story was my first priority. I also wanted to choose an environment that would be interesting to describe audibly. Something that could be suggested but also be vague enough that listeners could fill in the rest with their imaginations. Outer space seemed to fit the bill pretty nicely. A dark and nebulous place that has hints of bigger things just beyond what the eye can see. I also realized that when ships communicated by radio it would allow for characters to describe their surroundings very naturally, without it sounding too forced. From there, the ideas for sentient ship computers were not far off. In fact, 3 of the 4 characters in my story ended up being disembodied voices (2 AIs and one voice on a radio), which, I think, ended up working very nicely for the medium.
So yes, “2001” was, of course, a big influence, but Spike Jonze’s “Her” also inspired me a lot. Interpersonal relationships with artificial intelligence are fascinating to me. Humans project so much of themselves on to inanimate objects that anything remotely human seems completely alive to us. How this will affect us as technology becomes a bigger and bigger part of our lives is anyone’s guess!
Anyway, that was some of the initial inspiration. That, and what a haunted operating system might look like.
If this were a film, it would probably require a lot of special effects. What did you enjoy about working within the audio medium? And what were the biggest challenges?
Yeah, that’s a question for the filmmakers out there. In radio plays, as in comics, if you can imagine it, you can afford it! I’m sure it was very liberating for a lot of the film directors to essentially have an unlimited FX budget!
But to follow what I was saying earlier, my main goal was to take advantage of the storytelling properties unique to the radio format. You can suggest a lot with very little in radio, and I had a lot of fun playing in a new world built completely of sound. And music! Music is such a powerful tool for mood and ambiance. These are things that I don’t normally get to work with in comics, so I wanted to play with these elements as much as possible.
As for challenges…well, when I work in comics, I really try to let the visuals tell the story. You know, the old storytelling maxim, “show, don’t tell.” Well, in radio that still applies, but you have to “tell” the “showing.”
I know! Confusing, right!?
More generally, what do you make of sci-fi horror today?
I don’t know…As always, I think it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Sci-fi, like horror, is at its best when it acts as a metaphor for our underlying fears and insecurities. I really loved David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows.” Though, the ending was a little lackluster. “Enemy” by Denis Villeneuve was really nice as well. Oh! And “Ex Machina” from Alex Garland! I saw this after I’d already finished recording and editing “Junk Science,” but I’m sure it would have been a big influence had I seen it earlier.
But for every interesting movie, there are 20 more that are just paint-by-numbers photocopies of the same ol’ thing. So, I don’t know…
In comics, there’s a few interesting things happening. “Prophet” by Brandon Graham and Simon Roy is waaaay out there! But the ratio of good to bad is probably even worse than film.
As a comic book writer, how did your experience with that process help you with this one?
I don’t know if I approached the process any differently. In terms of writing, I just try to let the idea dictate the medium. This story could have been told as a comic, or a short movie, but, if I did my job correctly, it was most suited as a radio play. I think you just have to keep yourself from trying to force square pegs in round holes. Other than that, these mediums aren’t all that different. The difference between a comic script, a screenplay, and a radio play are all very minor.
What are some of the differences between writing for a big company — say, Marvel — and a smaller independent one like Glass Eye Pix?
Well, I’ve been very lucky. Due to the nature of the project at Marvel, I was actually given a lot of freedom. They were letting indie creators take their crack at Marvel characters, so there was never any restrictions other than to try and keep the story in continuity (and even that wasn’t completely off limits). Ironically, the hardest part for me was creating stories for characters that were already established!
But in general, freedom is what you look for in every project, and working with Glass Eye Pix is exactly that! They create projects specifically as venues to support the unique voices of the friends and colleagues they’ve worked with through the years. I hope the fans realize this and support fringe projects like these, because, in my opinion, the best work happens when the shackles come off.
How has your experience with Glass Eye Pix, working on storyboards, comics and posters, informed your work as a whole?
Working with Glass Eye Pix has been, by far, the most important working relationship in my career. I connected with Larry Fessenden right out of college, back in 1999, and for many years worked almost exclusively for them. They allowed me to make a living as a commercial artist (in NYC of all places!) and to learn my craft while I did it. Sometimes we made comic adaptations which allowed me to find my style and storytelling voice. Other times I learned how to animate so we could pitch a project or create an animatic.
There has always been a DIY attitude at Glass Eye Pix that I’ve embraced, and it’s an important reason why I’ve had the success that I’ve had. It’s a work ethic that is important for all artists to have, especially at this point in time, where being a successful artist means being your own manager, and your own publicist, and a web designer, and an accountant, and a producer, and on and on. If you want to get something done, you figure out how to do it. That’s what Glass Eye Pix does. And that’s exactly the reason that Tales From Beyond the Pale exists.
Pre-order the third season of “Tales From Beyond the Pale” here.