Interview: Getting Up Close with Aliens and Titans with Dan Abnett

Dan Abnett is one of the most eclectic writers working today. From the dark and dreary world of Warhammer to the recently completed Titans Hunt, he deftly moves between genres and tones like no other. He’s currently bringing his versatility and expertise to the new Dark Horse series, Prometheus: Life and Death. Below we were able to discuss Prometheus, the keys to good storytelling, and a little known character new to his Titans’ team: Wally West.

BIC: Let me begin by saying I’ve been a huge fan of your work for more than a decade. I’ve been reading Warhammer novels like Gaunt’s Ghosts and Horus Heresy since I was a young teenager. Thank you for countless hours of great entertainment.

Dan: Thank you 🙂

BIC: What’s it like to frequently transition between large formats, such as novels, to smaller formats like comics?

Dan: I find it pretty easy. I’ve been writing comics for a lot longer than I’ve been writing novels, so the transition is harder the other way. I love writing for comics, and when I have a large project on the go (ie a novel, which is pretty much all the time), it’s a genuine creative relief to set it aside and write a comic script, which is more manageable and self-contained. So, not only do I find it easy, I find it necessary. Switching to a comic script exercises different creative ‘muscles’ and keeps all the work – comics and novels – fresh. The change of pace is a really useful creative tool.

Prometheus: Life and Death #1

BIC: In regards to Prometheus: Life and Death, how did the idea come about and how does it feel to be telling stories in a cinematic universe?

Dan: Randy Stradley at DH had the initial plan for connecting the franchises together, and he shared that with me when he asked me to write the whole thing. Having one writer on it, in his opinion, allowed for greater oversight and connectivity. I leapt at the chance – these are all franchises I love – and having written Aliens in the Alien:Isolation video game, I was delighted to be able to play with the universe in comic form. I love ‘playing;’ in other peoples’ universes (ie Warhammer, Dr. Who, the Marvel Universe) and I think I’ve developed a knack for it.

BIC: How is working with Andrea and Rain?

Dan: What can I say – they are both brilliant. I’ve been delighted by the work.

BIC: Are there any lessons or takeaways from the film that you try to instill into the comic series?

Dan: I wanted to capture the flavour and the mood, and maybe answer (speculatively) a few questions, without giving concrete answers that a later film might contradict. With the whole Life and Death series, I’ve tried to hang the drama on the central human characters – their reaction to the situations and the threats – and our concern for them – is vital, I engaged… I think. The human heart is what keeps the otherworldly elements together – think of the original Alien move. It’s our connection with, and our concern for, the very human crew that keeps the nightmare dynamic.

BIC: Though you seem to be a master at it, is it difficult to write for projects with already established art styles?

Dan: Not at all. Artists are selected to match and suit the tone and mood of a project, which is exactly what I’m trying to do with the scripts – I don’t just want to produce a good script, I want to produce a good Prometheus script, so the artist and I are both working hard to maximise that effect.

Predator: Life and Death #1 Cover

BIC: You mentioned your work on Alien: Isolation. Between projects like that and Prometheus: Life and Death, you’ve spent a good deal of time in the world that began with Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic. How much has Alien and it’s sequels influenced your work? What do you think about the fact that stories are continuing to be told in this universe?

Dan: Showing my age here, I saw Alien when it first came out. It’s an extraordinary film, a classic, and Aliens is pretty amazing too. I was also at exactly the right age to enjoy the first Predator too. The Alien movies and the Aliens Universe is part of our pop culture now and has influenced so much, both in the ‘realism’ of human SF environments and the genuine ’alien’-ness of the creature. “Giger-esque” has become a term akin to “Lovecraftian”, suggesting not just the specific franchise but a generally understood dark cosmic notion of horror. Whether I meant it to or not, it’s bound to have influenced me very much. I think the universe – and the ‘larger’ universe as extended by the Predator canon, a connection first and most brilliantly recognised by Dark Horse – has huge scope for stories, with massive amounts of things to be explored. I think the real trick is to navigate that universe without answering too many of the questions. One of the core ingredients of Alien when it first came out was the unknown. If you lose too much of that unknowable mystery, if you explain too much, then a vital element of the universe is gone.

BIC: What science fiction stories, be they novels, films or comics, do you think will stand the test of time?

Dan: gosh – so many! And they’ll survive for all sorts of different reasons: because they’re simply good; because they’re classics even if they’ve been superceded by the changing world; because they’re still relevant; because they’re well written or made; because of our nostalgic connection to stories that we read at key moments in our lives.

Early examples of the genre – such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and 2000 Leagues Under The Sea – remain utter classics, even though they have been overtaken by scientific discovery, style, or cultural understanding. That’s going to be true of a lot. Star Trek, for example, endures wonderfully, even though the futuristic technology of the 60s now seems clunky, and political ideas have shifted. I can’t see books like Dune, or Stranger In A Strange Land, or Fahrenheit 451 going unread. I think what’s interesting is to speculate as to what movies or books of, say, the last 10 years will end up with the longevity of a Blade Runner or a The Stars My Destination. A lot, I think, but probably not the ones we expect.

BIC: In your opinion, what are the key elements to good storytelling regardless of genre or medium?

Dan: Good storytelling, period. Good characters. And a degree or ‘authenticity’. However extraordinary and unusual the world or setting, the themes or concepts, you have to find a way of delivering them so that they absolutely convince as ‘real’.

Titans Rebirth #1 Second Printing

BIC: To pivot back to comics, your work on Titans Hunt was one of the defining stories leading up to May’s DC Universe: Rebirth #1. How does it feel to be reintroducing Wally West to the readers?

Dan: A joy. And a huge responsibility. Titans has a lot of attention on it because it springs so directly out of Rebirth. But with that, and Aquaman, I’m having a wonderfully creative time and the response has been amazing.

BIC: And lastly, what are you currently reading?

Dan: My tastes are voracious and eclectic, but literally right now I’m reading an old John Wyndham SF novel, a historical examination of the ‘witch-craze’ in the 16th century, and an account of the sinking of the Lusitania. And comics.. LOTS of comics.

As I mentioned in the interview I have been reading Dan Abnett for over a decade. It was an absolute honor to be able to conduct this interview. Thanks again to Dan for taking the time.

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