“The mystery surrounding Ash’s placement aboard Nostromo, and who he replaced, felt like that Ah ha! nugget for a story that every other writer skipped.” — Michael Scudieri
Of all the characters in ALIEN, the one who undeniably changes the most is the Nostromo’s science officer, Ash. Aside from what we see in the film, we are not told a lot about him, and thus, he remains a mystery…
…but that could very well change in months to come, in a graphic-novel-in-progress called ASH – A Fan Fiction Comic…
Michael Scudieri, the creative mind behind this project, made his ASH story known when he posted this on the AvPGalaxy.net forums over a year ago:
At a time when much conjecture is made about the future of the franchise (and exactly what is going on with the story within it), Michael’s idea of revisiting the first film has a strong appeal.
But he didn’t stop at one post. As comments came in, he followed up with these:
And so, the flame that began in Michael’s creative mind caught fire in the imaginations of fans of ALIEN… and of the mysterious Science Officer, Ash.
Michael’s posts on the project’s Facebook Page provide timely insights into his ideas, the things that inspire him, and sneek-peeks into his work. Like this gem:
Michael is a really approachable guy whose deep thinking about the universe that Ash lives in fascinates me. Recently, he kindly took the time to answer some questions about himself and his exciting project:
THE NOSTROMO FILES BLOG (TNFB): When did you first see ALIEN?
MICHAEL SCUDIERI: My parents tell me I saw ALIEN before I could talk, which puts it between age 1 and 2. About 1984. They claim I stood in front of the TV sucking my thumb and got a creepy smile on my face when the chest burster arrived.
TNFB: For some reason that reminds me of little Barry at the door, greeting the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind! What is your favorite memory associated with ALIEN?
SCUDIERI: It’s probably between two memories. I must have been about 5 years old, and my dad and I were playing Alien with the big Kenner action figure. Even now, Dad is still a big kid. Then in the early 90’s, when I acquired a bootleg VHS of the director’s cut. Watching that for the first time was just amazing. Alien had such a doomy, closed-ended setting and atmosphere, so seeing all these interesting bits of the creature and interactions between the crew I never knew existed – I ate that up. Some of those things actually come into play in the comic.
TNFB: That’s good to hear. You impress me with your attention to detail. When did you draw your first comic? What was the subject?
SCUDIERI: Incidentally, it was my own adaptation of Alien 3 when I was nine years old. I didn’t make it all the way through, but I remember that was the first time I experimented with shadow in my drawings.
TNFB: You use it to great effect, based on what you shared with us on your Facebook Page. Did you study art at school?
SCUDIERI: I had very artistic parents and a sister at home who inspired me from before I could speak. They were my art school. My father, mother, and sister all have their own styles that rubbed off over the years.
TNFB: Wow! That must have been great, seeing them at work as you grew into it. Are there other artists that have influenced you?
SCUDIERI: DaVinci is my primary. He’ll always be amazing, not simply for his art, but the mind behind it. All the power of human cogitation is at play in his work. Sure he was a painter, but also a scientist, mathematician, draftsmen, musician, poet, inventor, teacher, prognosticator… a staggering force of ingenuity, especially for his time. All of those things coalesced and spoke in his various works. That’s why 500 years on, everything he created remains so expressive and tactile; it’s still speaking. He was the consummate Natural Philosopher. About as human as you can get. That’s part of the reason I connected with Alien: Covenant, the whole David thing.
My other big influences would include Mort Drucker (Mad, Benchley), Moebius (Alien, Métal Hurlant), R. Crumb (Zap Comix, Fritz the Cat), Lebbeus Woods (co-founder, Research Institute for Experimental Architecture), Giger (Alien, Species) of course. I love Doug Mahnke’s work (The Mask, Aliens: Stronghold), particularly on 1994’s The Mask Strikes Back. That series greatly influenced me.
TNFB: An impressive lineup of distinctive styles. Is your own ink work mostly pen, or do you use brush or other media?
SCUDIERI: Right now, I’m just using Microns. I’ve picked up some crow quills but haven’t needed them yet. I’m no painter in any way, shape, or form, so there’s zero brush strokes in my work, though I’ll be using archival white ink for a few things once the comic is illustrated.
TNFB: Do you keep a sketch book?
SCUDIERI: I used to. This project was really my way of returning to it after a good 15 to 20 years. Sketching is fun, but I’m not driven to it these days. I basically keep it to compositions unless I need to test a concept or technique before I commit it to the page.
TNFB: I can see how that might work to your advantage with this project in particular. So tell me, which presents the biggest challenge: people or environments?
SCUDIERI: That’s a good question, because between characters and settings, I’m tasking myself with a high level of film accuracy. In the end, environments in this story are largely man-made; so even though it may often be super-detailed, its static. It’s straight lines and angles, and that translates to much more ease of illustration. Portraying the characters is totally another school, particularly when you’re working with a recognizable and beloved cast – there’s likenesses, expression and posing, camera angles, folds of clothing, all kinds of organic information required to sell your characters, so that’s certainly more demanding.
TNFB: That reminds me of the “economy of words” concept in writing, where you strive to use as few words as possible to convey the story. I never realized in graphic novels how much information is being transmitted in each image. I guess when it’s done right, it feels natural. Was there some specific inspiration for this idea of a fan fiction comic about Ash?
SCUDIERI: Initially, the intent was to tell a short story related to the first film, just to play in that sandbox. But after moving across the country and weighing career options last year, I decided on illustration. To that end, I felt circulating an original story from this well-known property online would draw me some attention.
The mystery surrounding Ash’s placement aboard Nostromo, and who he replaced, felt like that Ah ha! nugget for a story that every other writer skipped. I’ve also been enamored with the design and tone of the first film my whole life. The video games, comics, novels, and even films have mostly siphoned elements of the Jim Cameron’s sequel until recent things, like Isolation, Defiance, and Dead Orbit. In the end, I don’t think anyone ever felt there was an interesting enough story to tell leading up to the events of Alien. But I think I cooked one up.
TNFB: I certainly hope so! I agree with you completely about the first film’s aesthetic. I’ve been a fan for decades, yet I have never picked at the threads of story elements you’re addressing. Revisiting a classic film must be daunting. Is this your first project of this scope?
SCUDIERI: As far as comics go, certainly.
TNFB: Tell us about your vision for ASH?
SCUDIERI: ASH: A Fan Fiction Comic is basically Alien’s ‘Rogue One‘. There’s Lucas’s episodic prequels, then there’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dropping off on the opening moments of A New Hope. With Alien, there’s Ridley’s prequels, and then there’ll be ASH: A Fan Fiction Comic tying directly into Alien. But my story doesn’t end where Alien begins. There’s a lot more…
My vision is to create a worthy, faithful companion piece to the film. Something I’d be excited about as a fan. Those characters. That setting. That backstory. I mean, more Parker and Brett? The depth of Ash’s deception? The stop at Thedus? Pranking Lambert? What fan wouldn’t want to see that? One thing I’ve wanted to express for a long time now: I think it’s obvious the full title, ASH: A Fan Fiction Comic, is just an up front way avoiding a potential cease and desist. We’ve all seen fan films shut down, so I thought better to just make it known. Really, the title is just ‘ASH.’
TNFB: You have definitely put a lot of thought into the narrative elements. As you describe it, it seems that you have also left room for a little mystery, avoiding the trap of “fan-splaining” everything. How does ASH fit into the things established in the first film?
SCUDIERI: In ALIEN, Ash’s origins and the individual he replaced are irrelevant. My comic makes those crucial. It was originally an 8-10 page strip, mainly a portfolio piece. But after brainstorming, I was sitting there with this three-act narrative, and that original 8-10 pages made a perfect prologue. So now it takes place before, during, and just after Alien (1979).
TNFB: If that’s how long the prologue runs, it sounds like the main part of the thing is going to be pretty hefty! Now, I wanted to ask you a question about something technical, something I’ve noticed over the years: frames in a graphic novel and storyboards for a film; they seem to be variations on the same visual mode of storytelling. Can you speak to this?
SCUDIERI: I’m thoroughly enjoying framing the illustrations – what I mean is transitions between cels. That was one thing I couldn’t wait to play with. When I look at strips like Calvin and Hobbes where Bill Watterson often just went to town with his layouts, I get amped. I love the idea of feeling absorbed in the story, and comics can certainly do that more than a film sometimes, because films progress at their own pace. You’re along for its ride. Although comics are visual, they’re still books and the reader can absorb them at their own pace, allowing them to feel more engulfed. I peruse the fine details in a comic world much more often than in a film. Getting inventive with your layouts can really amp up the immersion.
TNFB: Do you have a deadline set for publication?
SCUDIERI: The 40th Anniversary of the film.
TNFB: Any thing in particular you would like to tease?
SCUDIERI: Here’s a few things:
- You’ll see what the Nostromo was transporting to Thedus before it picked up the refinery.
- There is a Nostromo crew member who knows a little more than they let on in the movie.
- The Big Chap will be displayed in 3 ways never before seen.
TNFB: Again, I’m impressed with the depth of your thinking about your story idea. You’ve opened your imagination up to many possibilities. Besides being a storyteller and an artist, you are also a musician. How does that figure into your comic creativity?
SCUDIERI: Art is just a sensory manifestation of emotions or ideas, a way to experience someone else’s feelings or cognition. So it’s communication. The various mediums, like music and illustration, are the different languages and, like languages there are lots of transitive elements; if you can conjugate in one Romance language, it’s much easier to do so in the others. So while illustration and music are independent artistic languages, they have their analogues.
But I think you’re after a more specific answer. In 2012, Prometheus inspired me to write a sprawling high concept science fiction album*. I started it the night before Prometheus premiered and I only published it about 7 months ago. Over those years, I avoided sci-fi films and TV series like the plague to keep my song concepts as novel as possible. Among other subjects required to write the songs, I researched a lot of astrophysics and robotics, so that’s informed a lot of things in this comic.
TNFB: What is your ‘desert island list’, limited to just five bands?
* Close To the Edge by Yes – for it’s sprawling but inviting compositions.
* No. 4 by STP – for its mix of Zeppelin-esque rockers and Beatle-esque ballads.
* Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles – my favorite album.
* Higher Truth by Chris Cornell – for the lyrics.
* Free Hand by Gentle Giant – for the catchy complexity.
TNFB: Fantastic! I love a new playlist!
Many thanks to Michael for this interesting look at his artistry and his project.
You can read (and listen to) more of Michael’s work by clicking on the following images: