Q&A: The Intergalactic Nemesis’ Jason Neulander

Update: Congrats, entry 9 – Michelle @tinktastic for winning The Intergalactic Nemesis giveaway.

When it comes to the loves of my life, it goes

  1. Scott
  2. family and close friends
  3. Cleveland
  4. comic books 
Scott and me celebrating his birthday at a beer and comic books event

Scott and me celebrating his birthday at a beer and comic books event

While that may be a slight exaggeration, my love for comic books and graphic novels goes beyond the act of enjoying the latest issue of Fables. I think about how I used to draw comics as a kid and jump at the chance to visit the local baseball card store to read up on the X-Men.

I think about how Scott re-introduced me to comics when we started dating. It’s the first activity we shared as a couple, and every time I can help Scott with his own webcomic writing, it brings us even closer in our marriage.

I also think about all of the people I’ve met who share this love – both in the Cleveland community and at conventions from Minnesota to Maryland.

All of this is why I was thrilled to learn The Intergalactic Nemesis Live-Action Graphic Novel is coming to PlayhouseSquare. I saw another live-action graphic novel last year – Kill Shakespeare at C2E2 in Chicago.  It’s an incredibly immersive and entertaining experience.

Intergalactic Nemesis at PlayhouseSquare on January 30

Intergalactic Nemesis at PlayhouseSquare on January 30

I was even more thrilled when PlayhouseSquare offered me the chance to ask Jason Neulander, Intergalactic Nemesis’ writer, producer and director, a few questions about the show.

Read on to learn more about the show’s history, the unique experience of producing and seeing the show, and why non-comic book and sci-fi fans will enjoy Intergalactic Nemesis.

Intergalactic Nemesis onstage

Intergalactic Nemesis onstage

Clue Into Cleveland: I love that this started as a radio show reading. While they’re becoming slightly more popular as podcasts, you don’t often see people doing serialized radio fiction. What was the reason or the circumstances around starting Intergalactic Nemesis as a radio show?

Jason Neulander: Great question. Back in the mid-90s, when this project got its start, I had founded a small theater company with the mission of developing and producing new plays that pushed the envelope of what theater could be. Part of achieving that mission was making theater happen in unusual venues. For example, we produced most of our work in the first couple of years in a rock club.

Anyway, a friend of mine, Ray Colgan, worked at this coffeehouse in downtown Austin and approached me with the idea of creating a sci-fi radio play to be performed and recorded in front of a live audience at that coffeehouse. I thought it was a great idea, so we went ahead and did it.

Immediately, people really responded. They came out in droves for the performances and our local NPR affiliate actually broadcast it serially–originally it was ten 20-minute episodes! I had so much fun, that I decided to keep the project alive and bring it back every few years.

Clue Into Cleveland  Had you ever scripted a comic book before this?  How did the writing process for the graphic novel differ from the radio/live show or were there any unexpected challenges of turning it into a graphic novel?

Jason: I hadn’t written a graphic novel before, but by the time we got into that phase of the project we had really worked the radio play. Every time I brought that back (2000, 2002, 2007), we revamped the material to make it stronger.

In 2007, Chad Nichols and I rewrote it top-to-bottom replacing the serialized structure with a more cinematic one. By that point, I knew the story backward and forward. So it was pretty easy to envision it as a comic-book. My main reason for making that transition, actually, was that I was very interested in how the story could be told visually, rather than orally.

I was lucky that I had Tim Doyle to work with. He had always wanted to draw a full-color comic book series and was (and is) a serious collector and expert on comic books.  So he really helped me develop a language for writing a script that a comic-book artist could work with to draw it.

This has helped a lot with the sequels since I’m now working with David Hutchison who is a really professional comic-book artist (versus me, who is merely a hack comic-book writer!).

Nemesis_Timmy

Clue Into Cleveland: You didn’t just adapt a story for the stage or film, but actually melded two mediums into one thing. It’s a unique idea. Where did the idea come from to combine the visuals of the graphic novel with the radio show performance?

Jason: Another great question! In 2008, I had left the theater company I founded with the strong impression that we were going to open the radio version of Intergalactic in New York on Broadway.

The economy collapsed and I was out of work and as the months went on I became more and more desperate for a job. So in July 2009 I set up a meeting with Cliff Redd, the Executive Director of the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin, to basically beg him for work.

Instead of hiring me in the office, Cliff offered me their big hall to present Intergalactic. At that time it was just a radio play and I felt that that venue, which has 2400 seats, was way too big for the intimate experience of watching a radio drama be performed.

In a flash, I had a vision of comic book artwork projected on a screen the size of the proscenium arch, and literally within 2 seconds of Cliff suggesting we perform there, I replied by asking him if he was interested in this radio-play-comic-book hybrid.

Cliff replied by saying that the venue had just purchased a very fancy cinematic projection system and was looking for ways to use it! So in an amazing 20-minute meeting the project had this huge evolutionary leap and my professional life turned around.

Clue Into Cleveland: Compared to more traditional theatre productions you’ve done, how does the experience of a live action graphic novel differ for the actors and crew?  What are the challenges for them?  How does the experience differ for the audience?

Jason: You’re killing me with these great questions. I love being able to field new questions. It really gives me great perspective on what I do. Thanks!

For me, The Intergalactic Nemesis has been truly a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience. From a production standpoint, it’s pretty rare that every performer gets the opportunity to flex their artistic muscles  so consistently and in such a fun way.

For example, when Cami performs the sound effects, she not only recreates the sound, but she throws her personality into it as well. It’s totally captivating.

The cinematic score is mostly improvised and Kenny Redding just freakin’ kills it.

The actors get to switch roles within scenes and because the show flows seamlessly, thanks to the visuals on the screen, it becomes a complete tour-de-force performance for them.

And from the perspective on the audience, I’ve never been a part of a show that people seem to love so much. They laugh, clap, and cheer through much of the show and then after we actually get to meet them because we sign the books after every performance. So we get to chat with folks who have absolutely had the time of their lives.

It’s incredibly rewarding and humbling at the same time. Humbling because the work has taken on a life far beyond the individuals involved with the creation of it. I’ve never had more fun working on a project.

Nemesis_FoleyArt

Clue Into Cleveland:  How has audience reaction been to this? As comic books become more mainstream, have you seen the show grow in popularity?

Jason: We’ve definitely seen audiences grow over the past two-and-a-half years of touring. We’re actually trying this spring to figure out why that is so that we can help venues who are struggling with ticket sales. At the shows themselves, the audience response is just amazing.

Clue Into Cleveland: I’m always trying to convice non-comic readers to pick up a comic book and try something out — and this seems like a fantastic way to introduce someone to the medium. Why should someone, who’s not into comic books or science fiction, see this show?

Jason: The Intergalactic Nemesis definitely is more than the sum of its parts. At its most fundamental level, it’s simply three actors at microphones, a bunch of toys on a big table, a piano player, and some images on a screen. But together it seems to transcend what you’d think that combination of elements would amount to.

I think that’s because we really allow the audience to bring their imagination as a creative element of the show. And this is why I think it appeals beyond the comic-book crowd.

Nowadays, almost everyone has grown up in the post-Star-Wars pop culture environment, which means that a certain type of storytelling is the mainstream. Not necessarily sci-fi, but character-driven adventure.

Because the show itself is so very theatrical–all the production elements are exposed on stage, it’s an auditory and visual spectacle. It really has an appeal that extends to anyone who loves live performance and has a sense of humor.

One of my favorite audience stories was this mom who came with her son. She felt she was doing him a favor because he really wanted to see it, but she was dreading coming. She was neither a fan of sci-fi nor comic-books. But in the signing line after, her son was ecstatic from the experience and she told me after that she thought she might have had more fun than he did.

Clue Into Cleveland: And because I’m always on the look out for new things to add to my pull list, what’s the last good comic book or graphic novel you read?

Jason: It’s not the latest one I’ve read, but I keep coming back to it: the original Japanese 28-book Lone Wolf and Cub series. Just absolutely incredible.

Many thanks to Jason for answering these questions. You can purchase tickets for Intergalactic Nemesis on PlayhouseSquare’s site. Stay updated on the show’s tour at theintergalacticnemesis.com/blog.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend the show in exchange for previewing the event. It was my choice to write a second post about it.

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