By Colleen King
Aliens, irony, family drama, and forgiveness are some of the many themes explored in Baton Rouge’s newest graphic novel. The project, conceived by authors Nathan Gibson and Steve Garnett, is titled Refuge: An Alien Abduction Story Like Never Before. Gibson and Garnett are about a month away from the close of their Kickstarter campaign to fund this comic that attempts a “new spin” on the traditional alien abduction story. The two have been working on this passion project for six months, but their story starts long ago. They were “enemies” in high school, nerds battling to be the best comic writer around. Eventually they started collaborating because, according to Gibson, “I realized [Steve’s] stories were better than mine, then he realized my drawings were better than his.” In an interview with DIG, Gibson told all about his childhood as a wannabe comic book author and entrepreneur. “I’ve been making comics since I was a little kid. I used to just fold paper in half, draw little comics on it, and sell it to my parents.” At 10 cents a copy, I’m sure his folks considered it a bargain (in spite of the fact that they bought all of his comic-making supplies).
Gibson titled his first ever comic the “Thrilling Three,” a sort of Fantastic Four knockoff. But now that the author is all grown up, he has a much more adult set of original ideas. He and his collaborator wanted to tell a new version of an old story: alien abduction, but alien abduction with a backdrop of humanist ideals and our dark history/future as a species. The planet that abducted humans are sent to in this imaginary world is a kind of concentration camp, says Gibson, an allegory of the Holocaust. Gibson invokes concerns over global relations and the way we are treating each other and the world. He brings up President Reagan’s famous quote about aliens, “Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”
But the dark history of our race is not his only concern. The future is just as big a presence in this comic book. Gibson and Garnett’s aliens are Alien Grays, the sort of traditional oval-headed creatures with large foreheads and big eyes, and they interfere/experiment with human evolution. Gibson says that in today’s world, it’s more like we are the aliens. Our experimentation with GMOs is an example of how Gibson says we try to control nature when we should nurture it. “We think we are the guardians of the earth, but Earth is really the guardian of us.” His enthusiasm is a charming blend of wholeheartedness with a tinge of conspiracy theory. But perhaps the most emotionally intriguing aspect of the graphic novel is its point of view. The story is told entirely from the point of view of Sarah, a wife and mother of two.
When asked why they chose this woman’s inner monologue as the chief voice in the story, Gibson replies that he and Garnett are feminists who wanted to focus on writing a powerful female. “It’s pretty common for a story to always be based around a male character.” While there is a strong male lead, Sarah’s journey is the most prominent. “The whole event empowers her by the end.” The focus on family issues is established from the outset, with a fight between the mother and father. Between the stress of an imminent trip to Gatlinburg and accusations of the father’s infidelity, the drama takes little time to heat up.
“It was originally going to be a perfect family, but that was coming across a little dry. So Steve said, why don’t we add in a little drama?” But this imperfect family is dry in a different, more sarcastic way. Garnett and Gibson’s wry sense of humor can be detected from the beginning. “They are taking a vacation, just not where they wanted to go,” he quips. There are also unexpected innovations in the storytelling that arise from the Kickstarter campaign and online publication model. The coolest surprise is that Garnett and Gibson plan on releasing the translations of the Alien Gray’s speech after the initial publication. In the original Refuge, the Alien Gray’s speech reads like nonsense, assumedly because Sarah cannot understand it. Gibson says when they release the edition with that text translated it will add “another dimension” to the story.
Refuge and its creators are sure to have more surprises in store for their readers in the future. When asked about why they decided to do this project, Gibson said his chief interest is that people will read the story. In fact, you can get a digital version of the story with only a five-dollar pledge. He says neither Steve nor himself are concerned with profiting from this venture; they only want to create and share their creation. “I really hope that people give it a shot, even if it’s just the five-dollar digital… We are ready to make zero money. We just want people to read the book.” For the record, he thinks aliens might exist, but who’s to say if they’re coming or they’ve already been here…
You can donate to Refuge: An Alien Abduction Story Like Never Before and reserve your own copy at Kickstarter.com.