Sunday, May 20, 2007

Alien aliens

One of the great staples of sci-fi, and by extension 2000 AD, is the alien. The trick is always to use both the writing and art to create something that is as 'other' as possible. Aliens that are simply cute or nasty or a combination of both is not enough. The best aliens always have something about them that is just weird - something we as humans cannot relate to. I guess until we actually encounter a real extra-terrestrial life form, this is probably going to be impossible. Human creators can never really imagine something entirely out of the human sphere of experience, can they? Which is I suppose why so many sci-fi writers use aliens to exaggerate certain features of humanity, often with some kind of political point to make (I'm thinking Star Trek does this pretty overtly with aliens like logical, emotionless Vulcans, warlike Klingons, assimilatory Borg etc).

Anyway, this is all well and good, but often less fun for the artists. And although 2000 AD has some fine moments of political commentary, it also has some equally fine moments of alien bizarritude. Curiously, Pat Mills has often been the best writer at both these ends of the alien spectrum. Many artists have been blessed with this skill, but I rate above most others Kev O'Neill, Henry Flint and Ron Smith as designers of alien aliens. The undisputed master is of course the late Massimo Belardinelli. It's truly a crime that I don't have scans of his artwork to show off at this point. It will come in time, I assure you. Instead I have a simple but hopefully evocative selection of alienity.

A very well executed example of the cute alien that turns out to be mean, courtesy of Wagner and Ezquerra. Funny especially because of the chukwalla's all too British slang.

More comedy, this time from Ron Smith. If in doubt, give your alien an absurdly wide jaw and lots of teeth. Then have it eat a human for one level of laughs - or mete out violence on a rival alien, which is somehow funnier.

Something sinister from Mike McMahon. It's only two panels, but you can already tell that there's something particularly alien about the way these creatures walk, something altogether unsettling. Which partly works because of their humanoid physique. I guess it relates to the 'uncanny valley' in robotics/animation, which is a phrase to describe the problem that a creature that looks very humanlike but not quite exactly humanlike is one of the most horrible things to behold. Hence many animated films go for a caricatured look rather than a realistic one.

John Higgins here, weighing in with the cute factor. But not too cute, owing to the juxtaposition of large eyes and lots of spiny legs. Or maybe it's just me who's creeped out by insectoid features? It's worth adding that this panel is taken from 'Freaks', a surprisingly good strip about humans encountering aliens. The first series written by Milligan was better, getting across a great sense of that future shock staple of humans being the freaks on an alien planet. But the second series a couple of years ago was actually pretty funny, if less impressive on the whole 'what makes an alien an alien' front.

Time to bring on the Mills at last, although one suspects that Flint may have had as much if not more input on this beautiful pamphlet:
On the other hand, this is exactly the sort of thing that Mills is very good at. What would an 8-year old find slightly terrifying, but also hilarious? face-eating fruit, that's what. And that's partly what Nemesis the Warlock (above picture actually from spin-off series Deadlock) is really about, isn't it? Sure, there a whole 'good vs evil no wait evil vs evil' thing going on, but I fell in love with the strip because of all the craziness going on in each new episode. And I may have said it before, but Nemesis remains one of the most effectively alien aliens in my eyes. Sure, Morrison and Flint have surpassed the design weirdness with the efforts in Shakara, but Nemesis continues to be frankly terrifying as a concept, not least because of his face. But who can say whether it was Mills or Hicklenton who took this curious decision. What would the most alien of aliens, the Lord of the Flies, the Deathbringer himself look like if he took on human guise?

Apparently he'd look like David Gahan out of Depeche Mode...