Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Long Train Running

In 1991, I got a call from Mike Richardson at Dark Horse Comics. He and I had bumped into each other years earlier, when he'd been running a comic book store, also known then as Dark Horse Comics, (now called Things from Another World.)

Mike had gotten the rights to do graphic novels that continued the Aliens series, what they call EU stuff (expanded universe.) And somehow, he also managed to get the rights to do novels based on the graphic novels. He remembered me from the days when I'd take my son into the comic shop and we'd talk, so he asked me if I was interested in taking a shot at doing a novelization of the first of the graphic novels.

He originally planned to publish these himself, though he wound up doing a deal with Bantam instead.

This would be a novel based on a comic based on a movie, some distance removed from the source material, but it sounded like fun. Money wasn't all that much, but he seemed convinced that the books would sell well. (I had my doubts. Like most mid-list book writers, I had learned to live on the advances, and didn't really expect to see any royalties past that.)

So we sat down and talked about it. The graphic novel, written by Mark Verheiden, essentially picked up after Aliens, the second movie. Because they did a third movie after that, and because the storyline was different, Mike and I came up with new names for the characters in the book. "Newt" and "Hicks," became "Billie," and "Wilks," to avoid confusion, since the third movie killed both of them off. Which is why it sucked as a movie, among other reasons. (I still recall the expression on his face when I offered up my list of possible names for Hicks/Wilks and rattled off the last one I'd come up with as a joke: Mtumbo. He looked at me as if I had turned into a tree frog. Mtumbo?)

The book came out as Aliens: Earth Hive, from Bantam, in October, 1992. It sold pretty well.

Later, when the first graphic novel was remastered (as Outbreak) going to color panels instead of B&W, they did some more revising, and changed the names there to match the novelization I did. I'm not sure any confusion was avoided by this point, but: Here's the wiki.

Anyway, this brief history was to tell you that this book led to others, including some in the Predator universe, and a long and happy professional relationship with Mike and Dark Horse.

A:EH got me the job doing the first Star Wars novel I did, too. Mike bragged on me to the powers-that-were at Lucasfilm. Between that and doing a novelization for the Star Wars editor Tom Dupree at Bantam (on The Mask), I got to write Shadows of the Empire.

Dark Horse been bery, bery good to me -- apologies to Garrett Morris and SNL.

Earth Hive, which is up to Lord knows how many printings by now, has just gone back to press for another couple thousand copies, seventeen years after it first hit the racks.

My apologies to Mike for doubting him. He was right and I was wrong. The books did sell well and earned out long ago. Collectively, the ones I did, and those my daughter and I did together, have sold more copies than my first Star Wars novel did, and that one -- also still in print -- is pushing three-quarters of a million copies after almost fourteen years ...


AF1 said...

On a bit of a side note, I am a huge fan of your "Aliens vs. Predator: Prey" book.

In a perfect world the first movie would have been based word for word on it.

Don't know if the idea of humans being "blooded" like Predators was yours, or if it was already part of the AvP mythos. But that was genius.

Steve Perry said...

Most of that one, my daughter and I did, came from the graphic novel. Blooding was already there.

We managed to sneak the Predator's viewpoint past 'em -- they didn't want us to use that, along with some cultural stuff about the yautja ...

Mike Byers said...

And wasn't it Shadows of the Empire that inspired the conductor of the Scottish National Symphony to write and record a CD's worth of music? I can't think of too many writers who have inspired a symphony. Pretty good work for a mid-list guy, I'd say.