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I’m using World War One to inspire various weapons and landscapes as it has some science fiction aspects and hasn’t been drawn on as much as other eras for SF. At the same time, this war is definitely not steam punk. It’s a high tech war with visual echoes from WW1, including how long the Great War lasted.
(Many SF stories use past wars as a basis for future conflicts. V, for example, used WW2. Joe Haldeman’s Forever War was inspired by Vietnam. And I believe Sniper Elite draws on the Afghanistan war.)
It’s called the Macrobe War because the PRIZE for the conflicting sides is THE MACROBES. Of which, more below.
The story is set on the planet CRATER. Like many moons in our own Solar System it’s covered in craters. But these are the result of THE MACROBE WAR that has been going on for thousands of years. If you look at aerial photos of the Western Front in 1914 – 1918 you will see that they have a similar lunar landscape.
A strange bio-system populates and dominates this world thanks to the SPACE WARP.
On the planet Crater, the normally invisible MICROSCOPIC WORLD has been ‘warped’ at the QUANTUM LEVEL.
So it is LARGE and VISIBLE on Crater and enhances the otherwise brutal landscape.
The various MICROBES are human size or larger, so they’re a very real threat.
They have now become MACROBES.
Macrobes have featured in Cryptozoology. They were referred to in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, in Sláine (Pluke) and there are actual photos of them if you google The Cosmic Pulse of Life where they are known as ‘critturs’. They look like translucent embryos, jellyfish or amoebas.
These low-density, translucent creatures have names like air whales, sky fish and cloud beasts.
There is a vivid description of what these flying creatures look like:
The Space Warp (which warps reality in different ways in ALL the comic’s stories) warped reality at the QUANTUM LEVEL here. It altered DNA and consequently there are also treacherous DNA SWAMPS. Anyone who falls into them will have their DNA altered in strange and terrible ways.
The swamps combined with the craters convey a sense of a war-torn battlefield, especially WW1.
And this is visually enhanced with the rusting remains of futuristic war hardware, futuristic tanks etc. And the foul, rotting (non-skeletal) remains of macrobes.
It all combines to create a deadly and exotic world.
Focussing on THE MICROBE WORLD there are various ‘monsters’ to draw on and present as physical threats once they become MACROBES:
Bacteria, viruses, helminths (parasitic worms), tape worms, prions, and protists (amoeba, plasmodium, etc.).
All are potentially physically threatening to humans. The film Fantastic Voyage showed some of these, but I don’t recall any of them looking particularly threatening.
But if you google the microbe and microscopic world, you will find that HELMINTHS can look like lethal snakes.
Some VIRUSES can look like spiky sea mines from World War 2. They might be floating through the atmosphere or rolling across the ground.
And there are other strange creatures of the microverse:
Human Intestinal Parasites https://images.app.goo.gl/eWDfUJJAskxwuH5y6
But the most interesting and lethal are the BACTERIOPHAGES.
The Bacteria Eaters.
Here are some links:
Enterobacteria phage T4 – Usagi no Nedoko
T4 bacteriophage (virus) as seen through an electron microscope
Microscope View Bacteriophage Virus Stock Illustration 237623077
As you’ll see from these references they have good visual potential.
They have the same potentially threatening menace as the Martian Tripods or the Daleks.
They regard humans as ‘bacteria’, as ‘giant germs’ to be attacked and devoured.
They are organic creatures who have been WEAPONISED, genetically engineered, so I favour a biological look to them, rather than a robotic look – as I found the ‘robot’ illustrations of them seemed a bit boring and not scary enough.
There are many potential OTHER MACROBES.
For example, dust mites look pretty scary under the microscope and any number and variety – suitably enlarged – can provide background fauna.
They might be used as troop transporters or beasts of burden.
And there must be other tiny creatures who could look equally horrible and lethal when enlarged.
I featured the BIOGS in the first Dan Dare story in 2000AD. They were based on dust mites I saw in the National Geographic.
THE REASON FOR THE WAR
The vast sky and ground shoals and swarms of Macrobes are a vital FOOD resource for one side in the war: THE JUNKARRS. Think of the Macrobes as endless herds of buffalo, just waiting to be ‘farmed’ and slaughtered.
The ALIEN Junkarrs lived off Macrobes on their home planet, but they over-farmed them. Their world is now starving. So they desperately need the resources of the planet Crater.
Similarly, the STELLAR UNION of Humans, Aliens and Robots want the Macrobes for food and for propagating their species. The Union believes it has the legal right to Crater and wants the Junkarrs to leave ‘their’ world.
Macrobes would have aerial Union or Junkarr ‘shepherds’ rounding up the shoals and swarms of bacteria (we probably won’t see this in episode one).
The Warp Energy settles in muddy lakes, pools and swamps, part of the WW1-like battle-scarred landscape of Crater. The Energy is fed on by the Macrobes. If a human is immersed in it, it will effect their DNA, mutating them in strange ways. Thus we have race memories stored in our DNA and the Energy can give us access to these memories from long ago.
There are SIX characters in this future war group story: Two humans. Two aliens. Two robots.
They all have opposing characters, but are united in their comradeship, with a strong team ethic. They’ve been together for a long time.
Below are outline descriptions and their appearances, weapons etc., which can be varied to suit your style.
My descriptions are there to inspire you, but you still have to design characters that will work for you. So your own ideas are welcome.
Overall, there should be a visual theme to them. It may just be their helmets. And/or they could all have armour suitably adapted. And/or they could all have similar guns.
They should definitely have a Special Forces look, for which there are numerous references on Google.
One common-place Special Forces look, for example, is balaclavas to conceal their features.
And/or futuristic sun-glasses.
They could look interesting on robots and aliens.
But NOT if it means a lack of expression, so we don’t relate to the characters.
Certainly we need to see the humans’ faces off-duty and in conversation.
They might have universal camouflage, which could have a different style suitable for the planet they’re on: zebra-like, for instance.
At the same time they should all look distinctive with features we may not have seen before.
They have been authorised to act autonomously. They can take executive action against enemies.
They are on the UNION side – so would bear a Union badge with planets or stars.
And they would have distinctive SF1 insignia.
HUMAN MALE: BAD DOG. Big, powerful, classic Special Forces soldier. He hates the Macrobes who he refers to as BUGS. He hates the Junkarrs who he refers to as Bug Eaters.
We can easily identify with his revulsion for the Macrobes.
Morlok (see below) will tease him with uncomfortable facts about Bacteria, which we need in order to survive. Bad Dog is not comfortable with this inconvenient truth.
HUMAN FEMALE: SALOME. Middle-Eastern appearance. She is ruthless and scary. She has a gun-blade, namely a gun with a blade running along the barrel. Google images have examples of historic gun-blades. If you prefer, she might have a machete or some alien/strange looking blade. Asian swords have some unusual styles that could inspire you.
ROBOT: DEATHNAUT. He had previously protested about the war and was reprogrammed. He was too much of a hero to destroy.
Visually, he has a chunky look. Blocky metal. Heroic. He might have a gauntlet punch dagger and/or a spiked club (a science fiction version of a WW1 trench raiding club. NOT a medieval club).
Or a hydraulic ram.
He could have four propeller drones that fold up into or onto his back when not in use. When in flying mode, they could be above his head – so he has a familiar look our readers will recognise.
You might find this reference below inspiring:
ROBOT: KRAK SHOT.
Thin. Sinister. A really menacing, evil-looking robot. The kind of evil we’ve seen in the Terminator robots and various other robots of that kind.
DARPA seems to be developing robots along these lines.
There are numerous skull variations to also consider inspiring you. For example:
This robot with multiple eyes is also worth considering:
He can fire four (or more) handguns at the same time, probably by extending his figure to pull all four triggers. See:
It’s an affectation he enjoys. He’s a sniper and a crack shot.
ALIEN MALE: MORLOK An eccentric creature with a Tom Baker Doctor Who flamboyance and sense of humour. But also that strange, alien MENACE the Time Lords sometimes have.
He recites poetry from time to time. He may seem like the Joker in the pack, but there is much, much more to him.
His face is distinctive, like all the characters. This could be achieved by taking a WW1 tank man’s chain mail metal face-mask and weird goggles (slotted eyes) and making them organic, biological features on the alien’s face.
He wears a badge that has clearly written on it: I SING THE BODY BACTERIA.
He has the mysterious ability to ‘tune’ his own internal bacteria (Microbes) so they harmonise with predatory bacteria (Macrobes), who will thus leave SF1 alone.
He has something in common with an Indian scout in a US Cavalry drama.
ALIEN FEMALE: HOMICIDA A cold, arrogant, really menacing, imperialist, evil-looking alien. Female. The kind of menace we’ve seen in Alien, Predator etc.
One way – and you’re welcome to consider others – to achieve this would be by basing her face on a fly or a bee. Her face could be like bee in close-up with suitable modifications.
This is a Bee’s face under magnification. …
She can fire lethal stings by spitting them, like a blowpipe.
She comes from a superior bloodline in an Alien imperial race.
Homicida’s race need the giant bacteria to help them produce nectar and breed, swarming out across the Galaxy.
(Bacteria are an essential element in bee propagation)
For this reason, Homicida’s race, along with others have formed the Union because they want to get their claws on this vital and plentiful resource on Crater.
The war is between a UNION of Humans and Aliens versus a militaristic humanoid Alien enemy called THE JUNKARRS.
The Junkarrs are covered in lethal spikes, some on their heads, faces and forearms. There may be gender variations. Females may have plates on their backs like stegosaurs.
We probably won’t see them in this first episode.
Because of the planet CRATER’S macrobe wealth, it has been heavily fought over by the two sides.
THE ARMS DEALER
ZAHAR is an Alien with tentacles running down his face. Long tentacles are a sign of virility and age. His spaceship is out in the NFZ – the No Fly Zone between the two armies. No aircraft fly through this area because of the threats from air whales, sky fish, cloud beasts and sky-viruses with their distinctive sea-mine features. But what is waiting on the ground is even worse. Zahar is out here where he can do business with both sides.
Rather than ask you to design all six characters, just pick a sequence that inspires you and use some placeholder designs for some – but not all – the characters. E.g. They can be cool robots you’ve created elsewhere or fairly standard robots or aliens. I wouldn’t expect you to come up with six new character designs at this very early stage!
I’ll take into account that they are placeholders – what I’ll be looking for is how they interact and come over in action. We can refine their details later.
That said, I want characters that ‘blow us away’. I want the reaction that Tharg originally had when he saw Mongrol in the ABC Warriors. He said, ‘What the fuck is that?!” And he said it not in a good way.
I will want similar characters that shock us, that stretch our boundaries, so we say, ‘Who the hell is that?’
I NEVER want safe, boring, bog standard future war characters.
So I’d need to see at least one amazing looking member of SF1.
Page One is a strong possibility, even though they’re just posing. But only if you have a comic action portfolio that you can show me.
However, you may prefer a later page.
It’s tempting to focus on and design the fascinating world of Macrobes, but this should come later.
SF worlds can easily become a distraction and a diversion. And that would be a mistake.
Because if I was forced to choose between an artist who can draw great Macrobes and average SF1 team members; and brilliant SFI team members and average Macrobes, I’d choose the latter any day.
The CHARACTERS must come first.
The heroes are what the readers will really care about.
The story runs to seven pages, but I can cut it back to six pages if necessary.
I would do this after I’ve seen how you’re evolving the story.
You may need more space for the later action.
I might cut the origins of the Macrobes if there isn’t enough space for them, for example.
Ideally, I’d like to have many or all of the characters speaking wherever possible. This is possible with a letterer who can handle multiple balloons – in the tradition of Ken Bruzenak (American Flagg). It doesn’t have to obscure the art.
Such group conversations were very popular in mainstream comics, particularly if the characters were well defined. It made for an intense and solid read (the once very popular Carson’s Cubs comes to mind) – something that’s sometimes lost in more slick, adult orientated comics.
Young readers had no problem reading ‘busy’ full-on dialogue with a lot of interaction and a lot happening at the same time.
It’s arguably one of the key differences between a mainstream and a fan-orientated adult comic and their separate but overlapping audiences.
However, it does require excellent lettering to make it work.
See my notes about lettering skills in FAQs LINK.
So multiple balloons are a requirement for this story and I’ll need to find a good hand-letterer who gets passionate about the story (as they used to); not a letterer using only a standard computerised font where it’s ‘just a job’.
THE WARP SYMBOL
Every story in Space Warp features the Warp. It can be closely based on the stylised ‘symbol’ seen on my website. Or you can do your own variation as long as it’s recognisable as the Warp.
So when a reader leafs through the comic he sees this phenomenon in all the stories.
Note its malevolent appearance – there’s almost an evil eye at the centre of it!
THE MACROBES HOWL.
Bacteria do communicate with each other with ‘songs’, which I’ve been listening to (!).
I haven’t yet confirmed what their sound might be, or if we should show it.
I’d like something as memorable as ULLAAA! In War of the Worlds, which also looks good written down.
For now I’m using this battle cry, which may or may not grow on me:
FINAL NOTE ON STYLE
Space Warp is a one-shot and the stories are self-contained in six or seven pages. This means they have to deliver more impact than a serial or a longer story, or a typical, longer American comic.
The ‘rhythm’ in British comics is different – similar to some French comics.
We can’t leave explanations and further drama to ‘next week’s issue’, because there is no ‘next week’. It could be six months before a second issue.
Consequently our stories must give ‘maximum value for money’.
They will be an intense read and an intense view, which a reader may look over and enjoy several times.
Rather than a disposable, quick read ‘McDonalds’ comic.
This ‘heavy read’ was once normal in British comics – where there was significant competition with rivals – and it was part of their appeal which has largely now faded away from many stories.
‘Quick or impressionist styles’ are often in vogue today in Britain – but are emphatically NOT what I’m looking for.
Although ‘over-drawing’ is also to be avoided.
Because the artist creator owns the art rights, there is a financial incentive to put that extra work in to get the balance right and create a truly memorable, ‘value for money’ strip.
For example – by drawing private commission studies of SF1, even ahead of Space Warp appearing.
HAND LETTERED TOP LINE on Page One of story:
Next to small Space Warp symbol:
‘I scream the Body Bacteria!’
1. Large opening pic occupying 75% of the page.
The Six protagonists who may be identified with name tags or lettering.
Behind them is the orb of the planet CRATER. The protagonists obscure any continents that there may be on Crater. So all we see are endless craters.
2. In Union Defensive positions. (NOT WW1 sandbags – futuristic) LIVIA, Salome’s sister, and other regular human future war UNION TROOPS (e.g. In the tradition of Starship Troopers, Halo etc) look alarmed towards us.
TEXT: THE PLANET CRATER, AT THE HEART OF THE MACROBE WAR.
LIVIA: BACTERIOPHAGES! THE DEADLIEST MACROBES ON THE PLANET!
SOLDIER: BUT GERM WARFARE’S BEEN BANNED!
LIVIA OR SOLDIER: TELL THAT TO THE JUNKARRS!
3. A pack of Bacteriophages run menacingly forward over corpses, across No-Man’s Land, towards us. Some are cut down by bullets.
Note tilted angle on one of the refs, which helps to make them scary as Hell!
UNION VOICES OFF PIC:
(1): ACCORDING TO THE BUG EATERS, ONLY 43% OF HUMAN BODIES ARE TRULY HUMAN – THE REST OF US IS MADE UP OF BACTERIA.
(2): SO WE’RE LEGITIMATE TARGETS!
(3): WE’RE JUST WALKING GERMS!
BACTERIOPHAGES: BACTERIA! BACTERIA! BACTERIA!
1. Livia and co. gun down some Bacteriophages but their position is over-run by sheer numbers and the macrobes are already stabbing their (flexible and extendible) injectors into the humans.
BACTERIOPHAGES: INJECT! INJECT! INJECT!
2. A Bacteriophage is poised over Livia. It has inserted its injector into her chest or stomach and is sucking up her innards, filling his ‘head tank’ (which could be translucent so we see what’s inside) so she’s visibly deflating as she dies.
PICS 3 – 6. INSIDE A MILITARY CANTEEN.
I’m not assigning dialogue to individual pictures at this stage. Some dialogue may be deleted once it’s drawn.
Our protagonists are sitting around trying to comfort Salome for the loss of her sister. She’s getting more and more drunk.
Salome: (in tears) Zahar’s responsible for Livia’s death. That scum supplied weaponised macrobes to the Junkarrs.
Krak : The peculiar psychology of humans to derive intense emotional excitement from past grief never ceases to fascinate me.
(2): She’s dead, Salome. Get over it.
Deathnaut: It was her sister, Krak!
Homicida: She deserves the highest award from the Union.
Bad Dog: Zahar’s a rat. I hate him even more than I hate the bugs.
(Deathnaut produces some face tentacles and gives them to Salome)
Deathnaut: I already paid him a visit. Cut off his whiskers. They’re yours, Sal.
Salome: What good does that do? He’ll just grow more.
Deathnaut: I was giving him a warning.
Salome: (standing up) I don’t want his filthy tentacles! I want to kill him! Kill him! Kill him!
Krak: Can I remind you we are SF1? Not an organised murder gang.
Salome: (checking gun) I’m going into the No Fly Zone to take him out.
Morlok: It’s worse crossing the Badlands on foot. If you fall into a DNA swamp…
Bad Dog: Wait till you’ve sobered up in the morning, Sal.
Salome: (glares at readers) I’m going there right now. And if you are true comrades you’ll come with me.
Night. SF1 move across the Badlands. Strange bacteria in the landscape and the sky above.
A futuristic form of WW1 duckboards cross the shattered landscape.
Bad Dog: (gun at ready) Those bugs had better keep their distance, or…
Morlok: Violence is not necessary, my friend. I simply tune the microbes in my body with the macrobes and they’ll leave us alone.
Krak: Of course strictly speaking, the Junkarrs are correct. As you humans are 57% bacteria, they claim you’re just hosts to your bugs and thus a legitimate target for germ warfare.
Deathnaut: Krak! Don’t wind him up!
Morlok: But Krak’s perfectly correct. Emotions come from your guts where your bacteria reside– ‘The Second Brain’… anger… fear… courage… It could be they’re secretly working you like puppets!
Krak: The enemy within!
Bad Dog: No freaking bugs control me!
Deathnaut: Drop it, you two!
Up ahead they see Zahar’s spaceship. Salome excited.
Bad Dog: Zahar’s spaceship!
Salome: At last!
Morlok: Salome! Look out!
The drunken SF1 soldier falls in a DNA swamp.
A macrobe – a cloud beast – that has been resting there rises up out of the swamp with its flagella wrapped around Salome.
Krak: Morlok! You’re the macrobe whisperer! Do something!
Morlok: It’s a pathogen! I’m not in tune with it!
Bad Dog: If we burst the bug, it’ll spew Warp particles over us.
Homicida: We’ll have to sacrifice her!
Deathnaut: We don’t desert a comrade. Aim for its vacuole!
They blast it.
It bursts and drops Salome, showering them all with Warp energy.
But it’s alerted Zahar and BACTERIA EATERS emerge from the ship and advance on them.
BACTERIA! BACTERIA! BACTERIA!
Krak Shot looks exultant as the Macrobes ignore him. ‘One of the advantages of being a robot’.
He opens fire with his four pistols or other weapons.
General melee scene between SF1 and the Macrobes.
As the battle between the Macrobes and SF1 rages…
… Salome is at the entrance to the spaceship as ZAHAR emerges with a strange bladed alien weapon in his hand Could be based on a Haladie – a sword held in the middle. Or a Urumi – a sword whip.
Zahar has short face tentacles – after Deathnaut cut them off.
They fight over several pictures. We see just how acrobatic and lethal Salome is
Oh, did I hurt you?
Whoops! I cut you again!
Oh, I’m sorry – did that hurt?
There I go again!
(As her lethal weapon beheads him or slices into his head)
Zahar falls screaming back into a DNA pool.
Meanwhile, the Bacteria Eaters have been destroyed.
SF1 look down on the pool.
Deathnaut: Time for one of your obituaries, Morlok.
Beneath this DNA swamp wide
Zahar has come a cropper
His dealings are now left aside
When Salome split his topper
Zahar died with a howl
With both sides he’s connected
No Macrobe will touch a thing this foul
For fear it gets infected.
PAGE SIX (AND PAGE SEVEN – Very approximate)
1.They’re shocked as suddenly Zahar rises out of the swamp!
2. But it’s not Zahar. It’s his father – recognisably different because he has long face tentacles.
Homicida: The Warping. DNA regression.
But SF1 are ready for the father who will want vengeance for the death of his son.
Zahar’s father: I can’t defend what my son did. Selling weapons of destruction for profit is the lowest of the low. It is beneath the dignity of a Zakaran warrior. He has brought shame on our clan. He deserved to die.
4. The father heads for the spaceship as Salome realises she too has been affected by the Warp and is experiencing DNA regression.
It’s awoken ancestral memories lodged deep in her DNA.
To a time when the Warp affected the planet at a quantum level.
5. We see the Warp (see above in Notes) behind her as she screams:
SALOME: I SCREAM THE BODY BACTERIA!
6. View of a man in 2019 lounging on sofa, scrolling on his phone or similar – with micro-organisms, now macro-organisms BURSTING OUT OF HIS STOMACH AND CHEST!!
(The man suitably fashionable, modern haircut etc.)
Salome’s voice: It was a time when this planet was called… Earth. During the Warping, the microorganisms became macro-organisms.
(2): They would have exploded out of all life forms leading to the Greatest Extinction this planet has ever seen.
PAGE SEVEN (approximate)
1. Biggish pic. The man lies dead in his very 2019 living room. Face down. A massive macrobe flies gently through the air.
The room should look completely normal and detailed, but for the dead body and this huge semi-translucent bug sailing through the air.
Preferably just one bug.
Salome’s voice: The first organisms on Earth were single cell bacteria. Now the bacteria have taken back their planet.
(2): The Earth belongs… to the Macrobes!
2. Final classic group shot of SF1 against the Hellish background of Crater.
This is a good example of a six-balloon picture that would be feasible for a letterer like Ken Bruzenak.
Salome: Only human off-worlders survived. We owe it to those ancestors to make this world green again.
Bad Dog: You got it, Sal. This ain’t freaking Bug World! It’s our world!
Morlok: I’m afraid I don’t agree, my friend. It’s their world now.
Homicida: And I like Crater, the planet formerly known as Earth, just the way it is. The Macrobes help us nourish our Young Swarms.
Krak: It would mean making peace with the Junkarrs, who need them for food. So that’s clearly impossible.
Deathnaut: We’re SF1 – we make the impossible possible.
Pat Mills. Copyright April 2019