This week I was given the chance to interview via email author Anthony Cleveland about his upcoming comic Stargazer from Mad Cave Studios.
Here’s the blurb:
Years ago Shae, her brother Kenny, and two childhood friends experienced a traumatic, unexplainable event that left Kenny scarred for life. Kenny commits himself to the belief that what they experienced was an alien abduction. Twenty years later and the friends have since drifted apart, but the sudden, mysterious disappearance of Kenny leads the group to reunite and discover the truth of what took place all those years ago.
Uncle Highlander: First off, thank you for taking some time out of your day to answer these questions. I guess the best thing to start with is: Who is Anthony Cleveland? What should readers know about your background to get where your work on Stargazer is coming from?
Anthony Cleveland: I started in comics through self-publishing. A lot of that was paid from working very odd jobs. I was a part-time coroner deputy and a private investigator. When those jobs just became too much for me, I left to pursue comic writing professionally. Around the same time, I had the good fortune of being picked up by Mad Cave Studios’ talent search. I think the years working those jobs changed the way I write. There’s some tragic moments in Stargazer and I think that comes from a lot of what I saw. In a lot of ways it was self-reflective therapy… only with flying saucers.
Uncle Highlander: Alien abduction stories can be a pretty common trope in science fiction. What sets Stargazer apart?
Anthony Cleveland: This is my love letter to the UFO community. Most abduction stories seem to focus on a single case or stray too far into other adjacent genres or topics. The story welcomes a lot of different theories on UFOs that aren’t explored as often in fiction. We look at orbs, the collective consciousness, and more! Stargazer jumps right in the deep end with its imagination. What also sets it apart is the family drama going on at its heart. It presents a lot of big questions in regards to the paranormal, but that’s really just the backdrop to explore some difficult questions many siblings are forced to face.
Uncle Highlander: What science fiction works influenced your work on Stargazer?
Anthony Cleveland: Stargazer largely comes from the UFO/Alien culture that filled the ‘90s. Back then, almost every night there was some kind of UFO program on TV. X-Files, Unsolved Mysteries, “caught on camera” shows, or some other docu-series was always on. That rubbed off on me as a kid, and it scared the hell out of me—especially how many of
these docu-series were presented as truth.
Uncle Highlander: One of your main characters, Kenny, is on the autism spectrum. Was his character inspired by anyone you’ve known in real life?
Anthony Cleveland: Yes, a few, actually. My brother, my friend’s younger sister, and a few others I was friends with growing up. The core of the book is about Shae’s relationship with her brother, and that was pulled from the experiences my brother and I shared. Like I said, this really is therapy with UFOs for me.
Uncle Highlander: You include a subtle reference to an Art Bell Coast to Coast-type radio show. What kind of alien abduction research did you do to prepare you for this work? Have you always been interested in these phenomena?
Anthony Cleveland: Lots of podcasts for this comic. Normally I read a lot of books and take notes when researching. This time I was going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole with podcast topics and letting my imagination wander unrestricted. I did go a bit too deep down the rabbit hole at one point. I remember one draft outline had time travel and reptilians in it. We walked that way back since that outline, and it is much better off for it.
Uncle Highlander: What have you learned about the comic book industry writing for yourself and for Mad Cave? How does the experience of writing comics differ from other kinds of writing?
Anthony Cleveland: Show’s End with Mad Cave was the first time I wrote a full series, and that was a pretty big step for me. Stargazer is my third series and my writing has become a lot tighter since my self-published work. I really want to go back over that comic and share the mistakes I made to help others from repeating them. Comic scripts were different to me because you only have so much space to get the information you need to get to the reader. The page length cut offs were very tough to write towards. I came from self publishing and there you could do however many pages you want for the story. Here you have to hit the mark and stick the landing. It’s a new rhythm that was difficult to learn at first.
Uncle Highlander: What can readers expect to find in Stargazer moving forward? Any spoilers or foreshadowing?
Anthony Cleveland: Every issue gets bigger and bigger, and so do the questions…
Uncle Highlander: What music would you recommend listening to while reading this book? Did you have any musical influences while writing?
Anthony Cleveland: I always make a playlist for my projects, and I listen to it on repeat until the book is done. That means 2-3 months of the same songs. It can be grueling but it keeps me in that world. The promise of finally turning the playlist off is also kind of the carrot at the stick I keep chasing throughout the writing process too. My Stargazer playlist I had was full of cinematic ambient synth, some retro wave sounds, and soundtracks. A lot of M83 and John Carpenter.
Uncle Highlander: Who are your comic book role models/ influences?
Anthony Cleveland: Brian K. Vaughan has been the guy I’ve been looking up to lately. Alan Moore is always in the front of my mind as well.
Uncle Highlander: Do you have any other upcoming works for us to look forward to?
Anthony Cleveland: Yes! I have an unannounced series coming soon and my webcomic with Rebecca McConnel (Dreamspace) is still ongoing. But right now I’m writing the sequel to Show’s End and I’m tinkering with some horror projects as well.
Stargazer hits the shelves Sept 2. It’s something special, and I recommend checking it out! Thanks to Anthony Cleveland for his time and Melissa Meszaros for making it happen.