BOOM! Studios has recently released a new miniseries titled Venus. Telling the story of astronauts on a mission to Venus in order to save Earth, it touches upon the growing public interest in space travel and increasing concern that human’s are damaging the Earth beyond repair. Wanting to learn more about this story, as well as the careers of the title’s creators, Rick Loverd and Filip Sablik allowed me to interview the for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Rick Loverd, you have been the Program Director for the National Academy of Sciences’ Science & Entertainment Exchange since 2012. Could you take a moment to discuss why this amazing organization is so important?
Rick Loverd: The Exchange is a free consulting service for any writer, producer, director, actor, or studio executive developing a film, TV show, or video game that needs science advice while in development or production. We’re a program of the National Academy of Sciences, whose charter was signed over 150 years ago by Abraham Lincoln. We’ve completed over 1,300 consults on mainstream projects since our launch in November of 2008. We’ve also put on more than 250 events to inspire entertainment professionals in New York and Los Angeles. We’re community builders, a bridge between science and entertainment.
I believe we’re important for a lot of reasons. Some of our most critical impacts have to do with inspiring kids into STEM paths. Every generation has characters in pop culture that encourage them towards specific career choices. If you walk into NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab tomorrow afternoon, I guarantee you will see action figures and photos of Spock, Cylons, and Tony Stark among others. If The Science & Entertainment Exchange can play a role in inspiring more of those characters in today’s films or in motivating our best storytellers to create more engaging portrayals of science, then perhaps some ten year old will get excited about STEM careers. Maybe that ten year old will one day design the module that will convert water on Mars into fuel or perhaps she’ll finally crack the code for viable fusion energy.
Yanes: Filip, the first time I interviewed you, you were still with Top Cow. Since you’ve been Boom!, how do you think the studio has grown?
Filip Sablik: It’s been an amazing three and a half years here at BOOM! Not only for me personally, but for the company in general. When I moved over in 2012, BOOM! was about 15 employees strong with two imprints, the core Studios imprint and our all-ages imprint KaBOOM! Since then we’ve doubled the size of the company both in the number of employees and revenue, acquired another publisher (Archaia), added a fourth imprint with BOOM! Box, and secured a first look deal with 20th Century Fox for film and TV development. It’s been an incredible ride thus far and I’m looking forward to seeing where the journey goes from here.
Yanes: Male comic book fans have a reputation for being unattractive. Given that you two are known for your looks, do either of you have any beauty tips you can offer fans? Is moisturizing that important?
Sablik: Have you been to comic conventions lately? There’re plenty of good-looking male and female pop culture and comic fans wandering through aisles these days. Like the comic book guy on The Simpsons the unattractive comic fan is a caricaturized stereotype. That being said, yup, moisturizing is important. My two big tips – don’t skimp with cheap hair product and use anti-wrinkle eye cream.
Loverd: I’m learning so much about Filip right now. You know, we both live in Hollywood. Everyone is so beautiful here that it’s difficult to truly gauge what everyone else considers good looking. Which brings me to the best-kept beauty secret in the world: move to LA. We definitely have something in the water out here.
Yanes: Given that you two have been in the comics industry for so long, what do you two see as the comics industry’s biggest challenge and biggest growth opportunity?
Sablik: I’ll cheat a little bit by linking the two. Our biggest opportunity is to significantly grow the audience and business thanks to comic books reaching heights of cultural awareness and significance I would argue we’ve never seen before. Our biggest challenge is converting that awareness into more readers, more customers. Still, it’s an exciting time!
Yanes: The main point of this interview is to discuss the mini-series from Boom! Studios’ Venus. What was the inspiration for this series? Were there any classic sci-fi stories that influenced you two?
Loverd: This book is an amalgamation of a lot of ideas. One piece came about when I was talking over brunch – the best meal of the day – with a friend of mine, Kevin Hand, who also happens to be Deputy Chief Scientist of Solar System Exploration at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. We ended up in a conversation about the formation of the planets – over mimosas, surrounded by beautiful people in LA – and he happened to mention that Venus may have had oceans of water at one point in its development.
That really threw me. Today Venus is pretty much the definition of a hellhole, how could it have once possibly been more or less like Earth? So I started researching. Turns out that greenhouse gasses make Venus more than 800 degrees on an average day. The same types of gases that we’re pumping into our atmosphere in massive quantities with rolling coal “full speed ahead” indifference. What could possibly go wrong?
Anyway, I wondered if Venus could ever be fixed. Could we terraform it? The answer is almost certainly not. Not without a massive engineering project. However, we’ve done an awful lot of spectacular things for a species that climbed down from the trees in the blink of a geologic eye. Maybe terraforming is in our future as a species.
I brought the idea to Filip, and we started working on everything else (characters, story, etc) that is now Venus. To answer your question, there were a ton of films and books that influenced us on our way to this project, however it was a scientific reality and not a scientific fiction that got us started down the path to writing the series.
Yanes: Venus has received tremendous positive feedback because of how faithful it is to real world science. How did you two go about making this story as real as possible? On this note, were there any scientific facts that took you both by surprise?
Sablik: This is definitely where Rick’s background at the Exchange helps us tremendously. Rick is incredibly well researched and on top of that we’ve been fortunate enough to sit down with a number of scientific experts during the course of the project. The first scientific surprise for me was the basis for the series – that Venus could support life like Earth if it had a similar atmosphere. The heat on the planet’s surface has little to do with its proximity to the sun and everything to do with its atmosphere.
Loverd: I promise you that, if you are a storyteller and you have a beer with a great scientist as part of your research, you will have your mind utterly blown and leave with fantastic new ideas. It turns out that the world is a mysterious and amazing place – and Filip and I love to learn about it. I’m constantly stunned by how much we know (and all that we do not) about the natural world from far reaching exoplanets to nanoparticles. As for Venus, did you know that there’s a place high in its atmosphere that has the same pressure as earth? You and I could be hanging out there right now, as long as we didn’t breath and were dressed appropriately. By the way, I am so far from being a scientist. Filip and I worked hard to get as much as possible about the world and the science right, but I’m certain we got so much wrong. We’re not making a documentary. I hope, at the end of the day, you enjoy the story.
Yanes: While it is explained why the U.S. has to go to Venus in the story, why did you two pick Venus over Mars?
Sablik: The road less traveled is more interesting, no?
Loverd: Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” It’s important to think about the potential consequences of ignoring facts, not checking sources, or worst of all, simply conjuring your own reality. Filip and I made a lot of choices in our future vision that make Venus a cautionary tale. It’s a near-worst case take on climate change, the continued deterioration of the American public educational system, and the geopolitical landscape as it pertains to western culture.
In our world, the US has fallen behind, because it turns out that you can’t coast forever being number one in confidence and number thirty in mathematics. All of the prime real estate in the solar system has been claimed by the Pan Pacific Alliance in our story. The western world must therefore rough it in tougher neighborhoods like Venus.
Yanes: Movies like Gravity and The Martian, and scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson are becoming incredibly popular. Why do you two think consumers increasingly want media based on authentic science?
Loverd: Even ten years ago, those films would have felt far-fetched. Now, it seems, we’re living in the future. The best and brightest of those in power think that it’s reasonable to imagine that we may have a Mars colony by the time Filip is ready to kick back his heels and retire. Most of us in this country have a super computer in our pockets that is the basis for a world where so much more is possible thanks to incredible engineering. Today we all have a personal relationship with science, so the SciFi worlds feel more authentic and real these days when they include grounded ideas.
Yanes: When people finish reading Venus what do you two hope they take away from the story?
Sablik: A compelling, entertaining tale with unique, fleshed-out characters first and foremost. If they take something from it about the nature of the exploration or the human spirit, that’d be even better. What would be really amazing is if someone gets inspired to look more into the science in the series.
Loverd: I hope more than anything that there’s a kid out there who reads this series and decides she wants to live in space one day. We landed on the moon in 1969 and we’re still not out of our cosmic driveway. That’s a cultural issue, it’s not due to lack of technology. I’d love it if some kid got really annoyed by this fact and decided that she’s going to build the ship that gets American boots on Europa. These things are so painfully possible, we just need more people to care about making them reality.
Yanes: What are the long term plans for Venus as an entertainment property? What is the likely hood we might see it as a movie or videogame?
Sablik: It’d be great to see Venus continue, but it’s far too early to say whether an expansion to other media could happen.
Loverd: Filip’s being modest, of course. We created an architectural drawing for a VR rollercoaster and a series lava flow fun sets for ages 5-9 before we even bothered with our first character sketches.
Yanes: Finally, what are some other projects you two are working on that people should look forward to?
Sablik: Nothing we can talk about yet, but Rick and I are always kicking around new ideas.
Loverd: Writers must always wake up thinking that their best ideas are yet to come. Stay tuned.