I’ve really enjoyed Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse’s Resident Alien series from Dark Horse, introducing us to the delightful, warm character of “Harry”, an alien stranded on Earth, waiting for rescue, using his mental abilities to make himself appear to humans as an ordinary person, biding his time by taking on the persona of a retired country doctor fishing and reading on the edge of a small town. Except when the local doctor is killed the small town authorities ask Harry to step in as a locum, and there’s no way to refuse that without looking unusual.
The temporary position becomes longer, but Harry, cut off from his own people, finds he enjoys it, the company, the interaction, the friendships he builds. He’s been alone and now he has a community, but one that doesn’t know what he really is. Well, most – a few can see through his mental disguise, including some native Americans, but those who do judge Harry by the sort of person he has proven to be, not his species. It’s a lovely set up, very warm, personal, and I have grown very fond of Harry and his friends. With a new series just started, Resident Alien: An Alien in New York (nice Sting referencing!), Peter kindly agreed to have another wee chat with Pádraig about the continuing tales of Resident Alien:
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: can you give us a quick thumbnail description of what’s already happened with Doc Harry?
Peter Hogan: Harry’s an alien who’s been shipwrecked on Earth, and is hiding out in a small-town in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, where he’s ended up becoming the town doctor. He’s waiting for a rescue that may or may not ever arrive, and to keep himself sane he’s taken to investigating local murder mysteries, with some success. Four cases – or book collections – so far.
There’s also a government agency who know he exists – but not where – and are trying to track him down. Also, though we show him as an alien throughout, the people around him obviously don’t see him that way, because he’s clouding their minds. There are exceptions to this, including a nurse called Asta, who sees him as a blur, and her father Dan Twelvetrees, a native American shaman who sees Harry much more clearly – and there’s also a little girl called Honey who can see him, and that might lead to problems for him.
PÓM: and can you give us a similar brief overview of what’s going to happen now, in series five?
PH: Series Five is a little different, in that we’ll see Harry going off to New York, with Dan tagging along to look after him. The reason is that Harry’s seen some New York graffiti street art on a TV show, and it seems to be in an alien language that he can read. So now he needs to find out if this can lead him to anywhere useful – to a rescue, to information, to anything at all. He just has to know what it’s all about. It’s another mystery to solve.
PÓM: One of the things I like about the Resident Alien stories is that – if you leave aside the odd murder – they’re very gentle pieces of work. Life goes on, people are nice to each other, and in general there a sort of a feel-good atmosphere to them. How has this gone down with the publishers, and the public in general? Have you had anyone howling for a higher body count, for instance?
PH: Actually, it’s kind of the opposite. I think it all stems from the fact that we were determined from the start to have a different kind of alien. It seemed like 90% of the aliens in fiction had wanted to conquer humanity, or kill people, or at the very least do some unpleasant probing … and I was just sick of it all, and Steve felt the same way. I thought, what if we have an alien who’s basically a nice guy who just wants to go home again? Why don’t we do that? And everything else flows from that. Harry’s a nice guy, so mostly people are nice to him.
And people really, really responded positively to that, and powerfully so. It was like something that they were more than ready to see.
But Patience is like any town, and some people there are really messed up, and we reflect that, I hope. I think everybody’s also conscious of the fact that we really don’t want the body count to become unrealistic, because we want the whole thing to be as realistic as possible. In other words, we don’t want this turning into Midsomer Murders! So, we’ve tried to vary that aspect of it from story to story, and I’m keen to use the word ‘mystery’ more than the word ‘murder’ when telling people about it.
PÓM: I noticed that, in volume 1, he uses a device very like a sonic screwdriver to fix this old clunker of a car he’d bought, but we haven’t seen it used since. Was that just a tip of the hat to another space traveller, or will we see it being taken out of the pocket a few more times as we go on?
PH: He’s used it a couple of times. In volume 2 he uses it to open a locked door. It’s just a handy gizmo, so he may well use it again at some point.
PÓM: Mind you, a thing that’s always puzzled me is that no alien ever seems to be able to land a spaceship on Earth – every single one of them makes it safely through umpteen light years of space, only to crash on landing. It’s not just you – our mutual friend Alan Moore used it at least twice as well, in Skizz and Marvelman. Any thoughts on that one?
PH: Well, Klaatu managed it okay, and I’m sure there must have been others. With this one … if Harry had still had a ship, even a broken one, that would have become a major aspect of the story. Mike Richardson made a lot of good suggestions when we started out, and one of them was that Harry should be stuck here, with rescue only a vague possibility. I’m sure it works better that way.
PÓM: How do you feel about all the talk of a Resident Alien TV show?
PH: It’s out of my hands. I mean, I think it may happen someday, but whether it’ll be any good, who knows? You know what Alan Moore’s been through with adaptations, and as Neil Gaiman once remarked, the truly tragic thing about Hollywood is that all the stories are true.
PÓM: Are we likely to see any more of King’s Road?
PH: That one’s a weird one. It didn’t sell terribly well, because nothing was selling well at that time. But every convention since then, the same thing happens. I get a lot of guys in their twenties turning up to get their copies of King’s Road signed. Most of them seem to be 2000 AD fans, and they all say the same thing – they came across this by accident, and they really, really liked it, and when will there be some more?
Right now that looks unlikely, but you never know … maybe TV will get interested in that one too.
PÓM: Now that Tom Strong seems to be getting subsumed into the DC’s regular continuity, I suppose that we’re not going to see any more of him from you?
PH: You know, I hounded them for years to let me do more Tom, and they just wouldn’t. I wanted to do two more miniseries with Chris [Sprouse], and then we’d have been done. So, on the one hand I’m sad and disappointed that now that isn’t going to happen, and on the other … I kind of gave up on Tom a couple of years ago, when DC started doing all the Watchmen stuff again. I didn’t feel I could face Alan if I were to write another one of his characters for them while they were pulling all that stuff.
I also found out about this the same way that everyone else did, through Bleeding Cool – and I thought it was a shabby way to treat Chris, who’d co-created this character. They did the same thing to Jim Williams with Promethea. That’s what they do.
PÓM: I know you do other stuff besides them comics – wasn’t there a book about the Velvet Underground recently? Does something like that involve a lot of research, as opposed to just making it up in the comics?
PH: Yes, it’s a lot of work, and I now far more about the Velvets than any sane man should have to. By and large I’d far rather be writing fiction than non-fiction any day, but given the state of the comics industry it’s good to have another string to my bow.
PÓM: Thanks for doing this interview, Peter, and for putting up with my usual chronic tardiness…
FPI would like to thank Peter and Pádraig for taking the time to share their thoughts. Resident Alien: Alien in New York has just started its run from Dark Horse, the second issue due next week. A collected edition should be due towards December, while collection of the previous stories – Welcome to Earth, Suicide Blonde, Sam Hain Mystery and The Man With No Name – are also available to order from our webstore. You can also still read an interview with Pádraig and Peter about the first series of Resident Alien from 2011, here on the blog.