The following is a new interview with Matt Mair Lowery and Cassie Anderson, the creative team behind the graphic novel, Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact, from Dark Horse Comics. In this interview, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor S.T. Lakata chats with Lowery and Anderson about their exciting, new announcement at Emerald City Comic Con 2018!
S.T. Lakata, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor: Matt and Cassie, thank you both for taking time again to walk us through the alien-invaded world of Lifeformed.
For those that don’t know about Lifeformed, you previously described this story as “an 11-year old girl who loves snacks and cats and isn’t quite sure she’s ready to grow up just yet. Cleo’s dad is killed in an alien invasion and a shapeshifting rebel alien takes his place. The two of them team up and fight their way through the alien apocalypse.”
As you’ve been hosting signings and building your fanbase, how have fans reacted to a hero who is so young, but clearly tough and able to adapt to an unfathomable situation with the death of her father and an alien invasion?
Cassie Anderson: Overall, it seems like people find Cleo likable and relatable, which is great. It’s been cool to see people, especially kids, get engrossed in Cleo’s story. At the heart of it, she’s just a normal kid experiencing some incredibly difficult situations, and through it she’s learning to survive and even thrive in the midst of that. That can be a powerful thing to observe. I’ve so enjoyed drawing and getting to know Cleo, so it’s really encouraging to see readers enjoy and appreciate her as a character.
Matt Mair Lowery: I think for the most part the reaction from the folks we’ve met has fallen into three camps. Younger readers seem to get engrossed in Cleo’s journey and give the book a couple consecutive reads, so though they’re not super vocal, the fact they don’t want to put the book down makes me feel or hope, at least, that they identify with Cleo quite a bit. When we were at The Comics Place in Bellingham, which was a super cool shop, there was a young girl there that just sat on the floor and read for like an hour and a half, pretty much for the whole signing. It was awesome. My daughters do that with the books they really dig, so it was great to see someone have that experience with our book. So, there’s that response to Cleo, and then most reviewers and older readers seem to find her compelling and believable and well-rounded as a character, which obviously, is also great to hear. As far as her toughness and adaptability, as a parent, having watched my kids and their friends work through a couple pretty tough, tragic experiences… it’s easy in your head to underestimate kids’ ability to cope with stuff, but, I don’t know, sometimes I think they’re better at recognizing and accepting change and recovering than adults. Of course, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact them, doesn’t change them, though. So anyway, it sounds like some of that comes across in Cleo. And then the third camp so far is dads who found the book hard to get through emotionally in places, which I like to hear because some of it was difficult to write and it’s comforting to think like, oh, that scene that had me weepy while I was writing it made you emotional too.
STL: How has the process of creating Lifeformed differed from going to an event and talking about the finished product with fans and the comic book community? Is there a different level of excitement for you both – the creative process involved working with Dark Horse Comics and promoting the story geared toward interacting with fans?
CA: Well for me, the process of creating the book was very long, so while there was excitement (and nerves) in drawing it, getting to actually go out and share it with people is a more heightened, condensed version of those emotions. When you work on a project as big as this one, you have your head down working for so long that you can get stuck in the monotony of it. You don’t have the opportunity to appreciate how other people see it. Getting to experience people’s reactions, whether their initial one upon picking up the book or their reaction upon reading it, has been so satisfying. I think I’ve enjoyed that aspect of it more than I thought I would, especially when it comes to visiting schools. Talking about comics to a bunch of middle and high schoolers is really awesome! Making comics isn’t easy, but I really enjoy the process, and it feels great getting to share that with kids.
MML: Similarly, I hadn’t really anticipated going out and talking to folks and promoting the book, I was so focused on writing the book for so long, but I’ve found it really energizing to get out and share it with people. It seems like a natural extension of the writing process. And when we were at Rose City Comic Con – where we launched the book – and then later out doing signings, and we were pitching the story to people we’d never met, it was amazing to see how excited about it a lot of folks were, and then to have them pick up the book and check out the art and clearly dig it, that was definitely an amazing feeling. But for sure the creation and the promotion are different experiences. For me, the writing part is generally great. I really enjoy writing these characters, and when I’m not writing them, ideas about them and their world pop-up pretty easily. It can definitely feel like working in a void at times, though, and sometimes I get so down in the weeds that I have to print out the latest section of the book and hand it to my daughter and ask her to tell me if it sucks or not or if it even makes any sense. And, luckily, I also get to go back and forth on ideas with Cassie a lot (and then, once we feel like we’re on to something, talking through it with Rachel Roberts, our editor) which all helps get me out of my head and leads to collaborative ideas that really elevate the story. So, to me, all the stages are pretty fun and interesting and exciting.
STL: Regarding upcoming events, you both will be headed to Seattle for Emerald City Comic Con. Will this be your first time attending, either as guests or creators? Will there be any downtime for you both to get out on the convention floor, and if so, what would you geek out for – example: certain guests, creators, panels, etc.?
CA: This is my first time as both a guest and creator! I’m excited to finally get up there for Emerald City, though, because I’m from Seattle and have heard nothing but good things about it. Thankfully, Matt and I are sharing a table so each of us will have a chance to get out and tour the convention. I’m so excited to wander around Artist Alley for a while. At conventions, I always end up finding people I follow and admire, and getting a chance to meet them (maybe talk shop for a bit) is a highlight. I also really enjoy having a table if only to watch the whole convention walk by you. The people are always amazing, and it’s so fun meeting other nerds.
MML: I went last year as an attendee, and it was pretty amazing. It’s HUGE. Honestly, the main floor was a bit overwhelming for me. It just goes on forever. I took a wrong turn and got trapped by one of those giant walls of tee-shirts and immediately developed a giant-wall-of-tee-shirts phobia. But Artist Alley was fantastic, and I spent most of my time there. I met some great folks, like Spidey writer Robbie Thompson, got some books signed by Mitch Gerads and picked up a cool Ms. Marvel print from Emi Lennox. I even ended up meeting a couple of Cassie’s SCAD classmates by complete accident. Anyway, I’m super-excited to actually have a table and a book this year and be a part of it. But I’ll definitely need to find some time to, at a minimum, snag something Mister Miracle from Gerads, and I’m packing my Uncanny X-Men #136, #137 and #186 to get signed if the line for Chris Claremont isn’t out the door and around the block. And there’re no Deadly Class pages or prints up in my office yet, and Wes Craig’s going to be there, so, yes, I guess I’ll need to find a few chunks of time away from the table…
STL: Sometimes at comic book conventions, there are big announcements made about new comics book series, TV shows, or movies. Can we expect any kind of special update in the world of Lifeformed, and if there is going to be news, would it be possible to share with us what that might be?
CA: Yes! We are so excited that we are going to be doing a second Lifeformed book with Dark Horse. Additionally, we will be running a Patreon page to bring readers and fans behind the scenes of making a graphic novel. We’ll get to share a lot of things on there that we won’t be sharing on other social media channels.
STL: That’s great! What can you share about a second Lifeformed book? Is there any direction in the story that you can share with us, whether it be how far ahead the timeline might be at the beginning of the second book or if there will be other primary characters introduced?
MML: Book two is going to pick up Cleo and Alien Alex’s story a few months after the end of Cleo Makes Contact. If you were paying very close attention to the last scene of the book, you might have noticed some indications that Cleo and Alex were no longer in Seattle, but in Portland, and we’ll pick up with them there. Cleo’s sort of created her “new normal” in this new place: She and Alex have made a home for themselves in a library, they run nightly raids on alien patrols and celebrate their victories with dance parties and junk food treats. So, Cleo feels like she’s got a good handle on her post-invasion existence. But, as our story unfolds, a mysterious person is hunting Cleo down and threatening to destroy this new status quo, and Cleo ends up making some mistakes herself that jeopardize things even further. It should be pretty intense. And we’ll also continue Alien Alex’s story, of course, as a new wrinkle to his abilities reveals itself.
STL: Now, when you were working on this project initially, or perhaps once it was finished, did you both get any sense that you wanted to continue building Cleo’s world? Was a similar notion expressed from Dark Horse, whether it be during the process or after it’s been received by fans?
CA: Matt and I definitely have wanted Cleo and Alien Alex’s story to continue from the very beginning. Matt has a lot of really awesome ideas for the characters and stories, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to explore some of those. At the beginning of creating Lifeformed, though, we wanted to focus on creating a really great book that could stand on its own, even if other books didn’t happen.
MML: Yeah, I had originally envisioned Lifeformed as a long, ongoing series, so building out Cleo’s world and the worlds of other characters affected by the invasion has always been in my mind. I think Dark Horse was interested in this as well to a degree, we discussed at least the possibility when we first met with them. But I think once we got going, everyone’s main goal was to make sure that we built a really solid relationship between Cleo and Alien Alex as sort of the foundation, and then if there were to be more books, we’d be expanding on that.
STL: Will the creative process be different this time around for the second volume of Lifeformed? Do you think the rapport you both have built in working together makes it easier to know where the story will lead, and subsequently when you might be ready to publish?
CA: In creating the first book, I really feel like I found a stride that worked for me. It was great passing things back and forth with Matt, getting feedback from our editor, Rachel Roberts, and seeing the whole thing come together. This next go-around, I think the process will be even smoother since we all have worked together and know our strengths and weaknesses even better. Regardless, it’s going to be another long journey, which is why we’re really excited to use Patreon to share where we’re at in the process.
MML: For me the process has definitely been informed by the rapport we’ve built, and by everything I learned from the process and from Cassie on the first book. I’m hoping that my script – the initial draft is done – puts into practice a bunch of that learning. I definitely broke and outlined the story in a different way this time around, and in general it seems more solid to me, thematically and structurally and such. That said, the process all takes a certain amount of time no matter what, so we’re looking at the book coming out in the fall of 2019. But we’ll make the wait fun, interacting with folks via Patreon and sharing behind-the-scenes peeks at both Cleo Makes Contact and the sequel.
STL: For fans of Lifeformed, would you mind sharing what things you love to geek out about? Are there any stories you loved growing up that led you to creating and being involved with the sci-fi adventure of Lifeformed? Are there any TV shows or movies that are must watches for either of you?
CA: Growing up, my family watched a decent amount of sci-fi, and I think that has shaped a lot of how I approached drawing Lifeformed. I was also really into Sailor Moon, and just about any show or movie that promoted girl power (especially if it was magic girl power!). I will always be an Avatar the Last Airbender fan. Recently, I discovered a friend of mine has watched it all and loves it, and we both had a pretty serious fangirl moment together. These days, I don’t watch as many movies of TV shows as people tell me I should, but Stranger Things was so amazing. Love that cast, the writing, the set design, the cinematography, it was all top notch. I’ve been trying to read more books lately, and Matt recommended the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer. Now, I can’t stop thinking about it. Amazing.
MML: Well, this last year has been pretty amazing from a geek out perspective, on many different fronts. Putting the book out and tabling at a con for the first time were both big geek-out moments for me. And then meeting people like Mike Zeck and Kevin Maguire (at Rose City) whose work shaped my love of comics. Outside comics, I got to go to NASA’s JPL open house in May and check out a bunch of amazing stuff and talk to engineers who interact with the Voyager probe still. It blows my mind, you know, 40 years after being launched, this amazing piece of technology is so far away, but we’re still sending signals to it, receiving data back… that was great. And being in New York City for the first time, I was nerding out on all the art and actually being all these places I’d only seen on TV or in movies or read about. I was geeking out pretty hard on running around the reservoir in Central Park. And, of course, TV and comics this last year have been phenomenal. Twin Peaks: The Return blew my mind. Mindhunter was fantastic. I watched all of The Leftovers in a couple weeks and thought it was amazing. I love The Americans. And Rick and Morty, which I think is the most amazing show on TV, aside from Twin Peaks. And then Tom King… I mean, Mister Miracle. I just think about that book all the time. It’s haunting in the best way. The Mitch Gerads cover for issue six I feel is the perfect way to talk about that book. It was easily one of the best covers of a comic book ever, it was so great, but it was also just upsetting. Completely unsettling. Anyway, the fact that King is doing this after Vision and Sheriff of Babylon, either of which I wouldn’t have imagined you could top, is crazy. As far as stories I loved growing up, Terminator was a huge influence on me. At first, because I saw it probably too young, it just terrified me. But as I got older I started to feel like it was pretty much a perfect movie, or at least the perfect movie for me. Anyway, that, along with stuff I came to love later on, Alien, Buffy, Veronica Mars, are pretty obvious big influences on Lifeformed. I’ve also in the last few years been checking out movies from the ’80s that I didn’t experience my first time through. In doing that I’ve found more great stuff, Night of the Comet, The Hidden, John Carpenter stuff, all these great genre movies that also have a more ’70s sense of personal filmmaking. Anyway, I would recommend all that, and my other must-watches are season two of Fargo, which is an insane masterpiece, and No Country for Old Men, the influence of which might show up a bit in Lifeformed Book Two.
STL: For anyone attending Emerald City Comic Con, where can fans find you at the convention? And, if they can’t make it to Seattle for this convention, where can they find you both online, as well as Lifeformed, and are there any other conventions you’re planning or hoping to attend?
CA: We’ll be at booth HH11 in Artist Alley! You can find me on Instagram @cassiejanderson, Twitter @CassieDoesArt, and my personal Patreon.
MML: Conventions-wise, we’ll also be at Rose City in September. Online, folks can find me on Twitter and Instagram at @mattmlpdx, and keep up with Lifeformed news at Facebook.com/LifeformedComic. And of course, join us for the journey to Lifeformed: Book Two at patreon.com/lifeformedcomic.