UPDATE: Many thanks to everyone who politely pointed out that I had Abe and Preston’s film franchises reversed in the introduction to this interview. I’ve corrected the associations in the text and sacked those responsible for the error. -RM
Bernie Hou’s popular webcomic Alien Loves Predator became an Internet phenomenon almost as soon as the first photo-based comic was posted in 2004, introducing the world to Preston, an alien from the Predator film franchise, and his Manhattan housemate Abe, a creature from the Alien film franchise. After a series of starts and stops over the last year or so, Hou recently announced that he’ll be turning his attentions away from the fumetti-style series and kicking off a new series with a decidedly more socio-political focus, If You See Something.
With IYSS taking Hou’s creative talents in a dramatically different direction, I spoke to the creator about his decision to bring to ALP to a close, his favorite moments from the old series and what he hopes to achieve with the new one.
Q: For readers who might not be familiar with Alien Loves Predator, can you tell me a bit about the genesis of the series? How did you settle on this idea for a comic strip?
BERNIE HOU: The idea of a comedy series starring an Alien and a Predator had actually been rolling around in my head since the late ’90s, when I found a pair of 12″ action figures of them at a local Goodwill store. It was almost begging to be done, because you almost can’t look at any horror movie monsters reduced down to tabletop toys – no matter how terrifying the original movies were – and not want to put them in compromising poses or prance them around in Barbie dresses. For the record, I did only one of those 2 things.
It was only in 2004, after I’d quit my first job that I finally had the free time to actually start the comic. I really just set out to make a sitcom based in New York City, since it’s where I’m from, but all sorts of interesting themes introduced themselves from there, such as the fact that everyone is casual yet simultaneously sensitive about all the different races living here. Including the weird ones.
Q: What was the creative process like for the strips? Between the photographs, posing the figures and possibly creating new props, it seemed like a significant time commitment for each strip…
HOU: It sure as hell was! I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, but let’s just say I’ve got bloody stumps where my hands used to be, and lifeless mush instead of eyes, all for the sake of entertaining you.
Everything you mentioned takes up a lot of time, as you can imagine, but the actual “photoshopping” was the most time-consuming part, and fortunately, also the most fun. In each panel, I spent a lot of time re-sizing and positioning elements, arranging layers, creating shadows and reflections, matching lighting, adjusting focus, etc. Seeing it all come together at the end was almost worth the alienation from my family.
Q: You took a long hiatus from ALP a while back, but returned with regular strips again, only to later announce that you’d be ending the series. What kept bringing you back to ALP each time you considered ending it?
HOU: Two things: First: the fans! They kept coming to the site even though I spent a whole year being all wishy-washy like. The sheepish guilt of having all these loyal people constantly checking for new updates that I wasn’t giving ‘em was eating me alive.
Second, relatedly: I know what a huge blessing it is to be able to reach tens of thousands of people with your art, and I’m not about to waste it.
Q: Are you a fan of the Alien and Predator iterations in film and comics? In your opinion, what have been some of the high and low points of the Alien and Predator stories in comics and film?
HOU: I really enjoy the first Predator movie, but I’m a much huger fan of Aliens, the James Cameron masterpiece. I NEVER watch movies more than twice at the most, but I could watch Aliens constantly. In fact I used to watch it with my kids when they were still babies (don’t worry, I fast-forwarded over the Paul Reiser scenes).
The other movie that’s universally loved is the first one, Ridley Scott’s Alien, but honestly I wasn’t as bowled over, since I’d seen hundreds of the monsters and then their queen in the sequel already, so one of them hiding in the dark wasn’t doing it for me. To be fair, I watched it during the day with commercial breaks folding laundry so I really need to give it another chance.
Aside from that, all the other movies are interchangeable sludge as far as I remember, but one day I’ll probably give at least Alien 3 another shot.
Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew back in 2004, when you were planning to kick off ALP?
HOU: I kind of wish I’d known the two Alien vs. Predator movies were going to suck… in which case maybe I would’ve been better off doing a comic about Iron Man or something.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about your favorite moments from ALP?
HOU: In terms of actual comics, #80 (If You See Something) is easily my most popular one, and yeah, I like how it came out. Art-wise, #33 (New World Record) has always been one of my favorite scenes. I’m partial to #197 (Growing Weak). These are off the top of my head; I’m probably missing some better ones.
As far as moments in the site’s history, my favorite is still the very first day I launched it. I sent out the link to a handful of my closest friends, thinking that by the end of the day I’d have gotten 20 or so people to look at the site. My buddy Noah said, “hey this is great! I just posted you on Metafilter” and suddenly thousands of people were streaming in. I was like, “cool!” and he was like “yeah!”, and i was like, “now residual links are coming in!”, but then I was like, “oh shit, I’m gonna hit my bandwidth limit in one day!” and then he felt bad. It all ended up great, though, and I still owe Noah for pulling such an instant, huge readership for me on that day in 2004. For posterity, here’s the infamous post.
Q: What factors went into the decision to end ALP and begin IYSS?
HOU: aLp isn’t what I want to write anymore. Or more accurately, I can’t write just aLp anymore. There’s a lot I haven’t been able to write over the years because I always had to figure out a way to work Abe and Preston into the picture and there’s only so many ways I can think of to do that. Despite what a lot of people say about aLp, it does matter that Abe and Preston are an alien and a predator. I didn’t want that part to be arbitrary. Of course that means I had to work under that self-imposed restriction, and ultimately it became too hard for me to do consistently.
One thing I want to say for the record: aLp is not necessarily over. I did literally say it was “coming to an end”, but that was because I wanted to stop waffling and dicking my readers around. It’s true that I can’t do two different comics consistently at the same time, but I fully intend to do a new aLp episode every once in a while because it’s actually still fun.
Q: Why is IYSS the right project for you at this moment?
HOU: If You See Something is really just a way for me to drop the restrictions and let it all hang out. And it feels like I just put on a pair of boxers for the first time after a lifetime of briefs. I just write and draw whatever comes to mind. Some days I have something to say politically, some days I just want to make a dick joke. Right now the only rule I’ve made is that each drawing I do comes with a link to an article or story on the web, but that’s really just a convenient source of inspiration. Who knows where this’ll take me, though. I’m still finding my way so I might just ditch that rule before long, and bring some characters back into the mix, or settle on a specific subject, or bring in other types of media. You might say the sky’s the limit, but then I’d roll my eyes at you.
Q: Since ALP and IYSS are so different, what have you had to change about your creative process for IYSS (besides the obvious lack of photos and figure-posing, of course)? Do the new strips take longer to create?
HOU: Another big restriction with aLp is that I need to have footage of everything I want to show, and it was getting too hard to make sure of that because – BIG SCANDAL – I no longer live in New York City. IYSS is way easier because I can just draw everything I want. I’m still trying to find a visual style, since I haven’t drawn since I was, like, 15, but man, it’s been fun! I pencil and ink on paper, scan it in, and then color in Photoshop with an old Intuos tablet that I’d thought I’d never use again.
Aside from the pure mechanics of it, the new process is faster because I don’t sweat too many details. In cartooning, if you occasionally color outside the lines, you can chalk that up to “style”. With aLp, one of its main goals is it’s supposed to be photo-realistic. I don’t know if you can tell, but a lot of work went into making it look “kinda good”.
Q: IYSS looks like it’s going to rely heavily on reader interaction from time to time – are you worried about bringing external elements into the creative process?
HOU: I have a page where readers can submit articles they find on the net, but so far I haven’t used any of ‘em. That doesn’t really qualify as “interaction”.
Q: You’re jumping into new waters with these editorial, political cartoons – do you worry about alienating (pun intended, of course) your old ALP readers? It’s a very different style of humor, after all.
HOU: Totally. And you can see from some of the comments I get on the site that some people are actually bitter. I’m sorry. But they need to understand that I simply can’t give them aLp the way they want it anymore. If I could, I’d do it forever. But I can’t. As I said above, I’ll want to do some more after I take a break, but I need to do something else now.
“Alien Loves Predator” image courtesy of http://alienlovespredator.com/