You may not recognize the name Chris “Doc” Wyatt at first glance, but I can guarantee you know his work. He’s written for TV shows from My Little Pony to Spider-Man and was a producer on Napoleon Dynamite. Wyatt has written quite a few books, too, that bring Marvel superheroes to readers who range from preschool through adult.
To celebrate the October 2nd release of his sweet new graphic novel, we asked Doc some questions via e-mail about writing sci-fi for young adults, exoplanets, and the end of the human species. Check out the exclusive interview below and don’t miss our review of Alien Bones!
AiPT!: I hope it’s okay to dip into your mind a little bit before we get to Alien Bones. You’ve written and produced a ton of material from TV shows to books, and obviously for the big screen as well. I can’t help but notice that much of your creative content is for children and young adults. What motivates you to create for younger audiences? Was it something you wanted to do from the beginning, or something you fell into and realized it was a great fit?
DOC: My TV writing partner Kevin Burke and I started writing for Marvel Animation because we were huge comics fans growing up. Writing for other TV animation just sort of grew out of our Marvel work. But around the time that Kev and I were writing for Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, my wife and I had a son. I discovered that I found writing things for my son, and for kids like him, really rewarding. Twice I’ve been able to write for shows that were my son’s favorite shows at the exact time our episodes aired—once for Transformers: Rescure Bots and once for Octonauts—and that’s a very rewarding feeling.
AiPT!: Now, on to your new graphic novel, Alien Bones! It’s such a fun read, chock full of dinosaurs, pirates, robots, and space travel. Your protagonist, Liam Mycroft, is a super smart kid that travels the galaxy with his dad checking out alien dinosaur fossils. When his dad disappears, his school friends and robot mentor go to great lengths to find him, and, in a weird and incredible turn of events, end up saving the entire human species. For people who know you for work on Napoleon Dynamite or from your extensive catalog of children’s books and tv shows centered around comic book superheroes, can you talk about how this ultra-unique sci-fi themed book came about?
DOC: Alien Bones has life because of Ken Levin at 1First Comics. I’ve known Ken socially for a long time, but several years ago I was shopping an indie comic book called Witch Finder General to various comics publishers. One had bitten but was dragging their feet on the contract. Ken stepped in and said: “Can we do this at 1First?” And I was happy to work with him. He’s the one that hooked me up with my artist Chris Grine. Alien Bones came from Ken saying, “Great, Witchfinder is done. What’s next?” I had to think about an answer to that question… and the answer was Alien Bones.
AiPT!: There were some moments where I felt like I caught a whiff of Firefly and Guardians of the Galaxy. At one point, Liam talks about reading classics like Aristophanes, Shakespeare, and Gaiman. There’s even a Megamantasuarus. What were your inspirations going into this novel? (And maybe you can settle a bet between my 10-year-old and I on whether there is an intentional Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reference.)
DOC: HA! I don’t know which side of the bet you were on, but yes, the Hitchhikers reference was super intentional. In terms of other references, I was trying to think of this as Indiana Jones meets Jurassic Park starring a group of kids like Goonies, but set in space. But I definitely took influence from Douglas Adams, from late 70’s Doctor Who, and some early “Futurions”-era science fiction stories. I wasn’t intentionally bringing in Guardians, but Kevin and I got to write some Rocket & Groot animated shorts that we are immensely proud of being involved with, so I’m not surprised if some of that got in there without me knowing.
AiPT!: You refer to lots of science-based concepts and even baked them into your characters. For example, Liam’s dad is a xeno-paleontologist who deals with fossilized alien dinosaurs. Instead of a dog, they have a pet dino who was created through DNA cloning. Alien dinosaurs survive by getting their energy from the sun in a pocket dimension. Why bring these huge, admittedly cool, concepts to kids and what do you hope they take away from it?
DOC: My hope is that kids will be on a fun adventure. If the story also gets them thinking, even in a limited way, about xeno-evolution, or exoplanet astronomy along the way, then that’s fantastic. I didn’t want to teach science principles as much as I wanted to inspire a sense of discovery—a sense that there’s more out in the universe for humanity to discover and explore! Excitement about what we, as a species, have yet to learn!
AiPT!: I’d like to talk about the social commentary that occurs in the background of Alien Bones. We see the pirates teaming with the military to do good and a bully turning from a foe to a kind-hearted friend. There’s a lot of social evolution over the arc of the story, but they all carry a theme of hopefulness. In a major moment, Liam has an outburst when he realizes that only a small sample of humans will be allowed to survive inside the pocket universe. He feels that all humans are worth saving and makes it very clear that he’s willing to fight for it. Is the crisis of “The End” threatening to extinguish humanity and the manner in which Liam Mycroft choses to handle it a direct allegory to our real life climate and/or socio-political issues and your hopes for how we manage it, securing a future for our own species?
DOC: Yes. But I wasn’t trying to speak about one single existential threat. Whether it’s climate change, a super-bug, a rock from space (like with the dinosaurs), or an unstable government with nuclear capabilities—there are enough threats of “the end” for humanity. If the climate crisis were solved tomorrow, it’s still not clear that humanity will survive the next extinction event. There have been five extinction-level events in our planet’s history. There WILL be another at some point. Maybe soon, maybe in 40,000 years, but it will come. We need to be actively thinking about, and working toward, a future where humanity as a whole has secure survivability beyond an extinction-level event. That means, in part, becoming a multi-planet species. But I don’t choose to see this as grim or depressing. I choose to see this as the inciting incident that sets humanity on its hero journey. It might take a multi-generational effort, but we CAN find a way to survive. And I choose to be hopeful that we will.
AiPT!: Wow. That got pretty deep. Let’s talk about planets. At one point in your novel Liam points out that there are many exoplanets out there in the ‘verse that are in the habitable zone. Looking at the different types of fossils you had Liam interact with throughout the book, especially the incredible flora and fauna in the pocket universe, got me thinking about all the amazing places that could be out there. If you had the chance to personally design a planet (where the laws of physics and Earth science don’t necessarily apply), what would it be like?
DOC: I’m captivated by the idea of what intelligent life would look like if it were able to evolve on a gas giant-type world. A life of floating in planetary atmospheric gas, the way that aquatic life floats in the ocean. What would their civilizations be like? I love thinking about that.
AiPT!: Last one! We’re stoked to see your book, Alien Bones, hit the shelves on October 2nd. What’s next for you? Will you be hanging out for book signings or hitting up any events? Could there be a sequel or more to Alien Bones in the future? Finally, and I apologize for what I’m about to ask, but will we be able to Vote for Pedro in 2020, or maybe 2024?
DOC: HA! I don’t know about voting for him, but you can check out Pedro and the rest of the ND crew in a monthly Napoleon Dynamite comic coming out from IDW right now. As for what’s next for me—no sequels to Alien Bones to announce yet, but you know I’m already thinking about it. However, on October 6th, Amazon Prime will be dropping the first 12 episodes of a show called SUPER DINOSAUR that Kevin and I got to develop, based on a comic book by The Walking Dead-creator Robert Kirkman and artist Jason Howard. Kev and I were head writers and exec producers on the show, and we couldn’t be more proud of it. It has great animation by Atomic Cartoons in Vancouver—seriously, it looks fantastic! I hope everyone will check it out.