Joseph Mallozzi is best know as a writer/producer for all three series in the Stargate franchise, beginning with Stargate SG-1‘s fourth season. Prior to that he had written for over a dozen other series going back to 1995. Since the end of Stargate in 2010, Mallozzi has worked briefly on the new Transporter series as well as continuing to maintain his daily blog. Mollozzi’s latest high-concept creation, Dark Matter, premieres in January as a comic book from Dark Horse Comics, co-written by Mollozzi’s long-time writing partner Paul Mullie with artwork by Garry Brown. Recently I spoke to Mallozzi via email to ask him about this new series as well as a few other things.
JOSEPH MALLOZZI: Stargate: Universe ends with the crew going into stasis. Dark Matter begins with a crew coming out of stasis. To be honest, I didn’t realize the similarities until just the other day when I was pitching Dark Matter to actor Patrick Gilmore who played Dale Volker on SGU. No sooner were the words “The crew awakens from stasis” out of my mouth than he jokingly asked: “Is this a continuation of SGU?”. Alas, no. I’ve been working on Dark Matter for about three years now and it’s a completely different animal from Stargate. DM’s far future setting and unique premise sets them parsecs apart.
PCZ: What makes the comics medium in general and Dark Horse in particular the right home for Dark Matter?
JM: Television and film production is a series of compromises, creative and otherwise. Whether its budgetary constraints, location availability, or simply a difference of opinion, the finished product will differ from the original concept. It’s just a matter of degrees. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but, often, it can be disappointing. Eventually, I do want Dark Matter to take that next step and become a television series but first, I’d like the luxury of being able to tell the story as I originally envisioned it. I have immense respect for the comic book field, its creator-driven narratives, and Dark Horse in particular, so when the opportunity presented itself to launch Dark Matter as a comic book series first, I took it.
PCZ: What can you tell us about the main characters?
JM: Growing up, I was always attracted to team stories. Whether it was the Avengers or the X-Men, the Seven Samurai or the Dirty Dozen, I preferred the workings of the group dynamic over the singular hero motif. I was fascinated by the relationships, the friendships and rivalries, the constantly shifting alliances, betrayals and (best of all) surprising bonds that developed over the course of their time together. When I started developing Dark Matter, I knew that the heart of the series would be the crew, a team made up of very different personalities who would invariably clash, distrust, but ultimately have to come together and support each other in order to survive.
PCZ: What sort of story and tone can readers of Dark Matter expect?
JM: It’s a character-driven series with plenty of action. While dark in tone, its possessed of a sense of humor that I think goes a long way toward humanizing the characters and giving the narrative depth.
PCZ: You’ve mentioned you would like to see this become a TV series. Are these first four issues essentially a pilot?
JM: Yes, the opening four-issue story arc would actually be the two-part series pilot. We wrote the first part of the one hour pilot and that became the basis for the first two issues of the comic book series. I then went ahead and wrote issues #3 and #4 in comic script form, drawing on the outline for the second television script.
PCZ: The preview pages with Garry Brown’s artwork are simply stunning! From what I can tell, this is Garry’s first series, having previously been a cover artist. How did you go about recruiting him for Dark Matter?
JM: I was so overwhelmed by the talent out there that I had a hard time coming up with suggestions for specific artists. Finally, my editor at Dark Horse, Patrick Thorpe, asked me to come up with examples of artwork I thought best suited Dark Matter. I spent the next couple of weeks scouring my local comic store and perusing the internet, finally coming up with about a dozen examples of what I felt the series should look like. A couple of weeks later, he suggested Garry Brown. I was familiar with Garry’s work on Incorruptible from BOOM! Studios and was delighted at the prospect of his being involved. His work on the series has been phenomenal and we are very lucky to have him. Not only has he provided the art for all four issues, but he has done their respective covers as well.
PCZ: Should this mini-series be the wild success that it is destined to be, are you and Paul willing to do more issues?
JM: Absolutely. The fact that I had 3+ years to develop the concept allowed me to really flesh out the characters and series arc. I know where everyone came from and exactly where they’re going. I’ve already plotted out the beginning, middle, and end of the series along with almost every twist, turn, and shocking revelation. Ideally, I would love to be able to continue Dark Matter in comic book form – sales permitting – and ultimately finish the tale so that, somewhere down the road, Dark Horse can release a nice hardcover coffee table tome.
PCZ: Speaking of Paul Mullie, you and he have been writing partners for many years now. What is the writing process like between you two?
JM: In the beginning, Paul and I would actually sit in the same room and write together, bouncing dialogue back and forth before getting it all down. Eventually, as a result of production demands, we began writing separately and then rewriting one another’s work. In the case of Dark Matter, I wrote the first draft of the pilot which he rewrote. I went ahead and took the initiative with the comic scripts, writing all four issues which he again rewrote. Up to this point, I’ve been point man in dealings with our editor Patrick Thorpe at Dark Horse.
PCZ: How easy was it to transition from TV scripts to comic book scripts?
JM: It took a while to get used to, specifically the need to visualize the story in panels and pages, setting up the proper segues propelling the reader from the last panel of one page to the first panel of the next. In terms of specific visuals, my editor was always pushing me to be more detailed in my description. My scriptwriting tends to be fairly economical, leaving the director plenty of leeway. I wanted to do the same thing with Garry although, in retrospect, I was, at times, a little too sparse in my shot/panel descriptions. In a similar vein, when it came time to weighing in on Garry’s artwork, I had very few notes. I wanted to give him the freedom of interpreting the script – and, looking over these four issues, I think he did a remarkable job.
PCZ: Is it more freeing to write a story in the “unlimited budget” world of comic books? Did you find yourself still thinking in terms of what can be done on screen?
JM: The comic book medium certainly affords a certain freedom unavailable to us in the world of television, but Dark Matter was conceived as a t.v. series, the pilot script upon which the comic book’s four issue opening arc is based developed with a television budget in mind. It’s big – as most series openers tend to be – but very doable on a t.v. budget. The story fans will be introduced to in the comic book should be very close to the story they see on television when the series (hopefully) launches. Our standing set is the ship, our swing sets the various space ports, bars, mining colonies, and enemy ships.
PCZ: Comics, much like television, follow a serialized, episodic format. Do you prefer telling stories over an extended arc as opposed to the “done in one” closed format of film?
JM: The done in one, stand-alone story is very satisfying, but I love the idea of being able to tell an arc/character-driven story over the course of an entire series. That’s what I loved about shows like The Sopranos. There was no story time wasted. Each installment developed the characters, their relationships, and drove the over-arcing storyline to its conclusion. I don’t want a reader or viewer of Dark Matter to ever say “That was a filler episode”. This series will have no filler episodes. Every issue and episode will propel the narrative toward that big finale
PCZ: Are there any comic book characters you are dying to write for or are you more interested in sticking to your own, creator-owned stories?
JM:I do have an idea for another original SF concept that I think would make a great comic book series down the line, but in terms writing for existing comic book characters – yeah, of course. In order of preference: Deathlock the Demolisher, Deadpool, Batman, Daredevil, X-Men, The Avengers, and Fantastic Four.
PCZ: Now that you have your foot planted in the comic book world, any temptation to persuade MGM to do a SGU season three comic series?
JM: While I don’t think continuing SGU in comic book format would be a bad idea, it isn’t something I’d be interested in doing. I’d much rather have the studio suddenly wake up one morning and say: “What have we done?! Let’s get Brad Wright and Robert Cooper on the phone and have them produce that third season of Stargate: Universe for the fans!”.
PCZ: You’ve conquered television and now comic books. Is there a prose novel waiting to be written by you?
JM: I’ve toyed with the idea but I don’t think I have the patience. I wrote a short story for Masked, a superhero-themed anthology last year which took me nine months. Compare to a television script that takes me about a month to write. Yes, it was extremely satisfying to write and I was in great company (other authors included Majorie M. Liu, Gail Simone, Paul Cornell, Matthew Sturges, James Maxey, Mark Chadbourn, Daryl Gregory, among others), working for fabulous editor Lou Anders, but I’m not at all confident it’s something I could pull off again, particularly in a longer format.
PCZ: Here’s the obligatory final question asking what you’re working on next. So, Joe, what are you working on next?
JM: Hopefully more Dark Matter. The plan is to find the series a broadcast home. To that end, Paul and I will start pitching the show in early 2012. In the meantime, I’m doing research for a historical drama series (or potential mini-series) I’ve been looking to develop for some ten years now – and, of course, we’re discussing possible show running opportunities as well. Ideally, however, we’d like to be show running our own original series in 2012. And that would be Dark Matter.