The Future Of The Past – Tony Lee Talks Steampunk Battlestar Galactica 1880
Battlestar Galactica has always been an interesting show time wise as it seemed to be set into the future but at a certain point where they reached Earth in the television series it was our present… Now Dynamite is having fun by taking BSG to the past, 1880 to be precise. Writer Tony Lee sat down with Westfield Comics Roger Ash to talk about the upcoming Steampunk Battlestar Galactica 1880 series.
ROGER ASH: How did the idea for Steampunk Battlestar Galactica: 1880 come about?
TONY LEE: Very much a case of being in the right place at the right time. It was back in February this year; I'd finished the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: STARBUCK series and we were looking for something else to do together. I'd gone over to Los Angeles for a convention, and had arranged to arrive a few days beforehand to take some meetings with producers in relation to a couple of screenplays I have out there. So, there I am, in the office of a very high-up and influential producer, nervous as hell and staring at a selection of posters and props from some of my favourite films ever as I talk about the film – when my phone buzzes, telling me I have an email.
Now, I always turn my phone onto silent, but for some reason this time it didn't happen. I apologise, and carry on the pitch. But the producer says to check it, as it could be important. And to be honest, he needs to take a call quickly himself. So, I check my emails, and there's one from Joe and Nick saying that they've had this idea for a Steampunk Battlestar Galactica series, they're not sure how it'd work, did I have any thoughts on it, that sort of thing. The producer comes back in and, from one look on my face, he knows I've hit some kind of motherload. So, I tell him. And it turns out he's a massive Battlestar Galactica fan. And we spend the next ten minutes bonding as I explain how I'd do a Steampunk BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series, before moving back to the movie I was there to pitch. But those ten minutes were invaluable, as it meant that by the time I replied to Joe and Nick, I already had a fully fleshed out idea of what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to play it. And bar a couple of characters, it's pretty much how I envisioned it back in February.
TL: Honestly? To me Steampunk has always been about the industrial struggle of man and machine, a world where the mechanised fantastical is real, and let's be honest here, that's pretty much the story of the Colonials and the Cylons, right? I mean, here we have a race of robots transplanted into a genre where robotics are magical and special.
In addition to that, a lot of Steampunk stories keep close to the idea of a British Empire, or similar entity, Colonial soldiers and a military dictatorship of some kind. And that's there in the Quorum of Twelve, and the Colonial Fleet. Steampunk also has main characters spending a lot of time in the Aether (space) and of course that's the core basis for Battlestar Galactica. One of the first things I did was grab a think tank of various UK Steampunk luminaries I know, including Kit Cox, Jema Hewitt, Ian Crichton and Sam Stone, where I asked them what tropes they really DIDN'T want to see in Steampunk Sci Fi, and what they'd like to see more of. Suffice to say, there will be a distinct lack of cogs that don't do anything in this series!
TL: Oh, pretty much all the main characters, and a lot of the minor characters will be in the series, mainly as I'm a massive fanboy and couldn't help myself. Of course, they've all been altered considerably. That's the biggest joy about this book, the fact that it's a blank canvas. I get to take all the things I liked from the series and massively screw around with them. So we have Arch-Duke Adama, the de-facto leader of the Colonial Empire and the commander of the Aethership Galactica, his son, the Crown Prince Apollo and his daughter, Lady Athena. We have the Cylons, of course, but they're now the Cylonics, clockwork soldiers with punch-card brains that were created by Professor Baltar for the Colonial Empire, as a last ditch response to the Ovion War. And of course we have Starbuck, Boxey, Daggit, Sheba, Cassiopeia, Tigh, Boomer and Jolly… Oh, and we have Lucifer, but it's a Babbage Computer Server named Lu-C-Fer. This is the fun I'm having here.
TL: In a way, I parallel the series, because we start with the destruction of Caprica by the Cylonics, led by a bitter and now quite insane Professor Baltar. And some of these Cylons are big, I mean Pacific Rim sized big. And the humans are having the snot kicked out of them. Apollo's been captured and lady Athena goes on a desperate hunt for the one man that can help her rescue her brother, the disgraced Aethership Captain Starbuck, one time best friend of Apollo, now a smuggler, captain of the Starchaser with his first officer Muffit, a humanoid Daggit / robotics hybrid. It's very Han and Chewie. In fact, thinking about it, it's Star Wars, if Leia hired Han to help her rescue Luke.
But as they face off against Pirate Queens and Alien races, Apollo escapes Baltar's clutches with three other prisoners, Boomer, Jolly and Iblis – the first two are soldiers in the Colonial Army that have been injured in duty and patched up with Cylonic parts, and the third is a one time colleague of Baltar, who created the Cylonics and the Babbage Network with Baltar and his protege, a young scientist named Athena…
Let's just say that every issue has a ton of in-series references, pulp action and space battles!
TL: I'm incredibly lucky to have her involved. I was a massive fan of Moore and Reppon's Damsels series, and that was the first time I ever saw her artwork. She brings a life to the page that a lot of artists simply miss, and her characters are always spot on. She nailed what I was looking for in the Cylonics from the first sketch, and I can't wait to see what she does with the Galactica. As I said earlier, Steampunk is all about the fantastical, and Aneke's background with Damsels has given us an angle to the look that I don't think we would have had without her.
RA: Any closing comments?
TL: I've been a fan of Steampunk since before it even had a name, reading H.G Wells stories about Cavorite-fueled rocketships flying through the Aether, and I've wanted to write something in the genre for years. A while back Dan Boultwood (artist with me on The Gloom, Hope Falls and Agent Mom among others) wanted to do a steampunk book with me called 'The Daringly Occular Excitables of Captain Ambrose Faraday (Retired)', and ever since that fell through, I've been looking for somewhere to continue my addiction.
And of course, anyone who's read BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: STARBUCK will know exactly how much I love the series. I won't corrupt it, I won't exploit it. But what you will get is, in my opinion, one of the most fun books I've written in a while, with building sized Cylonics taking on Aetherships flown by humanoid Daggits while their partners sell their souls to Pirate Queens and Alien Races…
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