During the hiatus between its second and third seasons, ‘Stranger Things‘ did what all hit genre shows eventually must: It expanded beyond its humble, televised roots into other media. And given the show’s obvious affinity for the geek culture of the eighties, comics were a natural fit. And so, over the past year, Dark Horse has teamed with writer Jody Houser to turn the comics world Upside Down.
At this year’s New York Comic Con, we had the opportunity to sit down with Jody Houser to her work expanding the world of the Netflix giant. Our conversation covered both ‘The Other Side’ and ‘Six’, the future of ‘Stranger Things’ at Dark Horse, and more.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get involved with the ‘Stranger Things’ comics in the first place?
Well, Spencer – who was my editor – reached out to me. I ‘d worked with him previously on a ‘Halo’ issue for Dark Horse, and he asked if I was interested in ‘Stranger Things’ and maybe writing a comic. I replied that I had dressed as Eleven for the past two Halloweens, so yes!
The two ‘Stranger Things’ stories you’ve told so far have been very different, with ‘The Other Side’ tying fairly directly into the first season and ‘Six’ focusing squarely on the backstory. Which of these approaches do prefer when working on this sort of tie-in fiction?
Honestly, I like having the variety. I like that there’s different places that we can step into the ‘Stranger Things’ universe and find places to tell stories that you’re not going to get to see on the show. For the first one, at that point we hadn’t really seen Will be a normal kid, because this was prior to season three. So I wanted to be able to tell the story where he actually gets to be the hero for once instead of the victim of the unspeakable evil. And in terms of ‘Six’, getting to add new characters to the universe and see some of the other participants in the program before Eleven, I thought that was a really cool way to add to the world.
With the first one, you mentioned Will not being as fleshed out as you’d like in the first two seasons of the show. Did that present any interesting challenges when you sat down to write the book?
I don’t think it did that much, because we really got to see the world he’s from. We got to see his friends and the way they sort of use D&D to problem solve and understand the situation. And because he was coming from the same place as them originally, we just sort of played with that a lot, how the member of the party who’s split from the party tries to survive on their own. So it was definitely leaning into the same sort of D&D tropes and concepts that we saw very much in the show.
Sort of “D&D as a common language.”
Can you tell us a bit about what went into developing the cast for ‘Six’? In particular, Francine is such a stark contrast to Eleven and the other MK Ultra kids we’ve seen.
I definitely wanted to have someone who came into the program as an older kid, and who had more of a backstory, more of a reason that this would be a choice that she made. Because I think when it’s a choice you’ve made, learning about that betrayal finding out this place you thought was so great and really trying to help you wasn’t at all what you thought just hurts so much more. And that’s a very different journey than Eleven went on, because for the longest time that’s all she knew. So I definitely wanted to have a character that had a different perspective from Eleven and was coming from a different place; someone who obviously didn’t have the level of power that Eleven has because Eleven was clearly the greatest success of the program. But I think Francine really sort of showed why Eleven was pushed in some of the ways she was, because what worked and didn’t work with an earlier test subject is going to influence how they treat the later once.
Without spoiling anything, is there a chance we’ll see more of the original characters from ‘Six’?
Can you give us the elevator pitch for ‘Into The Fire’?
I don’t know how much has been revealed yet, but I’ll say we’ve seen a lot of different eighties movie influences on the different aspects of ‘Stranger Things’, and this one is going to tap into an influence from the era we haven’t seen before.
You know, I don’t know why, but when I was reading ‘Six’, I loved the image of Dr. Brenner in the Steve Jobs turtleneck. I got to that page and just started grinning like an idiot.
Did you have any of those “Oh my God, that’s amazing!” moments as the art was coming in?
That’s the sort of thing I love about comics. You can say “I want this,” but you never quite know how it’s going to come out.
Yeah, one of the most fun things of working in comics is getting art in your inbox and seeing the team bringing everyone’s vision to life.
Imagine you’re given the keys to the kingdom. What’s the one ‘Stranger Things’ story you’d like to tell?
I don’t know, I kind of feel like I have been given the keys to a large chunk of the kingdom. I’m getting to dive into the backstory and build up some of these other kids, and that’s been a real blast because it’s adding a distinctive piece to the universe that’s really its own thing apart from the TV show.
And lastly, do you have any other projects you’d like to share? Where can people find more of your work?
I’ve also been working on the ‘Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins 2’ series for Dark Horse. ‘StarCraft: Survivors’ is about to wrap up soon. At other publishers I’m working on ‘Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’ at DC, ‘Web of Black Widow’ at Marvel, and ‘Star Trek: Year Five’ over at IDW.
‘Stranger Things: The Other Side’ and ‘Stranger Things: Six’ are both available in trade paperback, and the first issue of ‘Stranger Things: Into The Fire’ will hit shelves in January 2020. For more from NYCC 2019, be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com in the coming days!