Houston Comic Artist Takes Orson Welles On Interstellar Adventure

Houston Comic Artist Takes Orson Welles On Interstellar Adventure

The 1938 radio production of H.G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds, directed and narrated by Orson Welles, remains one of the most legendary moments in 20th century storytelling. The reported widespread belief that Welles was describing an actual alien attack is false, though some listeners did believe that it was a chronicle of a Nazi invasion. Nonetheless, yellow journalism reports of audiences arming themselves against Martians catapulted Welles into the spotlight, and he would remain one of the most iconic filmmakers until his death in 1985. 

Houston comic author Milton Lawson asks, “but what if aliens did invade while Welles narrated?” That’s the premise of his new graphic novel, Orson Welles: Warrior of the Worlds, from Scout Comics and with art from Erik Whalen. It has already been optioned for television development by screenwriter R. Christopher Murphy (Ready or NotCastle Rock).

 “I’ve been a Welles fan my whole life,” says Lawson. “My love of science fiction and Welles were destined to collide at some point.”

Lawson’s version of Welles leads a double life as a filmmaker and alien fighter. When he dies, his friend and collaborator Paula discovers a mysterious orb that lets her travel through time to Welles’ youth. She joins him as they battle the tychomorphs, who consume the entire cultures of their conquered worlds. Imagination and artistic vision are as potent as high-tech weaponry against them, which makes Welles the natural hero defending the Earth.

Oh, and he battles a sinister rival who is legally not Walt Disney, if you’re feeling annoyed with the ever-expanding Empire of the Mouse.

Welles was a larger-than-life figure even in his own time, a perfectionist and renaissance man who was responsible for some of the greatest stories of the era. Ray Kelly of Welles Net (the premier online source for information on the life of Welles), who wrote the forward for the graphic novel, thinks Welles would have enjoyed this take on his identity.

“Given Orson Welles’ penchant for embellishing aspects of his extraordinary life and career, he might have gotten a chuckle out of Milton Lawson turning him into such a heroic action figure,” says Kelly.

This isn’t Lawson’s first foray into science fiction. His previous comic, Thompson Heller: Detective Interstellar, was a rollicking good set of misadventures of a planet-hopping P.I. Part Star Trek, part John Constantine, it established Lawson’s penchant for Jack Kirby-esque fantastic planets and light-hearted humor.

Warrior of the Worlds was being conceived even before Heller. Originally, it was going to be an anthology of stories about Welles as a spacefaring hero, something that can still be felt in its monster-of-the-week chapters. Still, Lawson was convinced it was something no one would want. 

“I went into this thinking that it was too niche,” he says. “I was surprised people responded to it. One of the reasons it even exists is that I had a list of eight projects, and I sent it to different artists. I assumed nobody would pick it. But every artist gravitated to it. I don’t think that it was that the others were bad. Something about this just caught on with people.”

Kelly was also immediately hooked by the book.

“As someone who has loved comic books since childhood and is obviously fascinated with Orson Welles, ‘Warrior of the Worlds’ is a dream come true,” he says. “It neatly balances the reality of Welles’ career with out-of-this world storytelling. In some ways, it reminds me of the DC Comics ‘Imaginary Stories’ I enjoyed in the 1970s that explored alternate realities.” 

At its core, Warrior of the Worlds is an exploration of the power of imagination. The alien threats that Welles and Paula face don’t just want to conquer territory. They want to eat human culture until its sublimated into themselves. At every turn, Welles uses the power of his artistic nature and signature voice to push back, to draw a line in the sand that says our stories matter.

This sincere sentiment is what makes the book more than just a fun little alternative history story. Lawson’s love of Welles as a creator translates into a pushback against the loss of dreams themselves. Fans of Welles will delight at the all the references to his career, but everyone should be able to appreciate a fight between creativity and mindless consumption.

Orson Welles: Warrior of the Worlds releases May 22 and is available for pre-order from comic shops.