Mel Allen Takes Mythology to the Cosmos in “Nephilim Squadron” (Interview)

Independent comic book creator Mel (Hex) Allen recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for Nephilim Squadron, a full color, science-fiction fantasy epic inspired by ancient mythology. He also has an e-mail sign-up list for his next project (here), a collected edition of all of the Nephilim Squadron books so far. We were fortunate enough to get a chance to discuss his campaign, which is still available to support here.

As always, the answers below are represented as closely to “as written” as possible with only minimal edits.

The Splintering: I’ll start with the most obvious question: are you a Trek or Wars sci-fi guy? 

Mel Allen: I’ll begrudgingly have to answer Wars for that one. Trek is too far gone to be recognized these days.

TS: You describe Nephilim Squadron as “hard” science fiction, which is typically identified by more scientific and logical consistency than “soft” science fiction. How would you characterize “hard science fiction”, and how does Nephilim Squadron fit that mold?

MA: Actually, I describe Nephilim Squadron as “hard” science fantasy. I say this because it’s more akin to the works of creators such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Moebius, and Arroyo from Heavy Metal Magazine (with a bit of manga influence). The works of these guys involve more exotic technology and concepts, and are generally aimed at an adult audience. Something like Star Wars, however, I would consider to be just “science fantasy”. The parallels to King Arthur, Shogun-Era Japan and the Holy Trinity are more conventional and relatable notions that don’t really challenge the audience. And to answer how I would characterize “hard” science fiction, I would say that it is more grounded, and merely represents logical extrapolations of technology we already have today.

From my perspective, as an amateur futurist, science fiction can range from even our past up to about 300 years from now. For example, I envision the time period depicted in Ridley Scott’s Alien universe to be the peak of “hard” science fiction (about 100 years from now), whereas something like Asimov’s Foundation would be the height of “regular” science fantasy (thousands of years). Nephilim Squadron takes place in the 28th century (still a relatable time period), but the technology will be advanced enough to appear fantastical.

TS: The mythological origins of the “nephilim” are from the Hebrew Bible. Does Nephilim Squadron have any biblical messages or overtones in it, or was there another reason for the choice of title?  Is it a spoiler to ask if any angels show up?

MA: Excellent question, Blake! At its core Nephilim Squadron is incognito as the retelling of a famous tale from ancient mythology, but not the one about Nephilim. By the end of the four volume saga, the audience will know what the story is. My decision to incorporate the word is based on how Nephilim are commonly known as “fallen angels”. In this sense the protagonists fall hard from grace during the course of the war on the alien planet. And here’s a bit of inside information on the Nephilim Squadron logo: I created a gestalt effect, in that the logo can be viewed one way as an upside-down angel in a descent, or the other way as a phoenix rising! This was a happy accident I assure you. I try not to be intentionally pretentious. Angels will not be making an appearance, and I don’t want to even hint at specifics as to what does. But, as a related side note (you are getting ALL the dang exclusives), there are other squadrons of the Sol Interstellar Forces named after mythological aircraft. There’s the Lung-Ta Squadron (escort and transport), Vimana Squadron (bombers), and Quetza Squadron (multi-role fighter/bombers).

TS: What kind of aliens can we look forward to? Are there any typical “gray” aliens or little green men, or are you designing all-new creatures? I think I saw a bug-like alien in one of the preview pages…

MA: Aside from the El Savaali, the native humanoid species shown on the campaign page, there will be a unique variety of bizarre alien creatures appearing in the book. And as far as the grays are concerned, well there is reference made to them so they exist in the universe, but won’t show up here. The big bug-like creatures are a cross between insect and reptile that the humanoid native aliens use as air craft.

TS: What would you say is your target audience for Nephilim Squadron?

MA: The target audience ranges from mature/older teens all the way up to… people interested in having their minds blown.

All the swag from one of the girthier backing tiers

TS: You noted on the Indiegogo page that Nephilim Squadron is your first crowdfunding campaign. How much studying up did you do before launching your campaign? Did you feel adequately prepared, or have there still been a few bumps in the road?

MA: I studied what others did for several months, and applied as much advice that I could within my projected launch window. But, because I was too eager to launch and pulled the trigger in November (a known bad time to launch), and the nature of the campaign may have been confusing at first, I believe it may have suffered as it has not gained quick traction like those of everyone else. Plus, I don’t have a video. Despite the self-imposed stumbles, I was able to fund and live on in the Indiegogo Indemand store! 

TS: You indicated that you have previously worked as an illustrator and animator. How is your approach to sequential art different than animation or more rudimentary illustration?

MA: My approach to sequential work is based on traditional training and observation from comic books. I try not to think of comics as merely “stylized storyboards”. I know it’s popular in some circles to follow that credo, but I do not adhere to making my comic book “cinematic”. It is not a movie. But this is just from my experience in the industry. And as we all know, comics are special because certain incredible events, emotions and concepts can only be effectively conveyed in this medium.

Work-in-progress pages

TS: Veteran comic book writer Chuck Dixon laments that comics took a hard turn towards superheroes several decades ago, and that the industry would be healthier today if it had not largely abandoned other genres like horror, fantasy and sci-fi. Do you agree? How would you describe the current state of science fiction comics?

MA: I really have not followed any other sci-fi comics in recent years, and when I did regularly go to my LCS (I think 2019 was the last time), I completely ignored the mainstream stuff in the front and made a B-line to the indies. However, the first sci-fi comic that comes to mind that I last enjoyed was Caliban from Garth Ennis. It was sci-fi/horror that was pretty much Alien again, but done so very well. Short answer: I can’t say if I agree or not with Mr. Dixon. I do know that within the circles I dance, there are a few notable titles I’m looking forward to. Outlaw Nights, FATL, Terralympus, Eyva, Captain Luv come to mind.

TS: As part of the campaign, there are plans to include trading cards featuring art from your mobile game Sword, Net, Shield. What can you tell us about the game, and when do you anticipate releasing it for mobile platforms?

MA: Yes, the title Shield Net Sword is an analog of the words Rock Paper Scissors, and the game is a simple exercise in what I have learned over the years in the gaming industry. The characters for which the art is featured in this campaign are the same that users will control in a side scrolling manner, and select their weapons to beat the weapons of the AI opponent (Shield=Rock, Net=Paper, Sword=Scissors). Because art creation and promotion of the campaign has taken so much of my time, the game development is on hold. I’ve quite a bit of character animation to complete, followed by programming the gameplay. My new projected release window is late 2021, but I will be showing more of the development in action after this campaign is closed.

Sword and net beat shield?

TS: Besides comics, in what other entertainment mediums do you see the Nephilim Squadron story?

MA: It looks like it would make a great limited animated series on a premium streaming service, but I would much rather focus on completing the series as a whole in comic book form, and serving the audience I am building in the crowdfunding network.

TS: Since the Indiegogo campaign is only intended to fund “Chapter One” of Nephilim Squadron, how many chapters do you have planned for the series?

MA: There will be 12 chapters. I plan on releasing them as 4 volumes, 3 chapters each (4 campaigns!).

TS: A year from now, how would you describe success for the Nephilim Squadron project?

MA: I will be describing it as a blockbuster success!

TS: What would you do with the power of the Beyonder?

MA: I would change the DNA in human beings to allow for photosynthesis. All sustenance shall be obtained through exposure to sunlight. Not one ever goes hungry again. No time wasted thinking about what to eat, when to eat, what to eat next and where to get it. World hunger solved!

We would like to once again thank Mel Allen for taking the time to answer our questions and to have some fun with us. You can visit the Nephilim Squadron Indiegogo page here, or sign up for email updates on the Nephilim Squadron graphic novel here. And of course, thanks for reading!

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