By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Perhaps the most unique multimedia experience to ever land on the Big Island will unfold tonight at 7:30 p.m. as the University of Hawaii at Hilo presents the live-action graphic novel “The Intergalactic Nemesis, Book One: Target Earth.”
Jason Neulander, the project’s writer and director, said the show, which mixes three live voice actors with more than 1,250 individual, full-color, hand-drawn, hi-res, blow-your-mind comic book images, plus a keyboard player and sound effects artist, sprang from “my own inner 12-year-old.”
“The project actually got its start back in the ’90s when me and some friends, when we were in our early 20s, threw together this sci-fi radio play that, to me, at least, was totally inspired by being a kid when ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ came out,” Neulander told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday. “And as the project has evolved, and it’s evolved quite a lot over the years, I’ve gone back to old ’30s pulp fiction, I’ve gone back to movies from the ’30s and ’40s. A big inspiration for the dialogue, and our efforts to make it crackle, is ‘His Girl Friday,’ which is one of my favorite movies of all time. Then, there was the action movies of the ’80s. Pretty much everything fun that I grew up on.”
Neulander, of Austin, Texas, said the project was originally a radio play, because it was “the zero-budget way to do stuff.”
He said the multimedia concept arose when the project was booked into Austin’s Long Center for the Performing Arts.
“That venue was really too big for a radio play,” he said. “That’s when I came up with the idea of adding the comic book artwork. But in doing that, I still wanted to create for the audience an opportunity for them to use their imaginations. Which is why it’s still images instead of an animated film or something like that.”
The play is set in 1933, and Pulitzer-winning reporter Molly Sloan and her intrepid assistant Timmy Mendez find a map of something called “The Central Hive.” They then discover that they’ve stumbled upon the story of the century.
The three actors all voice a multitude of roles, with Danu Uribe as Sloan, David Higgins as Mendez, and Christopher Lee Gibson as Vlad, among others. Neulander said he chose the actors based on “great stage presence” and “incredible voice talent.”
“In one of the scenes, Chris Gibson plays four different roles,” Neulander said. “In over two pages of dialog from that scene, his characters are the only ones speaking.”
Artist Tim Doyle drew the images used onstage, and has since achieved international renown due to a poster he created featuring President Barack Obama.
“That poster really started to take off,” Neulander said. “It got to the point where Industrial Light & Magic made T-shirts of it. His poster business went bananas. Lucky for me I caught him when I did, because it was not only his first comic book series, it will probably be the last.”
In fact, Doyle was unavailable and another artist illustrated “The Intergalactic Nemesis, Book Two: Robot Planet Rising,” which premiered in Austin last June. The final book of the “Intergalactic” Trilogy is currently in the works, Neulander said.
Graham Reynolds composed the original music, and the touring keyboardist is Kenny Redding Jr., a 22-year-old Berklee College of Music alum Neulander describes as “a prodigy.”
“The score for ‘Intergalactic’ is designed to be mostly improvised and Kenny has totally made the music his own,” Neulander said. “He started touring with us when the show started touring, which is a little over a year ago. He’d been playing keyboards for churches. Now this 22-year-old kid is touring the world with us.”
The sound effects artist is Buzz Moran, a former guitarist and drummer who turned to sound effects after developing tendinitis, Neulander said.
“I needed somebody with a good sense of rhythm,” he said. “Buzz came on board and how his career is creating sound effects for plays, for film and for us.”
“Intergalactic,” which also features a series of comic books and other merchandise, has played to packed houses nationwide and was featured on Conan O’Brien’s TV show and National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” Neulander said the success comes as “a complete surprise.”
“Not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself at the unbelievableness of the whole thing,” he said. “I’ve created work for a long time, for a lot of different projects, but I’ve never seen anything close to this level of response for my own work. I can’t really imagine anything more gratifying than having one’s work appreciated at so many different levels.”
Tickets are $20 general, $15 discount and $17 for UH students with valid ID and children 17 and under, available at the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center box office, by phone at 934-7310 and online at http://artscenter.uhh.hawaii.edu.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.