060:45:46 Armstrong: Do you have any idea where the S-IVB is with respect to us?
060:49:02 Duke: Apollo 11, Houston. The S-IVB’s about 6,000 nautical miles from you now. Over.
060:49:14 Armstrong: Okay. Thank you.
– NASA voice transcripts from Apollo 11. July 19, 1969
During the inaugural flight to the moon, crew members of Apollo 11 sighted an unusual object moving close to their capsule. Not wanting to arouse speculation that they had encountered an alien craft or UFO of some sort, they casually asked Houston where the third stage of the rocket (S-IVB), which had detached earlier, might now be floating out in space. When Houston reported that it was 6000 miles away, the crew on Apollo knew that what they were looking at wasn’t the third stage.
Years after the famous voyage, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step on the moon, said that there was definitely “something out there.” However, along with NASA’s official statement, Buzz concluded that he is “99.9 per cent certain” that what the crew witnessed on July 19th was only a panel that had separated from the third stage rocket.
The panel explanation was slightly different from the astronauts’ original claim. When they returned to earth and were debriefed by NASA, they said the unusual object tumbling through space was the shape of a “cylinder”.
Red Hayes, the unhinged central character in Futility, is prone to building his own cylinder shaped objects.
“Red,” explains Rick Overwater, co-creator of Futility, “came off the farm and went into the Air Force. He trained with Buzz Aldrin and was a decent pilot. But he kept getting nosebleeds so he became a combat trainer who never saw combat. Whereas Buzz saw action, and was decorated in the Korean War. Both Red and Buzz went on to MIT, get degrees in engineering and enter the space program. In real life, Buzz just about doesn’t make the cut. Red washes out and finds himself back on the farm. He marries an ex-girlfriend of Buzz, who he now harbours a deep jealously towards.”
In fierce competition with his former flight buddy, Red devises a way to stay alive in space and assembles his own grain-bin rocketship that he launches to “show the world who’s the real boss.” The cylinder-shaped flying contraption is what Buzz and his comrades see float by their capsule on route to the moon that July in 1969… containing none other than good ole UFO Red Hayes.
All this is just the “back story” and premise that sets up Futility, none of which is really depicted or spelt out in the 28-page high-gloss comic. Instead, the opening panels have Red in the clutches of robot-like creatures performing a series of electro-tests on their abductee. Red busts out of the laboratory only to find himself stranded on a barren, forsaken planet where death storms threaten to annihilate the unfortunate inhabitants who were banished there. Clearly Red is in one hell of a pickle.
The story unfolds in a confused, convoluted manner with Red stumbling across a slimy mutant creature from the green lagoon who becomes an ally helping Red survive the death (hail) storm and recover his trusty stead—the custom-built, grain-bin rocketship.
Folding his arms, Overwater leans back in the booth we share at the pizza joint, his eyes narrow when he asks, “So, whaddya think?”
“Were you guys on some kind of wild acid ride when you came up with this stuff? I’m mean, the story’s all over the place. Red’s getting tortured, he escapes the robots, he’s on a nowhere planet, he meets friendly slim greenies who speak his language, he descends into some weird hell that he escapes somehow, he endures the death storm, then fights to get his ship back. But you have no idea where he’s coming from or where he’s going, and not much is known about him the planet, the robots or the slim greenies. A whirlwind of chaos splattered in full colour across the page.”
Overwater chuckles and seems genuinely pleased with the critical feedback. “It’s supposed be pretty F-ed up. The reason I don’t like most comics anymore is that you’re done in 20 minutes and you can wipe your ass with them. Even though they’re compelling reads, beautifully drawn, there’s just a lot of talking heads delivering a fairly straight storyline. We like this kind of comic where someone reads it, ponders the art and has to go back over it a few times to piece it together.” He adds, “Our intention is explain everything in four issues so you get the complete story arc.”
The genesis for the disoriented journey of Red Hayes stems back to Overwater’s youth. “I used to draw cartoons when I was a kid, and always wanted to make comics. But for years and years I thought you had to write and draw them. I didn’t realize that most comics are scripted by a writer, the way a movie is, then an artist draws it.”
Cam Hayden played with Overwater in Agriculture Club, Alberta’s reigning country-grind punk band, for nearly a decade. Both have rural roots growing up on farms in central Alberta. Both had a serious addiction for Mad Magazine and EC Comics’ Weird Science when growing up. Although they didn’t discuss making comics on their long drives touring Canada’s frozen tundra, Overwater knew Hayden was an illustrator with an unusual talent for weirdness. Eventually they came to collaborate. As Overwater recounts in the liner notes of their strange little offspring, Futility:
“I showed him a psychotic western story I’d written and browbeat him into letting me write a script. He showed me the drawings he’d made of a farmer passed out in a homemade grain-bin rocket. We ate lower intestinal clogging lunches while stupid ideas zinged about like drunken hornets.”
Find Futility’s table at Section E of the Big 4 building on April 24th during the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo.
By B. Simm
Illustrations: Cam Hayden