It’s been nearly a year since the second season of Stranger Things occupied our thoughts, but there are things to keep us busy as we wait for Season 3. Stuff like the Stranger Things Maze at Universal Studios’ Hollywood Horror Nights, or growing a Dustin Chia Pet. But Dark Horse Comics may have trumped them all by giving us what we really want — more stories starring our bike-riding, Demogorgon-hunting fearless foursome.
Written by Jody Houser with art by Stefano Martino and Keith Champagne, Stranger Things #1 will be the first of a four-issue miniseries, released in comic shops on Sept. 26, that will tell the unseen story of Will stuck in the Upside Down. SYFY WIRE has an exclusive reveal of the covers for issue #4 (including a gallery at the bottom).
In the early stages of the comic, Netflix came up with a few ideas, and one of those was a look at Season 1 through Will’s perspective. This was the idea that really struck a chord with Houser.
“I felt like that would be an easy-in for people who were fans of the show but haven’t read comics before,” Houser exclusively tells SYFY WIRE. “That would be a way for them to jump on board easily.”
Fans know the least about Will in his own words. We’ve learned details and memories about him through his brother Jonathan and his mother Joyce — even his friends — but Houser aims to fill in those gaps.
“Will was less a character and more of a treasure that the adventuring party is trying to find,” explains Houser. “I wanted to take that step into what he went through, because he’s the only one to have emerged out of the Upside Down, and we can’t really say unscathed, as we see in Season 2.”
“But the fact he survived at all when multiple adults were dragged in or went in and never emerged. That’s a lot for a kid his age to go through and survive. He has strength and cleverness, and how that came to be was fun to flesh out with more details in a medium where we have space to play.”
Like the boys in Stranger Things, Houser is also an avid gamer. However, it wasn’t Dungeons & Dragons that drew her into gaming — it was more horror games like Call of Cthulhu. She’s also been a part of a Star Wars campaign for over five years. The D&D edition that Houser was most familiar with was released in 2014, 30 years after the D&D Expert Set the boys play with. So relating to the game the boys were playing required acquainting herself with the older rules — not to mention asking her friends some questions but not revealing why she needed to know.
“A few of them were taking a class about D&D and RPGs, and they were studying the specific version I needed to reference,” Houser says, laughing. “So I snuck in these casual questions just as a vague, randomly interested party.”
Upon reading the first issue, fans will see Houser is the right person for the job. She captures the spirit of the nostalgia that Strangers Things creators the Duffer Brothers tap into. Houser also uses her experiences as a gamer to illuminate other characters such as Mike.
“I really liked getting to write Mike as the GM (Game Master). I’m usually one of the players who is probably ruining everything that the GM spends a long time planning — not intentionally — but GM’s plan, players ruin.”
“Mike’s seen as that leader and making sure that his players are feeling comfortable and doing at least a shadow of what they’re supposed to do. It’s essentially herding cats to an extent. So getting to write that aspect of gaming and friendship and how that reflects on the way the group interacts in the real world when they’re on their actual adventure was really fun to play with.”
Often times, the Netflix series was shot at nighttime or in low-lit scenes. Houser made the suggestion to color the book in the style of '80s comics, and colorist Lauren Affe took on the challenge
“I wanted the comic to feel like an artifact from the '80s, like the show does. I think Lauren’s choices to make it a little bit brighter give it that cool, retro feel without making it very, very of the time and flat colors. It has enough of a modern feel that it doesn’t feel completely out of place on the comic shelf, but I think with the brighter tones, with the captions, and thought bubbles, [it gives] it the retro-but-not-dated feel.”
Part of the challenge in telling this specific story is that fans who have seen Season 2, or even started it, know that he makes it out of the Upside Down. Houser had to find a climactic point to latch onto that would be a surprise to readers who have viewed one or both of the seasons.
“That is the difficulty when you’re telling a story set in an existing continuity, or qualifies as a prequel. The stakes are different because to an extent you know who survives and who doesn’t. But we’re playing with as much stuff as we can in this space. We definitely added some twists into Will’s experiences in the Upside Down.”
Stranger Things #1 goes on sale Sept. 26, and is written by Houser, with pencils by Stefano Martino, inks by Keith Champagne, and colors by Lauren Affe. Alexis Briclot provides those eye-catching covers. Check out our cover gallery for issue #4, including variant covers by Jen Bartel, Ethan Young, and a photo cover designed by Patrick Satterfield and Netflix.