Jason Neulander was invited to bring The Intergalactic Nemesis, his radio play that he'd been presenting in coffee houses in Austin, Texas, into the much larger 2,400-seat Long Center for the Performing Arts in the Texas capital.
It was a big opportunity — but there was a problem: The show — consisting basically of actors microphones, sound effects and a keyboard player — seemed too small for the big theater.
The radio play is an intimate experience, Neulander says, "and I was about to reject the offer when an image came to me in a flash of the comic book pages on a screen the size of the proscenium arch to create the kind of a spectacle that could fill a space that big."
But there was another hitch: There was no complete comic book version of The Intergalactic Nemesis.
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He had started working on the comics version with artist Tim Doyle — but only two pages were done.
"After that meeting at the Long Center, I raced back home and got on my laptop to edit together what literally became the first minute and nine seconds of the show," Neulander recalls.
He was deleting descriptive language essential for the radio version and fashioning a narrative for the stage performance and the comic book. It was mixing two mediums with different needs. He really didn't have any precedent to work from. But somewhere in the process, Neulander realized, "I had stumbled upon an idea that really could work."
That was affirmed as they started presenting the show at a movie theater before screenings of Iron Man 2.
"I was worried we might be heckled off the stage," Neulander says. "Nobody knew we were going to do it. We did surveys, and every time, there were one or two haters. But overall, just everybody who came filled out a survey, and we asked people to rate the experience on a one-to-five scale, and we were coming in consistently at 4.3, 4.4, with a totally random audience. So we started to feel pretty good."
These days, he can feel a lot better.
The Intergalactic Nemesis is a full-fledged touring production that has crisscrossed North America and makes its Central Kentucky debut Friday at Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.
Like some of the movies it opened for, The Intergalactic Nemesis has become a trilogy. Book One: Target Earth and Book Two: Robot Planet Rising are now touring, and Book Three: Twin Infinity is set to premiere in September.
Target Earth is what folks will see in Danville this weekend. Fear not: It is a self-contained story, so you won't be left hanging. Even so, Neulander hopes you'll leave wanting more.
Since its debut in 2010, the production has played on Broadway and at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, and it has been featured on Conan O'Brien's show, NPR, PBS, Ain't It Cool News and other outlets.
Target Earth is set in 1933 and introduces Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter Molly Sloan and her assistant, Timmy Mendez, who travel the world and eventually the galaxy with librarian Ben Wilcott to defeat the Sludge Monsters from Planet Zygon, who plan to invade Earth.
Yes, the fate of the world rests with a newspaper reporter and a librarian.
"The inspiration for me for the project was the fact that I was 7 when Star Wars came out in the movie theaters and 12 when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, and for me, the project is about tapping into my own inner 12-year-old," Neulander says. "What's great about it is my peers now have kids who are the appropriate age for this sort of thing.
"I try to make it clear that you don't have to be a fan of radio drama or comic books to get into this show. If you're a fan of the kind of storytelling Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark embody, there's a good chance you'll really love this show."