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April 14, 2010

Indy Gems: Writer Scott Burn talks AGON!

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Agon is a thrilling sci-fi ass kicking adventure published by Zenescope Entertainment and written by Scott Burn with art from Paul Roper. It’s an intergalactic free for all competition that pits man against alien! Issue #1 has already hit the shelves and issue #2 ships soon. Read on to see what writer Scott Burn has to say about Agon!

CA: Lets start this interview off with just a little “get to know Scott Burn” session: What do you do, how did you start doing it, and where are you from?

SCOTT BURN: Although Los Angeles is home now, I’m a New Yorker at heart. I grew up in the Apple and went to college in the frozen tundra upstate in Rochester. So LA seemed like a pretty good place to be thawed out. I started out screenwriting while I was working at one of the big talent agencies. I was going through screenplays day after day and thought, “I might not be able to do better than this, but I think I can do this.” So I wrote a little comedy that got optioned for a few bucks. Not too long after, I took up writing full time.

Now, I spend most of my time as a science fiction screenwriter. But when I’m looking for things to do other than that, LA offers many diversions (hiking, biking, swimming etc). I don’t do most of those things, but I like knowing they’re there.

CA: How long have you been writing Comics, and what are some of your other sequential works?

Agon #1

SB: AGON is my first foray into comic book writing. Before that, I worked solely on the screenwriting side. The first project that got set up is in development at Summit Entertainment (the studio doing the Twilight series). That project is called COUNTDOWN. It’s based on a Richard Matheson short story called “Death Ship.” The basic idea is about a group of astronauts that land on a distant planet and find their own dead bodies. One by one they start to die in the way their doppelganger corpse did.

The next one is at Relativity Media. It’s called ORIGIN. It’s a story about what happens when a primordial black hole is heading straight towards earth. This was an especially fun one to do because I got to talk to astrophysicists all over the world to see if any of my wild ideas had any foundation in grounded science. The intriguing thing about this story was using how time/space distorts the closer you get to the black hole. Which allowed for a lot of interesting play in unfolding the mysteries piece by piece.

CA: Agon is Zenescope’s first venture into the science fiction genre; is this the start of more science fiction titles from Zenescope, or is this series just testing the waters?

SB: I get the sense that Zenescope is looking to keep their core audience while at the same time expanding into some new areas. Between my comic, MERC and STINGERS, I think the idea is to see how far they can expand beyond it. I could be totally wrong, but I think people respond to good storytelling even if it’s slightly outside the expected wheelhouse. It’s like FIELD OF DREAMS in that way, “If you build it, they will come.” Hopefully people who are open to exploring are ultimately glad they did.

CA: So what’s Agon all about?

SB: On the surface, I could just say it’s an intergalactic gladiator story. An alien comes down to earth and informs us that we’ve reached a stage of enlightenment where we’re being invited to join a hierarchy of advanced alien civilizations. However, to do so, we have to compete against three other emerging alien civilizations. The winner will join, the losers will have their species wiped out.

Once the action kicks into gear though, the story is ultimately about something much more. Hopefully I’ve done my job well and people like the direction it takes off on.

CA: Could you tell us a little about the competition: will it be Earth vs the Universe, or more of a Highlander “There can be only one!” type of brawl? …or something else entirely?

Scene from Agon #0. Click to enlarge.

SB: It’s much closer to the Highlander take. There are four different species fighting in the competition. Each of the groups stands alone. If their last fighter is killed in combat, that’s it. Game over for that species. Issues #2, #3 & #4 deal with the different layers of the competition. At the same time, each issue reveals more about each of the species fighting and the Hierarchy.

CA: Where and when did you first get the idea for Agon?

SB: I had never written a comic book before. And I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea how to break into that side. But I had a little good fortune on my side. The initial idea for an intergalactic gladiator battle wasn’t mine. It was brought to me by the Zenescope guys (I had been recommended to them by producers on ORIGIN). When they saw what I did with that story, they asked what I’d do with this. I love science fiction and classic hero stories, so combining them was a really appealing scenario. I had some ideas that weren’t what the Zenescope guys were expecting. But to their credit, they rolled the dice and basically let me run for five issues with what I wanted to.

But what was just as important to me as the action was the theme of the story. I really wanted to explore the very nature of humanity. What does it mean to be human? Is it a soul? A state of mind or genetic code? And if in different ways, alien species all had “human qualities” what would that mean? How would we find common ground with them? So diving into this element of AGON was immensely compelling. To have these amazing backdrops of battles, heroes, villains, and everyone in between and finding a way to weave this into the tale made it very satisfying.

CA: When the ten warriors are shown in issue #1, I got the impression each warrior would have a specific role or purpose in the contest. The big guy from the Congo, he is obviously the strong man, then there’s the shifty martial artist from China, the big game hunter from Australia- would my impression be correct, or have I seen way too many old Japanese movies?

SB: I think the Japanese movies have served you well. But there are shades of gray. They each have certain skill sets, like tracking, kicking ass in a monstrous way, telekinetic abilities, etc. But at the same time you can’t expect that everyone is going to survive from beginning to end. So each of them will have to be able to take over the slack in one form or another.

On top of that, the story takes place in a near future where, somehow, there’s even more tension in the world between nations than now. The ten warriors who are thrown together have natural dislikes towards certain others. So just as they come to know the aliens over time, they have to first overcome the mistrust within their own group to move forward together.

Another page from Agon #0.

CA: I’m itching to see more aliens and definitely more alien fights. Are either of these a possibility?

SB: In issue #2, I think all of your desires will be satisfied. And hopefully, the action and tension only gets ratcheted up with each successive issue. The finale has the most phenomenal fight of all.

CA: What can you tell us about the Hierarchy?

SB: I think it’s easy for people to think of the Hierarchy as one mass of evil. But they’re not. Their leader, Ryke, sets their course. And that course is one he has learned from the leaders before him. Theirs is a very Darwinian approach. They’re immensely advanced on a technological level. But they don’t allow technology to get in the way of battle. To them, the purist battles to aspire to are hand to hand. No laser guns or bombs. You show that you are the strongest and most deserving. And that’s what gives the victors the right to survive.

So when they come to earth or other planets because they feel we’re now ready, what they’re really seeing is that we’ve reached a warlike quality in our nature. And that’s what they find most appealing. To them, “enlightenment” stems from embracing our violent nature.

Above all else, Ryke and the Hierarchy are honorable. But what they honor may be up for some moral debate.

CA: I’ve never heard of cows referred to as “Bos Taurus”… is that actually a real term? Have you created any languages or other terms/lingo for Agon?

SB: It’s real. A way of describing cattle. I just loved the idea of a character saying, “What the hell’s a bos taurus?” I created worlds, but not languages. I wish I could do that.

CA: The first time I read Agon I got a Seven Samurai vibe; There are ten warriors in your comic, but were there any Seven Samurai influences?

The battle begins in Agon #0! Click to enlarge.

SB: The Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, Kelly’s Heroes, Braveheart, Gladiator…all these films swirl in my consciousness. Hopefully though, Agon has a voice all its own. I mentioned above the question of what makes us human. For our characters, all of the gladiators, they deal with that on the level of exploring who the real enemy is — the one facing them with a sword in their hand or is it the one pulling the strings on all of them? Sometimes, your greatest enemy can become your most trusted ally in the right circumstances. So yes, there is the influence…but this story goes in a very different direction down the road.

CA: Do you have any other titles in the works right now?

SB: I’ve been developing a sci-fi project with producer Gale Anne Hurd that I hope to have done pretty soon. It’s a different sort of alien invasion story about a man coming to terms with the idea that he may be half alien and having to decide who his ultimate alliance is to.

CA: Anything else you’d like to say on Agon or the world of comics?

SB: What’s been really amazing to me is the speed with which the stories are brought to the comic book pages once they’re out of my hands. In the screenwriting world, the development process takes years and in all likelihood, no matter how excited a studio is, that project will never make it to the screen. But in the comic book world, when AGON got sent to my artist, Paul Roper, within a few days he was sending me sketches. To see the characters was just amazing. It’s the first time i’ve had that happen and it was just really cool to get that.

Its also been really nice walking in to comic book shops and finding how open buyers were to checking out something new and wanting to hear about the story. I’m really appreciative of that.

CA: Last Question: If and when there is a zombie apocalypse, are you going to be prepared?

SB: Ha, that one actually had me laughing out loud. My girlfriend and I were just talking about which one of us would survive in the event of some kind of apocalypse. We realized that she’d definitely make it. I’d be lunch. It’s unfortunate, but that was the reality of it. On the flip side though, I think I make a better cocktail, so the zombies would hopefully factor that in before gnawing on my fingers. Thanks for giving me the chance to talk AGON, zombies and everything else.

Agon #1 is in stores now with #2 to be released very soon! Click here to read a review of Agon #0 + #1!

Scott Andrews



  1. Very cool! I’ll give it a look at my LCS!!

  2. Billy

    Great interview Scott! Sounds like a good read.

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