Storage Wars and Area 51 Collide in “Unit 44” [Interview]

By | March 25th, 2015
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

Comedy comics are starting to become a little better accepted than they were a few years ago, and that’s a great thing. For too long, too many comics lacked a sense of fun or anything that could pass for an actual joke. If there’s anything comics should be, above all, it’s fun, and that’s exactly what “Unit 44” from Alterna Comics is.

Written by Wes Locher and drawn by Eduardo Jimenez, “Unit 44” is what happens with Storage Wars meets Area 51. When two agents fail to pay the rent on Area 51’s offsite storage unit, it’s bought at public auction by a couple of locals. It just so happens that one of those objects in the storage unit is also needed to stop an impending alien invasion. It’s a sci-fi comedy with tons of laughs and a bit of action.

Read on as we chat with writer Wes Locher about “Unit 44”, writing comedy, Storage Wars, cross-promotion, and a whole lot more. “Unit 44” #1 is for sale on Comixology for $1.99 and a 5-page preview can be found on their site.

“Unit 44” is coming to Comixology through Alterna Comics after a couple of successful Kickstarter campaigns. What can you share about the book for those fans that may have missed out the first time around?

Wes Locher: What people missed out on was the chance to get behind the silliest and most irreverent comic book likely to be published in 2015. The idea for “Unit 44” is simple. Inept Area 51 employees Agent Gibson and Agent Hatch forget to pay the rent on the facility’s off-site storage unit and the secret contents are sold to a pair of backwoods rednecks at public auction. When an alien invasion threatens planet Earth, the agents must recover an item from the locker if they hope to stop the extraterrestrial threat.

For anyone who may have snickered at that high concept, that’s just the tip of a hilarious iceberg.

“Unit 44” is a sci-fi/comedy book when we just don’t see a lot comedy books on the market, and those that are tend not to be the best-selling. What made you decide to tackle the genre?

Doing a comedy comic book seemed like a surefire way of meeting my life’s goal of dying cold, hungry and alone.

Honestly, it’s me being true to me. I wrote the comic book that I wanted to read and when other people respond to something like that, it’s an awesome added bonus. Over the past few years I realized that a large majority of comics were focused on being “dark” or “gritty” and used words like “noir” and “street level” with reckless abandon. Don’t get me wrong…I dig those books, but I like a bit of escapism in my entertainment to get away from the horrible things that happen in the world on a day-to-day basis. The idea of creating a comic that would allow the reader to shut off his or her brain and just have a good laugh at a silly story was very appealing to me. I’m not out to teach any important life lessons with this comic. I just believe we should all laugh more. It feels good and it’s a beautiful sound.

I’m really into the juxtaposition of over-the-top humor paired with a cartoony visual and if there’s anything we’ve learned from TV shows like Archer, Family Guy or The Simpsons, it’s that there are people who feel the same way. What’s on the comic store shelves now has proven that it’s the perfect time for a book like Unit 44 to come into the marketplace. Fun and wacky comics like “D4VE”, “God Hates Astronauts” and “Bravest Warriors” have all found a solid audience so we’re hoping to have some crossover with those readers. It’s like, “If you had fun at that party then you’ll dig ours too. Except ours is 80s-themed and we have punch.”

Of course, as with all art, humor is completely subjective and one person’s “hah hah” can be another person’s “this is so stupid.” Let me put it this way: “Unit 44” is for those folks who only sat through Jay Leno so they could watch Conan O’Brien.

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The titular Unit 44 is the offsite storage unit where everything that doesn’t fit in Area 51 gets stored. What sort of secrets are housed in that cramped little space?

As the renter of a storage unit it had to think about what was in my own. It’s all this stuff that I don’t have room for at home but don’t have the need to use on a regular basis, but it’s packed away nicely so I don’t look like a hoarder. Whereas my unit contains archaic video game systems, dusty musical instruments and tokens from my childhood, it seemed that a satellite storage unit would be where Area 51 employees might toss those old alien corpses from the Roswell incident, secret technologies or failed experiments that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Anyone who uses self-storage knows that the longer an item is in there, the more likely you are to forget about it until you desperately need it, which ends up being a pretty important detail to our story.

The MacGuffin for our tale is an alien crystal that has fallen into the hands of a couple of rednecks who have no clue what’s in their possession and instead, they’re focused on selling it for a profit. It turns out that same item is the only way to stop an impending alien invasion. Much hilarity ensues.

Half the fun is the casual mentions that characters make as to what else might be in the storage unit. If I have the privilege to continue telling stories within this world, there are plenty more items inside that locker that could cause serious trouble for our protagonists.

After Kickstarting the series, I know you pitched it around to different places and even considered self-publishing before landing with Alterna. What brought you there and what made them a great fit for “Unit 44”?

Sometimes when you start on a comic book project you know that there’s a certain publisher that it might appeal to. When artist Eduardo Jimenez and I began work on “Unit 44” I was pretty upfront about the fact that it would be in an uphill battle when it came to finding a publishing partner. Publishers put their time and energy behind projects that are a safe bet when it comes to making money (can you blame them?) and here we were showing them this goofy book about Area 51, conspiracies, aliens and storage units. Now, in all fairness, the book received a positive response from everyone we sent it to and we got a lot of great feedback that we were able to apply to the series as we worked on it.

One day out of the blue, Alterna Comics’ publisher Peter Simeti got in touch to ask what direction we had gone in, which kicked up a dialogue. I read a ton of indie books so I was very familiar with Alterna’s catalog and I’m pals with several creators who had done books with them. Heck, just look at their name… “Alterna” is short for “alternative.” That’s “Unit 44” all over.

Beyond that, Peter has nearly 10 years of industry experience and he’s really embraced new distribution technologies. He wants Alterna’s books to succeed and goes out of his way to promote the titles he believes in. Under his guidance the FUBAR zombie anthology had become a New York Times bestselling graphic novel and The Chair will see release as a motion picture in the not-too-distance future. When someone is willing to work as hard as him, you can’t help but be inspired and want to be in their corner. But mostly we signed up with him because he has an awesome CD collection.

Agents Hatch and Gibson are a bit of an odd couple. Hatch is older, wiser, and strict, whereas Gibson is young, dumb, and not quite so good at his job. What’s the fun of putting these two together in a situation like this?

Any story worth its salt needs constant conflict and when you have a buddy cop (or in this case, buddy government agent) tale, it’s always a natural fit to have the main characters embody qualities that make them opposites. In this vein, Hatch and Gibson make a good team because their constant interplay creates the majority of humor throughout our miniseries and where Hatch is strong, Gibson can be weak (and vice versa). Though it seems like they can’t ever quite see eye-to-eye on things, there’s a pretty good chance they’d never be successful agents if they worked alone or had a different partner. I think characters should build one another up, even when they occasionally have to tear each other down.

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I kind of hate when writers say stuff like this, but by putting Hatch and Gibson together in a room, it felt like the dialogue would write itself and much hilarity would always ensure. Luckily, I think I was there to write down most, if not all of it. I may have fallen asleep a few times. Who knows what they got into when I wasn’t looking.

In addition to Agents Gibson and Hatch, “Unit 44” also features two storage unit buying rednecks, Chester and Ike. After they buy Unit 44, it’s Gibson and Hatch’s job to hunt them down. What else are they getting up to in the story?

These are two fellas who don’t rank very high on the intelligence scale and by the simple act of purchasing a storage unit they’ve been plunged right into the middle of things. Chester and Ike bring their own style of humor to the pages of “Unit 44”. They may mean for something to be completely serious but to an outsider it’s downright silly. While the agents desperately need to reclaim an alien artifact to prevent an extraterrestrial invasion, these dudes are hoping to pawn the items from the locker for a couple of bucks. Not only do we get to see what sort of hilarity that situation breeds, but I think it’s fun to watch their minds be constantly blown as their world gets bigger with each passing moment. While these rednecks may start the story in an adversarial position, Gibson and Hatch soon see how important they are to keeping planet Earth in one piece.

Eduardo did a great job of differentiating the futuristic-looking Area 51 locations and the…uh…not-so-futuristic-looking landscapes of the redneck town.

Admittedly, storage units and those Storage Wars TV shows are not something you often see in comics. What about the world of buying and selling storage units made it something worth playing such a role in the comic?

It’s oddly satisfying that “Unit 44: is the only comic book on the market about storage units. (Honestly, I can’t back that up.) While we were running our Kickstarter campaigns we got some amazing press from the self-storage industry, which as it turns out, is full of great and supportive people. We even had Dan and Laura Dotson, the auctioneers from the TV show Storage Wars, contact us and make a very generous donation to help get the series off the ground. I mean, how awesome is that?

While I don’t have any sort of intense interest in the world of self-storage, I think it’s quite obvious that Storage Wars directly inspired “Unit 44”. (For the uninitiated, Storage Wars is a reality show about people who purchase unpaid storage units at public auction in hopes of selling the contents for a profit.) I had the show playing on TV one day while working and as I sat there watching the stars digging through these old, dirty units, I turned to my wife and asked her what might happen if someone purchased a unit that contained some sort of big government secret. Here we are just a few years later and that idea has now become my masterwork. And that folks, is how stories are created.

That’s really interesting to me that you got a bunch of press from the self-storage industry. What did they think of a comic using that as a central plot point? Were there many comic fans among them?

I’m sure you can imagine my shock and surprise when I started getting interview requests from folks who spend their day blogging about the self-storage industry. I had several people reach out to order copies of the (Kickstarter) comic to give away to patrons of their self-storage facilities who they knew stored comics in their units. If anything, it was an awesome crash course in how to use cross promotion to my advantage. If Eduardo and I could get a whole unrelated subculture interested in a silly comic book, it definitely gave me hope for what we could accomplish once it reached an audience of weekly readers. I guess we’ll find out, huh?

All in all, I was floored by the response. The biggest piece of feedback I found myself hearing from the storage industry folks was, “Why hasn’t anyone done this idea before?” When you’re creating art, those are some seriously encouraging words. The high concept of the comic is simple, easy to understand and nine times out of ten it makes people laugh. I figure if Ed and I can make someone laugh with one sentence, imagine what we can do with 22 pages.


Leo Johnson

Leo is a biology/secondary education major and one day may just be teaching your children. In the meantime, he’s podcasting, reading comics, working retail, and rarely sleeping. He can be found tweeting about all these things as @LFLJ..