Michael Moreci will sign two kinds of science-fiction titles in Missoula this weekend.
"Black Star Renegades," his first published novel, is an homage to "Star Wars" that's suitable for middle-schoolers and up. "Wasted Space," his new limited series on Vault Comics, is decidedly more adult.
In a phone interview, the award-winning Chicago writer said "Black Star" is both an homage to George Lucas' space-opera and a deconstruction of it. His editor at St. Martin's Press suggested the lifelong fan pitch a novel based on "Star Wars," and it "basically took a week to map out this universe and story," he said.
He noted that "Star Wars" was in itself a pastiche of B-movies, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and more.
Accordingly, Moreci drew on a host of his own influences: Akira Kurosawa samurai movies, the "Guardians of the Galaxy" comics and films; and Laurie Alexander's "The Book of Three" series for young adults.
Space isn't humorless in Moreci's version, and he looked to the "playfulness and self-awareness" of "Ready Player One," Ernest Cline's gamer novel that was recently adapted for film by Steven Spielberg.
In Moreci's tale, a young man holds a secret power that might save the galaxy — he said he was interested in dissecting the messianic tones of the Jedi.
A reviewer for Kirkus noted, "[t]hese are all the same beats used in everything from Joseph Campbell’s mythology to George Lucas’ enduring saga, but Moreci has assembled them with such devotion and style that it’s impossible not to love this strange mashup for its own sake. From intergalactic space battles to blaster fights to rogue robots and various hives of scum and villainy, this shiny space opera is bound to be a pleasure for fans of all stripes."
Moreci said that everyone has influences, and if creators "take those influences and embrace them and utilize them in a way that is playful and self-aware, I think that's OK." It's a means to "acknowledge the nature of what you're doing and you function."
In a sign of the positive response, he's already completed the sequel.
"Wasted Space" is a new title for Vault Comics, a Missoula-based publisher founded by brothers Adrian and Damian Wassel. Some of their creators live and work here in Missoula, while others are more far-flung.
In the first issue, released late last month, readers meet Billy Bane, a jaded dude who once was a prophet and "chosen mouthpiece of the creator," Moreci said. Bane followed the mysterious creator's instructions and "consequently the whole galaxy paid an enormous price."
Billy and his sidekick, a sentient blue-skinned sex robot, get pulled back into his former life when they meet the daughter of another religious leader, and Billy "has the opportunity to make it right even though he might not want to."
Moreci wrote the title, with art by Hayden Sherman and the colorist is Jason Wordie.
The universe that Moreci built in "Wasted Space" isn't one of utopian perfection. Right in the first line, Billy says "the galaxy is totally (expletive.)"
Asked to explain his interest in a flawed future, Moreci recalled an interview with Mike Judge, the creator "Office Space" and "Silicon Valley." Judge's 2006 movie, "Idiocracy," imagined a future where technology has improved but people have become stupider. Someone asked Judge about the genesis of the movie, and he said he didn't know why people assumed we were headed to a world that was better and more peaceful.
"There's a disconnect between this idea that as technology gets better, that people get better, too," Moreci said. He pointed out how technology has progressed at a remarkable pace over the last 10 to 15 years, but humans' problems remain the same regardless of what gadgets they have.
He hopes that "Wasted Space" channels the taboo-breaking comics that Vertigo published in the 1990s. The profanity, drug use and sex are provocative by design.
"Comics don't grab people by the lapels and give them a shake anymore," he said. Some titles target low-hanging political fruit, but he sees "Wasted Space" as "the antithesis of that." It's more "apolitical in that everything is wrong," he said.