Just hate it, like that pic up-top, there, of The Doctor from Doctor Who in a First Contact-era Starfleet uniform. That’s some obvious fan-fiction I think is just sort of unnecessary. On the other hand, the distinction seems pretty nebulous, what with things like Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic being pretty obviously Buckaroo Banzai: Against the World Crime League underwater, and at least two professional comic book writers launching their careers because they wrote entertaining slash fiction, or whatever. Honestly, I don’t even know, because I hate fan fiction.
Even though I was paid to do a revamp of The Prisoner as a reality show for the SciFi Channel, and helped out my good pal Rick Austin on MTV’s The Big Picture: The Star Trek Logs, I don’t really think of that work as fan fiction. Although I, as a writer, was writing that stuff, I was, first, very much a fan of the material. And, of course, as a comics writer just starting out, I’d pitched potential books to the various copyright holders, so there’s that. It’s nebulous. A pitch is just really elaborate, well-done, and professionally-scribed fan-fiction until you get paid for it, right?
And yet I still hate fan fiction, don’t get me wrong. But something my pal EJ Feddes wrote to me this last week or two ago got me going. I know it’s no surprise to the folks checking in here that I’m a big fan of movie props; the costumes and doo-dads that help bring our filmed entertainment to life are sacred objects, to me, so to see Locke’s iconic backgammon set go for seven grand on an auction website was kinda cool. EJ and I were kibbitzing about the sales of the various Lost props and the frankly crazy-ass nuts amount of money things were going for. Kate’s toy airplane, while a pivotal piece, certainly wasn’t iconic or a signature item, and it went for $6500.00. Hurley’s winning lottery ticket (of which there are hundreds printed off from the original digital file in circulation) went for $5500.00. Young James Ford’s “Mr. Sawyer letter,” of which no one can tell anyone anything about, because the original letter was kept as a keepsake by the actress Evangeline Lily and burned in her house fire of 2006… went for $6500.00
EJ and I were trading deep thoughts, cheap shots, and bon mots about this crazy turn of events when I said: “Even if I was in the economic class to throw down for some of these things, because of all the provenance questions, I’m not sure I would have. Especially for those paper props. The Mr. Sawyer letter? Knowing the first one burned up? Hurley’s lottery ticket? There’s literally hundreds of those things kicking around from the art department. I suppose if I was rich and nuts, I’d have got that twelve foot piece of plane wreckage with the Oceanic logo on it. They’re not making many multiples of that.. My wife said the people shooting the prices up like that weren’t prop enthusiasts who liked the show, they were rich people who liked the show who didn’t know what they were buying. Kate’s toy airplane for $6500? PULL THE OTHER ONE!”
EJ replied: “I’m shocked the comic went for that much – sure, it got a lot of screen time, but that’s not even something the prop department created. It’s an actual thing that you can buy. Heck, I bought it when it was published, and then bought a Spanish version after seeing it on the show. They ain’t hard to come by. Now that I think about it, there are probably multiple screen-used copies since one of them got tossed in a fire onscreen. And, you know, if it isn’t the screen-used copy of Watership Down, then it’s just a paperback book that was on the set for a while.” I responded that I was just glad there were no spacesuits on the show, because I would have really had a hard time not bidding on one of ’em, because I love Lost and the prop spacesuits so.
And that’s when all the trouble started, because instantly I had the thought about a possible DARKSIDE STATION and how “Ann Arbor” wasn’t the city but the name of the woman who coordinated events on The Island from a neutral point above the Earth and whose relative position vis-a-vis orbital mechanics regulated the by-which and the when-to communication to the Island was able to be completed. And who was able to keep track of the various position-switches of the Island itself, and monitor the personnel changes with alacrity and aplomb. And made me think about what, exactly, a Dharma spacesuit might look like, circa 1977. Which takes us perilously close to fan-fiction. Which I hate.
Maybe, somewhere, in the quantum universe, there’s a Season Seven of Lost where Commander Frank Lapidus and his second-in-command Ann Arbor (special guest star Rene Russo) are coordinating Hurley’s on-Island instructions from a Dharma moonbase, triangulating with the Lamppost to spot the sporadic appearances of The Island on Earth for Charles Widmore after what we know as the series “finale.” Because (of course) Jack’s corking of the light causes anomalous skipping about of the Island, and Darkside Station’s data comes into serious play. Which means a reveal of Darkside Station. And of their spacesuits.
So my original brief to myself was that it had to look like something Dharma would have access to in the 1970s (which explains the surplus MiG helmet and West German chem suit as the base) but also look like something …the Lost art department could get together in ten man-hours for the week’s shoot of the episode. That Sam Rockwell flick Moon used IKEA silverware trays heavily in the set design, so I knicked that idea from them and used the common-knowledge build technique of the guys who build sandtrooper backpacks to string together plastic boxes with cable ties.
First order of business for the backpack was the base it’d be built on. The Ghostbusters proton packs (“Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.”) are built on Vietnam-era “Alice” frames, which seems good enough for me. An easy score on eBay from an Army surplus store.
And of course we’d need air tanks on it. After briefly considering just a box-like shape, I ran across a photo of an open Soviet backpack with its exposed tanks and conduits and felt that had a good Dharma look. My first thought was just to fake it with white-painted two-liter soda bottles and old plumbing valves, but one of my pals said, “Two-liter Coke bottles painted white are just going to look like two-liter Coke bottles painted white; it’s Halloween, go to a costume shop and get a couple of kids’ fireman costumes and use the toy airtanks for it.” Well, after that, why not just buy real fire extinguishers? They already have valves, so I would only have to do rudimentary fittings.
After the fire extinguishers were bolted to the frame, I collected two plastic art supply boxes, the silverware drawer, two under-the counter lights, and a battery-operated air pump for a five-gallon aquarium. This last sits in the chest pocket of the West German chemical suit and blows air up into the helmet.
Then it’s just a matter of painting and detailing. The tanks got several coats of white paint, vinyl yellow-and-black hazard tape, and Dharma “oxygen/nitrogen” labels with the Darkside Station logo. The silverware drawer gets inverted and strapped to the two art supply boxes, and the lights are velcroed to each side. Two yellow 24″ gas connectors get looped with black electrical tape to echo the hazard tape on the tanks, and are bolted into the plastic. Velcro strips were added to the silverware tray to give the eye some texture to look at, but begged the question: what goes on the back? Since the suit was going to feature a 1917 Swedish Army ammo pouch, I figured it be stuff that you might need every once in a while but was never mission-critical. So I put some velcro on the handles of an old coax crimper that was kicking around in my tool box and positioned it so the spaceman could reach back up over his shoulder to get it easily.
It still needed a bit more something, so I got a few survival blankets and stuck them to the back. There are three different Dharma logos on them, because I had the thought that Dharma members privately think this is the most useless item Dharma issues them. You don’t need them in LA, you don’t need them on a tropical island, you don’t need them in space. So the Dharma guys trade them amongst themselves, as proof you’ve met folks from another station. I guess. Because I hate fan fiction.
Here’s the complete rig: Soviet-era G/AF MiG helmet and neck ring; West German NBC suit (protects from nuclear, biological, and chemical contaminants), Swedish Army ammo pouch, and…
… the Man in Black’s Roman shortsword used to kill Jacob. Because when you’re writing fan fiction, you never know who might show up again.