Paradise Lost – The Comic


00From a podcast on “In Dino Veritas”:

Ian McDuffie: “Everything you said is just insane! Dinosaurs! Truth collars! Poachers! Holographic rangers! And then the poacher got eaten! One of the best parts of trying to explain Sliders to anyone is a synopsis. They’re always bonkers. Like a sentient worm that poops the elixir of life.”
Jim Ford:
“Is that a thing?”
Dan Kurtzke: “What are you talking about here?”
Ian McDuffie: “Oh, that’s in Season 3.”
Dan Kurtzke: “Is that seriously a Season 3 plot?!!”
Jim Ford: “Okay — wait wait wait wait wait. You can’t spoil things!”
Ian McDuffie: “Oh, sorry. Sorry, guys.”
Dan Kurtzke: “Wait. We’re going to watch an episode of this show with a sentient worm — ?! I’m out. Bye!”
Ian McDuffie: “You’ve got so long until you get there! Every week, you’ll be waiting. Like, is this the worm one?”
Dan Kurtzke: “‘Cause they might just tack it on, it might not be the core plot!”
Ian McDuffie: ” …………….. Yeah! You’ll be like, they lost the timer — is this the worm one?”
Dan Kurtzke: “Oh my god. What if the worm has the timer? What if the timer’s full of sentient worms?”
Ian McDuffie: “I don’t want to spoil this brilliant episode. I didn’t even write about it. I had all my friends make comics about how bad it was.”

— From Sliderscast #25
“Paradise Lost” is one of the more prolific episodes of Sliders. It inspired a Sliders/Quantum Leap crossover novella by Earth Prime’s own Mike Truman who also provided the episode with an F-letter grade in his review. The novella was accompanied on the site by a list of remarks on the episode as well as another review, collectively documenting over 150 errors of logic and production in scripting and filming. This in turn led to an additional eight stories, also by Truman.

15-001The most recent production emerging from the episode is Paradise Lost: A Comics Anthology, edited by Earth Prime contributor Ian McDuffie. When faced with writing a blog entry on “Paradise Lost,” Ian demurred, instead inviting cartoonist-friends to join him in drawing comics in response to the episode. The blog entry is now a print collection with additional comics, priced at $10 USD and available online. 

The result is a captivating anthology of strips and renderings, each capturing a specific facet of “Paradise Lost” from its narrative to the viewing experience. What follows is less a review and more a rumination on Sliders as provoked by the comics.

Our first comic is Nate Beatty’s thick-lined cartoon in which we have a representation of Quinn delivering the first of many one-liners in “Paradise Lost.” “Not exactly auto club material,” this cartoon-Quinn says in this full-page drawing. He’s referring to Bud, a town-dweller who was approaching Laurie the geologist threateningly with a tire iron.

01

To the average person, this is a non-sequitur. To the devoted Sliders fan, this comic instantly summons “Paradise Lost” to mind — particularly the awkward script in which characters speak in one-liners and sound bites. A clumsy style common in 90’s television until shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek livened it up with rhythm and timing.

We’ll come back to Mr. Beatty; let’s move onto artist Ben Bertin. Bertin uses a single page to pillory nearly every aspect of “Paradise Lost” with a delightful collage of mini-illustrations, each depicting some absurdity from the episode. Villains cramming the elixir of life into their mouths with their bare hands. The geologist on the beach fleeing a homicidal worm but making no effort to climb to safety atop the nearby rocks. All of “Paradise Lost”‘s madness and lunacy, compressed and captured on a single sheet of paper. It has to be seen to be believed.

01

With Neil Brideau, we continue with illustrative mockery as Brideau presents cartoons of the townspeople gobbling up the worm excrement, using their bare hands to shovel the elixir into their mouths — and then someone finally asks the obvious, unaddressed, impossible to ignore question: why can’t they use spoons?

01

We next have a comic from Ian McDuffie himself where a talking pig ruminates upon “Paradise Lost,” although there isn’t a single line of dialogue that couldn’t just as easily apply to the poem of the same title by John Milton.

01

“Remember well, this exodus from taste,” Ian remarks in the comic, declaring “Paradise Lost” as the point of no return for Sliders as it condemned itself to cultural obscurity and irrelevance.

We tend to do that, don’t we? As fans, we constantly examine the history of the series. Mike Truman once observed that the show went “from a smart and winsome dramedy to a soulless, comically inept action show.”

What was the tipping point? When was the show’s fate sealed? The cliffhanger of Season 1? The decision to do a dinosaur episode? The Kromaggs? The move to Los Angeles? Tracy Tormé signing only for the first 13 episodes of Season 3 and giving up after “The Guardian”?

15-001Is “Paradise Lost” where all hope was lost?

The offscreen story of Sliders is filled with periods where individual creators offered an example of what the show could be conceptually and stylistically, only for subsequent episodes to do something else entirely.

And this is perfectly captured in Lyra Hill and Tyson Torstenson’s beautiful pencil rendering of two moments from “Paradise Lost”. Their artwork includes a stunning image of Quinn and Wade in the cave with the dynamite.

01

With this page, the anthology shifts from skillful cartoons to a more photorealistic depiction. We have another piece that approaches photorealism later on from Grant Reynolds. He draws a full page showing the moment where Arturo has been lured to the beach.

00

Reynolds’ masterful lines offer a stirring depiction, capturing texture of the sand, the rocky exterior of the nearby cave and the shadows of the night.

There’s also a truly disturbing one-page sequence drawn by Lale Westvind, in which the teaser of “Paradise Lost” is revisited with an immediacy and realism the actual episode couldn’t even begin to approach.

01

But we don’t stay in photorealism; the anthology at one point shifts to an abstract, painterly style with Alex Lake’s rendition of the town restaurant in “Paradise Lost” and its Help Wanted sign.

01

Alex’s schizophrenic colour choices are compellingly contradictory. It’s a delightful vision of this episode’s bizarre plot where a town with a terrible secret and an innate hostility to strangers happily offers two newcomers gainful employment and a reason to linger.

All of these pieces are in total contrast to each other and this is exactly what Sliders was like at its best and worst. The first season of Sliders was only nine episodes long and yet, it contained the grim horror of “Fever” and the high comedy of “The King is Back.”

15-001The second season offered the grounded social commentary of “Young and Relentless” but later shifted to the high-concept impressionism of “As Time Goes By.” Even the first two episodes of Season 3 showcase a striking contrast between the sci-fi action of “Double Cross” and the all-action and no sense approach of “Rules of the Game.”

The comic also offers a rendering of of Trudy telling the Sliders where the worm can be found, this one by Jacob Strick and Zoe Moss, capturing Trudy’s features in mocking detail, letting her nose and glasses fill the panel.

01

In the aired episode, it’s one of the strangest, most counter-intuitive images of the series, conveying no meaningful visual information and serving up inexplicable repetition. It’s a televisually illiterate moment of Sliders and it’s impossible to forget.

It is interesting that Ian McDuffie himself once declared in his “Stoker” blog that Sliders never offered much memorable direction. He would later clarify his statement to me in private, explaining that in his view, Sliders had no visual image that had been embedded in American cultural consciousness.

True. Nevertheless, Sliders is full of striking scenes and shots that live on in fan memory. The pan across Quinn’s bedroom in the Pilot, revealing his sports obsession. The sight of two Rembrandts on stage singing with the alternate Rembrandt bearing little resemblance to his counterpart. The Sliders putting their heads together as they’re menaced by the Sorcerer.

The dinosaur looming over Rembrandt. The sky splitting open on the world where time runs backwards.

Quinn and his younger self looking at the stars. Trudy intoning, “The cove, the cove.” The Sliders standing on a hilltop, Rembrandt declaring that if Wade is nearby, they must find her and Quinn indifferently replying they don’t have time. Um. Let’s move on.

With Jenna Caravello, we have a hilarious cartoon rendering of the Sliders discovering the town’s secret diet of worm feces, building to a delightful two panels in which Caravello illustrates the fans desperately trying to avert their eyes from this travesty of an episode.

01

With Beth Hetland, we have one of the funniest comics of this collection where “Paradise Lost” is so awful that it ends up breaking Netflix.

01


Sliders
is a tough show to stick with.

Sliders is a show that, as seasons progress, seems to be actively engaged in repelling both casual viewers and devoted fans. The bizarre trajectory of the series is marked with one offensive moment after another. The wise professor is given brain damage, then shot and exploded and Maggie Beckett mocks our grief. There’s one episode that consists largely of actors in animal makeup roaring and howling at the camera.

Sliders is a show that makes its fans question the wisdom of investing in any TV show ever.

40-1816Is it worth the risk of watching Lost or Fringe or Alias or Bones or Arrow or The Flash or Community? What if we end up, once again, following a series abandoned by its original creators and three-quarters of its cast?

What if we find ourselves watching three seasons of a show that’s a shadow of its former self, its continued existence justified merely by a studio seeking theoretical syndication profits?

15-001“This Slide of Paradise.” “Genesis.” “The Breeder.” “Requiem.” “Mother and Child.” “The Great Work.” “Revelations.” “The Java Jive.” “The Chasm.” “The Exodus Part 1.” “Data World.” “The Exodus Part 2.” “The Dying Fields.” “The Seer.” All this contempt and lack of respect for the characters, the concept, the fans who have kept this series alive — there are moments when every fan must consider turning away from Sliders in disgust and condemning it to the obscurity and irrelevance it so rightly deserves.

15-001This show began with such wonder and warmth. It turned cruel and hateful. It turned Wade Welles into a beheaded computer. It laughed at the fans who wrote letters to get it renewed. We saw our favorite characters mutilated. The lead actor of the series abandoned us. The show ended on a cliffhanger twice and the series finale will never be resolved onscreen.

Why are we still here?

15-001After everything we’ve been through, why do we stay? Why do we write reviews, essays, screenplays, message board posts and retrospectives? Why do we dig up casting sheets, focus group tests and press photos? Why do we record podcasts and create fan art with Lego and build our own timer props? How is it that a show where the fanbase only likes maybe 20 of the 88 episodes has the Sliders Rewatch and the Sliderscast as podcasts?

Artist Laurie Piña offers a delightful cartoon where she imagines an alternate version of “Paradise Lost.” A version of “Paradise Lost” where the 1970’s band, Funkadelic, defeated the radioactive worm before the Sliders slid in.

01

Krystal Diffronzo gives us her own vision of “Paradise Lost.” One where the worm is an affable, amiable creature who only eats enough to survive and makes sure to feed its victim the elixir, allowing both to live.

01

Sam Sharpe offers a beautifully rendered comic where the worm joins Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo and becomes the fifth slider.

01

And I find myself returning to Ned Beatty’s comic, the one that opened this anthology. Specifically the second page — – in which Beatty illustrates Quinn retrieving a soccer ball and nearly attacked by the worm.

Except in Beatty’s version, the worm emerges to the surface of the grass and expresses a desire to join the children in playing soccer, leading to the worm joining a major league soccer team and becoming a sports star.

01

What if the worm were nice? What if the worm joined the cast? What if the worm loved soccer? What if?

This very question is built into the storytelling engine at the heart of Sliders. What if different decisions were made? What if different paths were chosen? But Sliders fans have never been content with simply contemplating the question. Instead, Sliders fans are compelled to reach for the show and make their own Sliders.

01“Paradise Lost” has inspired multiple fan-works, all driven by asking, what if?

Mike Truman wondered, what if the filming of “Paradise Lost” could have been averted? What would the show have become then? But Mike didn’t stop at wondering: if you visit the Earth 317 website, you can find eight screenplays by Mike Truman that offer an alternate conclusion to Sliders’ third season.

01“Paradise Lost” has frequently been described as a rejected script for The X-Files. What if the Sliders met Fox Mulder and Dana Scully of the FBI?

You can find out: novelist Nigel G. Mitchell wrote a short fan fiction novella, X Marks the Spot, in which Agents Mulder and Scully visit San Francisco to investigate interdimensional travellers. There’s also the stories by humorist Jason Gaston, who wrote five lengthy scripts featuring the cast of Sliders and The X-Files in a sketch comedy series.

01Our Earth is stranger than any episode of Sliders. We live in a world where fans watched “Paradise Lost” and still tuned in next week. What if the Sliders came here? See that possibility realized in another Jason Gaston story, Real Life, where the Sliders land in our universe shortly after the Season 3 cancellation and run into some fans.

And despite fans and reviewers protesting “Paradise Lost” as being totally disconnected from the Sliders concept, the multi-genre platform of the series allows for horror stories so long as they’re done well. Check out the horror-thriller approach of The Cry of the Birds,  a novella by fan-writer Diana Jones.

And how about a Sliders epic that attempts to offer a proper explanation for the radioactive worm of “Paradise Lost” along with all the other supernatural monsters of Season 3? Consider Michael Hill’s Season 6 stories in which Rembrandt and the Professor confront the issue.

01And there’s so much more from Sliders fans, some of it the best Sliders stories ever written whether onscreen or online, from the 90’s era cyberpunk thrills of Nigel Mitchell’s Reboot to the Tracy Tormé pastiches of Earth 8950 website. And now there’s Paradise Lost: A Comics Anthology, available at Ian McDuffie’s website with a small sampling of its riches here on Earth Prime in his blog entry.

Where does it come from? This longing — this need — to reach backwards. To reach into 1994 when Sliders was first lensed. Or 1995, when the show first aired. Or 1996, when Tracy Tormé saw what Sliders was becoming under the Los Angeles regime. Or 1997, when “Paradise Lost” aired on Friday, January 31. Why do we do this?

01Why do we track down actors from the show for interviews? Why do we, when faced with the absence of any 20-year celebration, proceed to make our own foolhardy anniversary special?

Are we trying to change the past? Hoping that we can revisit the five years between premiere finale and find some way to save Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo?

Are we trying to add an addendum, hoping to offer an additional postscript or epilogue to the troubled and tragic series of events that is this television show? Are we playing pretend, seeking to alter our memories and recollections into what we wish to see when we look back?

01Ian speaks of “Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome” as the episode where Sliders fan fiction was born, when fans sought to write their own vision of Professor Arturo’s adventures after he was separated from his friends. But the very first episode of Sliders introduced the concept of parallel universes and doubles existing in an infinite multiverse in which anything is possible. Absolutely anything — including some parallel version of the Sliders’ journey where the worm became the fifth slider or was defeated in advance by psychedelic rock.

Why do we keep coming back?

40-1816The Pilot episode of Sliders had a plot structure that was cumbersome and awkward. The Pilot operated on the massive coincidence that Quinn Mallory discovered sliding just in time for an alternate-Quinn to randomly chance upon our Quinn at the perfect moment to explain the premise of the show.

Why did Tracy Tormé and Robert K. Weiss, two skillful and experienced screenwriters, choose such a clumsy contrivance?

I believe they did this because they wanted us all to be Sliders. They wanted us to discover sliding with Quinn and to feel like we were accompanying Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo on their journey. The Pilot is one of the best pieces of television to come out of the twentieth century, overcoming its faults because it makes you feel like you are part of the show.

37-005Which means that in the infinity of the Sliders multiverse, there is some place within it which you should feel free to call your own. A small corner of infinity, minute and tiny compared to the rest, yet offering a space vast enough to hold everything. What’s in there? Anything you want.

It’s where I keep Nigel Mitchell’s fanfics. Also Jason Gaston’s parodies, which sit on the shelf next to the Sliders Rewatch and the Sliderscast, alongside the works of Diana Jones,  Jules Reynolds and Mike Truman — and now there’s this comic book anthology as well.

Visit Ian McDuffie online at www.violetmice.com.

Next:

Join the conversation