The Cowboys & Aliens Movie That Never Was

A "Calamity Jane"-inspired cowgirl lassos a big alien reptile, in some concept art from Cowboys and Aliens. But wait — there aren't any big reptilian animals in Jon Favreau's movie, are there?

It turns out Cowboys and Aliens has been in development as a movie a lot longer than anybody realizes. In 1997, writer/director Steve Oedekerk was in line to direct this film — and concept artist Rolf Mohr developed some sweet alien concept art for the project before it was abandoned.

We were lucky enough to get hold of a few of Mohr's original designs for Cowboys and Aliens, most of which have never appeared online anywhere. It's a fascinating look at a very different version of the story of aliens in the Wild West. Check out two more pieces of art below!

We were gobsmacked when we came across one piece of Mohr's original concept art from a late-1990s production of Cowboys and Aliens, since we didn't think the movie had been in development that long. So we got in touch with Mohr, who shared two more previously unpublished art pieces with us. And he explained that Hasbro and Dreamworks had been working on a Cowboys and Aliens film, which never came to fruition, with Steve Oedekerk (Bruce Almighty) on board as screenwriter.

We did some more digging, and we found this log of a Prodigy chat with Oedekerk from 1997, in which he says:

My next directorial film is called "Cowboys and Aliens," about aliens who crash in the old west and the cowboys get ahead of the technology. The film is based on a comic book.

So at one point, he was in line to direct as well as write. And indeed, according to IMDB, Oedekerk has a story credit on the final Cowboys and Aliens movie, directed by Jon Favreau. (That doesn't mean that any of Oedekerk's script or storyline was used, necessarily. Just that he has a good agent.)

So what would Oedekerk's Cowboys and Aliens have been like? For one thing, it would most likely have been sillier, since Oedekerk's main directorial credit is Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. But also, there might have been some genuine awesomeness. Just check out the above image showing "Verity," the Calamity Jane-esque character, lassoing the alien pet of the head alien, named Koro. Mohr says this scene was intended as a tribute to the Valley of Gwangi.

The Cowboys & Aliens Movie That Never Was

And here's an alien who looks sort of like a kachina doll. Says Mohr:

Oedekerk's story outline had all kinds of interesting notions, for example the aliens having lived among the native Americans for some time. So the idea was their appearance had influenced aspects of the local culture such as kachina dolls which I found very intriguing, and we used them as reference to 'reverse engineer' the look of aliens.

The Cowboys & Aliens Movie That Never Was

And here's a six-armed alien warrior. Like the kachina doll figure, he's meant to have a bit of a Native American influence to him. Says Mohr:

[I] played around with incorporating some of the traditional jewels shaped in squares and triangles into the aliens' symbology, tech and weaponry. I also did some rough designs for alien vehicles based on horses, etc.

Mohr has gone on to work as an art director and concept artist on various video games, including the Resistance series and Epic Mickey, as well as some Syfy original movies. He's currently collaborating on a science fiction script with a "pretty cool writer-director."

The Cowboys and Aliens comic book that the Favreau movie is based on was published in 2006 by Platinum Comics. So what was the comic book that Oedekerk based his 1997 screenplay on? Mohr believes it was Cowboys and Aliens by Tom Arvis, a 15-page black-and-white ashcan which Arvis self-published. "My impression is that it was only very loosely inspired by the comic - it had some of the characters, alien hover vehicles etc, but I don't know how close it was other than that," says Mohr.

This may or may not be the case, since Arvis seems to be under the impression that his own comic never even got used as the basis for a movie. Arvis told the Washington City Paper recently:

The Cowboys & Aliens Movie That Never Was

Cowboys & Aliens was the original name of the first comic-book I self-published in 1995. It was only a 16-page black & white ashcan, which I wrote, drew, xeroxed and stapled together myself, and sold nearly 100 copies of at the 1995 Small Press Expo in Bethesda.

I had an offer to publish the book as a full-sized black and white from another publisher and attendee, but by the time we were ready to publish, the bottom had fallen out of the B&W independent comic book "glut" of the time and there were no longer the funds, so I shelved the comic (though I had written six issues and drawn two) and moved on to other ideas, until 1998 when I posted a colorized version of the ashcan's cover on my website, www.arvtoon.com, with the intention of re-publishing the book myself, full-size and in color, based on the then-burgeoning, on-demand, and on-line and inexpensive comic printig business.

The Cowboys & Aliens Movie That Never WasIn 2002 I had attended the Baltimore Comic Con and a friend and former attendee of the '95 SPXPO congratulated me on selling Cowboys & Aliens as a movie, which I had not. I didn't think of it as anything but a rumor, but by the time I'd finished re-drawing, lettering and coloring my book, and remembering the rumor, I decided to Google Cowboys & Aliens.

That's when I learned that Scott Rosenberg had trademarked the name Cowboys & Aliens in 1998, and that Platinum Studios was negotiating a movie deal with Sony Pictures, though they had yet to publish anything called Cowboys & Aliens, and would not do so until 2006.

The Cowboys & Aliens Movie That Never WasIn an endeavor to make an already long article shorter, after finding an attorney and contacting Mr. Rosenberg, and after a year and a half of negotiations, we were able to reach an agreement wherein I was paid a small amount to relinquish any claims to the title Cowboys & Aliens, and to not bring any further suits against Platinum Studios or Mr. Rosenberg.

Arvis renamed his own comic Wayout West, and he put out a few issues of it. Meanwhile, of course, there's also the famous Far Side cartoon about Cowboys & Aliens, which predates Arvis' comic.