It begins, as it should, with Heston.
The prologue to the new illustrated prose novel Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, published by Archaia, kicks off with these pithy words of actor Charlton Heston, as astronaut George Taylor:
“Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbors’ children starving?”
It’s so pretentious, you want to just smack him. But its not COPOTA’s author Drew Gaska’s fault — that’s the way the classic 1968 film begins. After that, Gaska picks up the ball and runs into new territory, and that’s what makes this book really exciting. I won’t spoil the surprises here — and there are surprises, just like in the first film — but suffice to say that I think this book’s a worthy addition to the franchise.
What Gaska’s done here is, basically, read between the lines of Planet of the Apes. We all know what happened to Taylor, but after the astronauts were captured by apes in the field, what happened to Landon between the time he was netted and when we later see him with his brain “cut up”? Ahh, there’s the rub of Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes.
Sure, I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking that stuff like this usually classifies as fanfic. And you’d be mostly right. But, I’m here to tell you that this project is slick and professional and Gaska’s a competent writer who keeps things moving along and never devolves into wish-fulfillment or Mary-Sue-ing. It’s a good read, and one that satisfies. And it can be read on its own, I think, without a reader having to be a huge fan of the original film.
There’s also a lead-in to the second film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes — you know, the controversial one — as we learn the details of the salvaging of Taylor’s spaceship and how it would up aiding a certain Escape From the Planet of the Apes.
Above and beyond the story, there is the art. Beautiful art. Gorgeous art. Art by masters of the medium and what I would call real coups for Gaska and Archaia. Full-color art that will knock your socks off and make this book a real keeper. A few of the artists’ names: Steranko, Kelly, Jusko, Sanjulian, Texiera… just to name a few. These guys love their apes.
So intrigued and fascinated by this project was I, that I hunted down author Drew Gaska, netted him and forced him to answer my questions about Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes. Join me on this odyssey…
BEARD: What is the single most compelling idea in the POTA concept that drives you creatively? What do you think the lure is for other fans?
GASKA: Beware the beast man. We are creatures of habit, and we are habitually BAD — bad to ourselves, bad to others, and bad to our environment. The self-destruct course that humanity is on, as shown in Planet of the Apes, has always resonated with what I have seen in history and in my own lifetime. Mankind is bad news.
In POTA, the apes are on the same self-destructive course than man is (was?). Sure, they think they are clever, and have all these plans in place to keep society in check — but all those checkpoints are actually building towards the same thing — the dominant culture destroys the lesser ones, and then itself.
The fan base itself seems divided — I have noticed of late that there seem to be a lot of people who enjoy APES for its pure entertainment value — but it is the social political context that grabs me. I also know many fans agree.
While I feel I have important things to say to the world, I am no politician or diplomat. My talent lies in my ability to tell a story. I can only hope my work will make at least one person realize some of mankind’s faults. Who knows? Maybe that fan will become that one person who can then steer us off this course of self-destruction.
BEARD: COPOTA’s being published through Archaia; why a prose novel instead of a graphic novel?
GASKA: Originally it was a graphic novel — but that changed long before Archaia became involved. The previous holders of the license was Mr. Comics, but sales had been lackluster. FOX wasn’t interested in another comic book at the time, so I altered my proposal to them to be of an illustrated novel format. They had really enjoyed that format years earlier when Dark Horse had brought them Aliens: Tribes — so they green-lit the project.
I met with FOX, proposed the book, got the license, and started production, hired artists and what not — all on my own. When it was nearly done, I presented 95% of the art and the second draft to Archaia, they loved it — but they did not do prose, only comics and graphic novels. Chief Creative Officer Mark Smylie really believed in the project, so he held onto it — until the powers that be at Archaia decided it was time to shift into producing prose novels as well — and they wanted a big title to kick the line off with. Mark made sure that title was COPTA.
BEARD: When you were “reading between the lines” of the original film, what was it that drew you to Landon’s story?
GASKA: Classic Planet of the Apes tale — Astronaut crashes onto seemingly alien world and discovers the intelligent lifeforms are apes, and man is dumb.
In all it’s various incarnations, POTA has retold this idea over and over again — the original film, Beneath, the TV series, the animated series, the Marky Mark film — even the Mego toy line back in the 1970s had a figure called the “astronaut” who was not from the other media, so I can only assume (or at least as a child I did — nowadays I have a concept of marketing) that he was yet another astronaut to arrive from the past into man and apekind’s future.
So when I acquired the license, POTA was off the radar for a while. How could a continuity freak like myself tell the classic tale of an astronaut in a world turned upside down without adding another newbie to the mix?
To make matters more complicated, the real story I wanted to tell was Dr. Milo’s. Milo shows up briefly in the third movie, is the chimp who made everything happen and he’s dead before the first reel is over. My intention all along was to tell the tale of how Milo was able to raise the astronauts’ ship, repair it, and get himself, Cornelius and Zira “back in time” — without the use of plutonium and a Delorean. My desire [was] to not only tell Milo’s story but also set the book partially in the first movie.
The answer became to tell the story of another one of the original astronauts, and discover the world anew through his eyes, concurrently with Milo’s tale (and also with Taylor’s). As Stewart and even Dodge don’t make it too far into the film before death, Landon was elected. Erik said he had always wanted to see Landon’s lobotomy scene with Zaius played out, and had constructed that convincingly in his head — so credit for that scene goes to him.It worked out great, because Landon’s disappearance for a good chunk of the movie, only to appear again lobotomized, gave me plenty of room to maneuver with.
BEARD:Did you keep actor Robert Gunner’s voice and mannerisms in mind while writing the novel? What else did you draw upon to flesh out the character of Landon?
GASKA: Yes and no. I started there. I meticulously watched his scenes in the desert, looking for any visual cue I could extrapolate on and use to get inside his head. As the story goes on, however, Landon changes. His mind becomes unhinged, transforming him into more beast than man — so in the end he is probably very different than Gunner’s portrayal — but I was very careful not to contradict his, or any of the other actors, performance in the original films.
For Landon, Zaius, Ursus, Cornelius and Milo, I would put on the films and play key scenes with my eyes closed — capturing their voices and doing my best to convey that in the final work. The key was to write the dialogue and then say it out loud — you can tell instantly whether or not what you are writing sounds like it came from that character.
Of course, the people around me wondered why I was watching TV with my eyes closed and then talking to myself in different voices, but I wouldn’t be the first creative person to be considered “unhinged.”
BEARD: What was the very most enjoyable scene in the book for you to write, and what was the most challenging, and why?
GASKA: Enjoyable: Resurrection — When Milo and his group are fighting to pull Taylor and Landon’s ship from the Dead Sea. It was actually the second scene I wrote — and the most unchanged through all rounds and edits. The scene is full of magic, with indubitable comparisons to Frankenstein bringing his monster to life. It’s also a scene that is the crux and crossroads to the second half of POTA saga — but had never been told in an official capacity before — if Milo didn’t find the ship and pull it from its watery grave, Cornelius and Zira would never have been able to “go back in time” to birth the instigator of the ape rebellion: Caesar.
Close second would be anything with the garbage ape Mungwortt in it (a new character with connections to one from the animated series), the prologue, the epilogue, and the “Party” scene in the Forbidden Zone — the latter because it is a psychological deconstruction of Landon’s fears and anxieties — and abnormal psychology has always been of interest to me.
Challenging — Landon’s descent into insanity, and the scenes with the “others” in the desert. Insanity is tough — you can’t just have the character say, “I’m going crazy” — crazy people don’t think they are crazy. His thought processes needed to deteriorate, as he was subjected to horror upon horror — all stemming from suppressed guilt he feels over something that happened during another time, on another space mission, and heightened by the extreme duress of his predicament.
Let’s put Landon’s plight this way: Taylor had it easy.
With the “others” in the desert, well, I wanted to make it clear to fans who the others were, but keep them alien and strange — so they are never referred to by their “proper” names, but instead their titles. They also have a unique way of... expressing themselves, so my word choice in describing their communication was careful and deliberate.
I am teasing here I know, but I don’t want to give away too much, I want fans to go read it!
BEARD: What’s up next for BLAM Ventures? Where do you go from here?
GASKA: Critical Millennium, my sci-fi comic series from Archaia, is about to be collected in hardcover and is available for preorder right now. The second Critical Millennium story, Beacon, will be released directly to graphic novel form, hopefully by the end of 2012, along with the second Apes book.
I know, you are asking yourself: second Apes book? Yup. I have a two book Planet of the Apes deal with FOX and Archaia. The second novel will tie up the remaining loose ends between the first and second film and tell what happened to Taylor during the time he was missing in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. It’s the story that has never been told: what happens to Taylor after he disappears in the beginning of Beneath and before he reappears at the end? It’s the last possible Taylor story, and it is begging to be told.
Both novels stand on their own, but together paint the larger picture of how Milo, Cornelius and Zira were able to escape the destruction of the Planet of the Apes. I have an arc in mind of six novels all together, but the remaining four will depend on sales of the first two. Look for the second novel to hit stores in the Fall of 2012.
In addition to that, I have secured the rights to produce comics, graphic novels, digital media and apparel (!) for 1970s science fiction series Space: 1999. Space: 1999 is an incredible journey that unfortunately has never achieved the audience that its rich storyline deserves. I consider it sci-fi’s lost “epic.” Expect to see the first graphic novels see print late this year, or early next.
Finally, my girlfriend Chandra Free (creator of The God Machine, also by Archaia) and I are working on a graphic novel about failed relationships from both a male and female perspective. Called Boys + Girls, we are hoping to see it released next year. Chandra is an incredible artist and supplied two of the paintings in the Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes book as well.
I plan to be around, so expect to see more!
BEARD: Thanks, Drew! Good luck with those damn, dirty apes!
Jim Beard, among many other stately writing pursuits, is the editor of Gotham City 14 Miles, a new book examining the 1966-68 Batman TV series. Get more info and read a sample chapter from the book, join its official Facebook page, or order a copy.