A little interview I just did with Troy Smith of the Western Fictioneers Blog.
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Western Comics Focus- Six-Gun Gorilla: Long Days of Vengeance
Troy D. Smith
This installment of “Western Comics Focus” closes out my first year of doing it as a monthly blog. We’ve focused on some classic characters, and interviewed some of the giants of the genre. I am very pleased, though, that this month -with a new year mere hours away -we are able to shine a spotlight on something new and different. And boy, do I mean different.
When I first heard that there was a new gritty, realistic western comic miniseries starring a gunslinging silverback gorilla… my reaction was probably much the same as you’re having now. I saw all the acclaim the title was receiving -including from Joe Lansdale -so I suspended my disbelief and jumped in.
I’m sure glad I did. Believe it or not, this strange scenario works -and works well.
Written by Brian Christgau and illustrated by Adrian Sibar, the book’s hero is actually a holdover from a 1930s British pulp magazine, and entered the public domain this year. Christgau and Sibar don’t have a publisher for their venture, but that can’t last. Meanwhile, you can buy individual issues as pdfs for $1.99 each HERE. I’ve read the first two issues, and I liked ‘em.
Brian Christgau agreed to answer some questions for us today.
1. Tell us about the pulp origins of this character
“Six-Gun Gorilla” was originally published as a fifteen-part serial in a British Pulp called Wizard in 1939. There’s no writer credited, so we’ll probably never know who the original author was… but I’ll always be grateful to him!
The only reason we even know about the character is because a book came out in 1948 called Boys Will Be Boys, which is sort of the Bible on British Pulp literature. Scholars and other interested parties couldn’t help but be captivated by the author’s description of that story. It took on a mythic, Holy Grail status the way lost films like LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT do. It was never re-printed and the only two known copies in existence are under lock and key in a British museum. Jess Nevins, who is quite the scholar on this subject, recently got a chance to scan the story and has posted it on-line as a free download, bless his heart.
I came across the character while browsing a website about Pulp and Golden Age heroes and it just clicked in my head in an instant. That afternoon I just couldn’t get that title out of my head and the story basically wrote itself. Everything I needed was in that title, a promise of outrageous adventure. But my thing as a writer is to take an outrageous premise and try to tell a fun adventure story, but also one that’s meaningful in some unexpected way. As a kid I was a big fan of the original KING KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, so that laid fertile soil for the idea of a Silverback in the Old West to take root.
2. Explain why there are two different versions floating out there, and how yours is different.
Who in the world would have expected two freaking Six-Gun Gorilla comics to come out at the same time? What were the odds? I knew this was a public domain character so the possibility was there, but that the possibilities were “slim and none”. Turns out “slim” won the day! Can you believe that shit?
It’s a case of they refer to in Hollywood as “parallel development”. Both of us had our imaginations fired up by that title and concept, largely I’m guessing because the actual story wasn’t available to read, so our imaginations filled in one very large blank. Si’s went in a very trippy, surreal direction and mine went in a more traditional one. We both knew that the character was falling into the public domain in 2013 and so we set to work on our books completely oblivious of each other.
Luckily for Si Spurrier and myself, our stories couldn’t be more different. For starters they’re in two totally different genres. Si’s is a Science-Fiction tale set on another world in the 22nd Century about a futuristic blood sport that borrows elements from movies like DEATH WATCH and THE RUNNING MAN. Mine is just a straight-forward Western with a very bizarre twist.
I know Si is going to hate me for saying this, since he loves Westerns about as much as I do, but his SIX-GUN isn’t a Western. I suppose it is if you’re strictly talking about structure. By that measure so is OUTLAND (HIGH NOON in space) and PITCH BLACK (STAGECOACH in space) and DIRTY HARRY and nearly every samurai movie ever made. And I don’t mean that a dis to Si. I’ve read his book and it’s spectacular, but it’s like a dystopian Sci-Fi movie directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky – it’s very Surreal. My GORILLA is just a straight-forward Western in that it has both the structure *and* the setting.
A huge part of the Western mystique is that very specific time and place: the Old West from about 1830 to 1910. You can tell the story of King Arthur or Beowulf in any number of settings, but once you move the setting to the far-flung future you are – and this is just my opinion – compromising the structural integrity of the legend. The Old West is the American legend – just because that legend happens to include characters that are based on real people and events – like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday – doesn’t change the fact that these are larger-than-life, mythic figures in the collective imagination.
What I wanted to do was to take this outrageous, completely improbable character and drop him right smack dab in the real, historical Old West. The plot revolves around a real event – the last days of the Civil War – but I’m telling the “hidden” or “secret” history of that time… which happens to involve a 600 pound gorilla.
I think what Si is doing is very imaginative and adventurous, but anyone looking for giant turtles in my book will be sorely disappointed.
3. Are there any westerns, in any media, that have inspired you?
The most obvious are the Sergio Leone movies. Those are the ones that had the greatest impact on me as a kid and roped me into the genre, but this is more like ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST than the “Dollars Trilogy” in terms of scope and style. As far as novels go, BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy – a large part of my inspiration for the villains comes from that. Another big influence is NEVADA SMITH, an old Steve McQueen movie about a young man who goes to extraordinary lengths to get revenge for the torture and murder of his parents.
The Western heroes, whether in American classics like SHANE or the Italian ones like THE GREAT SILENCE, are often damaged people. The late Italian Westerns especially, the “Twilight Spaghettis” as I call them, had this melancholy, elegiac air to them. The heroes in movies like KEOMA, DJANGO and A MAN CALLED BLADE were these sad loners who didn’t seem to belong in any world, but drifted along the edges of many. That’s my hero in a nutshell.
4. Do you foresee the character going on beyond this miniseries?
The plan is to eventually do SIX-GUN as an ongoing monthly series. I have at least three to four years-worth of stories in me. I’d love to take the character through the historical West, encountering figures like Tom Jeffords, Cochise, the Buffalo Soldiers, Mysterious David Mather. The dream would be to pair him up with Jonah Hex, Bat Lash or, even better yet, Tarzan. Oh what I wouldn’t give to do SIX-GUN GORILLA MEETS TARZAN. I’m realistic in my expectations of any of those ever happening, of course, but I can dream.
5. Would you consider doing another western?
I would love to. Time has proven it to be a genre that’s completely inexhaustible as long as there are smart, original creators out there with a new take on it. You always hear people saying the Western is dead, but I think it’s just taking a nap.
My next project isn’t a Western but has many of the elements of the genre: it’s a story inspired by the legendary Mexican wrestler El Santo called TEQUILA MOONRISE. This cat was the real thing – a real-life superhero. Not only was he a wrestler, he also played himself in these incredibly strange, often downright Surreal Mexican-Horror-Wrestling movies where he would beat the crap out of monsters between matches. Only in TEQUILA MOONRISE the hero actually *does* fight monsters when he’s not wrestling or making movies. I’ve also got this 70’s Marvel -style werewolf story called SOUTH-PAW in the works, which isn’t a Western but definitely has some Western elements.
6. How did Adrian Sibar get involved?
Adrian was one of the artists who responded to my ad in Digital Webbing. I got a ton of submissions, but his was one of the three or four that just really stood out. Then it was just a process of figuring out who was *right* for the book. Luckily my friend Wes Huffor, who does all of the incredible cover art for the series, sees all kinds of stuff that I might miss. He pointed out Adrian’s incredible visual storytelling ability. I finally offered him the job and he took it, much to my continuing delight. He’s not just a great artist, but a real pleasure to work with, as is Wes. It’s never about ego with them, just making a great comic.
7. This whole concept is, on the surface, kind of bizarre…
Whoa, pardner. Let me stop you there. Kind of bizarre? It’s completely bat-shit crazy! You instantly think of a gorilla in the Old West gunning down bad guys. How did he get there? How did he learn to use those guns? Who is he killing and why? Heck, where is he going to get the forty pounds of fruit and veggies a day he needs to keep from starving! There’s a very good reason why that character has survived in the imagination these many decades.
7b. …but it really is a straight-forward western. How do you manage that?
I believe that this sort of thing is most fun when it’s played as straight as possible. I did my research, for one thing, on both gorillas and the Old West. I always do a ton of research for any project I write because it’s fun and it makes my job easier. I was tempted to go a more absurd route, to go Garth Ennis with lots of crude humor and outrageous gore, but why do Garth Ennis when I can do me? Why would *any* writer use a voice other than their own? I’m just making the comic I want to read.
This is a Pulp hero story all the way, and even though the Pulps were invented as disposable literature, these characters have survived generations for a *reason*. The Shadow, Zorro, the Lone Ranger, Zatoichi, Sinbad, James Bond… Alan Moore can poo-poo superhero stories as junk food for emotionally and intellectually stunted adults all he likes, but for some deep, Jungian reason we need these heroes and need to hear their stories over and over again. The world is an unfair place, so we need these heroic figures that represent justice to restore some sense of balance, even if it’s just in our imaginations.
8. Beyond the surface -a gorilla shooting bad guys -are there any overarching themes in this story?
It’s a story about identity, figuring out not just who you are but what you are, where you fit into the world. That can be especially tough if you growing up feeling so different from everyone around you. I speak from experience. Now imagine you’re a freaking gorilla in the human world! It’s on the vengeance trail that Kumba discovers himself, this terrible rage at the core of his being and its source.
Ultimately, it’s TARZAN in reverse. TARZAN THE APE MAN is a Pulp story, but it just happens to be one of the best ever written. Burroughs wasn’t a perfect writer and he completely botched the ending, but that first half or so dealing with the origins of the character? Pure magic. You quickly realize that you’re not being told just a story, but a myth. Sure he swiped the idea from Kipling, but Burroughs’ creation is unique and, with a little luck, so is my SIX-GUN GORILLA.
Hey, thank you! This is a little itty bitty indie comic that’s still looking for a publisher, so we appreciate all the attention we can get.