It seems that over the last few years public domain characters have been in vogue more than ever in comic books. One of the more prominent recent examples being the Standard/Better/Nedor Golden Age characters, who were used by Alan Moore in the Tom Strong story Terra Obsucra (with two follow up miniseries being written by Peter Hogan) and then subsequently in Alex Ross’ Project Superpowers. The impression is that there is a fun sense of nostalgia in using these characters, with none of the hassles associated with someone owing the rights to the characters. The obvious disadvantage is that anyone can use them.
I have known Adrian Sibar for around 10 years; We first meet in San Digeo and have stayed in touch ever since, whenever he is working on a new comic project I’ll see pages pop up in my inbox as he shares what he is working on. So, I’d been aware that he was working on a Gorilla project for a while, what I didn’t realize was the book he was working on was based on a public domain pulp character named Six-Gun Gorilla. I’d only seen the unlettered art work at this stage, having had no exposure to the actual script. That this comic was actually based on a pre-existing pulp character quickly became apparent when earlier this week, Boom announced a new project, loosely based on said pulp, written by Si Spurrier and drawn by Jeff Stokely.
Frankly, it sucks being beaten to the punch when you are working on a creative project, to have someone else come out with some similar, hits you for a six, and you are left feeling that people think you are ripping off this other person’s idea. So, with this in mind, I thought I’d reach out to the book’s writer, Brian Christgau, and see how he was dealing with the news that someone else was working on a story based on the same pulp to this gorilla story, that I’d seen so many pages from.
Let’s start at the heart of the issue, how did you feel when you found out there’s another SIX-GUN GORILLA comic coming out?
That Spurrier ain’t nuthin’ but a no-good, back-stabbin’, horse-rustlin’ polecat! If he ain’t yeller he’ll meet in the street at high noon so’s we can settle this thing like men!
*laughs* No, it’s all good. I wish Si Spurrier and Jeff Stokely the best of luck with their book. Heck, I can‘t wait to read the thing myself! To see what came out of Si’s head and how it contrasts with what came out of mine. I just got thrown for a bit of a loop when I got the news.
When I got that e-mail about the article on Comic Book Resources, I was thunderstruck. Like I’d just been bitch-slapped by the universe and it was cackling in my face. I plunged into a doom-spiral. I thought that all the years of hard work and straight-up LOVE, fun and honesty I’d invested in the project were all for naught. And this happened on April Fool’s Day! How could it have been any worse? It was almost comical!
Then I realized what a narcissistic thing it is to believe that the universe or God or whatever finds your plans important enough to foil. This was obviously a case of what’s known in Hollywood as “parallel development”. I mean, heck, there were two movies about the Oscar Wilde trial that came out in 1960, both of them based on the same court transcripts! And you know what? They were both good.
I’m old enough to remember that in 1983 there were two James Bond movies that came out that same summer: one with Roger Moore and another with Sean Connery. In the end, both films ended up benefiting from the controversy and were successful, but the real winners were the fans who got to have two James Bond movies in the same year. Hopefully there’s room for two SIX-GUN GORILLAs.
Taking a step back from a moment, you said you’d been working on this book for a year, where did you first come across an obscure character like SIX-GUN GORILLA?
I think I stumbled across it on the Internet one day while perusing a site about the Golden Age and Pulp superheroes. I saw that title and BANG! It was like a firecracker went off in my head. Later I was driving to a local shopping mall, listening to the HAWK THE SLAYER soundtrack of all things, and by the time I parked I already had the entire story. I’m assuming that Spurrier had a similar experience – it’s just that his firecracker produced something radically different from what mine did.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it as a screenplay or a comic book. I was just coming off writing a screenplay about masked Mexican wrestlers and monsters called TEQUILA MOONRISE, so every time I sat down to write it as a comic script it kept turning into a screenplay. This happened during every writing session. It was driving me freaking nuts! So eventually I took the hint, gave in and decided to write it as a screenplay first. I finished the final draft in early May 2012. I registered it with the WGAW and the U.S. Copyright Office. And if anybody doubts that, the registration numbers are 1580295 and Pau 3-618-460, respectively.
“Six-Gun Gorilla” is a story published in an old British Pulp magazine called Wizard, written by an anonymous author in 1939 (the work is in the public domain). The story was never re-printed; the only two known copies in existence were under lock and key in a British museum. Recently writer Jess Nevins, as part of a successful Kickstarter plan, got a chance to scan a scan the story, which he has posted on-line for free as a .PDF.
Your book seems quite different to what I’ve read about Spurrier’s, what is the approach you are taking to the martial?
I was planning to call the book SIX-GUN GORILLA: LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE, and it is about: “A very big ape with very big guns blowing very big holes in very bad people.” Well, that’s my “elevator pitch” at least.
The story begins with an orphaned baby gorilla being won in a card game, by a kindly Irish circus man named Malloy, and then being brought to America. His adoptive father names him Kumba and he grows up in the circus, where he is taught to use giant, hand-crafted pistols as part of a sharpshooting act and quickly becomes a sensation. Although he loves his adopted father, his closest relationship is with his “sister”, Abigail, a trick horse rider. They grew up together and share a secret sign language that only the two of them can understand.
All is well until one day they discover a wounded man stowed away in one of their gypsy wagons named Giuliano Schmidt – an Italian immigrant who is being hunted by a group of ruthless killers led by a dead-eyed sociopath called Gravesend. Why are the killers hunting Giuliano? What happens when they discover that Malloy, Kumba, Abigail and their circus family are hiding him? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but let’s just say that something terrible happens, and before long Kumba is stalking the killers across the Old West in search of some righteous payback.
The only thing I took from the original story is the title (I considered TWO-GUN GORILLA and GUNSLINGER GORILLA, but those sounded too much like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon!) and the basic idea of a gorilla stalking the Old West for the outlaws who murdered his adopted human father. And boy did I run with it.
You’ve stated that your intention was to call the book SIX-GUN GORILLA: LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE, I noticed in Boom’s solicitation for the book that they appear to have Trade Marked the titled SIX-GUN GORILLA. I’m not sure what you know about Trade Mark law – but have you contemplated what you will call the book if you have to undergo a name change?
Honestly? Nope! *laughs* I’m still trying to wrap my head around this whole thing.
I’ve copyrighted my screenplay under the title “Six-Gun Gorilla” and the comic is adapted from that. I don’t know what that means when it comes to the comic because I’m not a trademark lawyer. I also registered it under the titles “Two-Gun Gorilla” and “Gunslinger Gorilla” just on the off chance something like this would happen… which, amazingly enough, it has! However, everyone I’ve bounced those titles off of has had the same reaction: they sound like Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Tone-wise, they’re totally wrong.
If I can’t use “Six-Gun Gorilla” as the title that would be a real kick in the ass, since my version is much closer to the spirit of the original story than the other book is. But if I can’t legally call my book by its original title, I can’t just throw the thing in the garbage. To be honest, that would be my first impulse. That’s just how my mind works – I can be a very self-thwarting individual. But that would mean letting Wes and Adrian down. I’ve paid them for their work, but they went above and beyond the call of duty and their stuff deserves to be seen. I just don’t have the right to bury it in my filing cabinet.
And besides, that would be giving up. Fuck it: if I’m going out, I’m going out like Warren Oates at the end of THE WILD BUNCH! *laughs*
Unfortunately copyright and trade mark are two very different beasts, so I’d suggest that, barring you being allowed to use the title by Boom, you may indeed have to look for a new name for the book
Well then, I guess I’m screwed! *laughs*
What is the tone you are seeking for your story?
I saw the story as TARZAN flipped on its head: instead of a human raised by apes in the jungle you’ve got an ape raised by humans in the Old West. Tone-wise, think of the original ROBOCOP. SIX-GUN GORILLA: LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE has outrageous moments aplenty – you’d hope so, given the outrageous premise – but at its core it’s a very “human” story about identity. It’s not campy, that’s for damn sure.
I assume by that, you mean you are playing the story straight?
When I say it’s not campy I’m saying it’s not a spoof or a pantomime like the BATMAN TV series or those horrible Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher movies. It’s fun and has a sense of humor, but avoids making fun of itself. The best word I can use to sum it up is “sincere”. Comics and movies, to a large degree, have become too self-aware these days. The last thing I wanted to do was slip into empty hipster irony. I like to think this is the kind of comic Joe Lansdale or John Carpenter would pick up and enjoy.
I really, strongly believe that this sort of story is best served by being played poker-faced.
Wes Huffor’s incredible cover art shows this book for what it ultimately is: a Western comic. This isn’t a spoof or a “re-imagining”. This is a rootin’, tootin’, two-fisted tale of one very pissed off, pistol-packin’ gorilla on the hot trial to vengeance in the Old West!
So how did you come to be working with Adrian Sibar on the book?
I’ve got Adrian doing the interior art on the book. He has previously worked on BATGIRL for DC, PLANET OF THE APES for Dark Horse and BANG! TANGO for Vertigo. I was considering a lot of truly talented artists when an “audition” page he did landed in my e-mail. I opened it and wham – that was it: I knew I had the guy. Not only is he good illustrator, but he has a visual storytelling ability that is great at conveying drama and a sense of the epic. Most of all, he invests his work with the one thing I find most valuable: heart. He’s also a super nice guy and incredibly easy and fun to work with. I just couldn’t be more fortunate.
And you said the covers are being done by Wes Huffor?
Yes, Wes Huffor, my cover artist, is someone I’ve known for years. He’s an immensely gifted artist and also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s done two covers for me thus far and they’re simply astounding. How anybody can see this book on the shelves and not at least stop, pick it up and at thumb through it is just inconceivable to me. Anyone I show them to ends up with their jaws hanging open.
Do you think the book being released by Boom will spoil the chances of your SIX-GUN GORILLA doing well?
I don’t know. I mean, I’m a newcomer to this business. A nobody, really, so the odds are probably stacked against me. The comic industry doesn’t seem to want newcomers these days unless they’ve got screen or TV credits. Still, I believe in this book. I think I wrote a pretty solid script and Adrian, certainly, has just been drawing the hell out of the thing.
I’m not a competitive person. Really, anyone who knows me will tell you that. Although I’m an old Punk and a Goth at heart, I have a Hippie streak a mile long. I want *everyone* to win. I wish Spurrier and his team the best, I genuinely do, but it’s also completely, a hundred percent different from what Wes, Adrian and I are doing. Theirs is a Science-Fiction story with Western themes, a sort of meta-Western, while ours is just a straight-forward, no bullshit Western revenge story to the bone.
Do you have any thoughts on why it is that Westerns so often tell revenge stories?
There’s something about the Western as a genre that is particularly well adept at dealing with these very primal human emotions, and you can’t get more primal than the desire for revenge.
Revenge stories are interesting because they can be incredibly cathartic, but I also believe that revenge is a bad thing, that it’s ultimately harmful to the person who pursues it. At the same time, if I were in Kumba’s position, I’d do exactly the same thing he does. And I’d do so knowing it was wrong.
In that respect, revenge can be thought of as a kind of force, something that possesses and drives people to seek some kind of personal justice. The problem is that we are mixed up, damaged creatures, and it’s virtually impossible for us to pursue vengeance with pure motives. Westerns are great at exploring that.
I’m a strong believer that if you want revenge against somebody who wronged you, here’s what you do: Wait. What they did to you they’re going to do to others and one day it’s going to catch up with them. Just sit by the river and one of these days you’re going to see their body floating by.
What are some of your favorite Westerns?
Oh man, that’s a dangerous question because I could talk your ear off all day! I’ve been a fan of Westerns for as long as I can remember. Anybody taking even just a cursory glance at my DVD collection will notice that Westerns and Horror are my favorite genres.
The first Westerns I fell in love with as a kid were the Leone “Man With No Name” trilogy, so the Spaghettis are a special love of mine. The Leone films are easily the best Italian Westerns ever made. In fact, I think ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST might just be the best Western ever made, period.
But there’s so much more to the Spaghetti Western than Leone. I mean, the Italians, bless their hearts, made over three-hundred of the damn things! Sergio Corbucci (i.e. the original DJANGO, THE MERCENARY, THE GREAT SILENCE) was an absolute genius. There are also some lesser known ones that I adore, buried treasures like FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO, BLACK JACK and DAY OF ANGER. In fact, the title of every issue of SIX-GUN is swiped from an old Spaghetti. I mean, heck, if Rick Remender could do that with Morrissey songs for STRANGE GIRL…
As far as American Westerns go, I’m a big fan of John Ford (THE SEARCHERS, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE), Howard Hawks (EL DORADO) and Sam Peckinpah (THE WILD BUNCH). But if I had to pick one? The definitive American Western? It would be SHANE, hands down. Big, mythic and simply majestic. You want to see a grown man cry? The end of SHANE gets me every time.
Have you read the original SIX-GUN GORILLA story since Jess Nevins posted it?
Yes! And it’s awesome! A very fun, snappy read. It was interesting seeing how the author (whose name we’ll likely never know) handled a lot of the same problems I had to deal with. How does a 600 pound gorilla get around in the Old West? Where does he find food? How the heck does he communicate with people when he can’t speak? Jess Nevins man, God bless him for finally giving us all a chance to read it.
What is the current status of your book? Where are you at in production?
The first issue is in the can and Adrian has already penciled, inked and colored the first seven pages of issue #2. And let me tell you – they are beauts! Issue #2 is where we’re finally introduced to some of the villains. I asked Adrian to model certain characters after specific character actors from Spaghetti Westerns and he just did an uncanny job with them. Spaghetti fans in particular are going to snicker with delight when they see some of these guys! Right now I’m about halfway into the script for issue #3, where things get *really* interesting.
Am I correct in thinking that you were producing the first issue on spec, to shop around to publishers once it was finished, or has your intention been to self publish it either in print or digital?
My original plan was to self-publish digitally for, I dunno, maybe $1.99 an issue, from its own domain. But, as the pages started coming in, more and more I felt convinced that we had something special on our hands. Having the book published by one of the major independents would give us a heck of a lot more exposure than if I tried to put the thing out myself, so I’m definitely going to see if said publishers are interested in giving this pissed-off primate a proper home.
Any future plans for the character?
I would love to do a Six-Gun Gorilla/Tarzan crossover story. It’s highly unlikely that will ever happen, of course, but I can dream. Man, I’d give my left *and* my right nut to be able to do that.
I’d also love to do SIX-GUN as a monthly series, or maybe as a series of six-issue stories. I could see myself writing this character for the next five years, easy. I’ve certainly got enough story ideas for that kind of a run.
Any final thoughts?
Man, I really just wanted to make a fun comic. I didn’t want to showboat with snappy dialog or do anything that would draw attention to me as a writer. I wanted to let the pictures to tell the story. To me a good comic book is where the reader can understand what’s going on without having to ready a single word – it could be printed in Esperanto and they can follow it.
I made the comic I wanted to read and I honestly think people are going to get a real kick out of it. I have a ROCKY attitude: if I try my best and I fail, I can live with that. I just want to have my shot.