Q: You are a New Yorker and you studied art at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. What were your influences that led you to become a writer?
Star Wars. Well, Star Wars, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Space:1999, Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. Basically the sci-fi of the '70s. Oh! and comics. Lots of comics.
I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens. I knew at an early age that I wanted to create stories. I also learned very quickly that I was a continuity Nazi. Even when I was seven years old and playing with Star Wars figures with the other kids on my block, everything had to count, everything had to make sense. One of the kids would have Han die, and I would step in and be like, "No, no, no! He has to be alive for the next movie! and he is in this month's issue of the comic!" Another kid would join in and have two different Luke figures. I would be like, "Unless one of those Lukes is a clone, and this has something to do with the clone wars (long before it was a 3D animated series), you are outta here!" I wasn't very popular - until I got a little older, and Dungeons & Dragons replaced action figures. Then I was slightly more popular with the nerd crowd - because I made a great Dungeon Master, and everyone else just wanted to play.
First comic book I ever read was Star Wars #18: The Empire Strikes! (no relation to the Empire Strikes Back that would be released a year and a half later) - story by Archie Goodwin, art by Carmine Infantino (creator of the Silver Age Flash and Batgirl).
I was always in advanced art classes and whatnot growing up - and then went to the School of Visual Arts for college. I have a degree in Illustration with a focus on cartooning - which means, um - a comic book diploma. In college I studied under masters like Walt Simonson (Thor) and Carmine Infantino (remember him?). Being taught page and panel layout by Carmine was the completion of a circle that started with that first star wars comic - that made me want to do comics in the first place.
While studying under these icons, I learned that I knew an awful lot about how to do comics, but my art wasn't as strong as my stories, so I concentrated on my writing. I was privately tutored in writing for comics by Denny O'Neil at his insistence. Denny was at the time in charge of Batman at DC Comics (and was so consecutively for 15 years), and had written many comics over the years, such as Sword of Azrael, Green Arrow, the Question, and more, as well as editing G. I. Joe and Daredevil during some of the most exciting runs of those titles. While at school I worked gratis for several up and coming comic companies that up and went. I graduated college just as comics was at an all time low, and was lucky enough to get work in the video game industry, doing freelance graphic work for Rockstar Games. It was then that I finally started to become financially stable enough to figure out exactly what it was I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and that was form a studio that could both allow me to purge the creative urge and help me conquer the entertainment industry, one forgotten sci-fi license at a time.
Q: What I like about CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is that it ties together the first three apes movies and explains all those unanswered questions in a satisfying way. Obviously you're a POTA fan. How long did it take to write the book? And how did it even come about?
I first became an apes fan as a child. I remember catching the first film on the ABC 4:30pm movie on a Monday and being surprised to see the story continue throughout the week; especially after the world altering events in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (41 YEAR OLD SPOILER: TAYLOR BLOWS UP THE WORLD.) As these movies were repeated quite often, even as a child as I watched multiple viewings, I would see questions that remained unanswered between each film. As an adult, I know that these were continuity errors. Back then, I simply used my imagination to fill in the blanks and cover up the mistakes. So it could be said that the genesis of Conspiracy was actually in my childhood.
About five years ago, my studio BLAM! Ventures was working with Battlestar Galactica actor/author Richard Hatch on his Great War of Magellan comic series, and the decision was made to broaden our scope by producing sci-fi properties that had been left to the wayside. I wanted to give something back to, as well as to add to the mythos of, the licensed properties that touched me as a child - you know, the ones that didn't talk down to me like so much children's programming does. Planet of the Apes was one of the franchises that had a huge impact on my life - when I was a kid, I was fascinated by gorillas with guns on horses. As I matured, I began to see political and social context in the series. When I pitched the story to FOX, they were excited by the concept of an illustrated novel format (as was done years earlier with by Dark Horse with Aliens: Tribes).
Again, that concept goes back to the 4:30 movie, and also my obsession with Dr. Milo. 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 over this two novel arc the story of how Milo was able to raise the astronauts' ship, repair it, and get himself, Cornelius and Zira "back in time". And I wanted to tell a lot of things about humanity -- and the mistakes we make, through the allegory of the apes, and their misguided belief that they are any better than us. They make the same mistakes as we do - self proclaimed innocence or not.
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 hope that Conspiracy will make at least one person realize the ridiculous and self destructive nature of mankind - mirrored in a society of apes who think they have transcended humanity, but have in actuality joined the human race. Who knows? Maybe that one fan will become that one person who can then steer us off this course of self-destruction, so we don't blow up the world in the end.
Q: What is your favorite Apes movie and why?
Clearly, the first is amazing, and the best. So we will push that one aside a second, and have a look at the sequels. For me there is a balance between Escape and the restored director's cut of Conquest.
Escape is a character study. My girlfriend, Chandra Free (creator of the graphic novel series the God Machine), discussed this a few months ago, and she said it best - it really captures the humanity of the characters, something rare in a sequel about non-humans!
Conquest is a story of retribution, and Caesar seethes in hatred over the mistreatment of apekind. That film, as originally intended and restored on blu-ray, holds nothing back. The ending has so much more power than the theatrical one. And sure, there are still a few choice exposition clunkers in the dialogue, but the movie more than makes up for it. It shows you the brutal reality of riots and rebellion, in a movie that came out at the time where doing a film about people rioting wouldn't have gone down so well. Monkeys? They can riot, it's cool.
So while Escape captures heart and soul, Conquest encapsulates rage and justice. And they both have Ricardo Montalbán in them, what else could you ask for? William Shatner?
Q: What did you think of the RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES movie, compared to the original CONQUEST?
As uber apes fan Jessica Rotich likes to say, "Apples and oranges. Champagne and water. Benjamins and Susan B's."
You really can't compare the two - they are both epic-ly awesome in their own separate ways.
Conquest is one of my favorites, and Rise has reignited the franchise. This question of whether Rise is a prequel to the original Planet of the Apes or a reboot hotly debated on Apes message boards. People are arguing that it is whatever the director or producers say it is.
Honestly, what they say is irrelevant. If you face the facts of the films, RISE is not a prequel, its a different universal timeline, or remake of the entire franchise.
In Rise, the ICARUS leaves in 2010. In the original film, it's clearly stated and shown on the clocks that Taylor and crew left in 1972. Taylor's ship is not even called ICARUS in the actual original films, and has been retconed an official name of LIBERTY-1 as of the Blu-Ray releases, and in Conspiracy.
While Hollywood likely won't remake the original film, as it is a tough act to follow, they will diverge into their own path that tell an eerily parallel story to the original franchise, but through modern storytelling, and with modern twists to keep us all excited along the way.
Its the same thing the new Star Trek universe will do, but unlike that one, RISE's universe will not clearly state that it is an altered timeline from the first franchise. And like the new Star Trek, it will bring new audiences to an awesome concept.
Remember what Hasslien said: " One highway with infinite lanes. Change lanes and change your destiny."
Q: You're working on a sequel to CONSPIRACY, DEATH OF THE PLANET OF THE APES....can you tell us what that's about?
A bit! I have a two-book deal with FOX and Archaia, so expect to see Conspiracy followed up by the end of next year. Release of FALL 2012 is confirmed -and the title pending licensing approval is indeed DEATH OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
WARNING: There be spoilers here!
This will be the last great Taylor story. Taylor's missing time between the beginning and end of 'Beneath' is detailed, as well as his past and his 'intentions' at the end of the film. A Cornelius and Zira arc is covered that starts on the way back from the Forbidden Zone, sees them getting married, and shows the cause and effect of their change-of-status with Zaius by the time Beneath starts. Also, Cornelius learns shocking facts about the culture which predated apekind.
Milo is working to get the LIBERTY flight capable, and he finds a somewhat obvious but overlooked source for inspiration. While Mungwortt is fighting to survive beneath the Planet of the Apes, the mutants' put into effect various plans and strategies to protect themselves after the loss of their General of the Defense.
Along the way we discover what happens to Lucius, Liet, Seraph, Dangral, Cerek and Sabian. The book also expands on Ursus', Nova's and Brent's stories, and introduces two new key characters as well.
Finally, there is a visit with General Lazenbe in 1976. It is looking like it might be considerably longer than Conspiracy, perhaps by as much as 100pgs, publisher permitting.
Q: Do you have any other ideas for Apes books?
I originally crafted a six novel arc, of which Conspiracy and Death were books 1 and 2. I am thinking that books 3-6 might be released in a slightly different format than these illustrated novels - but I am not at liberty to discuss as much yet.
Book Three will discuss the origins of the apes - covering ground moving forward in time from 1925 to 1973, while at the same time following Milo, Zira, and Cornelius as they travel backwards in time from 3978 to 1973, where our storylines will collide.
Book Four deals with a portion of the apes saga that is widely forgotten...
Book Five and Six, well - they spring forth from a plotline I conceived while viewing the director's cut of Conquest. What if there was a time anomaly the night of Caesar's rebellion, what if something or someone came back in time during the night of the fires. Just one little thing that causes an encounter that catapults Caesar into succumbing to his anger - and pulp Breck as shown in the Blu-ray version - causing the timeline to skew into a new reality, replacing Battle for the Planet of the Apes (and the comic series Revolution on the Planet of the Apes) with a more brutal and frankly realistic finale to the series than the family friendly Battle was, and is is these events, in this version, that actually leads to Taylor's future.
For want of a nail, the battle was lost...
Each novel can be enjoyed on it's own - in fact, each story I've done can be enjoyed on it's own even if this is your first introduction to planet of the apes.
This is something I am pretty adamant about in story crafting- It really bothers me that we have things like an 'alternate' universe in comics-- Where the company throws everything out and reinvent it because they want to pull in new readers. They don't have the strength to commit 100% to these changes, so this thing co-exists along with the other version, both within their respective continuities. They started doing this because writers say that there is too much continuity and it bogs them down. Then, you see them creating new things like say, "an alien race that the hero in this universe have known for years -- but you never saw them before. The back story is important that they were friends before this." Well, why not just use an alien race from the hero's past, one that long time reader already know? New readers will simply accept that the hero will have known these guys for a while, and fans will be happy to see something that THEY know the back story to. A diverse universe with a rich tapestry to draw upon is a great thing to start with.
Another pet peeve is when companies totally restart their properties universe but then set it in a future, without fully filling in the past. Readers are left wondering what counts and what doesn't in the new universe. The whole selective pick and choose thing doesn't really satisfy old fans, and new fans start to become confused as well.
So you see, it's important to me that long time fans and new ones are entertained as well. If you read all six, you will become aware of a bigger picture I have created for you - but each one has an arc for the main characters of that book that completes and then introduces the next "level", hooking you for the next book.
Whether or not those last four books see print at all depends on sales of the first two--so, please, if you love apes, buy this book, buy its sequel, and tell your friends to but as well. We need to show FOX how viable the classic apes saga really is.
Q: What other projects are you working on?
My sci-fi epic comic series, Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier, has just been collected as a gorgeous hardcover and is available right now on amazon.com, and at Barnes and Noble and your local comic shop sometime this month -- it is also from Archaia. Critical Millennium is a thousand years of mankind's rise and fall in outer space, so there are many more stories coming for it. The second Critical Millennium tale, Beacon, will be released directly to graphic novel form, hopefully by the end of 2012, along with the second Apes book.
In addition to that, my aforementioned girlfriend Chandra Free 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 late next year as well. Chandra is an incredible artist and supplied two of the paintings in the Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes book as well.
Finally, I have secured the rights to produce comics, graphic novels and digital media for 1970s science fiction series Space:1999. Space:1999 is an incredible journey that unfortunately has never achieved the audience that it's rich storyline deserves. I consider it sci-fi's lost 'epic', and readers can now consider it found. Expect to see the first Space:1999 graphic novels, written by yours truly, in print(and in digital release) during 2012! I have a lot of irons that have been in the fire for a long time, so expect these things soon, and expect them hot!