Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman hate every ape they see, from chimpan-A to chimpanzee. All the same, they spoke to The Outhouse about Planet of the Apes (the comic, not the planet or the movie...or the stage musical starring Troy McClure).
It may come as a surprise to some that the finest political thriller in comics can be found in the pages of a Planet of the Apes comic book, but take a moment to consider what the original story is really about, and the fact that the comics take on such a heavy political tone makes perfect sense. That's exactly the tactic that co-writers Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman take with the property. The married co-writing duo approach the comics as superfans, but also with the critical distance needed to create a living, breathing story that's compelling in its own right. It's one of the best examples of a comic based on a licensed property, an area where publisher Boom! Studios excels. Bechko and Hardman spoke to The Outhouse in Artist's Alley at New York Comic-Con about their work on the title, which spans two limited (the first of which features art by Hardman) series and a young ongoing.
The Outhouse (OH): Filip Sablik of Boom! mentioned that you guys came to them with the desire to write a Planet of the Apes comic. How did that process get started?
Gabriel Hardman (GH): For me, the idea of doing a Planet of the Apes comic came from when I drew some comics for Malibu in the early 90's, and they did a really – no offense to the people who worked on them – not so good Planet of the Apes comic that I at the time, I thought "I wish I could do that. I think I could do that right." I always had the idea of writing and drawing it. When we saw that Boom! had the license, and they were putting out Darryl Gregory's book, which was really great, it was really kind of obvious that they were doing right by the franchise, and we knew them in passing just from being in Los Angeles and running into them at cons. When we saw [Boom! Studios Editor-in-Chief] Matt Gagnon at the Los Angeles Book Festival, we were like "hey, can we do a Planet of the Apes one-shot or something?" And they told us "Well, you can do a mini-series." It was as simple as that. We just sent them a pitch, and it moved along. It worked really well for us. It wasn't the first freelance thing that we wrote, Corinna had written some Marvel stuff –
Corinna Bechko (CB): A couple of smaller things.
GH: A couple of smaller things, but it was the first time that we collaborated on a freelance – a real story. A substantial story. A mini-series. It worked in a very orderly, good way, for us to be writing it, and me drawing it. That's something that we plan to do more about in the future.
OH: There are a lot of co-writers and collaborators in comics who work together a lot, but very few of them are married to each other. Do the two sides of the coin inform each other? Does the personal relationship have any affect on the creative partnership?
CB: It makes it a lot easier to find time to write together because we both work from home. We don't have to schedule meetings. We just have times of the day that we get together and write.
GH: Yeah, we do it in a very orderly way. We work on stuff in the morning. We plot out everything, we break down all the pages. Corinna takes a shot at taking at writing the first draft of it while I'm drawing something else in my studio. She'll send that to me, I'll revise that, and we both revise the final thing. It's surprisingly formal and orderly. A lot of people have asked us if we write real scripts, because they assume that I'm an artist who's probably not literate and probably just pretending to be a writer. A lot of people assume that we do very loose scripts that I then draw...and that's not the case at all. We write full scripts in a very conventional, formal way. Almost invariably, the panels that we call out in the script are what I draw on the page. I'm pretty good at just visualizing what that thing's going to be at the end. We basically just write in what I visualize for the page in the script, and it's pretty consistent.
OH: You guys started with a limited series, that led to another limited series, and that led to an ongoing. Was that your vision for how things would eventually shake out?
GH: At the beginning, that wasn't part of our vision.
CB: Yeah, we had no idea.
GH: That said, when we finished the draft of the last script for Betrayal, our first mini-series, we looked at each other and said "there are more stories we can tell." It was really obvious to us when we got to the end. Maybe the next day, they asked us to write another one. [laughs] Like a couple of hours after we turned in the last script they asked us to write another mini-series. And we just assumed that it would be another mini-series after that, but it turned into the ongoing, and from there we had to make big plans for where we wanted to go with it. The first two minis had taken place eighteen years before the first movie, and for the ongoing we wanted to move it up closer to the movie and give it that natural trajectory towards Taylor arriving. Our previous plan was to jump forward a couple of years every time, but we decided to move it all forward so it can be one continuous story rather than jumping around in time.
OH: Going back to what you said earlier about the relationship between the script and the comic page, I'd say that the art on The Planet of the Apes has been..."Hardmanesque..."
GB: Yeah, probably Marc Laming's art on Exile is probably a little bit more in line with my stuff, I think. Marc Laming did a fantastic job on the previous miniseries, Exile on the Planet of the Apes. I think the current artist, Damien [Couceiro], has a little more of a stylized look, but it's still in that heavy-shadowed sensibility. To a degree, that's just about keeping a consistent feel for the world. We really do want it to feel like it's Planet of the Apes, even if it doesn't look exactly the movie, it's gotta have that feel you can't quite put your finger on...
CB: The tone.
GH: The tone is a better word for it, yeah.
OH: People might forget that Planet of the Apes is a really political story, and that's an aspect that you guys have really ratcheted up in your stories, casting them as political thrillers. Can you speak a little more to that, and about how you see the politics in the world of Planet of the Apes and why that was the tact you decided to take?
CB: We have talked a lot about doing political stories, and that's why I like working in sci-fi...
GH: Yeah, internally, we call it "poli-sci-fi," which is the dumbest-sounding name in the world [laughs]
CB: No, I love that term!
GH: We don't generally say that in public. But it's the kind of thing that we've always liked, in Planet of the Apes and other sci-fi genre stuff where you're talking about broader issues that we're dealing with, and you're not doing it in a 100% on the nose way, but in a way that enriches the stories you're telling. It's Planet of the Apes, you have to be conscious of that. The biggest thing we wanted to resist was telling stories that were just fanservice for Planet of the Apes fans – and we're big Planet of the Apes fans, it's not like we're not – but I think it's the job of a storyteller to tell a story that's accessible enough...that it's a real story, that you're not just paying off little reference points to earlier continuity.
CB: So that people who aren't familiar with the original source material can enjoy it too.
GH: Ideally, people who know absolutely everything about Planet of the Apes, including the names of all the mutants, can enjoy it as much as people who are casual fans who just know the basic setup. We've had people who just enjoy my art who have picked it up and enjoyed Betrayal, and then watched the movies because they've never seen the movies before.
CB: That's a nice compliment.
GH: Which is good. That means we told a real story, a real story that you can appreciate whether you're a die-hard fan or not.
OH: Can you tell us a little bit about your story coming up in Dark Horse's anthology series?
GH: It's called Station to Station. It's a three-part serial in Dark Horse Presents. It starts in December in issue #19. It's basically a story about giant monsters devastating San Francisco. If you love San Francisco, or you hate San Francisco, or you love giant monsters, there's something in it for you. It's a sci-fi type of story.
OH: One of the editors of our site is located in San Francisco.
CB: Well, there you go.
GH: He shouldn't be worried.
OH: Anything else you want to say that we didn't ask?
GH: We have a couple of other projects that we just can't announce yet, but our plan is to continue writing stuff for other artists, and writing stuff that I'll draw. Some of it is creator-owned stuff and some freelance stuff.
OH: I have to ask: Have you ever seen that episode of The Simpsons where the did the Planet of the Apes musical?
Both: Of course!
OH: Everytime I read one of your Apes comics, I end up with the songs from that episode running through my head.
CB: Happens to me all the time.
GH: Look, this is basically our entire life. [laughs] Everytime I read "Dr. Zaius..."Just the phrase "chimpan-A to chimpanzee" gets stuck in my head basically on a daily basis.
CB: Especially typing "chimpanzee" all the time.
GH: Yeah. So yes, it's a huge part of our lives.