The Man Behind the Conspiracy: Talking With 'Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes' Author Andrew E.C. Gaska

Recently, we brought you news that Archaia would be making their first foray into prose with the July 25th publication of Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes. The book, penned by writer Andre E. C. Gaska, is an illustrated novel whose story weaves in and out of the events of the first PoTA story, with art by the luminaries such as Jim Steranko (who provides the book's cover), Joe Jusko, and Mark Texiera among others.

But enough about the book from us. Gaska, the writer behind Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier and consultant on Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and Midnight Club series recently provided MTV Geek with some insight into the upcoming novel through a series of questions via e-mail.

MTV Geek: Could you tell us a little about the genesis of Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes as a project? How did the partnership with Archaia come about?

Andrew E. C. Gaska: I first became an apes fan as a child watching the ABC 4:30 movie. I remember catching the first movie and being surprised to see the story continue throughout the week; especially after the world altering events in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (interesting enough as Battle was not part of the line up, I didn't even know the movie existed until about a decade later). As these movies were repeated quite often, even as a child as I watched multiple viewings, I would see questions that seemed to remain unanswered between each film. As an adult, I know that these were continuity errors. As a child, I used my imagination to fill in the blanks and cover the mistakes. So it could be said that the genesis of these novels was actually in my childhood. The plan for this series of books has always been to enhance the greater story of the entire PoTA saga by filling in the holes that the feature films left wide open.

I actually met with FOX myself, proposed the book, got the license, and started production; hired artists and what not--all on my own. After that, my science fiction comic series, Critical Millennium, was picked up by Archaia, and received some great advance reviews calling it cerebral, visceral and political. When Conspiracy was nearly done, I presented most of the the art and the second draft to Archaia, and they loved it--we decided to expand our publishing relationship and here we are now.

According to Archaia creative director Mark Smylie, this was somewhat of a unique process. Usually a company secures a license, then looks for a writer to work on it. This time, the writer brought the license he secured on his own to the publisher.

Geek: Who are some of the principal characters in your story?

Gaska: Astronaut John Landon is the guy who gets all the bad breaks. He signed up for a mission that he didn’t really understand, gets ridden by Taylor during a ruthless trek through the desert, is beaten up by apes and lobotomized. His story is going to make it clear just how lucky Taylor was to have found allies in Cornelius and Zira.

Dr. Milo is the chimpanzee who managed to fix Taylor’s ship and get himself, Cornelius, and Zira back in time to 1973 during the third film, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, only to meet an untimely demise at a zoo, of all places. His character has begged for extrapolation from the beginning. He was clearly introduced in Escape in order to get Cornelius and Zira back in time, but a science ape of his level of genius must have had a story to tell, not the least of which was how he found Taylor and Landon’s ship, and fixed it up enough to get it back in the air.

General Ursus, an ape of some power who was important to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, was absent from the first film. You will find he was involved with aspects of Conspiracy while the cameras were rolling elsewhere in Ape City.

Chief Marcus was originally supposed to be an integral part of the original movie, but was mostly cut out. The most information fans have had on him to date comes form a movie poster showing the gorilla and saying “This is Marcus. His specialties are violence and torture.” In Conspiracy, you will find out that the chief is also a family ape, and a loving and caring father.

Dr. Galen, the surgeon who fixed Taylor’s throat and argued with Zira in the original film, is a major antagonist, as is Dr. Zaius. Finally, there is a host of new characters, designed to show the reader other aspects of ape society. There’s even the civil service gorilla named Mungwortt, who is a garbage ape!

Geek: What was the appeal of this particular era in Apes history?

Gaska: It is the defining era, and largely untapped. I have always wondered why no one created stories to fill in the blanks of the original film and its immediate sequel, there are so many discrepancies between the two it seems like a rich place to go to, and I am very happy to be the one to do it. I just needed more than one book to make it happen. I have a two book deal with FOX and Archaia, so expect to see Conspiracy followed up by the end of next year.

Conspiracy is a perfect place to reintroduce readers to the mythos, it's the story of an astronaut who finds his world turned upside down when he crash lands on the Planet of the Apes. It's not Taylor, and its not a new astronaut doing exactly what Taylor did, as was the default for ape stories in the 1970s, but it’s about his fellow astronaut Landon, and tells the story from his eyes. And Taylor is still in it, he is just not the main character. It is both familiar and fresh at the same time.

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 Taylor story, and it needs to be told.

Geek: You mentioned watching the movies as a kid. How much of the other PoTA fiction have you gotten into? The movies? The cartoon? The comics?

Gaska I am a Planet of the Apes connoisseur, and there are references aplenty to all the series. Dr. Milo is from the third movie, General Ursus from the second, etc.

My challenge was that I wanted to incorporate things from all sources, but wanted it to stand alone as it’s own story, so that if you knew what I was talking about, as a fan, you would get that extra little squeal of joy, but if you were a newcomer to the series, everything you needed is in this book and it stands as its own, Conspiracy is a unique apes story that is firmly part of a bigger universe.

There are major discrepancies between all the series, however, and I had to take a creative approach to make all these things make sense. In the third movie, Escape, Dr. Hasslien compared time to an infinite highway with infinite lanes, if you change lanes you could change your future.

I have come to the conclusion that the cartoon and television series, as well as some of the comic’ continuity, are in fact different lanes of the same highway. This explains how the cartoon has Corneilus, Zira, and Zaius in a world where the apes have technology, but that is clearly not the case in the feature films. It is my hypothesis, and the foundation of this novel series, that all the astronauts started off in the same lane on that highway, but as they made it to the future, they wound up getting off on different exit ramps. This also explains how each of the astronauts from the different sources are shocked to find out that the future is run by apes, but some of their missions left after Zira and Cornelius return to 1973 and say as much. I have used this idea to create a few interesting characters inspired by the other sources and incorporate them into Taylor and Landon’s timeline, so that they are “this lane’s” version of that character.

Confused? Awesome!

Geek: To what extent did you feel compelled to "explain" the continuity between the films?

Gaska: Foremost, it was important to me that I don’t contradict anything from the films, only enhance, build upon, and show another side of. To that end, I saw two important things that had to be addressed, context and continuity.

Conspiracy had to make sense in the context of the original movie; that is, that the dialogue, technology, and ideology fit with that of the late 60s and early 70s, and that Landon and Taylor weren’t concerned with problems that relate specifically to our times, but rather to the time period they come from, as well as issues that are timeless.

As a continuity freak, my mission here was to tell a story that was not a rehash of the first movie, but a completely different story that took place at the same time, linking up with the original and weaving a fantastic tapestry that showcases the cause and effect of both on each other.

We have known for years that Landon was captured during the hunt along with Taylor, but he is missing for the majority of the film. It is later revealed that he has been lobotomized by Dr. Zaius. But what happened to him during that missing time, and how did he touch the lives of other pertinent apes characters? We all know how Landon ends up, and it's not a happy ending. It's his journey that I hope will captivate readers.

There are familiar scenes from the original film in Conspiracy, but from a different point of view. This is the closest the first film has ever been to a novelization. There are also scenes alluded to in the second movie that never got any screen time. Finally, when fleshing out areas from the original film, I decided to look at the script for inspiration. There are a few cut scenes that appear in the 1968 film’s shooting script, photos of which have popped up time and time again. I have integrated them back into the story.

It’s ironic that cut scenes from the first movie will see print in prose format, while the film itself has never been adapted as such.

Geek: What, if any, impact did Pierre Boulle’s original novel have on your work?

Gaska: The original novel is not really part of the Planet of the Apes franchise, it was more the inspiration for it. While the first film is based loosely on the book, the recognizable characters, setting and situations of the PoTA films are not present in that novel. It was always my goal to root my PoTA novels within the framework of the classic PoTA series. I have always rather enjoyed FOX’s interpretation of the series more so than the novel itself, it is a more expansive and realized universe.

Geek: The book has a pretty diverse roster of illustrating talent onboard. What was the collaboration like with the artists?

Gaska: The initial Conspiracy artist list was chosen from a group of artists whose work I have long admired and hoped I would be blessed to work with someday. Jim Steranko and Ken Kelly have been good friends of mine for the past several years. Chandra Free and Dan Dusssault are very close to me, so their involvement became a no-brainer. Others were chosen during convention searches, wherein I would scour artist alley at numerous shows to find artists that were just right for specific pieces. One of the best parts about the process was finding out how many of them were Planet of the Apes fans. In many cases, all I had to do was mention apes and they would be onboard. Having the chance to work with all this amazing talent, and have them realize my vision and breathe life into my story, was truly an amazing experience.

Geek: Do you have any other projects coming up you can talk about?

Gaska: Yes! My sci-fi epic comic series, Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier, is about to be collected in hardcover and is available for preorder right now on Amazon--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, I have secured the rights to produce comics, graphic novels and digital media for 1970s science fiction series Space:1999. This show was 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, 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 intend to make a splash in the comics and sci-fi markets, so expect to see more! You have been warned!

Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes will be on shelves July 25th.

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