Simon Spurrier Monkeys Around With Six-Gun Gorilla
Apr 25, 2013
Simon Spurrier writes a lot of comic books. And he's not one for labels. One minute he's on X-Men, the next he's writing horror (Crossed), and then the next he's taking a pulp character from the 30s and doing Six-Gun Gorilla for BOOM! Studios. Would you like to know more? The following interview fills in the blanks.
PREVIEWSworld: From X-Men, to Crossed, to Numbercruncher, and now Six-Gun Gorilla #1, a bizarre pulp character from the '30s. Give us the introduction to the movie that is Simon Spurrier's mind. From where we're standing, it's an experimental movie in which for one particular screening has you writing a story about (what history tells us) was the only remaining survivor from a circus train wreck. Give us the skinny, Si.
Simon Spurrier: Ha. My mind would make for a pretty incoherent movie, I think. Ridiculous kaleidoscopes of hyperdense visual non-sequiturs, uncomfortable Sergio Leone close-ups crash-cutting to vast epic vistas (mostly upside down) and then loooong ponderous scenes of llamas chewing cud and ducks landing clumsily on icy ponds.
Seriously – if I have such a thing as a characteristic story-voice, it’s something to do with taking mismatched ideas and genres and smashing them together in weird ways. I’m fascinated by these strange little grooves we’ve etched into the walls of the massmind in order to subjugate and control stories – “genres”, “themes”, “formulae”, call them what you will, but remember they mean something different to everyone – and I get kinda itchy if I’m obliged to sit neatly within one and play nice. Some of them are there for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying to fiddle and cheat and improve. Other story conventions are completely facile or unhealthily restrictive, and we won’t be free of them until they’re infiltrated and murdered from the inside. So, yeah. There are some times I want to obediently adhere to the conventions of a particular genre or story-type, but it feels right to do so in a roundabout way, or do so using out-of-place character tropes, or unfamiliar settings, or whatever. There are other times I want to flip something familiar on its arse, because I take perverse pleasure out of tricking people into reading (and hopefully enjoying) something they otherwise wouldn’t have bothered picking up.
The new Six-Gun Gorilla story is in that same mischievous spirit – “familiar but completely different”, if you want a brandmark – but with even more interesting storytricks than usual.
See, on the one hand 6GG is a reinvention/remodel of an old pulp character from Wizard magazine in 1939. Just like the source material, the new strip is first and foremost a Western: a story about frontiers, pioneers, civil wars, wilderness and wildness. And like the source material, it features a 500lb gorilla with a gun. So, y’know… before I even began to twist and tweak and reinvent, this was a property which typifies what I was talking about above: familiar but completely different. That’s what drew me to it in the first place.
But on the other hand my new story is also about stories. It’s about old pulp tales. It’s about legend and myth, and a society so obsessed by reality-as-entertainment that it’s lost touch with fiction. It’s kinda self-reflexive, and in order to hit all those notes – and serve-up some extra-awesome visuals – the whole thing is bookended by some sly sci-fi tropes. This is a wilderness-frontier unlike any we’ve ever seen before, but the themes, conflicts, modes of behavior and storms of violence are very defiantly Western.
But, hey, it’s easy for me to get caught-up in describing all this behind-the-scenes hi-falutin’ commentary because that’s how my brain has to parse this particular tale in order to hold it all in place – but for you guys flipping through a comic all that stuff should never be obtrusive or wanky. It’s a Western. With a gorilla. With guns.
PREVIEWSworld: Public domain characters seem to be in vogue these days. A lot of pulp is being done, for instance, over at Dynamite Entertainment. What was it about Six-Gun Gorilla that made it worth your time as a writer?
Simon Spurrier: Oop – I think I mostly answered that already. I’d add simply that hearing the title was enough to get my brain grinding. There’s something spookily predictable about the way people (myself included) react when they first heard those words. Step 1: That’s ridiculous! It sounds dumb! Step 2: Although… y’know what… now that I think about it… Hmm…
I love that kind of cognitive dissonance. And, y’know, when you go back and read the original stuff it’s exactly what you’d expect: a straightforward Western, played completely and po-facedly straight, about a gorilla who can shoot a gun. I discovered it a couple of years ago thanks to my pal (and pulp authority) Jess Nevins (whose Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes is, I believe, published this year) and it’s stayed with me ever since.
It was only recently that some nebulous thoughts I’d been having about stories in general and Westerns in particular reached critical mass, and that coincided with BOOM! asking me for ideas, and right when I needed him the big shambling bastard knuckled his way out of my memories and formed the last piece in the puzzle.
PREVIEWSworld: According to your Tumblr post, Six-Gun Gorilla is "ridiculousness played totally straight." Do you feel that you have more liberty to go gonzo because the creator who wrote all the original stories in the British 1930s Wizard was never named? There's no legacy to balance, thus you have more creative freedom?
Simon Spurrier: God no, that’s not it at all. I mean, I can see what you’re getting at: I’d possibly have a tougher time putting a new spin on an old character if he/she/it were enormously popular than something uncredited and relatively unknown. It’s Tarzan!... but on the moon! That would encounter resistance, whereas It’s Six-Gun Gorilla – but with some trippy sci-fi elements! That gets more of a pass.
Actually, Tarzan on the Moon? I would totally read that.
In general I’d say there’s two main reasons for people reclaiming old public domain titles. Reason 1 is, they intend to adhere loyally to the detail of the original, to continue the story as it was, and no other title will do. (By the way, strike the phrase “in the spirit of the original” – that’s a weaselly cover-your-arse term designed as a pre-emptive strike against complainy purist fans. Of which the original Six-Gun Gorilla has very few.
Reason 2 for resurrecting an old public domain title, would be that you think it has enough cache left in it to give your project a publicity or marketing boost, irrespective of whether you’re continuing the old story or not. Cashing-in, effectively.
So, yeah: Six-Gun Gorilla doesn’t really fall into either of those categories.
For me it’s a mixture of two other super-secret-bonus-Reasons: (reason #3) the title in isolation is so wonderfully evocative – with all its layers of absurdity and awesome – that it becomes as fundamental an element of the new project as it was for the original series, despite the meat being very different; and (reason #4) using this title I can also tell a story tangentially about the old pulp version of 6GG and (to get back to your question), about its unknown creator. He (or she), in their very anonymity, has a role to play in this comic.
The entire book, for instance, is dedicated to “Creators Unknown.” It’s a big thematic element.
PREVIEWSworld: Words to describe your writing have been "clever," "sharp," and "highly entertaining." How do you think BOOM! Studios would regard you as a writer on this book? Someone they see that’s pushing into new frontiers for the company? True, you've done work with them before like on Extermination, but what was it about your script for Six-Gun Gorilla that made them say "yes!"
Simon Spurrier: Ha! – you’d have to ask BOOM! about that. I can tell you I have a great relationship with my team – Eric Harburn on editing duties, Matt Gagnon on plying-me-with-beer-whenever-I’m-in-New-York duties. We had such a blast working on Extermination that, when it was finished, we got to chatting about other projects. I mentioned 6GG somewhere around my third beer of the afternoon. If I remember right (cf: that beer) Matt and the guys had coincidentally already been thinking about the character shortly before, so we all got a synchronicity buzz. Even then I don’t think any of us knew – not even me – what an unconventional deviation the book would take away from the detail of the original.
Of course part of the joy I take from working with publishers like BOOM!, Avatar and 2000AD is that one really can take these sideways lurches into unexplored, frontier or downright-weird territory. I mean, I’ve been astonishingly lucky with Marvel too – those guys let me do some trippy weirdo stuff in X-Men Legacy you simply wouldn’t associate with a spandex book – but there’ll always be a part of my heart dedicated to the envelope-pushers, the boundary-shifters, the rule-benders. And not just for the usual wanky I Am A Unique Creative Snowflake reasons either: the cynical truth is that our beloved medium will curl up its toes in the slow death of stagnation if its mainstream elements continue to dumbly tread water in their comfort zone. Recycled themes, recycled plots, recycled characters, yadda yadda. The way I figure, the weirdo fringe indie of today has a pretty decent shot at being the mainstream of tomorrow.
PREVIEWSworld: Any chance you're a fan of, say, Gorilla Grodd, Sky Ape, or various simian characters from Planet of the Apes? If you could improvise for a minute, and go Andy Kaufman on us, what would be the result of Six-Gun Gorilla meeting up with any of those apes on the street?
Simon Spurrier: I am, naturally, a fan of all primates. I still remember a campaign organized amongst the 2000AD fan-community to include a Monkey-In-A-Hat in as many strips as possible. Being as I am a true professional, with a clear creative vision and a refusal to be influenced by outside factors, I… well, actually, I wrote a hovering tech-monkey in a helmet into my Lobster Random strip. And it was awesome.
Now: in the hierarchy of simian comics characters, apes without human affectations come slightly below monkeys without human affectations – everyone loves a cheeky monkey more than a scowling feces-chucking uberhorny chimp – but as soon as you start anthropomorphizing the rules get very complex. A monkey in a hat is slightly higher than an ape in a waistcoat, but an ape carrying any sort of human-centric accessory – newspaper, pipe, cup of tea, etc – is automatically better than a monkey with the same. Sunglasses are a whole separate sub-game. Ability to talk is less of a factor than you might think, unless we’re in the realm of excitingly exaggerated accents. So, say, a talking Rhesus Monkey in parachute-pants and a fez is roughly equal to a talking orangutan holding a pitchfork and wearing aviation goggles. But if either of them has a fruity Australian whine? WIN.
All of which is simply an illustration of my credentials when it comes to expertise on sequential-anthro-sartorial-primatology, so your readers recognize my authority when I state that a 500lb gorilla with a whisper-quiet Arizona drawl, wearing a poncho and carrying a pair of enormous pistols, is quite simply the greatest comicbook character Ever in the world Ever. Ever.