The name of the creator of the 1930s pulp character Six-Gun Gorilla -- a vengeance-driven circus gorilla with a gun -- has been lost to history, but the bizarrely awesome creation will live once again this summer.
The gun-slinging silverback gorilla saddles up this June in a new BOOM! Studios series written by Si Spurrier ("X-Men Legacy," "2000 AD") with art by Jeff Stokely. As he prepares for the new adventures of "Six-Gun Gorilla" to kick off, Spurrier spoke with CBR News about what's involved in updating a piece of absurd pulp history into a sci-fi infused Western, filled with big guns and bigger ideas. Spurrier also shares a look at his unique plans to pay tribute to the gorilla's unknown creator while giving us an exclusive look at Stokely's behind-the-scenes designs the title character and his suicidal human co-star, Blue.
CBR News: Six-Gun Gorilla is a genuine pulp character from the '30s with one of the most amazing and self-explanatory names ever. Can you walk us through your discovery of him, and the spark that led you to want to tell new stories with him?
Si Spurrier: I came across 6GG in a slightly roundabout way. A few years ago, I took over the Whitechapel message board, hosted by Avatar and nominally tying into Warren Ellis' "Freakangels" webcomic. I write Avatar's ongoing "Crossed" webcomic -- twelve new pages of award-winning nastiness every week -- so it seemed a good way to connect with the online fanbase. Warren's been a friend and mentor to me for years, so I wanted to honor the traditions he'd cultivated on the board. One of them is the Remake/Remodel thread, in which a character is chosen -- usually an old, forgotten or hokey Golden Age comic figure -- which artists are challenged to redesign with a modern vibe. We've had some incredible entries over the years, from some of the best names in the industry.
On this occasion, I thought it'd be fun to pick a character from one of the multitudinous pulp fiction magazines of the '30s and '40s, so I turned to Jess Nevins. He's earned his reputation as an authority on the pulp world, and when he releases his "Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes" later this year you'll see why. Somewhere in his travels, he'd come across this glorious bit of pulp history: "Six-Gun Gorilla," from the pages of the 1930s magazine "Wizard." A batshit piece of silliness by an unknown writer, played completely straight, about a circus gorilla called O'Neil in the old West, whose kindly owner is murdered, and who sets out on a mission of revenge.
Jess was clearly taken by the concept -- most people are when they hear that title: it's a glorious cascade-response of "that's ridiculous," then, "actually, that's awesome," then, "I want to fucking read that" -- and has since made available all of the original pulp episodes on his website. It's well worth a read.
Anyway, I ran a Remake/Remodel on 6GG and we got some of the best entries I've ever seen. It stayed with me, and in the meantime, I found myself separately obsessing over the mythologies and memes which underpin the beautiful, tragic genre of The Western. At some point, I became aware that it's got something to do with obsolescence -- many of the best Westerns involve a representative of The Old (or "the wrong") fighting to protect the New (or "the right"), even though he/she/it will probably have no place in the same. And then BOOM! mentioned the prospect of creator-owned properties, my brain did a glorious little backflip and bang -- there it was.
What's the legal situation around Six-Gun Gorilla? Is he public domain because his creator is unknown and the rights lapsed?
No big secrets with this stuff, as far as I know. The original "Six-Gun Gorilla" stories became a public-domain property years ago, so it really was open season. I did contemplate, originally, simply picking up where the pulp tales left off and continuing to tell the adventures of O'Neil -- the gorilla of the Old West. But the more I thought about it, the more the potential to do something deeper and darker appeared: something which is of the Western and about the Western, all at once, rather than simply being an ape-related take on the genre. It's my hope -- actually, my confident belief -- that this new series pays its deep respects to the original material, and its unknown creator, while gratefully borrowing its title.
How difficult is the tone of this book to nail down, since you're mixing western and sci-fi?
Tricky, but that's kind of become my calling card. My work tends to be defined by being anathema to the classic Elevator Pitch, and it turns out the new 6GG series is a lot easier to define that some of my other weirdo stuff.
First and foremost, 6GG is a Western. There are a few things about it which make that description seem a bit unlikely: it's abstractly set in the future, the majority of the action occurs on another world, the central character has had groundbreaking surgery to turn him into a psychic TV-camera for the thrill-junkies watching back home and, yes, it prominently features a 500-pound gorilla with a pair of enormous guns. But, despite appearances, it oozes Western.
Firstly, that's true of the tropes it employs: one of our conceits is that on this bizarre new world there's no electricity and no combustion, so forget about motorized vehicles, bombs and laser guns. This is as close to the Old West as we can get while still preserving the lens of modern sensibilities. If anything, it's a tad more steampunk than sci-fi. There's a lot of clockwork and similar technologies, but that's semantics. Part of the story, of course, is the mystery of this new world. It's all a bit "Lost," I guess.
Secondly, it's a western in the spiritual sense. It's a thing of pace and desperation. Of wilderness and mythology. Of an old world dying and a new one being born. It's a thing of war and the corrupt carrion-gobblers who feed on it. It's about frontier and survival and above all, it's about legends. About stories.
And that's where 6GG gets really interesting. That's where you'll find an answer to the question a lot of people ask me: why did you have to set it in the future? Why couldn't you set it in the real Old West? Answer: because new "Six-Gun Gorilla" is, abstractly, about old "Six-Gun Gorilla." It's about the idea of the West -- about fictionalized reality in general, rather than about some clever, clever new version of it.
I can't say much more than that without spoiling stuff. And I'm always reluctant to get into discussing the wanky metafiction stuff because it makes it sound like this is going to be some pompous overly-worthy book about How Clever The Writer Can Be. Which it isn't at all. 6GG is about a dude who thinks he wants to die, but finds a new reason to live in the weirdest way imaginable. And it's about a fucking enormous silverback highland gorilla blowing people's heads off. The rest of it just gets dragged-along in his wake.
The creator of Six-Gun Gorilla is unknown, but you're actually paying tribute to that within the book. Is that the aforementioned metafiction element?
Yeah, the series is dedicated to "Creators Unknown," those whose works outlive their names.
I guess the best way to tease that open slightly further -- and I do mean tease, because I don't want to give too much away -- would be to describe the main character slightly more. He's a Regular Joe: human, male, 30ish. Throughout our story he's called simply Blue. He's basically a suicidal. His whole life has fallen apart. But in this future world, a person without hope needn't waste their life: they can 'sell' themselves to an entertainment network, get fitted with some creepy psychic implants and get sent off to die in a variety of entertaining situations. This sad-sack 'expendable' gets to bequeath a big fat fee to his/her family or friends, and the fine folk of Earth -- the paying subscribers -- get to experience and enjoy the adrenal thrill of death from the comfort of their own homes. Dying, it turns out, is addictive. So far, so sci-fi.
The kicker is this: in this future world, the Reality-Thrill is everything. There's no fiction. No stories. Why would people need to digest something unreal when they can plug-in their stimmnets and experience an endless variety of real stories first-hand?
In Blue's case he's sent into the middle of a warzone to achieve his thrilling death. A warzone on a parched frontier unlike any other: where regular weaponry won't work and the survival strategies of a far older time have come back to the fore. Hence the Western vibe. And, yes: enter the Ape. And the mystery he represents. But you know what's weird about Blue? That job he lost, before his life fell apart? He worked in a library -- the last of its kind -- sorting through forgotten stories…
How did you connect with artist Jeff Stokely?
Jeff was BOOM!'s discovery. He's done some very awesome stuff for Archaia, but it was his self-published contemporary stuff that really caught my eye. I'm not kidding -- this guy's going to be huge. He's got that James Harren/Guy Davis thing going on, the ability to distort and exaggerate without losing any impact or gravity. He can do funny, he can do tragic, he can do extraordinary action -- and he'll need them all for 6GG.
How collaborative are you two on the character designs and world-building for the book? What are some of the things you guys are most interested in exploring in this world?
Very collaborative, though at the start I tended to go through the medium of my editor when bouncing notes. I'm going to be working with Jeff for a long time. I really don't want it to be me who has to play bad cop and say, "Change that." That said, the more of his art I see, the more relaxed I am about letting his instincts guide the visuals rather than my own, and the more conversational, suggestive the scripts become, as opposed to my usual visual tyranny.
But you're right in thinking world-building is a hugely important aspect of this setup. The rules of this world, its history, the way it all hangs together -- these are all rich and layered things which, like all good Westerns, you don't ruin by splurge-blurting it all up-front. You drip feed, you pace, you trickle the details out like the breath-rattles of a dying man.
Still, we needed to know all the complexities and details before we set out to confound and ration them. So, yes, There's been quite a lot of design and back-and-forth. We want this world to be identifiably Old West without quite being Old West. We want the technology to be functional and plausible without being regular or contemporary. We want everything to feel right -- before we set out to blow holes in it and feed its corpse to the coyotes.