Recently in the spotlight at the ICE convention in Birmingham was a new project involving some stellar talent, The Chimeran – a creative team that includes Ben Oliver and Simon Furman, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz, Richard Bazley and Paul Goodenough. Hot on the heels of that, we caught up with Paul Goodenough to talk to him about the comic and his writing career…
Paul has recently moved from being a successful internet entrepreneur to becoming an Emmy and BAFTA nominated writer and producer. He’s worked on projects for all age ranges, from Peppa Pig and How To Train Your Dragon right up to Doctor Who and Heroes.
downthetubes: What is Chimeran and how do you pitch it to me interested parties?
Paul Goodenough: The Chimeran is a pre-apocalyptic story set in the years before the food runs out through over-population. The story focuses around The Camp: an experimental community powered by a genetic hybrid bred-for-purpose workforce, The Chimerans.
The Camp may, or may not, provide the salvation the world needs to its crisis, so there’s extreme pressure on the Camp to succeed, and accelerate the growth of Chimerans, despite the growing concerns and dangers about what they might become.
Simply put, in history, someone invented axes and knives as tools to perform specific tasks, and then someone came along, picked it up, and saw that in their hands, that tool could become a weapon.
That is the principle edict of The Chimeran.
downthetubes: How did you come up with “Chimeran” and what inspired it?
Paul: It all started back in 2011. Richard Bazley and Gary Kurtz and I were working on another project when they approached me with a general concept of The Chimeran. They’d started thinking about a story set in a future whereby genetic hybrids would be part of the fabric of society – aiding and helping humankind to do the things they were unable, or unwilling, to do.
From that principle, I looked into the science of genetic hybrid theory and what’s happening in the world today. I strongly recommend everyone watches this TED talk by Paul Root Wolpe, as it’s eye-wateringly arresting.
I should point out that there’s some incredible things happening in the science world that people should know. Most people have heard about the (chimeran) Beefalo burgers and Salmon Fish eaten across America, and the glow-in-the-dark pets – but not many know that in 2007, Tony Blair put his weight behind a UK Chimeran / Hybrid program. And reports say more than 150 chimerans are being bred each year (although that information is already four years out of date, so who knows how many it is now, and what’s happening right now behind closed lab doors)
So I soon recognised that this wouldn’t be a traditional science fiction story. It would be a story based on a prescient prediction of what might happen if we continue down this road.
What were the ethics? What lessons could we learn from how mankind had treated their ‘servants’ in the past.
But beyond the real world, we were greatly inspired by the change in media and the move to telling ‘new world’ stories over multiple parts. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Spartacus, Deadwood, Game of Thrones – these all helped inspire our world and set out tone.
downthetubes: How long has this project been in the making?
Paul: On an off for the last five years. We’ve been through any number of iterations – generally as a result of trying to align with the particular (and ever changing) desires of Hollywood studios.
In the last year, we decided to get off the Hollywood treadmill because it’s so difficult and risky getting a ‘new world’ feature film out there. It’s also very hard for an audience to empathise with characters when they have such little screen time with them (two hours).
So the move to create a 13 episode TV series made more and more sense, particularly with the popularity of subscription based broadcasters like HBO, Netflix and Amazon Prime and some of the wonderful things they’re creating.
Paul: Gary and I met several years ago, when he was working on a fantasy animated adventure film called Purple Planet, which was based on the book range. I think (and hope) it’s fair to say, we hit it off pretty quickly.
Gary is a very sharp and considered judge of story. I have very fond memories of chatting to Stan (Berkowitz) about him. We caught up over lunch at The Standard in Los Angeles (as we do whenever I’m in town) about life, the universe and everything, and Gary came up in conversation. He was so positive about his experience with Gary, that I was sold and joined the project pretty much immediately.
Where Gary has been incredibly helpful is in packaging the project and directing it in a way that is “the same but different.”
What (in my opinion) Hollywood has been doing wrong in recent times is “doing different things, but the same.” What I mean by that is that recently, we’ve seen the same stories again and again, but with interchangeable characters and brands. For example, I don’t need to tell anyone how many action films end with a great big spinning tower in the sky that will end humanity (Avengers, Suicide Squad, Ghostbusters etc etc). It’s all just a bit samey.
Well Gary came at The Chimeran the other way around. He helped Simon Furman and I create characters we recognise, in situations we don’t. That’s a very key difference and for me. It’s what makes shows like Game of Thrones and Deadwood so interesting. He’s a master at that.
Paul: Well without looking to blow my own trumpet, mostly the creation of the project was with myself as the central core, calling upon the skills of others at the right time.
So for example, when I was planning the Chimeran designs, I worked very closely with our concept art team, in particular Ryan Firchau to create Chimerans who made scientific and agricultural sense. We spent weeks aligning human needs with hybrid solutions. Once we had these, we created concepts for each of the main Chimeran worker and companion types. Richard Bazley again was a great help in visually designing and conceiving the types of creature we’d need to tell our story.
Then once we’d worked out the physical beings that would inhabit our world, Gary, Simon and I sat down and fleshed out the world.
Together we created The Camp, which is where The Chimeran is set. The Camp is an experimental community whereby Chimerans and Humans live, and work, side by side. In a world where natural resources and food are running out, and soon, all eyes point to The Camp as a possible solution to pull mankind back from the brink. So the pressure inside is intense, and not everyone in The Camp has mankind’s best interests at heart…
downthetubes: You’ve got some amazing artists working on this project – 2000AD‘s Mark Harrison for example. How did you arrive at your choices?
Paul: Well, the stories lent themselves to certain artists. Each comic focuses on the principle characters in The Chimeran and focuses on the moments leading up to the ongoing series. Basically, they’re prequels.
So the first comic follows Lydia, a companion Chimeran who desperately wants to be human. The second follows Beach, the creator of the Chimeran and the man tasked with helping to save the human race. The third follows McCullock, who sees the Chimerans not as tools to be used, but weapons to be held.
So the thematic approach for each comic lent itself naturally to different artists. We choose artists that fitted with each theme. Ben Oliver was the perfect choice for Lydia’s story as it’s emotive, cinematic and needed incredible attention to detail to get across the empathy that’s at the heart of the story.
The second story, “Beach”, is harsher, colder, and gives us a view of the worldwide problem through the lens of the Camp and Beach himself. And Dario Carrasco suited that style.
The third, “McCullock”, needed to be dirty, visceral and disturbing. It needed to pervade your sensibilities with manic abandon. So who else but Mark Harrison would be right for that?
We spent a long time choosing our artists, and we’re really happy with the choices we made. They didn’t just produce comic art, they took their experiences in film and TV to bleed that cinematic feel through each and every page.
I’m sorry to say that currently, apart from some select pages, the comics are behind closed doors until we get our deal sorted. But if you like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thechimeran, we’ll be sharing the comics to our fans and those who’ve liked us once that’s done.
downthetubes: How do you plan your days as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Paul: It depends really. I am highly organised. But saying that, I am a big believer in ‘living’ your story, and for me, I can’t do that sat still.
So I go out. I watch humanity in action. I look at how people talk to their dogs. How they treat strangers. The ways in which they communicate with their bodies, actions and words. So my days creating are 80% observation and 20% physical writing.
For me, once I know the world inside out, and I know the characters, I become a mindless robot through which the story flows. If you were to ask me any question about any of the characters in The Chimeran, I’m pretty confident I know it. Right down to their education, family and preference for shower temperatures.
They’re real (at least in my head).
So my day is: get up, walk around. Mull, think about and imagine the characters (for a few hours). Then thirty minutes writing (maximum) where I jot down the ideas that came it. Then I move away from characters, concerning myself only with scenes and plotting. And then I write (without checking either set of notes) and see what I remembered/stood out most from my character and plot points. I usually find if I don’t remember it, it’s not very good!
I also find that putting instrumental, trailer like music on in the background and imagining my scenes as trailers really helps. So I do that for a few hours. And then, as the evening draws in, I’m purely analytical – checking story against structure, framework, flow, tempo and proof reading.
Of course, I say all of this, but usually all that framework goes out of the window when deadlines loom and I’m up until 3am madly bashing away on my computer. Ah well, you can’t have it all.
downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Paul: The immediacy and control. Unlike film and TV, a comic creator has a direct and quick route to seeing their ideas in paper, pretty much as they imagine it.
Coming from a place where it can take half a decade or more to see your work brought to life, and then often not even recognising due to the amount of changes, comics are a wonderful breath of fresh air.
(Also, I’m a massive comics geek, so there’s that too!)
downthetubes: And the worst?
Paul: Actually, so far, nothing! I adore it. Truly.
downthetubes: You’ve had plenty of deserved interest in The Chimeran from numerous publishers, are you close to a deal?
Paul: Yes, fingers crossed! We’re hoping to reveal a deal very shortly (but you never know with these things)
downthetubes: What else are you working on, comics wise?
Paul: I’ve writing a series that hasn’t been announced yet (sorry) and I’ve got some cool originated projects that I’ll be able to talk about in more detail soon. The Featherhood is a particular fave, so keep your eyes open for that.
I usually announce things on Facebook, so if you’re on that, it’s very easy to keep up with my work.
downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Paul: Usually the fact I run/co-run four companies. For those that don’t know, I’m often termed an entpreneur. I’m not sure that shoe particularly fits, but it does mean I’ve got my fingers in lots of pies. It does help that I don’t sleep much and usually work for over 12 hours a day, but still… it’s a lot of work!
Although I’m super busy and have many calls upon my time, I do think I am very organised with my time, so I think I manage it well (ask someone else if you like, they’ll be less bias than me!)
downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Paul: I strangely get asked this a lot, despite being a newbie in the field. There’s a few things I absolutely recommend
- Never underestimate the power of being a good human being. Peter Capaldi said it perfectly when asked about his best advice for upcoming actors: “just don’t be an asshole!” I totally agree. The industry is small, so be kind, listen and don’t be too pushy.
- Team up. If you’re a writer, you need a good artist (DeviantArt is your friend) and if you’re an artist, don’t assume you can write. Both sides need to understand that it’s a rare thing to be actually good at both. And to be successful you need a professional in both roles. Once you have a finished comic, you’ve got something real that proves you’ve got the chops to get it made, and also you’re then able to hand something physical to editors.
- You’re probably not as good as you think (who is?). So understand that you need help, and go get it. Don’t be arrogant. Ask for advice, read books, complete tutorials, understand the craft. When people say they don’t like something you’ve made, that’s gold! Take all those nuggets of things you can improve and cherish them.
- Don’t focus on the goal (getting published) enjoy the journey. If you’re enjoying your work and it’s the best you can do, you’ll hopefully get noticed.
- Editors are really busy people. Make it as easy as possible for them to hire you. Be professional, friendly and thick skinned. Take out any pain you can when submitting to them, and they’ll appreciate you even if they don’t hire you.
downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Paul: Well, I’m usually playing catch up. But I adore Mike Costa’s run on GI Joe. I get the IDW hardback’s so I’m massively behind, but every time I read his work I fall in love all over again.
Apart from that I’m reading The O-Men by Martin Eden, which is ace. I always pick up most things that Garth Ennis or Brian Michael Bendis write, and I’m just starting on Simon Furman’s and Geoff Senior’s new comics, To The Death (which, being a Dragon’s Claws fan, I’ve waited 30 years to read!)
You can get To The Death via their website www.to-the-death.com or their Kickstarter.
Paul: I hope they love what I love. Which is that this is a pre-apocalypse story. A world that’s teetering on the edge of disaster. And I love how these impending problems make the characters react.
I often ask myself, what sort of person would I be if I was stuck in a town with only enough food to feed 50 people, and there was 100 of us. That is what I love most about The Chimeran. Everyone isn’t evil, they’re just trying to survive or prosper when there’s not enough to go around. It creates wonderful stories and conflicts on all sides. Both internally in The Camp, and externally from the wider world.
downthetubes: Paul, thank you very much for your time and very best of luck to you and your team with The Chimeran!
Meet the rest of The Chimeran Team…
Gary Kurtz is the original producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and is credited by many as being the driving force behind the success, originality and quality of the first two films. Many have said “there has been no good Star Wars films without Kurtz’s involvement”. Gary has also produced cult classics Return to Oz, Dark Crystal and American Graffiti as well as being a key part of international film making and the development of Chinese film.
Richard Bazley is a multi award winning ex-Disney animator, storyboard artist and character developer who’s made the transition from animated classics like Hercules, Iron Giant, Tarzan and Who Framed Roger Rabbit to move into live action directing. Recent credits include Lost Treasure Hunt, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Harry Potter. Official site: www.bazleyfilms.com
Simon Furman is a writer with scores of credits under his belt including: Terminator, Robocop, How To Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Alpha Flight, Death’s Head and of course, three decades of writing for one of the most loved brands in the world, Transformers. Follow his blog here
Ben Oliver has brought a new angle to comics with his incredible photo-realistic and emotive style. You’ll have seen his work on Martian Manhunter, Ultimate X-men, The Authority, Judge Dredd, Doctor Who and many more. If you haven’t already, do check out his Facebook and Instagram accounts as he’s one of the most loved comic artists with a large and loyal following who pour over his every pencil line. You can also follow him on Twitter @benoliverart
Mark Harrison is a British comic and concept artist who’s art style has wowed Judge Dredd and Durham Red fans and helped seal his place as a 2000AD legend. He brings a visceral and cinematic style to everything he does. He’s online at: www.2000ad.org/markus
The Chimeran © 2016 GBK and Aerian Studios