Two comics projects inspired by an obscure British Pulp hero published by DC Thomson the 1930s are in the works, illustrating, perhaps, the potential pitfalls of reviving “Golden Age” heroes in the public domain.
Six-Gun Gorilla was published in Wizard, published by DC Thomson and written by an anonymous author in 1939. The only survivor from a circus train wreck, a baby gorilla is found by Johnson, an elderly prospector,. He names him O’Neil and raises him, teaching how help him pan for gold, as well as how to cook, clean and survive on his own in the Western wilderness, part of which involves O’Neil learning how to use a revolver – learning it so well he becomes a crack shot.
When Johnson is killed by bandits after his gold, O’Neil sets after them seeking vengeance.
The character is now considered to be in the public domain in both the US and UK, as the serial’s copyright was never renewed in the United States, and 50 years have passed since its publication here.
Earlier this summer, US publisher BOOM! Studios announced that they were releasing a Six-Gun Gorilla title (Issue 1 is on sale in next month), written by Si Spurrier and drawn by Jeff Stokely. “If you haven’t heard of him yet, you will. He is perfect for this book,” says Si of Jeff’s work.
|Six-Gun Gorilla by Jeff Stokely|
In #1, we’re introduced to “the Blister” — a bizarre other-world colonized by humans sometime in the 22nd century, which quickly became a hotly-contested source of fertile land and natural resources long ago exhausted on Earth. In this new frontier, a rogue gunslinger and his companion wander across a wilderness in the grips of a civil war, encountering lawlessness, natives, and perversions of civilization in a world at the crossroads between the past and the future.
The fact that said gunslinger is a bio-surgically modified silverback gorilla toting a pair of enormous revolvers is neither here nor there.
“I love Westerns,” Si said of the project earlier this year. “Six-Gun Gorilla is the culmination of all my obsessive theorizing and cultural sampling: a love-letter to the most beautiful, most tragic, most self-fulfillingly-obsolete genre of them all.
“It’s is not about a Gorilla in a cowboy hat. It features a hole in the wall of reality, a mass-market tv-show based on violent military suicide, a world where the laws of physics don’t work quite right, and – yes. A f****** enormous primate with a f****** enormous gun. And wide shots. And high noon. And deals gone wrong and war and death and frontier life and corrupt men.”
The project sounds great and has gained plenty of comic press attention, although part of it, of course, is down to the fact that there’s a rival project in the works.
The rival, which has yet to get a publisher, appears to be more in line with the source material, and is described by writer Brian Christgau as “A very big ape with very big guns blowing very big holes in very bad people.”
With a cover by Wes Huffor, Six Gun Gorilla: Long Days of Vengeance is drawn by Argentinian artist Adrian Sibar, best known to fans for his work on DC’s Batgirl, Planet of the Apes for Dark Horse and more.
“I wish BOOM, Si Spurrier and his collaborators the best,” says Christgau. “I genuinely do, but their book is completely different from what I’m doing.
“A few years ago I stumbled across the title while browsing a website about Golden Age and Pulp superheroes,” Christgau says . “I heard that title and BANG! It was like a firecracker went off in my head. Later I was driving to a local shopping mall, listening to the Hawk the Slayer soundtrack of all things, and by the time I parked I already had the entire story.”
“I approached the story as Tarzan in reverse,” Christgau elaborates. “Instead of a human raised by apes in the jungle you’ve got an ape raised by humans in the Old West. The only thing I took from the original story is the title and the basic idea of a gorilla stalking the Old West for the outlaws who murdered his adopted human father. And boy did I run with it.”
Six Gun Gorilla: Long Days of Vengeance is the story of Kumba, an intelligent, sharp-shooting circus gorilla who blazes a trail across the Old West in search of the outlaws who murdered the man who raised him. Along the way he joins forces with his human sister, the only one who truly understands him, and Union spy Giuliano Schmidt. Together they uncover a much greater threat.
“What starts out as a small, simple revenge story swells up like a fat lip,” says Christgau. “When he sets out to hunt down the killers, Kumba and his friends uncover a much wider conspiracy that extends far beyond his one-primate search for vengeance, leaving the destiny of the very country in his hairy hands.”
“It’s not campy, that’s for damn sure,” says Christgau. “I really, strongly believe that this sort of story is best served by being played poker-faced. It has a sense of fun and adventure, but avoids the pitfall of self-parody. Comics and movies have become too self-aware these days. The last thing I wanted to do was slip into empty hipster irony.”
“Adrian has a visual storytelling ability that is great at conveying atmosphere, drama and a sense of the epic,” Christgau enthuses. “Most of all, he invests his work with the one thing so rare in today’s comics: heart. He gives the characters a real sense of soul. I fashion them out of clay and he breathes life into them.”
“Wes’s incredible covers show the book for what it ultimately is: a Western comic. This isn’t a spoof or a ‘re-imagining’. This is a rootin’, tootin’, two-fisted tale of one very pissed off, pistol-packin’ gorilla on the hot trial to vengeance in the Old West! It’s got showdowns, saloon brawls, heroic loners, horse chases – the works. I think people are going to get a real kick out of it.”
Si Spurrier is non-plussed by the rival project. Like Christgau, he wishes him all the best with his version.
“If [no publisher wants it] I’ll probably just throw the thing online for digital download,” Christgau speculates of his version. “I’m old enough to remember that in 1983 there were two James Bond movies that came out that same summer, one with Roger Moore and another with Sean Connery. Hopefully there’ll be room for two Six-Gun Gorillas!”
While it’s all sounding wonderfully amicable, if DC Thomson decide to revive the character in the digital Dandy we’ll really be having a Harry Hill summer of brawling gorillas!
• For more information on Six Gun Gorilla #1 written by Si Spurrier and drawn by Jeff Stokely visit: http://boom-studios.com/series/title?series_id=927&name=Six-Gun%20Gorilla
• For more information on Six Gun Gorilla: Long Days of Vengeance, visit www.sixgungorilla.com for links to the official blog and Facebook page.
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.
Categories: British Comics - Current British Publishers