One started as a pulp hero and has expanded into every imaginable medium in the century since, while the other is best known as a classic film series with its roots in a French sci-fi novel, and now they’re meeting in the pages of a comic book like no other.
Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes is the wildest crossover of the fall, taking Edgar Rice Burroughs’ legendary ape-man and dropping him into the simian setting of the beloved Planet of the Apes franchise. Tarzan will be the adopted brother of the infamous chimp Caesar, who is set on averting the future of his world that he knows is coming.
Not only is the project bringing together fan-favorite franchises, it’s also pairing up two powerhouse publishers—Dark Horse Comics and BOOM! Studios—and uniting an amazing creative team. Co-written by Tim Seeley—the mastermind behind Revival at Image and DC Rebirth’s Nightwing—and Power Man and Iron Fist and upcoming Occupy Avengers writer David Walker, with art by Fernando Dagnino (Resurrection Man), this is one comic that should be on everyone’s pull list.
I had the chance to talk to Walker at Portland’s Rose City Comic Con this past weekend to find out about how he came to be involved with the project, his love for Planet of the Apes, the challenges of writing Tarzan, and why the two worlds are worth mixing. Read on to learn all you need to know about one of the most unique comic book projects of the year and enjoy an early look at some of Fernando Dagnino’s jaw-dropping interior art from the first issue, due out on Sept. 28.
Can you tell me a bit about how you got brought on board for Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes?
Sure! Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes actually started with Tim Seeley. He was the first writer on it, and he was familiar with the Burroughs stuff, the Tarzan stuff, but Planet of the Apes was very peripheral for him. But Scott Allie—who is the editor on the book—we’ve known each other for years, and Scott knows that I am probably the biggest Planet of the Apes fan in the world. Like, some people have Star Wars, some have Star Trek, there’s those browncoats that are total Serenity fans, but me? It’s Planet of the Apes. So Scott reached out and said, “Hey, we’re doing Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes, would you be interested?” And I was like, “yeah!”
Part of it was simply because I never knew if I’d have the opportunity to write a Planet of the Apes story again. I’d never had that opportunity, so I wanted to. And the other part was there was some challenges involved with Tarzan, who over the years has become a character that’s been couched in these sort of problematic tropes and clichés surrounding race and colonialism … and I was like, well, there will be a challenge in trying to see how we work around that too. So that was how the thing came together.
Scott and Tim had come up with a partial outline that was really, really loose, and then I came on board and Tim and I started bouncing ideas around. One idea built on what he and Scott had come up with, and another one went in a completely different direction, and then we found a good, comfortable middle ground where we wanted to go.
Since you’re such a big fan, do you have a favorite Planet of the Apes movie?
Aside from the original ’68 movie, it is Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is the best of the sequels because it’s the only sequel that stands out on its own as a movie. All the other sequels you kind of have to watch all the other movies to know what’s going on, but Conquest of the Planet of the Apes you can watch having seen none of the other movies. It’s a great sci-fi movie. It’s a great sort of political exploitation movie. And it’s a great seventies movie. The seventies have this odd vibe, this bleak nihilism, that was in all of the Apes movies, but in this one—it’s funny—this is the one where they tried to give it a happy ending. And it’s like, there’s nothing happy about the ending. So yeah, it’s cool. It’s was really cool.
You mentioned the problematic tropes of Tarzan. Does this setting help to alleviate some of the “great white savior” type problems with the character?
It does. The first two to two-and-a-half issues—it’s a five issue series total—the first two issues, two-and-a-half issues it’s a mash-up between the Planet of the Apes world and the Tarzan world. But by the time we go into issues three, four and five, we’re firmly in the Planet of the Apes world. The Tarzan world, we’ve kind of left it behind, the Burroughs world. So that was one part of it.
But then the other part was, we’re taking two franchises with—I mean the Tarzan franchise especially—with so much history and so much baggage, from the books to the television shows to the movies to the comic books, to the animated series, and all of it. There’s so much involved with Tarzan, and we had to strip out all of that and get to the bare essence of who this character is. And if you look at the first book, the first Burroughs pulp book, Tarzan is a guy raised by apes. And it’s about a man who doesn’t really know he’s a man, he’s a man who thinks he’s a gorilla warrior, and is trying to be the best gorilla warrior he can be. And I was like, that’s this character. Let’s just sort of play with that. We don’t need Jane, we don’t need Tarzan versus the Lion Men or any of that sort of stuff. And the interesting thing too is that the character in the movies is incredibly different than the character as he appeared in the Burroughs books. So there’s all these iterations of Tarzan that are all very, very different.
And it’s just kind of interesting in that the vast majority of movies have always played him as an American guy. He was played primarily by athletes—American Athletes—like Jock Mahoney and Gordon Scott and guys like that.
So again, we got to the bare essence of who we thought Tarzan is, or part of that bare essence, and we moved forward with that.
When I came by your booth yesterday you were talking about labels and the sort of illusion of normalcy. Is that something that resonates with these two franchises for you?
Well, yeah. It’s normalcy but it’s also ideological constructs. Like, Tarzan is a guy—again we go back to Tarzan is a guy who believes he is a gorilla warrior. Even though at some point he learns he’s human, he’s still a gorilla warrior. It’s what he was raised to be.
Whereas the character of Caesar is an ape who was raised by parents from the future, who know the fate of the planet Earth. And so he’s burdened with this knowledge of, three thousand years from now, we’re going to destroy the world. What can I do to change that now? Because the Planet of the Apes franchise is a time loop. It’s a circle, a loop in time that keeps repeating itself over and over again. So we were playing with that. We were playing with the fact that Caesar is this leader who wants to lead the world—not just simians, but humans—to a place of perfection, where they live at peace. So he’s not a warrior, where his adopted brother Tarzan is. And a lot of it’s about that conflict. Can we find peace through non-violence or do we have to fight for peace? And at the same time, Caesar’s not that peaceful of a character. There’s a lot of rage inside of him.
Are there any other classic franchises that you think would blend well with Planet of the Apes or Tarzan?
Y’know, years and years ago, Dark Horse did a Tarzan versus Predator story that I thought worked surprisingly well. I think you could do Tarzan and other pulp-era characters pretty well. Like Tarzan and Doc Savage might be pretty interesting.
With Planet of the Apes, to me, you have to be careful in how you bring that world together because of how much you have to bend the rules of that reality. The thing that made Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes come together actually really seamlessly is that Tarzan was raised by intelligent apes. So it was like, oh, that is the thing to latch on to. So if I was to think of another franchise to do with Planet of the Apes it would have to either be something like that that had the concept of an intelligent ape or it would have to be something that deals with like, time travel or whatever. And then you’re just getting into some weird sh-t, y’know?
Like, would you want to do Predator on the Planet of the Apes? Well, I would write the hell out of that book! [Laughs] I don’t know if I would know how to make it make sense. But I think Predator on the Planet of the Apes might work. Hint hint hint!
Do you have a favorite Tarzan or Planet of the Apes story? Is there a crazy crossover you'd like to see happen? Let us know in the comments! And stay tuned to Blastr for more coverage from Rose City Comic Con!