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Several months back when I had the opportunity to interview Gabriel Hardman, there was one aspect of our discussion that I hoped I’d get to explore more, as the chance presented itself. That aspect was the Hardman’s potential collaboration on future projects with his wife, writer Corinna Sara Bechko. So, lo and behold, once the first issue of Bechko and Hardman’s Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes (BOOM! Studios) hit the stands, I convinced the creative team of Bechko and Hardman to do an email interview. In addition to the five-page preview of issue 2 that BOOM! Studios provided to CBR, it also was kind enough to give Robot 6 previews of pages 6 and 7 from the upcoming issue (which is coming out this Wednesday, December 7). To learn more about the creators’ approach on this project, please be sure to also read CBR’s August interview with them.
Tim O’Shea: Recently Corinna, you wrote: “Spending the last several months immersed in Apes has been a bit of a dream come true for both Gabriel and me.” What is it about full Ape immersion (so to speak) that’s so enjoyable for both of you?
Corinna Sara Bechko: I’ve always been drawn to post-apocalyptic fiction, and this is no exception. We’re both big fans and feel so lucky to contribute a little corner to the Apes universe. Plus, the folks at BOOM! and FOX have been an absolute joy to work with.
Gabriel Hardman: And it’s just fun to spend time inventing an original story that still fits neatly into an established world that we have a lot of affection for. I’ve always been frustrated with licensed books that can’t capture the feel of the original material. Immersing yourself in that world is necessary to make it authentic both in the writing and the art. Obviously when writing we’re trying hard not to directly contradict the established Apes continuity. When drawing the book, I think about it like I’m directing and production designing a lost Apes sequel. I’m not going to draw a prop that is out of place on that set.
O’Shea: How do you divvy up writing responsibilities on a project like this?
Bechko: We usually hash out a general outline, then break it down into individual scenes, pages, and panels together as I take detailed notes. After that I put those notes into script form, and that becomes the first draft.
Hardman: Then we revise that draft together. It’s actually a fairly conventional process. We write full scripts and I rarely deviate from the way we initially break down the panels. That’s because I’m picturing how to tell the story visually from the earliest stages of the writing process. I don’t do thumbnail sketches or anything. It’s just as straightforward for me to think through the panel breakdowns and just put those into the script.
O’Shea: What do you admire about each other’s storytelling abilities?
Bechko: No doubt about it, Gabriel is a master storyteller. The hardest thing about constructing a narrative is knowing when to give the audience information and when to hold back and let them have the satisfaction of figuring things out. Gabriel instinctually knows when to cut and what tiny bits of information, maybe just a look or a gesture, will do the work of whole pages of exposition. He’s also really good at keeping even the wildest story elements grounded and believable and won’t rest until every single character seems like an actual fully realized person.
Hardman: Corinna is great at bringing nuance to any given idea we’re working on. She can always bring a fresh point of view to an scene or character so that we don’t fall into the trap of repeating familiar stories. She’s also brilliant at researching. Both in searching out a springboard for a story from history, science or the news and making what we’ve already come up with more credible. She’s deeply knowledgeable about scientific subjects. She’s a voracious reader of physics and biology. You can imagine how important that is when writing comics.
O’Shea: Corinna do you think the five years you spent working at the L.A. Zoo (with chimpanzees and orangutans) has an impact on your writing of this project at all?
Bechko: Definitely. When I was at the zoo I worked in the Research Division. Our most important job was designing and implementing behavioral studies. Most of these had to do with exhibit design, looking at how the apes actually used the space as opposed to how humans thought the apes should use the space. This led to some to some innovative enrichments of their habitats and also gave me an intuitive knowledge of how apes approach a problem. And since most primate problems are social in nature, it really taught me a lot about how they think. There’s a truism you’ll hear from ape keepers: give a chimpanzee a puzzle and he’ll work at it, trying different things, until he unlocks it. Give an orangutan the same puzzle and he’ll sit and look at it. Then he’ll get up, try one thing, and solve it. Different approaches that seem to define their approach to life. Both gorillas and humans fall somewhere in between.
Another aspect of my job was looking at how zoo visitors interfaced with the chimpanzees and orangutans. Were they curious? Disgusted? I think a lot of what I learned about how humans tend to look at apes made it into Betrayal through the funhouse mirror of how the apes treat the human Tern and the rest of his species.
O’Shea: How was it decided that Jordie Bellaire was the ideal colorist for this project?
Hardman: I saw Jordie’s work online and sought her out at the last Heroes Con even before we were locked to do Betrayal. It was a huge priority for me that if I was going to draw this, it look as good as my Marvel work or better. Luckily, she was available and has done an amazing job of the book. I’ve been very lucky to get the colorists I’ve worked with.
Bechko: Jordie’s colors are just wonderful. Looking at her work, there was no doubt she’d be perfect for the book.
O’Shea: After the miniseries wraps, would you both be open to working in the Apes universe some more?
Hardman: We’d love to. We’d also love to write other freelance projects together.
O’Shea: Another question prompted by your blog, Corinna–can you discuss your affinity for time travel?
Bechko: There is literally no subject I’d rather discuss. Well, besides apes! The nature of time fascinates me. Why does time exist? Is it an emergent property of the universe? Does all time, past, future, and present, actually exist in some predetermined way based on conditions present during the big bang? These are all real questions that are pertinent to real physicists, but they are also some of the greatest gateway questions you could ask to kick off a fictional story. Just look at the first Apes film: it uses a very practical application of relativity to kick off the story of how the space ship ended up so far in Taylor’s future. Thinking about how time works fires my imagination and causes me to go on book buying sprees. I’ll happily watch or read just about anything dealing with time travel, fact or fiction. Time is one puzzle that I don’t think anyone will solve soon, and that makes it even more fun to think about.
O’Shea: One final Corinna question: When I interviewed Gabriel a few months back, I asked him if he listens to music while he works. So now I pose the question to you?
Bechko: I generally don’t listen to anything while I work because it interferes with the rhythms I’m trying to wrestle out of my head. I do listen to music that evokes the mood of whatever I’m working on before and after I sit down to write though, and I find that listening to really loud live music periodically is great for clearing out the cranial cobwebs.