Karl Kesel and the Marvel Apes

Karl Kesel and the Marvel Apes

It’s the oddest project that’s come out of Marvel in a long time (not to mention its creative lineage), but with its first issue, Marvel Apes, written by Karl Kesel with art by Ramon Bachs, showed that the four issue limited series is a bit more than a goofy time of showing apes dressed in superhero costumes.

For those who missed it, the series kicked off with the Gibbon (in the regular Marvel Universe) being transported to an alternate universe where simians are the dominant life form, and thus, the heroes and villains. While things started off as a good time, the Gibbon quickly learned that this world’s hero scene was a little rougher than what he knew, as the assembled heroes gathered together to beat the ape version of Doctor Octopus to death.

Add to that a sinister look or two by Captain America, and yeah…something’s going on here. We spoke with Kesel about the project and the imminent second issue.

Newsarama: Karl, the fruits of your labor are finally being realized here as Marvel Apes is coming out. As readers of #1 have seen, while it is goofy in a sense, this isn't just a gag-a-minute yukfest. How much worldbuilding did you have to do for this, both in terms of the Marvel history, as well as the larger history of the society and culture?

Karl Kesel: The starting point, of course, was the existing Marvel Universe, except with apes. And monkeys. And even some prosimians. It was important to both (editor) Steve Wacker and myself that this world look familiar, yet different. Some things were pretty obvious— the ape cities would incorporate a lot more greenery, and citizens would not just get around at ground level, etc. A few other assumptions gave us a basic shape for their society and culture, but I can’t say we figured it out in minute detail. This is comics, after all— a certain amount of flying by the seat of your pants comes with the territory.

NRAMA: In that sense, break things down for us a little - there are clearly lines of division among the apes, monkeys and the other primates. How do the classes break down?

KK: Truth be told, I never really gave class structure much thought. That being said, I can think of how different social standings would come about, based on the culture that seems to have evolved in the monkeyverse. But going into that right now might reveal a few cards I’d rather keep close to the vest, so...

NRAMA: You spoke to us earlier about the gag aspect of something like this, and how something like this has to be about story, first and foremost. That said, you've got a ton of puns in here. Were there any that were deemed too...painful to use?

KK: No. I have no shame. There is no depth I won’t sink to.

NRAMA: Story-wise, you started light, but went way dark, quickly. Why that approach overall? Clearly, that's where the industry is at the moment, but at the same time, this seemed to be a perfect candidate for a lighter, easier story...

KK: From the very beginning, I felt there had to be something very real at stake for this to be a story worth telling. In melodrama (which, let’s face it, superhero comics are) that means life-and-death. I’m also a big believer in the Joss Whedon rule that jokes are funnier when juxtaposed with something serious, and something horrible is even worse when contrasted with something light-hearted. Not that I’m anywhere near Joss’ league, but that particular approach seemed perfect for this mini.

NRAMA: We've seen a pretty robust cast from the first issue - what kind of rhyme and reason did you use when you were bringing Marvel U characters over to this ape-world?

KK: Basically, if the character became a monkey fairly easily (Spider-Monkey, Iron Mandrill, Juggermonk, etc.) I put ‘em in. If not, I conveniently ignored them. (Other than characters like Captain America and Speedball, who have definite parts to play in the overall story).

NRAMA: By the end of issue #1, it could be argued that the Marvel-Ape Universe is a dark, violent place, but yet, how true and fair were you looking to be to actual apes and monkeys? After years of anthropomorphizing them, studies have been showing that they're some pretty violent creatures, with a society that's quite rough, up to and including cannibalism. So is there something nefarious going on here, or are we seeing apes being apes, and Cap knows that Gibbon isn't of this world, and thus, soft?

KK: Besides wanting there to be something at stake in the story, I wanted there to be a real difference between the Marvel Universe and the Ape Universe. If it’s just monkeys in super-suits and everything else is exactly the same it’s a cocktail party joke, not a story. And it was pretty clear that the difference was that these characters aren’t human. They’re apes, and they should act like apes-- if apes were intelligent and had super-powers. That’s really the starting point for their entire society. And while there’s an inherent goofiness to that, it also leads to some unnerving places pretty quickly. As Gibbon is finding out.

NRAMA: Ape-X - first off, as the Gibbon has suggested, he's no obvious analogue to anyone in the regular Marvel Universe. But yet - he changes from weakling to giant Ape...is he a Hulk analogue?

KK: Nope. He’s his own monkey. There’s a reason there’s no Ape X in the Marvel Universe— and maybe someday I’ll get a chance to tell that story. I love that big ape!

NRAMA: So who will we be seeing coming up? Will we see the Hulk? The X-Men?

KK: Yeah, you’ll see those guys— and a cast of thousands besides! Including one of my faves— Iron Paw! He who can make his paw unto a thing of iron!

NRAMA: Issue #2 hits this week, so tease away - what gets things rolling at the start of the issue?

KK: Issue #2 starts mostly with the Gibbon trying desperately to not have a nervous breakdown. Luckily, he doesn’t have much time to worry about that because THINGS GET A LOT WORSE VERY, VERY QUICKLY! There’s more to these monkeys— some of ‘em, at least -- than meets the eye. Can’t tell you what, but there’s a clue in the very first words the ape Captain America says in #1.

Marvel Apes #2 hits comic shops this Wednesday.

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