Have we mentioned lately that it’s a great time to be a Planet of the Apes fan? Now not only is there a great comic book series from BOOM! Studios and 20th Century Fox’s August 5 release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes in theaters, there is also Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, the novel that marks Archaia’s first venture into prose books.

Written by Andrew E.C. Gaska, Conspiracy is due in stores July 25, 2011.

“We’re very excited about our first foray into prose fiction publishing, particularly being able to work with a brilliant creative talent in Drew Gaska and a storied franchise like Planet of the Apes. I’m a huge fan of the original film and Conspiracy is a great example of an author playing successfully in an established narrative canon. We are very excited to introduce this extraordinary science fiction release across the book trade and genre markets and look forward to Conspiracy emerging as one of the year’s most talked-about titles,” said Mark Smylie, CCO of Archaia.

Gaska is an author, digital artist, and art director. For the past decade he has served as a freelance consultant for Rockstar Games on such hit titles as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and other releases. He is currently writing and directing a Space: 1999 revival graphic novel and digital media series.

Scoop talked with him about all those apes.

Scoop: To what degree were you interested in the Planet of the Apes franchise before starting this project?
Drew Gaska (DG): Rabid, actually. I first became an Apes fan as a child watching the ABC 4:30 movie.  I remember seeing the first movie and being surprised to see the story continue throughout the week; especially after the world altering events in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Battle was not part of the line up, so I didn't even know the movie existed until about a decade later).  These movies were repeated quite often, so I got a chance to really absorb them. Planet of the Apes has been a lifelong love for me.

Scoop: How did your involvement in it come about?
DG: I pursued it, actually. I have always wanted to fill in the blanks of the Planet of the Apes mythos, and a number of my other beloved sci-fi franchises. I actually met with FOX, proposed the book, got the license, and started production, hired artists and what not, all on my own. When it was nearly done, I presented 95% of the art and the second draft to Archaia, they loved it. Archaia creative director Mark Smylie tells me I am a trend setter; usually a company secures a license, then looks for a writer to work on it. This time, the writer brought the license to the publisher.

Scoop: What makes POTA such a rich tapestry that 40 years later there s still material left to mine from the original film and its sequels?
DG: For me, it’s the powerful statement, endearing characters, the Rod Serling ending of the first film, and those little errors in continuity that a fertile young mind just couldn’t let go off.

As a child, I would see questions that seemed to remain unanswered between each film.  As an adult, I now know that these were continuity errors. I used my imagination to fill in the blanks and cover the mistakes, never really letting go of this concepts as I grew to adulthood, because the message of Apes, that man is capable of nothing but destruction, never left my consciousness. Finally, when I was ready to jump start my career as a writer, I made an appointment to meet with Fox licensing. I pitched the concept of a series of illustrated novels that would plug those plot holes, as well as work as interesting tales in their own right. Fox loved it.

Scoop: Your new novel, Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, is set during the 1968 original movie. There has always been a lot of background material that seemed like fertile ground for additional stories, yet it hasn ’t been fully explored until previously. What made now the time to delve into it?
DG: I have always wondered why no one did stories to fill in the blanks of the original film and its immediate sequel, there are so many discrepancies between the two it seems like a rich place to mine, and I am very happy to be the one to do it. The first book is a perfect place to reintroduce readers to the mythos, it’s the story of an astronaut who finds his world turned upside down when he crash lands on the Planet of the Apes – it’s not Taylor, and it’s not a new astronaut doing exactly what Taylor did, as was the default for ape stories in the 1970s, but it’s about his fellow astronaut Landon, and tells the story from his eyes. And Taylor is still in it, he is just not the main character. It is both familiar and fresh at the same time.

The second novel will tie up the remaining loose ends between the first and second film and tell what happened to Taylor during the time he was missing in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. It’s the story that has never been looked at, but what happens to Taylor when he disappears in the beginning of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and when he reappears at the end? It’s the last Taylor story, and it needs to be told.

Publishing wise, now is the time because of the great potential to tie in with the release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes this summer. Story wise, I went after it three years ago because these are the stories I want to tell.

Scoop: By centering on Landon, an astronaut whose fate POTA fans know very well, what sort of challenges did this story hold for you as a writer?
DG: We have known for years that Landon was captured during the hunt along with Taylor, but he is missing for the majority of the film. It is later revealed that he has been lobotomized by Dr. Zaius, but what happened to him during that missing time, and how did he touch the lives of other pertinent apes characters?

The challenge was to tell a story that was not a rehash of the first movie, but a completely different story that took place at the same time, linking up with the original and weaving a fantastic tapestry that showcases the cause and effect of both on each other.

This one is about the ride. We all know how Landon ends up, and it's not a happy ending. It's his journey that I hope will captivate readers.

I knew that ride had to be a doozey.

It is the same issue someone faces when watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation; you know that they are going to get out of it, Picard, Data, and Worf will be around next week, so where is the drama? The best episodes make the trip so entertaining you get lost in it, and that's what I wanted to do here, what I strove to do here.

In order to make it all work, I scrutinized the film, the shooting script, and the comics adaptations. I researched characters and storylines from the sequels to see what I could make fit and what wouldn't work. The most important thing to me was to tell a great story without violating the sanctity of the first movie; I wanted it to fit seamlessly with what you see on film.
And finally, it was important to me that it make sense in the context of the original movie; that is, that the technology and ideology fit with that of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and that Landon and Taylor weren’t concerned with problems that relate specifically to our times, but rather to the time period they come from, as well as issues that are timeless.

I am pretty happy with the results, and so is my editor, Archaia’s Paul Morrissey!

Scoop: The POTA series featured a number of secondary characters that seemed to have a lot of potential, ones that were trimmed only by the time limitations of the films. In description of your new book, it sounds like you re revisiting a number of them. What should readers expect?
DG: Expect a mystery thrill ride. Expect to have your questions answered, and for continuity to make sense! You will find out how Dr. Milo from the third movie, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, discovered Taylor’s ship and resurrected it from its watery grave. You will see what led to General Ursus’ rise to power in the second movie, and finally, you will see how everything went wrong for Landon, and by default, just how lucky Taylor was to get out of Ape City alive. Dr. Zaius has an arc as well, wherein the reasons behind his actions towards Taylor become clear when he pays a price due to his inaction in regards to Landon.

And expect cut scenes that appear in the 1968 film’s shooting script, photos of which have popped up time and time again, to be realized here, integrated back into the story.

You can also expect to see familiar scenes from the original film from a different point of view. This is the closest the first film has to a novelization, the original novel by Pierre Boulle is a completely different story that the movie was more inspired by than based on.

Scoop: What can you tell us about the art of the book?
DG: The novel has over thirty full color paintings, nineteen scratch board illustrations, and eleven black and white character studies. We've got an incredible line up of top industry professionals as well as up and coming new blood.  Conspiracy has a fantastic cover by legendary artist Jim Steranko, who created the original concept paintings Lucas used to sell Raiders of the Lost Ark to Paramount back in 1979, as well as creating innumerable logos for major sci-fi and fantasy films and designing the look of Francis Ford Coppola's take on Bram Stoker's Dracula. We've got beautiful pieces by Joe Jusko and European artist Sanjulian. We have additional paintings by Dave Dorman, Chris Scalf, Matt Busch, and Brian Rood of Star Wars fame, as well as Ken Kelly, Barron Storey, Chandra Free and Mark Texiera to name a few. Dan Dussault, my artist on Critical Millennium, has even provided us with three fantastic paintings.

I was even able to get veteran sci-fi designer Andrew Probert of Star Trek: the Motion Picture, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Back to the Future and classic Battlestar Galactica fame to design the rest of the Liberty-1. The Liberty is Taylor’s ship, which we see the nose cone of sticking out of the water in the first movie, but we have never gotten a look at the rest of the ship, as it was never designed. Utilizing story notes I provided, Probert gave us what apes fans have always wanted to see, a good look at the whole ship.

The book is lavishly illustrated and truly a work of art.

Scoop: The story credits include Christian Berntsen, Rich Handley and Erik Matthews as well as you. How was the story developed?
DG: Back when the license was established, BLAM! Ventures, my guerrilla design studio, was run by Christian, Erik, and myself. The three of us set out to collaborate on the book together, but creative differences and the responsibilities of a normal life called Christian and Erik out of the mix. Together they supplied about a third of the first draft while I wrote the rest. Rich Handley did a heavy edit of that, making many suggestions that led to the second draft, which was roughly 120 pages long, and done by me alone, building off of Rich’s notes. In the process, most of what was written by the other authors was altered and re-written. The book was still far from complete, falling very short in page count at the time. The third and final draft, which cleaned up and streamlined the material from the first two, and added a whole lot of new material, is completely my doing. In the process I added over 100 pages of story to it, fleshing it out to full novel status, connecting the dots and what not, and breathing life into my original concept.

This novel was my first prose work, and as such was a learning experience, Rich taught me a lot and I am thankful for that. So while the book is mostly me, I wanted to give them credit for the help they gave along the way.

Scoop: How long did it take you to actually write the novel?
DG: In dog years or ape years? The first draft was written over six months, the second over three of four, but there was a lot of time in between these -- the project has been in the works for three years now. The final draft was written nonstop over four weeks to catch up with Fox pushed up release date for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Archaia wanted to make sure the book was in stores for the film’s debut.

Scoop: Since Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes isn’t a one-shot, can we presume you’d like to revisit this world if it finds its audience?
DG: Have I got stories! I have a two book deal with Fox and Archaia, so you will definitely get the previously mentioned second book out of me! Both novels stand on their own, but together paint the larger picture of how Milo, Cornelius and Zira were able to escape the destruction of the Planet of the Apes. I have an arc in mind of six novels all together, but the remaining four will depend on sales of the first two. All of these stories will weave in and out of apes canon, and each will stand as a complete story in its own right. I want to entertain both long time readers and those with no prior knowledge of Apes as well.

There are important stories to be told with these characters and this universe.

Scoop: What else are you working on?
DG: Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier, my sci-fi comic series from Archaia, is about to be collected in hardcover and is available for preorder right now. The second Critical Millenniumstory, Beacon, will be released directly to graphic novel form, hopefully by the end of 2012, along with the second Apes book.

In addition to that, I have the rights to produce comics, graphic novels and digital media for 1970s science fiction series Space:1999.  Space:1999 is an incredible journey that unfortunately has never achieved the audience that it's rich storyline deserves. I consider it sci-fi's lost 'epic.' Expect to see the first graphic novels see print late this year, or early next.

Finally, my girlfriend Chandra Free (creator of the God Machine, also by Archaia) and I are working on a graphic novel about failed relationships from both a male and female perspective. Called Boys + Girls, we are hoping to see it released next year.  Chandra is an incredible artist and supplied two of the paintings in the Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes book as well.

Writing is my passion and I intend to make myself known through the comics and sci-fi publishing community throughout the next year. You have been warned!