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by Rick Klaw

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King Kong
Cathy Day and Mark Finn wedding info
Mark Finn's regular column, Finn's Wake
John Picacio
Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels
Thomas Love Peacock
Melincourt, or Sir Oran Haut-ton
James Fenimore Cooper
The Monikins
Edgar Allan Poe
"Murders in The Rue Morgue"
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Willis O'Brien
Gorilla Men
Son of Kong
Mighty Joe Young
Planet of the Apes
Simian Cinema
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For the Love of Apes

"...thus starting a trend in cover art featuring gorillas -- all of which, incidentally, sold better than those without gorillas."
Julius Schwartz, Man of Two Worlds
"You could probably sell [Rick Klaw] almost anything with a gorilla in it."
Michael Moorcock, from his introduction to Geek Confidential
"Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast."
Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), King Kong (1933)
I recently attended the wedding of my good friends Mark Finn and Cathy Day. The affair was very lovely, and for the most part traditional -- except for the comic book. Finn emerged from an immense pool of talented Texas comic book creators.1 He originally had aspirations on becoming a full time comic book writer and after a few published works, he chose the path of essayist and novelist. But the love of comic books never really left him.

Some Catch Luckily for Finn, Cathy is not only charming and beautiful but also patient and understanding. She allowed and even encouraged him to produce a comic book chronicling stories from their relationship to be given out to guests at the wedding! Finn scripted the whole shebang and rounded up a posse of his talented buddies from the old days to draw the thing. The comic was a resounding success.2

The underrated artist and co-best man3 John Lucas drew what is easily the funniest story in the book: a tale of the couple's initial meeting and courtship recounted through FUNNY ANIMALS. Cathy is depicted as a duck and Finn as a gorilla. But anyone who knows Mark Finn probably guessed that.

I often refer to him as my monkey brother.4 Finn is one of the few who understands my fascination with the great simians. We've literally sat for hours discussing apes. Planets, Kongs, Burroughs, and everything in-between. I'm so nutty for them that when John Picacio was putting together the cover to Geek Confidential, I insisted that he include a gorilla.5

Finn and I are far from the first writers to fall under the spell of the mighty gorilla. The first literary reference to a great ape was Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726). The diminutive Gulliver is among the Brobdingnag giants. Granted Swift refers to the creature as a monkey. The monkey is a giant as well, and since the book was written soon after the Europeans' discovery of the great apes, there is not much doubt what Swift was thinking.

Thomas Love Peacock's Melincourt, or Sir Oran Haut-ton (1817), a satire about an educated orangutan who becomes a member of Parliament, was the first tale to actually mention a species of great ape. 1835 saw the publication of James Fenimore Cooper's The Monikins, a story of a lost word civilization of intelligent apes. Cooper's tale would go on to influence Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, Gorilla City from DC Comics' Flash, and pretty much every other story that features a society of intelligent simians.

Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), considered by many to be the first detective fiction story, informed the view of apes in a different manner. The murderer, an orangutan, savagely kills and maims with no remorse. Poe created a beast of terror. The majority of film versions portray these animals as objects of fear including four versions of Poe's story.

Without a doubt, the king of literary ape stories are Burroughs' Tarzan adventures. Beginning in 1912 in All-Story Magazine, this story of an English aristocrat raised by apes became part of 20th century literary lore. The books themselves are uneven, but that didn't stop Tarzan from becoming one of the first multi-media stars with many movies, radio shows, comic strips, comic books, games, and a zillion other licensed properties. The Tarzan franchise became the template for modern cross media promotions. It's safe to say that Edgar Rice Burroughs changed everything. With Tarzan, he made writing books not just a business but an industry. Burroughs wrote some 25 Tarzan novels and was imitated many times over. Nearly a century later, the WB Network has introduced yet another Tarzan TV series.

Literature is far from the only medium to express simian love. The whole ape and gorilla phenomena soon bled over into all sorts of pop culture and media.

Geek Confidential While not the first use of an ape in film, King Kong (1933) was the first giant gorilla movie and 70 years later is still the greatest giant creature movie ever made. From an idea by crime writer Edgar Wallace6 and producer Merian C. Cooper, Kong is essentially a re-telling of Beauty & the Beast with superior, groundbreaking special effects by Willis O'Brien, developer of stop motion effects, which remained the industry standard until the 80s with the emergence of computer-generated effects. Thanks to his camera work, a good script, and a stirring soundtrack, King Kong revolutionized film making and established the ape as a major player in movies. The 50s re-release of Kong launched the giant monster B-movie craze as well as inspiring another popular giant monster, Godzilla.7

Other successful movies with apes would follow the initial Kong release including several Tarzan films,8 horror features (see "Murders of the Rue Morgue" above), and eventually stories featuring men in gorilla suits. George Barrows, Emil Van Horne, Charlie Gemora, and Bob Burns were some of the most famous and popular of the small fraternity of "gorilla men." These men had successful and long careers playing apes in suits of their own designs. Anytime a gorilla appeared in a movie, comedy short, or old television show, it was one of these men. In the 40s and 50s, apes were everywhere. Three Stooges shorts, feature films, I Love Lucy episodes, and much more.

O'Brien and Cooper would team up once again on the tepid but humorous sequel Son of Kong (1933). But as disappointing as that movie was, their third foray into a giant ape film more than made up for it. Mighty Joe Young (1949) is the classic story of friendship and devotion between a young woman and her giant gorilla companion. While Kong was a tragic monster, Joe Young is a lovable and playful character who is exploited, but by film's end becomes a hero. The superior effects by O'Brien9 won the first ever Oscar for visual effects. Sadly, Mighty Joe Young was a financial disaster and essentially ended O'Brien's career.

The use of apes on the big screen achieved critical mass with Planet of the Apes (1968). For my money, this is the best science fiction movie of the 60s. Far more entertaining than Kubrick's overblown (and boring) 2001, Planet of the Apes spawned four sequels, a television series, an animated series, action figures, books, comic books, a recent bad remake and many Simpsons parodies. A dystopian reflection of American society in 60s, Apes real strength is the brilliant Rod Serling script10 with the most unexpected, original shock-ending of all time.

Negative Burn #47 Almost every facet of pop culture has been touched by the gorilla: music, television, games, toys, and especially comic books. During the 50s, DC Comics discovered that issues with simians on the cover sold over twice what others in the series normally did. Ape covers became so prevalent that DC had to limit the number of covers that could feature gorillas.

To this day, these covers will increase sales. Back in the 90s, John Lucas and I produced a comic book story "I was the Bride of Rothro, King of the Flying Vampire Gorillas From the Earth's Core" for Negative Burn #47. With Lucas' very cool flying vampire gorilla cover, the issue quickly sold out and is difficult to find to this day. There are people that collect comics with simian covers.

At every signing and interview to promote Geek Confidential, I've been asked about my ape fascination -- nay -- fetish. It's not really surprising. There is a gorilla on the cover on my book, I mention them throughout the book, and at events, I often bring some sort of ape totem.

Simians, especially the great apes, represent a part of humanity that must remain hidden. They can be both savage and gentle and are so much like man but not mankind. With their near human-like appearance and actions, it's not hard to see what Darwin saw. We are related to them. They may be humanity's closest relation. How could apes not fascinate?

Or it could just be that they are cool.

1Whose alumni include Shannon Wheeler, John Lucas, John Cassiday, Michael Lark, and John Picacio.

2The image of over 100 well dressed people sitting in church pews all reading the same comic will stay with me for the rest of my life.

3Finn had two best men.

4To be more accurate, it should be gorilla brother.

5Finn was rather envious when he saw the final cover.

6Hitler's favorite fiction author.

7Ultimately, these titans would meet in 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla.

8To be fair, the first talkie Tarzan premiered one year before Kong.

9Aided by his assistant, the legendary Ray Harryhausen, working on his first film.

10It has little to do with Pierre Boulle's original novel.

Copyright © 2003 Rick Klaw

Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw decided to collect his columns, essays, reviews, and other things Klaw in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century (currently available from Monkey Brains, Inc). As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business. Rick, with his ape totem in tow, will be a featured author at the Texas Book Festival, November 8-9 in Austin, TX. Stop by and share a banana with him.

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