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10 Questions with Drew Gaska

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Critical Millennium 003 CoverDrew Gaska is a hell of a writer and turns out puts a lot of thought into what he’s putting out?  Don’t believe me?  Check out his commentary about the third issue of his fantastic series Critical Millennium.  The series blends sci-fi with some fantastic themes and plot lines involving politics, race, the environment and business.  A lot to pack into a comic book and especially one this damn good.

With a his book being so consistently good we were psyched to have Drew step up and take part in 10 Questions.

Graphic Policy: First let me say thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.  I guess the first question would be where the idea of Critical Millennium came from?

Andrew Gaska: I was concerned for the state of science fiction! The concept of Critical Millennium was conceived in the mid 90s by myself and my former writing partner, Christian Berntsen, before he left the project in my charge.

Initially Critical Millennium was a smaller project called Variable Action Guard: Paperdoll. It was a kind of bad girl book – all the rage at the time of its conception. Paperdoll was a story about a super sexy secret agent – a sort of “Jane Bond” –working on the galactic fringe, but instead of gadgets, she would get replacement body parts that would help her get the job done. The thing about Paperdoll was, we wanted to trick readers into buying a bad girl book and find out that it had real story and amazing characters in it. The main character looked like a buxom bad girl, but was going to witness the brutal slaying of her sister in the first issue, and find out she was pregnant by the fifth – and the crux of the storylines were to revolve around the themes of loss and rebirth. It was in planning out the backstory of how mankind got into space, and how the frontier got to be such a bad place that her services were needed there, that the roots of what is now the Critical Millennium came to be. The Paperdoll concept is still very much a part of the Critical Millennium universe, but won’t actually appear until the second half of the 1000 years of mankind’s rise and fall in outer space.

As for the backstory as I developed it, I think a lot of it came out of the times. The mid 90s wasn’t kind to sci-fi. The classic Trek crew had said their goodbyes in STVI, Next Generation was leaving the airways for a series of lackluster wannabe action flicks, and the emerging sci-fi fixes were the likes of Voyager, Babylon 5, the Stargate movie, and Independence Day. It was a dark time for popular science fiction, and no one was saying what I wanted to – what I felt needed to – be said.

Socially, I was concerned for NASA. It had almost been a decade since the Challenger accident, and it seemed like the space program had come to a complete stop. There would be no moon base by the year 1999, and we weren’t even close to thinking about Mars. I started to worry about what would happen if we had some kind of global catastrophe, and how would mankind survive.

My friends – and my girlfriends especially – at the time thought I was nuts, and that money spent on the space program would be a waste when we needed to deal with problems here on earth.

Ironically, Stephen Hawking made a statement only two months after Critical Millennium’s release last summer that basically validates everything I have said for the past fifteen years, making me think that there is a rhyme and rhythm as to why it took so long for Critical Millennium to be published. Hawking said: “The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space. Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill.”

It feels good to be vindicated.

GP: The first two issues have dealt with some pretty weighty political issues such as the environment, race and government’s role to protect the people.  What do you think comic books roles are to address societal issues?

AG: Good fiction makes you take a look at your own life and makes you see things from a different perspective. Classic Trek did it, but usually with alien cultures that our heroes would encounter – the problems faced were seldom really those of the main characters themselves. Culture A and Culture B would have a Vietnam type conflict, or a World War Two conflict, and Kirk and crew would swoop in, get into trouble, destroy the status quo and force them to change – but in classic Trek television Starfleet was usually the outside force or referee coming in to do right when the players themselves couldn’t get their shit together. The exception to this of course is episodes like Amok Time. Spock having to deal with his own biological urges and culture’s rituals upped the ante a bit on Star Trek. This successful trend was continued in the second and third classic Trek films, where the ramifications of Kirk’s actions fifteen years earlier come back to haunt him as he deals with old age and a loss of purpose, and his willing ness to sacrifice everything important in his life to get his friend back.

Now flash forward from the 60s and 80s to the 00s and Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica series that wrapped about two years ago. In addition to creating stark realistic portrayals of people in extreme circumstances, and numerous personal hurdles for each of the crew to either surpass or succumb to, the writers did some bold things on that show. A perfect example would be the end of Season Two/the beginning of Season Three, with the New Caprica storyline. It was an analogy of Afghanistan and Iraq, but with the Cylons, (i.e. the bad guys) representing the United States, and the Colonials as the Afganis/Iraqis. The Cylons wanted the Colonials to submit to their government and live under their rules, something the humans needed to rebel against, even resorting to terrorist acts. That was powerful stuff designed to make you think about what we were doing there. That’s the type of stories that get me going.

Now what do these two television examples have to do with comics, you might ask. Comics to me, is a medium for telling good stories, just like film, television, or any other kind of entertainment. So the rules that apply to television should be no different in comics. We need good drama with thought provoking issues. I, like many other creators, have complained that comics aren’t really taken seriously by the public at large. Well, maybe more comics need to start acting seriously if they want to be taken so. Comics’ needs to be more than a members only club, and has to have stories that will reach more people than the guy who has been reading comics for the past twenty-five years. If more intelligent and innovative tales starting showing up in Superman and Spiderman on a regular basis, comics just might wind up with more readers than it’s had in a long time. Sure, as a field we have had innovative storylines, like The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and even Marvels, but these are the exception, and not the rule. Most of the innovation is coming from independent companies like Archaia, Top Shelf, and First Second. The big companies like Dark Horse, Marvel and DC need to change things up a bit.

Like television, comics needs to evolve.

GP: Do you feel that one type of genre is more suited to address an issue than another?

AG: Not at all, actually. I feel that superheroes, sci-fi, westerns, thrillers, tragic romances, and just about any genre can be used to tell a real story that is relevant to it’s readers – and I intend to prove it through my various projects at various publishers.  If a writer has something important to say without being preachy, it can be said through an entertaining venue that can still grip it’s audience and make them rethink their position on things. Good fiction, whatever it’s setting, makes it’s readers think.

GP: The idea of the Ghosts really intrigues me.  While these folks are a white minority they’re also basically terrorists, where did they come from?

AG: There was a report in the 90s, I think in Time magazine, that Star Trek, while noble to put various different pure bred races in power positions, had it all wrong – within a few hundred years Caucasians (and most other individual races) would be a minority, as interbreeding within the races increased, basically turning the human species into ‘mutts’ – so the idea originally came out of that concept. Destroying most of Europe and all of North America in a global catastrophe also didn’t help the white man’s chances of survival as the dominant race in the future.

The Ghosts are the personification of the idea of a minority’s struggle in any society – but I wasn’t going to tell the ‘plight of the black man’ when I am white. I felt that would be obnoxious to think I could see that perspective, so instead I applied all my research and knowledge of racism and whatnot and turn it around so that the minorities plight was one I could put myself in the shoes of.

The Terrorist angle initially comes from current events, but how is it any different than what America did when they didn’t want to be ruled by the British anymore? One group’s terrorist is another’s patriot. Is it right? No. Is it human? You bet…

GP: How did you think the audience would react to that plotline?

AG: I hoped they would see it for what it is, trying to make a statement about the racism inherent in the ruling class of any society. All cultures that have lived as minorities have suffered the same types of situations I have put the Ghosts through, and their reactions are the same: they don’t want to be picked up and moved from their home, no matter how shitty that home may be. Native Americans would have rather repelled wave after wave of invaders than to move “west”, but we relocated against their will and made them suffer.

The Ghosts thinking that they were simply being kicked off world to be done with and wanting to stay is a classical reaction, one I hoped the audience would relate to, and many have. However there are a few reviews out there that seem to just not get it – I often see the question of ‘why don’t the Ghosts just leave’ pop up on the interweb, and it frustrates me that some Caucasians can’t relate to this, even though I’ve made them (and therefore myself) the minority in the book.

GP: Do you consider yourself a political person?  Are you active at all?  Vote?

AG: Vote yes. Political? I am making a difference the only way I know how, by telling stories that I hope will reach people and make them see the folly of our ways, all the while entertaining them.

GP: One of the bigger themes in the series seems to be one’s footprint on the world.  It’s clear this future society has destroyed the past’s footprint, and the main character Coney wants to make his a positive one.  What drew you to that concept?

AG: I feel that is what we have done as a race. We have consistently conquered and overwritten the history of those who were there previously. We have slashed and burned forests and changed the environment to suit our needs, all to the detriment of the planet and our future generations. Everyone in America makes a big deal about keeping “foreigners” out, but we forget that we ourselves are actually foreigners as well – and we pushed the Native Americans out of their homes centuries ago. I don’t want to sound like a hippy or a rights activist, but these are things we need to consider about the human race.

Aside from being rich, which I wasn’t and am not, Coney is basically me right out of college – full of ideals, but too pig-headed to do anything without being an asshole. He – like me at that age – has a lot to learn, about the world, the universe, relationships, and about what really matters. He is trying to do the right thing, but in many cases, it’s for the wrong reasons, with the wrong results.

GP: The story is also about explorers.  Did you look at historical ones for ideas and inspiration?  Who’s your favorite?

AG: I don’t really have a favorite, but I have always been fascinated by the British explorers and their rape and assimilation of every culture they encountered – something that they did to India, and that India in turn is going to do to the stars in CM. Like the victim of child abuse who grows up to abuse his own children, India in Critical Millennium will pass on all it’s learned.

Now Coney and crew themselves aren’t abusive by nature (save maybe for Eryc), but they are as ignorant as the British explorers were when they introduced disease and invasive species to new lands, and disrupted the lives of these new countries for their own betterment. I love the concept of exploration, and I think it’s necessary for growth and knowledge. I also think the human race is a train wreck waiting to happen, and we will accidently or intentionally fuck up 90% of what we come across.

Wow, I hope I don’t sound like a pessimist! I think we have made all these mistakes, and will continue to do so, but it is my hope we can learn a little and take something away from the mistakes of the past, and make our future better for everyone.

GP: What can we expect coming down the pipeline for the series?

AG: Issue three is just out now, you get to see a game show of the future and witness a shocker about Eryc, as well as getting more in-depth into Nataji and Pandita’s characters. At least one major character dies, and there are two disastrous terrorist attacks perpetrated by the ghosts. Issue three also sets up a mystery that will be resolved much further down the line in upcoming Critical Millennium miniseries.

Issue four is completely epic – it really should have been two issues. I like to think of issue four as a cross between an episode of Seinfeld and the second Godfather movie, where all divergent plot lines come together and most everyone gets their ‘just deserts’ by the end. We will see closure on a lot of things, but other plot lines will linger as they have payoffs further down the series. You will get deeper into Thomm’s head, learn the final fate of the ghosts, and get to see Coney and his crew work together as a team for the first time. Also, Ghost John Adams (Nataji) will see his character arc come to fruition. Unfortunately, due to a change in printers, issue four won’t be in stores until March.

GP: What are you up to after the series wraps?  Is there a possibility of a second volume or a prequel?

AG: I am finally wrapping up production on my first prose work, the Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes Illustrated Novel. Co written by Rich Handley  (Timeline of the Planet of the Apes: The Definitive Chronology, Lexicon of the Planet of the Apes: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia), Conspiracy is the first ever original novel based on the classic POTA film series, and will hit both the direct market and major book and retail chains in late 2011/early 2012.

Among the more than twenty artists on the project are legendary artist Jim Steranko (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nick Fury: Agent of Shield), renowned book cover painter Ken Kelly (Conan, KISS), Joe Jusko (Savage Sword of Conan, Tarzan), Sanjulian (ERRIE, Vampirella) Mark Texiera (Ghost Rider, Wolverine), Leo Leibelman (Heavy Metal), Matt Busch (Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica), Brian Rood (Indiana Jones, Star Wars), Tom Scioli (Godland), David Hueso (G.I.Joe: Storm Shadow), Dan Dussault (Critical Millennium), Chandra Free (The God Machine), and Dirk Shearer (Mouse Templar).

In addition to that, my guerrilla studio BLAM! Ventures has the rights to continue the story line of the 1970s hit sci-fi show, SPACE:1999 in comics, graphic novel, and digital media form. I am finishing up editorial work on the first miniseries, AFTERSHOCK (which I have also written). I have planned out the arc for a ‘three season’ continuation and finale to SPACE:1999, and will be writing the entire run along with cowriter John Kenneth Muir (Exploring Space:1999, Space:1999: The Forsaken). We will  be making an announcement about the publishers of these series in the near future.

And yes, you can expect to see a lot of Critical Millennium to come. The second miniseries will launch in the summer of 2011, called BEACON, which tells the story of Coney and crew’s first planet fall in another galaxy, with GILDED LIFE — this one a prequel about Coney’s grandfather and grand mother— coming either late in 2011 or early 2012. There is a lot more stories to tell for CM, as it is 1,000 years of mankind’s rise and fall in outer space, with an arc of over 300 issues plotted. We are going to follow the Coney family for quite a long time.

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