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Thursday February 19, 2009 9:47 pm

Q&A: Mike McGee & Tamas Jakab – El Gorgo!

Posted by Tom Mason Categories: Interviews,

The great thing about comic books is that right there on the rack beside 70-year-old Batman and 47-year-old Spider-Man there can exist a comic that’s less-than-a-year-old and stars a butt-kickin’ luchador super-hero who happens to be (wait for it) a gorilla! Is this a great industry or what?

TAMAS JAKAB the artist and MIKE McGEE the writer are the creators behind El Gorgo! a new independent comic that debuted last year. The second issue is available as of February 20th and if you can’t find it at your local LCS (it’s not carried by Diamond), you can order it from the El Gorgo! website. But because we live in the modern age, you don’t have to order blind. Tamas and Mike have posted the complete first and second issues online for free-reading on the very sound internet principle that if you like it on the screen, you’ll love to hold it in your hands and slip it into its Mylar Snug.

In El Gorgo! #2, “Terror On Titan!,” the story takes place 10,000 years in the future as El Gorgo! and Nika face a new breed of Deep Ones. If you love the Kirby, if you love the Cosmic and if you’re thrilled by the idea of a Gorilla super-hero strong enough to kick a dinosaur in the face, this is the comic for you, and probably a couple of your friends as well. Read on, and see how Tamas and Mike do it…

TOM: First of all, who is El Gorgo?


TAMAS JAKAB: El Gorgo! is a luchador. And a crimefighter. And a scientist. And a surf-rock guitarist. And a historical novelist. Most importantly, he’s a gorilla. El Gorgo’s biggest weakness is he doesn’t want to be bored, and hence is pretty much always on the go with one of his many preoccupations. El Gorgo works on occasion with another luchador named Eddie Devil. Eddie is very blue-collar and a total gearhead. He also wouldn’t take kindly to people calling him a sidekick. But he’s always got El Gorgo’s back.

TOM: What’s the basic backstory for El Gorgo?

TAMAS: El Gorgo is a freelance associate of an international organization called Lucha Liberty, run by the mysterious Senor Grande, a gargantuan blind luchador who is also one of the world’s most formidable fighters. They are dedicated to fighting crime and strange menaces on a global level, and on particularly big cases they’ll call in El Gorgo for help, as is the case in issue #1.

TOM: Is his origin a secret?

TAMAS: We can’t share his full origin just yet, but here are some tidbits about El Gorgo: 1. El Gorgo! has always been a gorilla. 2. El Gorgo! has always been super intelligent. 3. He is not the first being to be called El Gorgo! 4. El Gorgo! is a true hero, and well respected and admired by the world. After we finish the first story in issue #3, we’ll be exploring more of El Gorgo’s backstory and the world around him, and we’ll be building up to an epic adventure around El Gorgo’s origins. And there’s much more beyond that which will be revealed in due time.

MIKE McGEE: The true hero part is pretty crucial for both of us. I think a lot of people might assume (without seeing it) that the book is a parody; it isn’t. Not at all. I mean, it’s supposed to be funny, yeah, but we’re laughing with the characters, not at them. We might satirize certain familiar tropes from superhero comics, but that’s it. I hate it when creators feel like they need to tell me what their work means, so I’m not gonna do that, but I will say that for me, Gorgo’s got the qualities that I would want a superhero to have. I don’t think superheroes need to be perfect paragons of virtue, because that’s boring to read and impossible to write, but I do think they should appeal to the better angels of our nature. Otherwise…well…what makes them so heroic?

TOM: How did you guys get together?

TAMAS: Mike and I have known each other since high school, way back in prehistoric times. We’d done some prior collaborations with the now-defunct Frontier Publishing, including a 10-page comic adaptation of one of Mike’s short stories.

TOM: How did El Gorgo! get started?

TAMAS: We’d been kicking around some ideas for comics projects that for various reasons didn’t gain traction. Then in early 2007 Mike was approached about doing a comics story for an anthology that was in the works. I gave the matter some thought and came up with the idea of a one-off story set in the 1950s of a luchador fighting a giant robot, then came up with the idea that he’d have an intelligent gorilla sidekick who also was a luchador. I immediately called up Mike to share the idea with him, and he pointed out that the luchador gorilla was much more interesting. Within an hour we pretty much had El Gorgo! figured out. We both knew it had to be a very Silver-Age Jack Kirby style book, and I think we both just intuitively knew his personality then.

MIKE: El Gorgo came together pretty quickly as a character, yeah. The big insight for me came when we decided he wouldn’t carry a weapon - you know, because obviously he’s got the strength of a gorilla, he’s a wrestler, a martial artist, etc., so why should he need one? Except that, of course, he probably does. It sounds like a trivial point, but if you think about it at all realistically (which, frankly, I strongly suggest that you do not), someone who puts himself in the situations that El Gorgo does, and basically puts himself in those situations wearing a pair of boxer shorts and nothing else…you know, he’s playing without a net. So he has to be extremely self-confident, and - since he’s not, like, dead - extremely intelligent, too. El Gorgo’s physical advantages aren’t a very big deal in his world - superhuman strength and awesome fighting abilities are all over the place! So, appearances aside, Gorgo is first and foremost an intellectual…that’s his real super power. He’s also very humble, very graceful, both out of necessity; he’s constantly encountering space gods and alien civilizations and stuff, and is smart enough to think about the implications of those things, so he’s aware that the universe is a lot bigger than himself. But at the same time, he’s literally an eight-hundred-pound gorilla, so he knows he could easily break delicate things (and people) if he’s not careful. So he’s kind of this gentle giant. Unless you’re a bad guy…!

TAMAS: Right after our first discussion, I immediately went and did some quick sketches on my computer and we talked some more about it. We felt for the story we should just treat him like an existing character and dive right into the action. Mike came up with the idea of him fighting Kirby-esque versions of the Deep Ones from Lovecraft, and I threw out the idea that he’d then get pulled into the far future to fight cyborg dinosaurs on Titan. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Mike managed to hook both of these ideas into a bigger story, but we soon realized it was too big for one 22-page book.

TOM: So what happened to the anthology?

TAMAS: The anthology project fell apart, but we kept on working on the book. Finally, we launched issue #1 at elgorgo.com in late June last year, got the ball rolling on doing a print run, and the rest is history!

TOM: What are the long-range goals for the series?

TAMAS: I would love for El Gorgo! to be big enough that we could afford to do it full time, but for now our more modest goal is for every issue to live up to the tagline, “The World’s Most Awesome Comics Magazine.” We just really want to tell stories that evoke wonder and excitement on every page and throw in as many big crazy cosmic ideas as we can. El Gorgo! is for us the purest expression of what a super-hero comic can be! We’ve gotten the impression, based on initial reviews and feedback, that there’s definitely an appetite for big fun crazy comics, even in this age of ‘grim and gritty’ comics. We’re confident that El Gorgo! will always have an audience as long as we do the best comic we can. El Gorgo! is something we could probably keep doing forever if possible.

MIKE: Absolutely.

TOM: You’re selling El Gorgo! as a print comic, but also offering complete issues for free on your website. How’s that working out? Are the free reads boosting sales of the printed version?

TAMAS: The free reads are helping, but we’re not yet at the point we’d like to be. We both knew going into this that it would be a slow burn, and initially we want to build a good fan base.

MIKE: I don’t think there’s any real question the free reads help—hell, I think that without the free reads, no one would have ever seen our comic book! I mean, we’re not familiar names, we’re not coming through a familiar publisher…how do you interest someone in a book when they don’t have any basis to form an opinion about it? Don’t get me wrong: We want people to buy the comic! But it’s not a zero-sum thing. We’re not losing anything when people read for free a comic they probably wouldn’t ever have seen otherwise. And what we’ve gained is some people who evangelize for our book! If they don’t all buy the print version…I mean, hey, I wish they would (or, given the current economic climate, it’s probably fairer to say “could”), but if you get into comics to get rich, I don’t know what you’re thinking anyhow. El Gorgo! is a labor of love, straight up. It’d be terrific to get rich, I have no doubt, but we’re not playing the lottery: We’re making a comic book. And the only way for us to build interest in the book is to, well, show people the book. I can tell you that it’s much more fun to read the print copy, though!

TOM: I see some great Jack Kirby influence in the art and in the cosmic aspects of the story. Who else has influenced you?

TAMAS: Jack Kirby’s the big one for me. He’s ‘The King’ for a reason. Whenever my enthusiasm isn’t where it should be, all I need to do is look at some of the Fourth World or Kamandi, and my head’s right back in it. I could probably fill pages and pages if I listed everyone, but off the top of my head… Steve Ditko, the EC Comics artists… Los Bros Hernandez are master storytellers who bend reality to their will… Mike Allred, Mike Mignola - guys who are working with creations they truly love… Darwyn Cooke - New Frontier is one of those books that make you fall in love with comics all over again… Grant Morrison, who despite being pretty controversial these days, just keeps pushing forward and doesn’t shy away from big crazy ideas, even if they don’t quite hit their target - his heart’s always in the right place… early Silver-Age DC and Marvel - Doom Patrol, Wayne Boring & Curt Swan Superman, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Nick Fury… I could probably go on all day.

MIKE: Oh, man…well, obviously, Kirby. A lot of people have this whole “Kirby was a great artist, a great idea man, but not a great writer” thing happening, and I don’t get that at all - my favorite Kirby comics are the ‘70s DC titles, and while I love the art, I may love the writing more. Kirby wasn’t always 100% on anatomy and perspective, but a lot of artists with a much stronger grasp on the fundamentals can’t come close to matching his raw power - and I look at the writing on those books the same way. Wasn’t polished, wasn’t always perfect, but it’s heady stuff. So yeah, and I’m not saying anything very revealing here, New Gods in particular is a huge influence on my Gorgo writing. There are a lot of other writers, some of whom are probably more visible than others. Matt Wagner, Alan Moore. Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s Nexus is something I think about from time to time when I’m writing a script…I don’t actually have any of the issues here with me, but I read them enough times in my teens they’re kinda burned on my brain. Um, also basically everyone that Tamas said. There are plenty of other writers I love, but the influence starts to get difficult to quantify…like, I was reading Blood Meridian when I wrote El Gorgo! #2, and I’m sure the influence of that couldn’t be any less apparent, but I know right where it hit.

TOM: The first issue came out in September 2008 and the second one is ready on Feb. 20th. What kind of schedule are you keeping, and more importantly, when’s #3 coming?

TAMAS: Because we have day jobs, El Gorgo! is still a part-time venture. We will always have the comic online first, because I can publish it the second it’s done, but our printer needs about a month lead time. The first issue was online in late June last year and issue #2 went up on January 4th. I had to take a few months off between the first 2 issues to do some real life stuff and so we could spend time getting the word out. This time I’ve kind of taken January off but still been working on peripheral stuff. Starting in February it will be full speed ahead on issue #3! If I can keep my current working pace, I’d like to have issue #3 online by sometime in May, if not sooner, with printed copies out in June. It gets pretty painstaking drawing, inking, lettering and coloring the book, but I love doing all of it. Mike is way ahead of me.

MIKE: I’m not that far ahead of him. The scripts take longer than you might think…probably in part because I write for a living, too (nothing as cool as El Gorgo!, sad to say), so a lot of times I am just burned out when I get home. But #3 and #4 are written, and #5 will get started on sometime pretty soon.

TOM: I noticed that you’re not distributed through Diamond.

TAMAS: The truth is, printing a color comic is expensive, more so if you’re an independent creator. With the current economic conditions and Diamond’s recent policy changes, it’s not very attractive for us right now. I think a lot of indie/small press creators are going to be looking at alternate means of getting their comics out there. As much as I love my local shop and some of the great retailers out there, I’m waiting for the day that comics break out again, even if it means leaving the paper behind.

TOM: Without the Diamond catalog has it been difficult getting the word out?

TAMAS: Right now like 99% of our marketing has been internet-centric, because honestly it’s pretty cheap and easy to do. We’re also looking at some conventions after issues 3-4 are done. We have had some good success just networking on the internet, and I’ve been blown away by some of the enthusiastic responses.

MIKE: I’d be sad to see paper go, but it could be inevitable. For us, conventional distribution was just never an option. It could have been, I guess, if we’d been willing to rack up credit card debt. But the thing is, we’re not people who are starving, we’re not desperately clinging to a dream of success in comics…sure, it’d be nice, a million dollars and a castle full of nineteen-year-old exotic dancers with doe eyes would be nice, but we’re kind of doing okay In Real Life. So a slow burn is just fine. Like Joe Lansdale once said, I don’t wanna chase after success and end up feeling like the dog that caught the car. I think that with the attention we’ve received at this point placing the book in Diamond might have better results than it would have had last summer. But it’s still a major financial gamble, to be really honest…one we could afford, but would it be worth it? At that point, the book becomes this thing that has to succeed, and I don’t think we’re interested in that at all. That doesn’t sound like that much fun.

TOM: How do you guys work together?

TAMAS: We work full script. Mike and I spend a lot of time on the phone talking over future storylines, so there are points in the script where it’s pretty much “you know what I mean.” But as much as we both collaborate directly on things, there is a very clear delineation of our roles. Mike is the writer, I am the artist.

MIKE: El Gorgo! is a collaboration, and I know Tom (Tamas) is as invested in the characters and what happens to them as I am, and so we have a lot of conversations about the stories. We have a lot of conversations about the art as well - mostly me going, “oh, dude, YEAH,” or words to that effect, but things more substantive than that, too. But ultimately, when Tom draws, it’s just Tom drawing - he makes the calls, and is (thank God!) never hung up feeling like he needs to follow my stage directions when he’s got a better idea. And, being an artist, he often has better ideas about the art than I do.

TAMAS: I do try to follow the script as closely as possible. Usually any changes I make are just to tighten up the layout or open up a panel that’s more important to the story. Mike’s a very visual writer so he’s got a really good feel for what needs to go where. I really just need to build on top of that.

TOM: What do you do when you’re not working on El Gorgo?

TAMAS: I work a day job not related to comics and I think about working on El Gorgo! I also live in a house with a dog, 2 cats and a girl in Cleveland, OH.

MIKE: I work a day job (unrelated to comics, but related to writing) in the Washington, DC area.

TOM: Has Hollywood come sniffing around yet?

TAMAS: Not yet, but they’re certainly welcome! I think with El Gorgo! they could have something that’s both a Summer blockbuster and will sweep the awards at the Oscars.

MIKE: Seriously, it could be better than Machete.

Thanks, guys. Issue #2 of El Gorgo! is out now and available in a limited number of comic book shops. However, you can preview both El Gorgo! #1 and #2 online and also order both copies by mail by visiting the El Gorgo! website.

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