An interview with Kevin Gunstone writer/creator of Future Primitive conducted by Nathan Slack. Check out Nathan’s fantastic online ‘Risen’ comic which you can find here: http://tapastic.com/episode/36503
Nathan: You’ve recently returned to the world of comic’s after a bit of break, what was it that lured you back? Was Future Primitive a story that you just had to tell?
Kevin: Yes, you could say that Future Primitive is a story I’ve waited a long time to tell, but it’s also a comic I’ve always wanted to read. I think it’s important to write a story you’d want to buy yourself and in that respect Future Primitive would really grab my attention in terms of the story, it’s quite ‘cosmic’ ideas, and of course Boban’s fantastic art.
When I took my writing sabbatical (spending the majority of the time DJing) I wasn’t reading comics in anything like the number I used to. However, I regularly visited sites such as CBR to keep up with developments and became interested by the possibilities of digital comics. However, I was more than aware of how long it could take to get a project off the ground and what eventually ‘lured’ me back were a couple of different factors – apart from the challenge to see if I still could. I was curious to find out whether my experiences in mixing would influence the way I wrote a story – as there’s a lot of similarities in the way you’d build a House/Techno set and structure a story. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the prospect of exploring ideas I hadn’t written about before – for whatever reason – but had always wanted to.
I decided quite early on that I wanted to create a big, quite expansive sci-fi story utilizing concepts and visuals I’ve always found interesting (and probably wanted to see more of). These include: megalithic worlds, lost civilizations and their forgotten knowledge, early hominid races (especially Neanderthals – who I’ve always found fascinating), and the recurrence of certain names, ideas, and stories in myth and legend that seem to be shared by quite diverse cultures and historical eras.
These are the sort of ideas you’d commonly find in archaeoastronomy and the 1970’s “Gods as Spacemen” book genre by writers such as W Raymond Drake, Andrew Tomas, and Peter Kolosimo – of which I have an indulgently large collection. I couldn’t care less how plausible some of the wilder theories were but was dazzled by their fantastic wide-eyed speculation that gave a Kirbylike veneer to the lost science and knowledge of the past – in fact, the more cosmic the idea the happier I am! Though I should point out there are NO aliens in Future Primitive (and whether the story is set in the past or future is for the reader to decide).
Nathan: The comic is very concept heavy and this can sometimes become a little overwhelming for the reader, did you struggle with what to include and what to leave out? Was there ever a time that you thought…”damn, just how am I going to start this thing!”
Kevin: Thanks, I like the idea that a reader could be overwhelmed by the concepts in Future Primitive – it’s much more preferable than being underwhelmed! Personally, I enjoy concept heavy books, especially the work of Jonathan Hickman and Grant Morrison. I take the attitude that I may not understand everything immediately – as I can be quite a shallow person at times – but I can always reread it to catch what I missed and I know I’ll enjoy the ride anyway.
I’d agree that there is a lot going on in the first issue, so quite early on I decided not to include flashback scenes (aside from cave sequences that relate the cosmology and history of the central ‘stargazing’ Neanderthal race) as I felt that the story could get confusing fairly quickly if I kept moving back and forth in time. Therefore, it seemed logical to start chronologically with seemingly random events that would ultimately tie together at the end, though the central focus is usually on Kulkan, the Neanderthal warrior king.
Nathan: For me, Future Primitive reminds me of Planet of the Apes in some ways, did Sci-Fi from this era have an influence on your writing? What else inspired you when writing the script for this original series?
Kevin: Definitely Sci-fi from the late 60s and the 70s – it’s an era I’ve always felt a great affinity for both in terms of ideas and the way those ideas are presented. I can understand the Apes comparison, but although I love the original POTA films they never really entered my thinking – possibly consciously so. Other films, comics, books and music are more influential, I think.
A list would probably be quite exhaustive, and not everything has a direct or noticeable effect. However, I read Kirby’s Eternals at an impressionable age and relished the sequences set in the long-distant past where Kirby tied in biblical stories with the titanic early struggle between Eternal and Deviant. Similarly, in the King’s extension of 2001, I was fascinated the short glimpses of a wild, spectacular prehistory of forgotten heroes and doomed populations and wished the whole story were set in the past rather than the present.
As you can tell from above I’m a big fan of Kirby, but Future Primitive isn’t a Kirby homage. The story’s equally influenced by films such as: Aguirre: Wrath of God, Quest for Fire, and 2001 – along with comics such as Warren’s 1984/1994 magazine, Alex Nino’s Man-God, Jack Katz’ epic First Kingdom and innumerable caveman comics like Kubert’s Tor and Gold Key’s Tragg and the Sky-Gods. Also, writers like Roger Zelazny (mainly for his Lord of Light book), Jodorowsky, and William Blake; especially Blake’s magpie-like ability to pull together quite random elements from myth, folklore, and religion to create archetypal characters who enacted his unique worldview and philosophy.
(As an aside, when I pitched Future Primitive to Harry (Markos) at London Super Comic Con a couple of years ago he asked me what the logline for the series was. My mind went blank and all I could offer was that it was “superpowered Quest For Fire” – which seemed to push the right buttons, thankfully).
However, one of the strongest inspirations for the story was a piece of music that appeared on the Santana album Caravanserai called – unsurprisingly – Future Primitive! The tune’s highly atmospheric, a brooding tribal soundscape punctuated by chants and foreboding chords and notes. On reflection, it’s quite similar to the music of Sun Ra (whose work I discovered later); and, together with more recent albums – such as Jeff Mills’ Jungle Planet and Joe Claussell’s remix of the Fuse: Ceremony LP - and producers like Laurent Garnier and Radio Slave, I find they create the perfect atmosphere to write about the Future Primitive world…
Nathan: The digital publication draws heavily from Mesoamerican myth, are Kulkan and his brother Xotol actually Toltec’s? A Civilisation that predated both the Aztec’s and Maya, a people that both cultures sought to emulate with science and technological advances.
Kevin: The central race/civilization in Future Primitive, the Neanderthal ‘Skybearers’, definitely have their roots in Mesoamerican myth and culture, especially as regards names, ideas, beliefs, and some aspects of their society. Kulkan, the story’s central character, is a loose amalgam of Quetzalcoatl’s various identities – or at least in his more primal form of Kulkulkan (perhaps most famously referred to during the sacrificial scene in Apocalypto). Similarly, Xotol, both in character and name is derived from Xolotl (God of the Dead), and other Neanderthal characters share a similar basis. However, this was only the jumping off point as the Skybearers’ solar religion centres around the worship of the supernova that transformed the Earth tens of thousands of years earlier.
Therefore, the Skybearers aren’t necessarily modelled on Toltecs’ (about whom little is really known) but more the idea of them. Whereas, as you point out, the Aztec and Maya wanted to emulate the Toltecs, here the Skybearers are attempting to cling onto the memory of their once glorious ancient heritage and culture in a broken, declining world. A world and future they regard with a fear owing to apocalyptic predictions made much earlier, and which they are now seeing evidence of.
Thinking about it abstractly, they could be Toltecs but only in relation to a vague ancestral memory of the existence of such a race or tribe (If FP was set in the past). Whereas the same idea could apply if set in the distant future and they’re still an echo of some mythic past. Perhaps the original Toltecs existed some millions of years ago and have always been a memory or ideal different tribes have striven to emulate – which, I suppose, is similar to Morrison’s use of an almost eternal Camelot in Seven Soldiers.
Nathan: This 5 part miniseries starts very promisingly, what can the reader expect from future issues?
Kevin: In the second issue we learn more about the doomsday threat soon to face the Future Primitive world along with more backstory relating to the transformation of their Earth. This first Future Primitive story, although self-contained, is very the opening chapter to set up further adventures of Kulkan and the other central characters as they search for a means of survival. However, by the end of this first book, we’ll have a relatively full picture of the Neanderthal Skybearer race and how their history and religion contain echoes of events in the present and near future – if that isn’t too cryptic. I can promise more action, more ‘big’ ideas (!), and more truly incredible art from Boban – so stay tuned!