Archaia Enters Critical Millennium

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Writer Andrew E.C. Gaska talks to BF about his new mini-series from Archaia, Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier.

Gaska’s tale of Captain Thomm Ander Coney and his desire to redeem humanity in the emptiness of space is realized with talented artist Daniel Dussault. Archaia describe the ambitious story as, “a place of reflection, where a man can dig deep into his soul and gaze fearfully at the slobbering beast staring back in the darkness. In many ways, the frontier being explored is not that of space, but of our own hearts and minds.” Each issue of Critical Millenium is 40 pages, with the scope of a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster and the big questions of a philosophy class.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Critical Millennium as a title has a nice ring to it. Were there any other ideas as to the name?

ANDREW E. C. GASKA: Yes. The series is to chronicle a thousand years of mankind’s rise and fall in outer space, as seen through the eyes of the Coney/Lapan Family, who happen to find themselves key players in almost every major turning point of the millennium. Originally, it was going to be called The 7th Millennium. However, after realizing there are references to the seventh millennium of man in other sci-fi properties, and just how important the 1,000-year period we were presenting was going to be, as a representative microcosm of man’s missteps and pitfalls throughout all of history, as well as how far humanity was going to push things to the limit in the series, we realized how pivotal this millennium was going to be—or *ahem*, how “critical.”

BF: It sounds like an epic tale. Where you inspired by anything in particular?

AG: It’s no secret I am a huge sci-fi fan. Star Wars, Star Trek and Planet of the Apes are responsible for shaping my belief system, Star Trek’s racial equality and ethical issues especially. The funny thing is, as I got older, I guess I became a little jaded—not with my beloved sci-fi series, but with mankind itself. History began to align itself as an inspiration for me, especially that of “empires.” Every major culture that has become “the big boy on the block” has always made the same mistakes, and always comes to an end either one of two ways: invasion because they pissed off someone else, or financial bankruptcy because they spread themselves too thin.

We are creatures of habit, and we are habitually BAD—bad to ourselves, bad to others and bad to our environment. The self-destruct course that humanity is on, as shown in Planet of the Apes, began to ring truer and truer to me. So, Critical Millennium can almost be said to be an “anti-Star Trek: A crew of brave explorers go out into the unknown, rape the resources of new worlds, find new life forms and kill them. Sure, our crew means well, and they are good people at heart, but they keep making mistakes, because they are only too human. There is no black and white in Critical Millennium, only shades of gray.

BF: How did you get partnered with Daniel Dussault?

AG: I hired him, actually! My guerrilla creative studio, BLAM! Ventures, was one of the companies participating in a portfolio review for graduating cartooning students at the School of Visual Arts back in 2006. Dan was this gangly kid at the time, and not really sure what to do with himself. His comic pages were just OK, nothing really exciting. He offered to get me a disc with better work on it sometime that week, and I agreed, but didn’t really think he would show up. Later that day, Dan arrived at my office with his golden disc full of beautiful design work. While his comics weren’t up to par yet, the style he was reaching for was incredible, and I was really impressed that he came through and got me that disc. He was hired, and the more we have worked together, the more amazing his work has become. Working on Critical Millennium has given him a professional edge, and a focus that school simply could not. He is doing his best work ever.

BF: Did he help with a lot of the look of the book, or did you have definite ideas about the look of the characters?

AG: As Critical Millennium is a project I have been crafting over the past 15 years, many of the characters’ basic look and designs had been cemented long before Dan’s involvement. I am also a Cartooning graduate of the School of Visual Arts, so I would conceptualize on paper the look of uniforms, key starships, creatures, characters, etc. As other artists became briefly attached to the project over the years, they would put their own spin on my designs and concepts, but it wasn’t until Dan became involved that I can truly say that the look of Critical Millennium was refined and evolved into what it is today. Dan is a gifted artist who quite simply, “gets it.” I can have a back and forth discussion with him about what I want to see, send him a few reference photos, and ninety percent of the time he either nails exactly what I am seeing or quite frankly improves upon it. And he isn’t a “lazy” artist, either—if something is off, it will bother him until he makes it right; he has no problems going back in and making necessary revisions. Dan is going places and I was lucky to find him.

BF: How did you come to partner with the folks at Archaia?

AG: In some ways it was easier than you would expect, and in others, it was harder. My former writing partner, Christian Berntsen, met Archaia Founder Mark Smylie at a convention we were attending and showed him some Critical Millennium art. Mark was intrigued and told us to stay in touch—if we could show him our plan and a completed issue, Archaia might be interested in publishing it. At that point, we were halfway through with an anthology book that would showcase three time periods within the Critical Millennium universe, so while Dan and I went to work finishing that, Christian and I dove into what was then a decade’s worth of handwritten notes and old formatted computer files to compile what would become known as the Critical Millennium Bible: a 250-plus-page document that explains the entire story arc, themes of the different time periods, character bios, technologies and an encyclopedia of races, weapons, regions of space, etc. When we turned it in, months late, Archaia was impressed with the opus we had crafted, and a deal seemed imminent—a deal that was nevertheless delayed another year due to the company’s restructuring after being purchased by PJ Bickett. Yeah, so it’s been a long and treacherous road, but we are here!

BF: How do you see the future of Critical Millennium? Is there room for more stories?

AG: Critical Millennium is a true science fiction odyssey, the current issues being only the first miniseries of many. In fact, there are seven major time periods within these thousand years that will be explored over quite literally dozens of miniseries. The entire overlying arc is plotted out over 300 issues, so if the fans love it, there will be plenty more Critical Millennium to come!

 BF: What’s the goal of BLAM! Ventures?

AG: BLAM! Ventures is a guerilla comics and multimedia studio. Our goal is to produce projects, both licensed and creator-owned, that will be published by other companies. While Archaia is a great home for many of the projects we are working on, it is also our hope that BLAM! will be hired to work on various properties belonging to the “big boys” as well. Essentially, my hope for BLAM! is twofold: 1) To give something back to, as well as add to the mythos of the licensed properties that touched me as a child. You know, the ones that didn’t talk down to me like so much children’s programming does. 2) To create new properties that will speak to today’s audiences in a similar way. I’d like to pay homage to that material which worked on many levels, and was appreciated by kids and adults alike. While I feel I have important things to say to the world, I am no politician or diplomat. My talent lies in my ability to tell a damn good story, just as Dan’s is to illustrate one. But I do hope the stories we tell will make at least one person realize some of mankind’s faults. Who knows? Maybe that fan will become that one person who can then steer us off this course of self-destruction.

BF: How did you get involved with the Planet of the Apes novel, and what can fans expect within its pages?

AG: 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 lineup, 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.

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. As a dreamer, I used my imagination to fill in the blanks and cover the mistakes. 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 the idea, and though I have mapped out a six novel cycle, we settled on a two book deal with an “option to renew.” The first book is entitled Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes and tells the story of the ill-fated astronaut John Landon during the first movie, as well as showcasing many characters that appear from the films’ sequels. 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? 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.

As far as the art goes, we’ve got an incredible lineup 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 George 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 and Mark Texiera, to name a few. Dan Dussault has even provided us with two fantastic paintings. The book is lavishly illustrated and truly a work of art; we are hoping to have it out for the Holiday shopping season this year.

BF: Will there be other Apes projects in the future?

AG: At least one! The previously mentioned second novel will tie up the loose ends between the first and second film and tells what happened to Taylor during the time he was missing in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. 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. Whether or not we go past the second book depends on sales, so I am not at liberty to discuss the plot lines for the remaining four books. However, I will tell you that like these first two, their stories weave in and out of Apes canon, and each standing as a complete story in its own right. We want to entertain both longtime readers and those with no prior knowledge of Apes as well.

BF: Are you a fan of today’s sci-fi entertainment?

AG: I love both the new Star Trek movie and the recently deceased Sarah Connor Chronicles. Both of these were refreshing new takes on beloved franchises, that instead of ignoring that which came before, gave it a place of reverence and respect. Both are proof that you can create great new science fiction for today’s audiences while still honoring the things that catapulted them to the top in the first place. Of course, they both wound up on the opposite sides of the spectrum in regards to financial success, but I feel that they were both worthy successors to their respective franchises.

I am not a big fan of “reimagined remakes,” but I am a huge fan of the recent Battlestar Galactica series and its prequel, Caprica. At first, Battlestar put me off, as it is a very different show than the original, and despite its flaws, I am a big fan of the original. But once I got past the fact that it was called Battlestar Galactica and accepted it as its own animal, I began to see how good a show it was. And Caprica speaks very well to the issues we are facing as a species living in the 21st century. I haven’t seen anything actually “new” (not part of a pre-existing franchise) that was much to get excited about in the science fiction realm since The Matrix and Farscape. I am hoping that Critical Millennium can help to fill that void for the foreseeable future!

Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier #1 (of 4) goes on sale July 8 from Archaia priced $3.95.






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