Prior to The Apes of Wrath, award-wining editor Richard “Rick” Klaw co-founded the pioneering Mojo Press, one of the first publishers to produce both graphic novels and prose books. Since leaving Mojo, he became the initial fiction editor for RevolutionSF, where he still serves as an editor-at-large, and emerged as “the smartest mouth on the Internet” (Michael Moorcock) with his popular columns on pop culture for SF Site and his acclaimed blog The Geek Curmudgeon. Over the past decade, Klaw has written about fictional simians for a variety of publications including Moving Pictures Magazine, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, King Kong Is Back!, and Kong Is King. His essays and observations were collected in Geek Confidential: Echoes from the 21st Century (Monkeybrain), adorned with a magnificent gumshoe gorilla cover. Klaw lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, a large cat, an even bigger dog, and enormous collection of books. His shrine of assorted ape knickknacks is the stuff of legend.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro: In the introduction to “The Apes of Wrath” you acknowledge the role that SF Signal’s John DeNardo played in the genesis of this project, when he invited you to contribute to a Mind Meld on the perfect SF anthology. I think it’s important to establish the following facts upfront: Have you had John over for bagels? Has he had you over?
Rick Klaw: Actually John and I have only met face-to-face maybe 2-3 times and always at Armadillocon. I like John and would gladly break bread with him.
AZA: “The Apes of Wrath” includes simian-related fiction by Aesop, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Pat Murphy, Steven Utley, Mary Robinette Kowal, Karen Joy Fowler, and other noted writers; as well as delightful essays on the history of apes in comics, films and cinema. You certainly didn’t monkey around when you designed the table of contents, did you?
RK: It’s an idea that had been rattling around in my brain for years. Matter of fact, I even pitched the idea for a book chronicling the history of apes in pop culture, but I got little traction. So when I got the opportunity to a do simian-centric anthology, it was natural to include essays about the pop culture ape. The background material gives the book some scholarly heft, similar to the Vandermeers’ excellent Steampunk (Full disclosure time: I contributed one of the essays in that volume.), and enhances the enjoyment of the fiction.
AZA: How did you select the order of the stories and essays in “The Apes of Wrath”? (Karen Joy Fowler’s expertly crafted and hard-hitting “Faded Roses”, by the way, is the perfect closing piece.)
RK: At first I picked what felt right. I have immense trust in my subconscious. When I finished my initial layout and saw the patterns that developed, it only changed a bit from the final product. After the magnificent Rupert Wyatt foreword and my brief introduction, I wanted something to showcase the fun of ape fiction before moving into some of the darker territories. Hence Blaylock’s “The Ape-Box Affair.” And since it also featured an orangutan and is in a similar period, I followed it up with the iconic “Murders In the Rue Morgue.” The book all fell into place after that with several distinct sections, divided by the four essays on different aspects of simian pop culture. And yes, “Faded Roses” was the perfect conclusion. Glad you felt the same way.
AZA: From the comments in the introduction, it sounds like the anthology came together pretty smoothly after your original Mind Meld-inspired brainstorm. Did any unexpected events–like difficulties in obtaining reprint rights, for example–throw a monkey wrench into the anthology’s production?
RK: My biggest disappointment was being unable to get the rights to Italio Calvino’s “The Albino Gorilla.” Everything else went remarkably smooth.
AZA: One thematically apt story that wasn’t included in this anthology, but which makes me go bananas every time I read it, is Robert Silverberg’s “The Pope of the Chimps”. Do you have any favorite ape or monkey stories not included in the anthology that you want to recommend to readers? How about novels?
RK: Beyond the Calvino, there is Gerald Kersh’s sublime “The Ape and The Mystery”, which I only remembered after I turned in the book. I left out the wild “Gorilla Suit” by John Shepley due to length constraints. There are countless other ape tales, most terrible but some quite excellent. I could easily compile enough quality stories to put together a second volume.
Among the novels, I’d recommend Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, the excellent movie novelization of the original King Kong by Delos W. Lovelace, La Planete des Singes by Pierre Boulle, John Collier’s His Monkey Wife or Married to a Chimp, Paddy Chayefsky’s Altered States, Congo by Michael Crichton, and the heretical Tarzan Alive by Philip Jose Farmer. I’m sure I’ve forgotten numerous works worthy of mention.
AZA: When did your fascination with apes begin? Was there a singular event that triggered it, or was it a collection of experiences and impressions?
RK: The interest developed when I was a child with King Kong (the original not the blasphemous 1976 remake) and The Planet of the Apes. Plus I’ve always been a comic book fan and those creatures are everywhere.
AZA: What’s the most interesting non-fiction piece or documentary you’ve read/seen about apes or monkeys, and why?
RK: The classic Gorillas In the Mist by Dian Fossey–a fascinating exploration of into the world of gorillas, Joe Russo and Larry Lansdman’s comprehensive overview of The Planet of The Apes franchise, and the interesting King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson by Ray Morton all number among the essential ape non-fiction reads. Perhaps my all time favorite is Monkeys and Apes by Prue Napier with illustrations by David Nockels. Part of the Bantam’s Knowledge Through Color series, this thrift store find supplies an entertaining and informative examination of our simian cousins. The mass market sat in my bathroom for months. As anyone who knows me can attest, only the truly interesting works spend any extensive time in there.
AZA: Your collection of essays, reviews and interviews, GEEK CONFIDENTIAL, with its striking ape cover, has received great reviews. SF Site, for example, suggested that POP-CULTURE-GURU CONFIDENTIAL might be a more appropriate title for it, given your pop culture expertise. I couldn’t help but notice that the book was published by MonkeyBrain, too. Coincidence, or the great hand of the simian deity reaching down from above?
RK: Think William Burroughs summed it up best: “In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.”
Chris Roberson, publisher of MonkeyBrain, is another ape fanatic. The company was originally started with the purpose of publishing genre nonfiction. I was I believe his second book.
Believe it or not, neither Chris nor I conceived of the gumshoe gorilla cover. The extraordinary artist and long time friend John Picacio created the image. Needless to say, he knew of my fascination with apes.
AZA: What do you think of Nirvana’s song “Very Ape”? Does it make you want to beat your chest with cupped hands?
RK: Not particularly. While I like Nirvana, I’m not a fan of the song. Takes more than a mere mention of an ape for me to like something.