Being an entertainment journalist means that I spend a good portion of each day parsing through press releases and article pitches, but reading the phrase “the pages drip with 100% Ape-Biker Exploitation at its finest” is one of the highlights of my press release-reading year. Fortunately for us, that wasn’t a weird piece of oddly specific spam (what have I been Googling?). Rather, it’s a description of Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neely’s new creator-owned Image Comics series The Humans, a title which we are proud to exclusively announce as part of today’s pre-Comic-Con Image Expo festivities.
The comic is an adrenaline-soaked, balls-to-the-wall joyride into the abyss of 1970s Bakersfield biker culture that follows, well, an all-ape biker gang. Following Bobby, Johnny, and the rest of their gang, the titular Humans, the book promises to offer a “ride filled with chains, sex, leather, denim, hair, blood, bananas and chrome.” I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds like my kind of party.
While you’ll have to wait until November to rev your ape engines with The Humans, you can pick up a prequel issue The Humans #0 at the Image booth during Preview Night at San Diego Comic-Con. Following three members of the gang, Marra, Mojo, and Karns, The Humans #0 finds our simian street soldiers going up against a rival gang, The Skaabs, in a knockdown, drag-out battle to see who is the top banana after all. And with a pin-up from series colorist Kristina Collantes, you’d have to be baboon-for-brains to not pick this up.
The idea first came to Keller while he was in film school in Chicago during a time where he was really into exploitation films. “It was initially an idea I had for a film script in my brain for over 15 years,” Keller said. “I wanted to create genre stories and when thinking about a biker idea, i just saw them as apes and it clicked.” After hip-pocketing the idea for nearly a decade, Keller had some drinks with Tom Neely and mentioned The Humans to him. Neely went home and drew “a sketch based on a famous Danny Lyon photo, of 2 apes on a bike, the latter ape, flicking off the viewer and from there it just took off.”
Clearly, Neely didn’t need much convincing. “Once Keenan mentioned the idea of a biker gang in an ape world, I was sold!” he exclaimed. “I couldn’t wait to get started drawing it. I think this is the comic I never knew I was born to draw and I mean to draw the hell out of it!” And draw the hell out of it he will. The visual aesthetic of the cover evoked a classic Planet of the Apes-meets-Easy Rider vibe
Although I got a Planet of the Apes vibe initially, Keller assures me that it’s “not post-apocalyptic or sci-fi in any way, so its connection to Planet of the Apes ends at apes.” Rather, as Neely explained, they “tried to steer lear of making our ape world similar to that ape world in any way.” So, although this was Earth all along, it isn’t a twist. Influenced by what Keller calls “the world of biker exploitation, violent revenge films and Vietnam stories,” The Humans really embodies the larger-than-life spirit of gritty, California-set genre stories. Neely may have said it best: “There’s more Roger Corman and Russ Meyer in this book than Dr. Zaius.”
Lastly, a good exploitation book calls for a good exploitation movie to pair with it. Keller recommends Wild Angels (“The best biker film”), Elecktra Glide in Blue (“Beautifully shot and mean and cool”), and Rolling Thunder (“Possibly the best movie ever made”). Meanwhile, Neely recommends adding “Psychomania, The Warriors, Two-Lane Blacktop, Assault on Precinct 13 (original) and Cockfighter” to that list. “And maybe Going Ape with Tony Danza, because who doesn’t love that movie?”
The Humans comes to Image Comics in November 2014.
What do you think? Will you be picking it up? What’s your favorite exploitation film? Let us know in the comments below.