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Artist/Writer Peter Kuper Politically Tinged Worldview Spotlighted This December at Christmas Con

 Kuper's "The Metamorphosis.”

As the co-founder and editor of World War 3 Illustrated, a political graphics magazine that has been a forum for political artists for 43 years, artist/writer/conceptualist Peter Kuper came to my attention even before I worked with him at Heavy Metal.

The Eisner and National Cartoonists Society Award winner is a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The Nation and MAD Magazine where he has written and illustrated SPY vs. SPY every issue since 1997.

He has produced over two dozen books including “Sticks and Stones” (winner of The Society of Illustrators gold medal), "The System," "Diario de Oaxaca," "Ruins" (winner of the 2016 Eisner Award) and adaptations of many of Franz Kafka's works into comics including "The Metamorphosis.”

peter KHis latest graphic novel is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." Kuper is currently working on INterSECTS , a graphic novel history of insects and the people who have studied them that will be published by W.W. Norton in 2025. Kuper has lectured on comics extensively at schools and universities around the world. A winner of the 2018 National Cartoonists Society Award for best graphic novel and Italy’s 2022 Lucca award for best short story collection, he continues to challenge the boundaries of what makes a great graphic novel. In this email interview he tersely outlines some of ideas and history in advance of his appearance at this Saturday's Christmas Con at the New Yorker Hotel. Go

Q: It seems that you split your work between established characters, turning classics in comics and your own political essaying -- how do you balance it all?

PK: I generally find myself working seven days a week. It really comes out of my love of a variety of aspects of cartooning— gag/editorial cartoons, short form comics and graphic novels—and reacting to what’s going on in the world which is both terrifying and quite inspiring.

Q: In creating your own concepts, where do you start -- first with writing or the images?

PK: When I’m doing my weekly Charlie Hebdo four panel comic I’m looking up headline news about the environment for inspiration. For something like "Spy vs Spy," I do a lot of staring into space and thinking about the way the characters look and start doodling. Since the strip is wordless, I’m running on the visual aspect first. My New Yorker cartoons also come from news headlines or daily interactions and conversations that strike a cord.

Q: You started in an era when comics were going from being viewed as juvenile to being for serious adults -- how did you make the transition?

PK: I feel like the world made the transition — I just continued to do what I was always doing and the audience came to that work. More and more adults realized the value of comics that those of us who loved the form knew all along. Places like Heavy Metal provided an early outlet and small publishers like Fantagraphics, then some of the hipper magazines ran one pagers and after a decade of low pay I started finding more and more opportunities. Patience is a virtue!

Q: What's it like building on a legacy versus developing your own characters?

PK: With Spy vs Spy I really didn’t have to do too much building, just continue to walk in the pointy footsteps of Antonio Prohias (the late Cuban-American cartoonist was the creator of the satirical comic strip Spy vs. Spy, which he illustrated for Mad Magazine from 1961 to 1987). His characters were in my DNA from years and years of reading Mad. With my own work I’m probably the most consistent character I’ve created through autobiographical comics which are changing all the time. I can only hope there’s an audience that is interested in following that particular nutty character and all his crazy choices.

Q: Would you like to move your work into other media, make a doc or do a series?

PK: I spent a year and a half developing my autobiographical comics into an animated series for HBO back in the late '90s. I worked on a documentary with a couple of Harvard professors doing some animation about the containment of nuclear waste. And I did art exhibitions like one I had at the New York Public library last year. There have been a number of other projects outside of comics. I am open to these possibilities, but I found myself focused on books. This is the place where I have the most control and best outcomes with finished projects.

Q: Where do you see yourself going?

PK: Home, after a long day at my studio. Eventually dying, but, hopefully, not before I finish my next book called "INterSECTS," which is a 250-page graphic novel about the history of insects and the people who have studied them. I've been working on that for nearly four years and it comes out in May 2025. Then I planned to have a number of exhibitions of work from that book, hopefully institutions like natural history museums.

Visionary Artist/Creator Paul Kirchner Celebrates The Weird and Psychedelic In His Work

To first make a mark professionally within the world of graphic novels and comic book art, I landed an editorial gig at Heavy Metal — the fantastic magazine built around a vast library of French and European graphic art stories. But it broadened itself beyond the foreign stuff by also drawing on art out of the National Lampoon camp and other hipster publications. One of those artists I got introduced to was Paul Kirchner who had created the Dope Rider for High Times and the strip “The Bus” for Heavy Metal. He penciled stories for DC's horror line and wrote and illustrated occasional short features for Marvel's Epic Illustrated. He illustrated the graphic novel “Murder By Remote Control.”

Starting out in comics during the 1970s as an assistant to the late, legendary innovator Wally Wood, the young Kirchner could not have had a better mentor. Wood was noted for his seminal work in EC Comics and then at Marvel. Though he developed his own unique body of work, eventually, the Connecticut native left comics to work in editorial illustration, advertising, and toy design, But, in recent years, he resumed his Dope Rider strip, a collection of which has been published as "A Fistful of Delirium.” He also has created a second volume of “The Bus” and a new series, 'Hieronymus & Bosch,' which has appeared at the Adult Swim website and in book form.

Born January 29, 1952, Kirchner has worked in everything from comic strips and toy design to advertising and editorial art. Growing up in New Haven, Connecticut., he attended Cooper Union School of Art but left in his third year, when, with the help of Larry Hama and Neal Adams, he began getting work in the comic book industry. At one point, he had left comics behind but, in 2002, Kirchner returned to freelance illustration, working primarily in advertising. Kirchner still lives in Connecticut with his wife, Sandy Rabinowitz, an illustrator specializing in equine art. Plus, they have three adult children.

On December 16th, Kirchner is a featured artist spotlighted at The Big Apple Comic Con’s Christmas Con at the New Yorker Hotel. For info go

Q: When and how did you decide the life of an artist was the right thing for you-- talk about any or all moments of revelation?

PK: The decision to pursue a career as an artist was gradual, solidifying after a series of validations made me feel that I might have what it takes. As a child I was praised for my artistic ability and since I loved praise—and still do—I stuck with it. In high school I was the class artist and did posters for dances and cartoons for the school newspaper. I was also a comic fan, a card-carrying member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, and hoped to work in comics some day. The parents of my girlfriend (now wife) Sandy Rabinowitz were artists and her mother was a graduate of the Cooper Union School of Art. In those days Cooper Union was tuition-free and acceptance was highly competitive. She encouraged me to apply there and when I got in it gave me additional confidence. While in art school I worked on my comics, and when I finished one that I thought was good enough to use as a sample I showed it to Neal Adams, who called Joe Orlando at DC and recommended it to me. Orlando gave me a script to pencil and that was when I decided, “I can do this.”

Q: Psychedelia has a big part to play in your work -- can you describe when this style came to when, how and why?

PK: I’ve never been able to get excited about the kind of art that sells in galleries—what people term “fine art.” I may admire the technique, but generally it doesn’t move me. I’ve always been more attracted to “people’s art,” the art you see on record album covers, concert posters, pinball machines, tattoos, graffiti, pulp book covers, and of course, comic books—art that packs a punch. I am particularly attracted to surrealistic art, which juxtaposes the images of dreams, visions, and hallucinations with the world of concrete reality. It adds a layer of meaning and visual interest to a scene that might otherwise be mundane. This is what I like to do in my Dope Rider comics and what I did in my graphic novel, Murder by Remote Control

Q: Your drawing style is clearly influenced by artists who had their roots in EC comics such as the late Wally Wood…

PK: I was certainly inspired by the work of EC artists like Jack Davis, Frank Frazetta, and Al Williamson, but the one who had the most influence on me would be Wally Wood, since I assisted him for several years. It was not only his approach to penciling and inking that I picked up, but his whole way of breaking down a story and laying out pages. For a time my work looked like an imitation of Wood’s, so much so that Fantagraphics, in its anthology of his erotic art, attributed to him some illustrations I had done for National Screw. Fortunately, I got them to correct that before publication. Outside of Wood, I took some storytelling influence from Steranko, particularly from his “At the Stroke of Midnight” story from Tower of Shadows #1. I was more attracted to European and underground comics than to the superhero fare of Marvel and DC, so other influences included Philippe Druillet and Rick Griffin.

Q: What comes first script then drawing or the opposite?

PK: I start out with just an outline of a story in my mind. The first thing I do is break down the story, laying it out into rough frames on a standard-sized sheet of paper (or papers if it’s going to run more than one page). During this process I get an idea of what can be communicated visually and where I will need captions or dialogue. By the time I am penciling the frames I have a rough idea of the dialogue and leave space for it. I only write the script when the art is completely done, as I keep rewriting it in my mind as I work. In indie comics it’s expected that artists hand-letter their pages, as it’s integral to the art, but I do the text and balloons on a separate layer in Photoshop because I continue to rewrite and edit until the moment I have to turn in the work. I understand that this is considered less authentic, but so be it.

Q: How do you split your creative efforts now between your various series and developing new series?

I have two ongoing projects, Dope Rider and “the bus.” I spend most of my time on Dope Rider, because it appears every month in High Times magazine and I have to meet a deadline. Also, they pay me for it, and the two most motivating things for a cartoonist are a deadline and a paycheck, and for an alternative cartoonist to actually get paid nowadays is almost unheard of. Dope Rider is only one page a month, which doesn’t seem like much, but I try to do something different and interesting each time and though I don’t always meet my highest expectations I put a lot of thought into it. The process of laying out the page, penciling the frames, inking them, then scanning them to add color and lettering in Photoshop takes a whole week. I don’t mean a week of 12-hour days like some cartoonists put in, but a week of normal work days. As far as "the bus," I have trouble buckling down to work on it due to the absence of 1) a deadline, and 2) a paycheck. That is, I won't see any money from new strips of “the bus”  after I have completed enough strips for a book and that book is published. Also, with Dope Rider, I have free rein to draw almost anything I want. With “the bus,” I have a constrained format and a lot of repetitive elements, so it feels more like work and less like fun. I have 40 pages of new bus strips and have inked only 14 so far. I need to complete at least 48 for a book. Another challenge is that I have to keep up the quality. I would rather just end the strip than do a book that I felt was not quite as good as the first two.

Q: Do you dream of seeing your concepts and creations become films or animation?

PK: Yes I do, whether or not it will ever actually happen. If you are a creative person, your creativity does not only apply to the work, it imagines ideas of how much success and reward the work might bring you. For example, if for some reason I was asked to be a guest on Joe Rogan’s show, he might ask, “Did you ever imagine this could happen?” To be honest, I would have to answer, “Yes, I’ve imagined it many times—what you ask me about, how I would answer, whether you would want me to smoke weed on the show with you, etc.” I dream of many fanciful things that are unlikely to happen, but I can’t help daydreaming. On the plus side, the dream helps motivate me to produce. BTW, I have been approached by guys in Hollywood to partner up with them to develop a Dope Rider movie. Then I check them out on IMDb and see they have no credits besides assistant producer on a short-running cable show or something like that. In other words, they are people who don’t have much of a foothold in the industry and are hoping to attach themselves to some intellectual property that they might sell, but they have nothing to contribute to it. These are not people whose phone calls are returned. That sounds arrogant of me, I know, but I have to be careful. My characters, my intellectual property, are all I have and I must try to avoid being exploited.

Q: How autobiographical is your work?

PK: I’m in the world of indie comics, where creators are often their own main characters, but I’ve avoided the autobiographical  approach. The characters I’m known for are Dope Rider and a commuter who rides the bus, but I’m not a chronic weed smoker and I rarely have occasion to use mass transit. Rather than focus on myself and my own opinions, experiences, and relationships, I do comics as a way to get out of myself, to escape from my day-to-day life and let my imagination roam. Of course, my work reflects some aspects of myself such my absurdist sense of humor and my interest in mysticism and alternate realities.

Q: What did your parents think of your work -- talk about their reaction or reactions?

PK: I had a good relationship with my parents but it had to be managed. They were fine people but rather straitlaced and judgmental and it was best not to tell them things about which you knew they would disapprove. In my 20s, I was mostly working for High Times, Screw, and Heavy Metal and I didn’t want to tell my parents that, mentioning only my work as an assistant to other artists like Ralph Reese and Wally Wood. Naturally, this caused them concern, as they wondered if I was doing much of anything at all. One time my father, who was a doctor, asked me how much this Wally Wood fellow made in a year. I guessed about $18,000. “My god, the orderlies at the hospital make that much!” responded my father. Okay, but it was not my ambition to be a hospital orderly. After the art director at Screw moved on to the New York Times, he gave me regular illustration assignments for that prestigious publication, which made my parents happy. In the 1980s I began applying my comics to more commercial work, such as doing comics for various toy lines, so I became completely respectable. Sandy’s parents, who were rather bohemian in their outlook, were enthusiastic about my comics all along, so my relationship with them was always closer and more open than my relationship with my own parents.

Singer/Performer Quinn Lemley Talks “Rita Hayworth - The Heat is On”

Who: Quinn Lemley
What: "Rita Hayworth - The Heat is On!"
When: November 20th, 2023
Where: Don’t Tell Mama
(343 W 46th St.)
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On November 20, 2023, the singer/style queen Quinn Lemley will present her last NYC performance of “The Heat Is On! - Rita Hayworth” at Don’t Tell Mama (343 W 46th St.), the long-established cabaret center in midtown Manhattan, before going on the road. Hayworth, known as “The Love Goddess,” is iconic for her indelible performance in “Gilda,” the film noir classic — performing the sexiest striptease on celluloid, “Put The Blame On Mame.” The hottest sex symbol of the 1940s, Hayworth’s pin-up on the Atomic Bomb gave her the international title of “The Atomic Star.” Courted by the world’s most powerful men -- Orson Welles, Prince Aly Khan, and Howard Hughes among others -- Hayworth was a legend until she had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease which led to her death.

Fire-haired performer Lemley brings the star to life in her sold-out shows. Having headlined various performing arts centers and casinos across North America, she received The Bistro Award and two MAC award nominations. Lemley’s jazz quintet performs internationally and she’s the iconic face of the Half Note in Athens, Greece.The New York Times defines her performances as "Dazzling... with one show-stopping number after another!" 

Besides this show, Lemley has directed and co-produced “Rebel Rebel, The Many Lives of David Bowie,” “Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Wall” and “The Ultimate Queen Celebration.” She;s had a presence on nation TV through appearances on Good Morning America, Oprah and as a finalist on Shark Tank, Lemley also has five CDs available and her music is on Spotify and Apple Music. She’s hosting the locally produced TV show, Secrets of the Stage on with a monthly virtual concert on Zoom -- “Up Close & Personal.” A graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, she's a Distinguished Toastmaster at Toastmasters International and a member of National Speakers Association as well as SAG, AFTRA, AEA, DTM, NSA NY, APAP, and IEBA.

This critically acclaimed concert about Hayworth's life — the star who built Columbia Pictures — is a humorous, heartfelt and heartbreaking look at The Golden Age of Hollywood, the MeToo movement and the price of fame — especially in light of Hayworth's tumultuous relationship with the head of Columbia, the infamous Harry Cohn. The show reflects the price of fame, celebrating a remarkable life with humor, wit and impeccable storytelling. It’s all woven together with tunes from The Great American Songbook and the Golden Age of Hollywood. 

Written and directed by Carter Inskeep (“Always Patsy Cline”), Lemley’s performance is either backed by a quartet or by an 11-piece big band. The show includes hits from such legendary composers and lyricists as Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and Jerome Kern. It includes “Bewitched,” “Zip,” and “The Lady is A Tramp” from such iconic films as “Gilda,” “Pal Joey,” “Cover Girl” and more. 

The following Q&A was conducted online in advance of the upcoming show.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a performer?

QL: I came out of the womb entertaining. I’ve always known that I wanted to perform. Singing and acting have always been my passion. Even as a young girl from Indiana I was always producing puppet shows, carnivals and musicals for our neighborhood. Luckily, my parents were incredibly supportive and made sure I took lessons and classes. I’m so grateful today! 

Q: Talk about the first time you performed. Can you describe the moment?

QL: My first show was when I was in fifth grade. I played a Far Out Foxy Lady from “A Foreign Land in Whitecloud and the Seven Dwarfs.” I guess I was bound to be a glamour gal from the get-go!

Q: Have you focused on cabaret because of the intimacy of the experience?

QL: I love cabaret. I love its intimacy. It’s taught me to connect to each and every person in the room. It provides an opportunity to try things out and to take a chance, to take risks. 

rita1Although it’s been a big part of my life, I haven’t focused on cabaret. My late husband -– producer, manager and best friend, Paul Horton -- expanded my shows by putting them with 9- to 12-piece big bands. That opened up the scope of our shows. For the past 15 years, I’ve been headlining casinos and performing arts centers like The Kravis Center, Naples Philharmonic, Thousand Oaks Civic Center and BB Kings in NYC. After Covid, Paul suggested I go back to the club where I started my career -- Don’t Tell Mama in NYC -- before going back on the road in theaters. We won the Bistro Award, a MAC Nomination, rave reviews and have enjoyed a 17-month residency. I’m grateful Paul booked these dates leading up to going back to theaters starting in North Carolina at the Tryon Center Nov. 4, The Pheasantry in London on Feb 16 & 17th, and a one-week run at The Cape May Playhouse in July. We have our last NYC date on Monday, Nov. 20 at Don’t Tell Mama. It’s given me a chance to heal and put myself into the performance on another level. 

Q: How do you choose the songs you do?

QL: First, it’s the lyrics. What am I trying to say? How do I want to say it? Where does it fit into the show? Secondly, it’s about melody and structure. How does the melody make me and the audience feel? How do I want it arranged to tell the story? Finally, does it fit me as an artist? I love all kinds of music. But like clothing, not everything fits with my voice and personality or belongs in the arc of the story that I’m telling. I have to try the songs out and see how they feel and sound in my voice. 

Q: How did you develop this show?

QL: “Rita Hayworth - The Heat Is On!” has had three stages of development. The first stage was when I got out of NYU. I was starring in a show off Broadway. A reviewer saw me and said, “You look like Rita Hayworth — you should meet Carter Inskeep and do the story of her life.” That was pre-internet, so we read every biography, watched her films on tape and went to the library. We also read every article we could find on microfiche. The question we kept asking was, “Who is Rita Hayworth -- the public persona?  But more importantly, who is Margarita Cansino? The girl who has hopes and dreams and just wants to be loved?” Just like me, like all of us. We had tremendous success, got rave reviews, were on Oprah, Geraldo, Good Morning America. I was in my mid 20s then. In my 30s, I met Paul Horton. He changed my life. He had us rewrite the show, using the songs from the Great American Songbook during the Golden Age of Hollywood to help tell the story instead of limiting it to songs from Rita’s films. He had it orchestrated for both a big band and a quartet. Now we can play intimate theaters as well as large ones like The Kravis Center, Naples Philharmonic and B.B. King’s. We toured throughout North America. During Covid, Carter rewrote the book to make the story about resilience, accepting our choices with topics like the “Me Too” movement, women’s empowerment and the price of fame. He had us return to Don't Tell Mama’s in NYC where we started the show after Covid, before going back on tour in theaters. Our residency was so successful that we got extended from four to 17 months, had rave reviews, won the Bistro Award and got a MAC Nomination.

Besides this one performance left in NYC on Monday, Nov. 20, I’m going to London in February at The Pheasantry. I am so grateful that Paul put this in motion. It's been a lifesaver since he unexpectedly passed in March. It was his vision to do this residency. The story is so rich, deep, funny and moving. I’ve been able to tap into Rita’s story on a deeper level than I ever could have when I was younger. I’ve been able to put myself into the role in a way I never dreamed was possible. And the audiences are responding. 

Q: Do you try to make your shows thematic, or sometimes just a simple revue?

QL: All of my shows are thematic. “THE HEAT IS ON Rita Hayworth” is about Rita and The Golden Age of Hollywood. “Burlesque to Broadway” is about the women who went from Burlesque to Broadway and Beyond. As a director and producer, I've done these shows: "The Ultimate Queen Celebration," "Rebel Rebel, The Many Lives of David Bowie" and "Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Wall." My TV Talk show on MNN, "Secrets of the Stage" is where I pull back the curtains and explore the creative process. My speaking keynote is about resilience through the lens of my relationship with my shows Rita and Burlesque to Broadway.

Q: You did have a burlesque moment. Did it feel liberating, powerful or what?

QL: I did a show called “Burlesque To Broadway”. It was so liberating. I was onstage with four beautiful and talented women who celebrated their talent, beauty and humor. It was powerful to claim and own my femininity and fun to tease. As the great poet Mel Brooks said, “When You Got It, Flaunt It”. Every woman should step into her power and “Be”! 

Q: Besides the songs you're already playing, what are your benchmark tunes?

QL: My heroine is Julia Child. I got to have lunch with her at her house in Cambridge with her husband Paul. Her spirit was incredible. She was a woman who took massive action and didn’t let anyone or anything stop her. Other icons of mine are Cher, Ann-Margret, Lady GaGa and Diana Ross. I’m putting a list of songs from '70s and '80s rock, so my benchmark songs are "The Show Must Go On," "You Take My Breath Away" and "Rock and Roll Suicide." I perform Queen and Bowie plus others to celebrate my late husband, Paul’s genius and talent. Plus, “Don’t Fret World” from his Rock Opera which was his anthem.

Q: Who would you like to perform with or what show would like to be in?

QL: My dream is to work with the French artist, arranger and producer Benjamin Biolay. And, of course, I’d love to work with David Foster.

Q: What goals do you have for this show and for yourself?

QL: We are going back on the road in theaters. I’m on a plane now headed to Tryon Arts Center in North Carolina. Going to London. I’m hoping to find producers and promoters who will help us tour and produce a run on the West End of London. I’d like to do a national tour. We’d also like to do a NetFlix special filming of the show for broadcast. Paul was my agent as well as producer, so I need to find an agent that can help me internationally. I am also looking to get my TV show, “Secrets of the Stage”, picked up by a major network with sponsorship. As a director and producer, I’m working on our tour of “The Ultimate Queen Celebration'' with Yvan Pedneault and MiG Ayessa, both endorsed by Queen. It’s the best Queen tribute band on the market. We will be at The Egg in Albany, May 11th, and are routing around that. The audiences are on their feet. It's a Queen party.Starting next month, I’m working on a new show with ’70s and ‘80s rock that’s a tribute to Paul and our incredible 20-year journey together through music. I’m grateful to have so many talented colleagues with me on my journey. 

For more info go to:

Dynamic Sci-Fi Director Gareth Edwards Envisions an Artificial Intelligence-infused World Decades From Now in His Latest Film — “The Creator”

John David Washington & Madeleine Yuna Voyles on the run in "The Creator"

Employing actors with global reputations and locations all over the world, master sci-fi film director Gareth James Edwards has now put out “The Creator.” The film considers the effects of the Artificial Intelligence revolution in technology some 40 years from now. It stands the “Terminator” premise on its head and drives a whole re-think on the supposed “menace” of AI.

As if it’s a metaphor for the Vietnam War as much as anything else, future America and its allies are in a conflict between the human race and the forces of artificial intelligence which have taken root in many South East and Far-East Asian countries. While AI-enhanced androids have merged with the general human population there, the USA has prohibited them and is committed to destroying Asia and its robotic allies.

Entering the mix is Joshua (John David Washington), a hardened ex-special forces agent grieving the disappearance of his wife Maya (Gemma Chan), one of the leaders of the Asian-AI community and resistance. After having been undercover among the AI community — where he met and wed Maya, Joshua had reluctantly been removed from the area. He had then been recruited to return and hunt down the Creator, the elusive advanced AI designer/programmer who has developed a mysterious weapon with the power to end the war and destroy Nomad, the American super weapon — a computer-enhanced airborne battle ship. Ironically, it depends on sophisticated computer technology to fight its anti-AI war. Joshua and his team of elite operatives venture into enemy territory, invading the heart of AI-occupied territory to find and destroy Nirmata — an AI in the form of a young child.

Born on June 1, 1975 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, the young Edwards admired movies such as the original 1977 classic “Star Wars” and went on to pursue a film career. The Welshman even cites George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as his biggest influences. He got his start in special visual effects, working on shows that aired on networks such as PBS, BBC and the Discovery Channel. In 2008, he entered the Sci-Fi-London 48-hour film challenge, where a movie had to be created from start-to-finish in just two days (which he won). Then he wrote and directed “Monsters”, his first full-length feature, which was shot in only three weeks. Edwards personally created the film’s special effects by using off-the-shelf equipment. Aside from its two main actors (real-life couple Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able), the crew consisted of just five people. The $500,000 thriller received a riotous reception and was released to great success.

The impact of “Monsters” resulted in Edwards becoming an alt-sci-fi movie-making star. With offers from major studios, Warner Bros. tapped him to direct an English-language reboot of the 1954 Japanese classic “Gojira.” His ”Godzilla” re-visioning garnered mixed reviews but did tremendous box office. Following its success, producer Kathleen Kennedy had Edwards helm ”Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” — a “Star Wars” spin-off — for Lucasfilm Limited. The film boasted a cast including Felicity Jones, Donnie Yen, Mad Mikkelsen and James Earl Jones among others.

Such an ensemble anchors this film as well. And while its story (co-written by Chris Weitz) doesn’t offer much of an innovative leap in a sci-fi narrative, it does have a spectacular view of an AI-infused future. The following Q&A is drawn from an appearance Gareth Edwards made shortly before the film’s release this week.

Q: This is your fourth feature — and your fourth science fiction production as well. What is it about this genre that you just keep coming back to it?

Gareth Edwards: Are there other genres…? I heard about this, films without robots in them and stuff. I think the best science fiction is a blend of genres. With my first film, I saw it as a love story meets science fiction. My second film, “Godzilla,” was like a disaster movie meets science fiction. “Star Wars” is probably a war movie meets science fiction.

Q: That’s a really good point because science fiction is at its best when it holds a mirror up to us. That definitely happens here. How did this come about? When and where did the inspiration hit you for “The Creator?”

creator posterGareth Edwards: It was 7:32 p.m. on a Tuesday. There were numerous things that happened. I guess the most obvious one was after we had just finished “Rogue One.” My girlfriend — her family lives in Iowa — and I drove across America to go visit. As we were driving through the Midwest, there’s all sorts of farmlands with tall grass. I was just looking out the window. I had my headphones on and wasn’t trying to think of an idea for a film, but I was getting a little bit inspired. I just saw this factory in the middle of the tall grass and I remember it having a Japanese logo on it and I was thinking, “I wonder what they are making there? Then I just started thinking —because that’s the way I am — my tendencies, it was like, “Probably robots, right? Then I was thinking, “Ok, imagine you were a robot built in a factory. Then for the first time, you step outside into the field and look around and see the sky. I was like, “I wonder what that would be like. It felt like a really good moment in a movie, but I didn’t know what that movie was and I threw it away. Suddenly he tapped me on the shoulder and went, “Oh, it could be this,” and these ideas started coming. By the time we pulled up to the house, I had the whole movie mapped out in my head, which never happens normally. I was like, “That’s a good sign. Maybe this might be my next thing.”

Q: It’s an original concept that you’re working with, how did you get New Regency on board as a producer?

Gareth Edwards: I need to shout out to New Regency as you probably noticed in cinema recently, there’s very few original films being made. That’s because everyone’s gotten very gun shy with the franchises and IPs getting regurgitated a bit. Hats off to Yuri and Michael from New Regency for having the balls to take a big swing and do something like this. Some of my closest friends are concept artists and that’s probably because I know I need them to make my next film, so I asked all my friends… “Could you do some artwork for this idea I’ve got, I’ll pay you” and I started building up a library of imagery. Basically, I had about 50 images when I went into it. I kept it very secret because I didn’t want to put any pressure on it. I just went to New Regency and laid out all the artwork and talked them through the idea beat by beat — which I hate doing. I hate being a car salesman. I just wanted to hit play on the movie. That’s my favorite thing to do. Trying to sell it and speak with a microphone, it’s not my fun thing. You look at all that imagery and it was incredibly ambitious. The natural reaction was, “This is a $300 million film. We’d love to do it, but we can’t really do it.” I was like, “We’re going to do it very differently. We’ll film it with this very small crew and essentially reverse engineer the whole movie.” In theory, what you normally do is have all this design work and you have to build sets in a studio against a green screen — and it’ll cost a fortune. We were like, “We will shoot the movie in real locations in real parts of the world that look closest to what these images are. Then afterwards, when the film’s fully edited, we’ll get the production designer, James Klein, and other concept artists to paint over those frames and put the sci-fi on top.” Everyone was like, “It sounds great.” But basically we had to really prove it to them.

Q: How many locations did you shoot?

Gareth Edwards: On some of the other films I’ve done, I’m so lucky when I get away from the studio and go to a proper location a handful of times. On this one, we went to like 80 locations. We didn’t really use any green screen. There was occasionally a little bit here and there, but very little. If you do the math, and keep the crew small enough, the theory was that the cost of building a set — which is typically 200 grand apparently — you can fly everyone anywhere in the world for that kind of money. It was like, “Let’s keep the crew small and let’s go to these amazing locations.” We went to Nepal, the Himalayas, to active volcanoes in Indonesia, temples in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Tokyo for mega city stuff. Then we did a bit in Pinewood [Studios in London] using their stage and screen — everyone knows it from “The Mandalorian” — but the kind of special non green screen led screen environment.

Q: Your antagonist in this feature is artificial intelligence — AI — but could your timing be any better?

Gareth Edwards: The trick with AI is to get time in that sweet spot window where it’s before the Robo-apocalypse and not after — which I think is in November or maybe December. I think we got really lucky. The joke is would be that when you write a film, especially a science fiction film, you avoid putting a date on it. I didn’t want to write a date for the movie because even Kubrick got it wrong. I was like, “Don’t write a date and then at some point, you have to. I did some math and picked 2070. Now I feel like an idiot because I should have gone for 2023. Everything that’s unfolded in the last few months or year is kind of scarily weird, especially when we’re showing it now. When we first pitched the movie to the studio, this idea of war with AI, everyone wanted to know the back story. Well, hang on. Why would we be at war with AI? It’s like, they’ve been banned because it kind of went wrong. But why would you ban AI? “It’s going to be great and blah, blah, blah.” It was all these sort of ideas that you have to set up, that maybe humanity would reject this thing and not be cool about it. The way it’s played out, like the set up of our movie, is pretty much as it’s been for the last few months.

Q: Set it up for us as the first scene begins?

Gareth Edwards: To understand what’s going on, I would say, essentially, something terrible happened in America and AI got banned — it’s completely banned in the West. But in Asia, there was no such problem so the world is divided in two camps. They carried on developing it until it was near human-like. So there’s this war going on over there — to wipe out AI [in Asia]. The person everybody’s after is called Nirmata — Public enemy #1 — which is basically a Nepalese word for the creator. From the Western perspective, this is the Osama bin Laden of our story. But from the Asian and AI perspective, this is like God.

Q: When it came to prep and research, consulting with scientists and technological advisors, were you able to really dive into that?

Gareth Edwards: That’s all I did for like, years. It was a bit like researching jet packs because I started writing this, I guess it was like in 2018, and it did feel back then like this was 30 years away. But when we were filming, we were in the middle of the jungle and driving to places when I got a text on my phone. There was that whole whistleblower account from one of the big tech companies thinking that AI had become self-aware. It really wasn’t on my radar back then in terms of being a reality, it was just something that [raised the question of] whether it’s a good or bad thing. In one way, humanity might get wiped out, but on the other hand, I get to make my dream film. So everyone wins.

Q: What were some of the tools, some of the new innovations, when it came to cutting-edge technology, that you were able to take advantage of that didn’t exist when “Rogue One” came out in 2016.

Gareth Edwards: Camera and film making technology has come a long way in the last few years. I needed the actors and me to have total freedom on set. Something we did on this film that was really important was that I wanted it to feel as realistic as possible. We would always be able to shoot in 360 degrees but the problem working against you when you try to do that in a film is [that] you have lights like we have here. The second you want to move the camera, you suddenly see the lights and you spend 20 minutes moving them. It takes forever to shoot a scene. The way we worked there was with really sensitive camera equipment in terms of how we could use the lights. They’re very lightweight. We’re all familiar with how lights have become. We thought we could set it up — you have a boom operator holding a pole with the microphone on. Why can’t you have a person holding a pole with a light on it? We had a best-boy type running around holding the light by hand. If the actor suddenly got up and did something — went over here and suddenly there was a better shot — I could move and suddenly the lighting could really be readjusted. What would normally take like 10 minutes to change was taking four seconds. We would do 25-minute takes where we’d play out the scene three or four times. It just gave everything this atmosphere, this sort of naturalism and realism that I really wanted to get where it wasn’t so prescribed. Like you’re not putting marks on the ground and saying stand there. It wasn’t that kind of movie.

Q: What about the casting process, particularly with leads John David Washington, Gemma Chan and Ken Watanabe.

Gareth Edwards: With John David, we were casting the film during the pandemic. It was really hard to meet anybody but fortunately he lived in L A and I just heard through his agent that he’d meet me any time I wanted to go for a meal. So I went to meet him and he walked in — it’s the pandemic. He’s got his mask on, a Star Wars mask, like with the Star Wars logo on it. I initially thought, “He’s doing this because of “Rogue One.” He sat down and admitted that he’s a massive Star Wars fan and he’s like, “I’ve been wearing this mask every single day for like a year or whatever. It’s been for the whole pandemic. I thought about not wearing it to this meeting, but then it felt false, so I thought it’d be like a good ice breaker.” We hit it off straight away. I’d worked with Ken [Watanabe] before — he’s the only actor I’ve worked with twice. I don’t know if that says something about me. I always want to do something new and so for the longest time, I didn’t think about Ken for this role. The second he turned up on set, I felt like such an idiot, obviously it was supposed to be Ken from the beginning. Every time we held the camera up and Ken’s in the shot, it felt like this strange hybrid — it’s meeting Star Wars or something, which was exactly what we were going for. He gave us goosebumps. There’s something about that guy. He’s just got this face that, I think, is the reason he’s so successful internationally; it’s not really about what he says.

Q: He can convey so much with just his looks; he’s so good. How did you find the right Alphie? What was that casting process?

Gareth Edwards: We basically did an open casting call around the world and I think we got hundreds of videos. Thankfully, I didn’t have to watch all of them. They sent me like the top 70 or something and then we met. I went to meet, I forget, about about 10 kids. The first one was Madeleine who plays Alfie. She came in, and did this scene. We were all nearly in tears at the end. I thought to myself “This is weird and phenomenal. Maybe the mum was just brilliant at prepping her to get really upset just before she came in. There was some little trick going on. So we chatted a bit and we did some other scenes and then right at the end — I was a bit cruel — I was like, “Could we just try one more thing?” I just wanted to see if it was repeatable. “Can we do another scene?” I explained a different scene and we just improvised it and she was even more heartbreaking. I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t found the right kid. We got really lucky. I’m glad I live in the universe where that happened because the movie lives or dies [with her]. I hate movies about little kids because they can be so annoying and that was my biggest fear — are we going to do one of these really annoying kid movies? It was the biggest relief because she’s beyond her years. She was really something.

Q: How was it working with John David Washington and vice versa?

Gareth Edwards: She’s quite “method.” I can tell she does “method” a lot because we only knew each other during the filmmaking process. But it’s like she kept everybody at arm’s reach. I was allowed in a little bit. But she and John David were inseparable. He became a brother or father figure. I’m not sure which. What’s amazing is that I thought I was going to have to trigger it. So when we deal with sex and all the scenes, I need this to be like a documentary so we can pull this performance out of this, this girl without kind of like her having to act and she could act her pants off, you know what I mean? She was amazing at it. it was a director’s dream, you could just tell her what Alfie was thinking and this amazing performance came out. I’d look at the other actors and[think] be why can’t you be like this — what’s your problem?

Q: Talk about filming those combat scenes and how did they differ from the ones in “Rogue One?”

crator2Gareth Edwards: Obviously we went to the Maldives and that wasn’t bad. We went to shoot real exterior locations. Everything in this movie is the closest thing we could do to be what the artwork suggested it should be. I glimpsed it a little bit when we were in Thailand. We needed to find a really technologically advanced factory. We looked everywhere. There were car manufacturing plants that were nervous about us filming but eventually we found a particle accelerator and it’s one of the most advanced, probably in the whole of Thailand. We were like, “Please, please, please, could you let us film.” It looked amazing. It had that whole circular thing going on. We went to visit and they were like, “There’s no way you’re going to be allowed to film here.” They asked what do you want to do? Why are there people with guns shooting and explosions? This is like a multi-multimillion dollar facility with all these leading cutting-edge scientists. Then, at the very last minute, someone was like, “What filmmaker is doing this?” They were like, “It’s this guy from the States or whatever. He lives over there, but he’s English. And they go, “What films has he done?” They went, “He did this Star Wars film called “Rogue One.” And then, they were like, “Can we be in it?” We were like, “Sure, whatever. Everybody was in those scenes, with everyone running around. They’re nuclear physicists — they really are — and they were amazing.

Q: You did a lot of location work. Isn’t that right?

Gareth Edwards: We went into real locations. We wanted it to feel like we were making a student film to some extent. But it got to the point where like that beach scene where Gemma’s running and there’s all that crossfire. It was the beginning of when the pandemic restrictions were lifted and Thailand was opening up to tourists. They’re like, “You can film on this beach but you can’t close it. so it’s like, “How are we going to do that scene where there’s tourists there. I don’t know what happens normally in Thailand at night on these beaches. But with the stuff that’s in the movie and the trailer, we didn’t close the beach. If you look carefully in the background, you can see cars and tourists, but one person came over and went,”What are you doing.” It was just the four of us with a camera running around so it didn’t look like this big massive movie. The goal hopefully was that it all ends up on the screen. We tried to be very efficient about it.

Q: So further along in the film, what do we see?

Gareth Edwards: Further on the journey, we have Joshua and now Alfie. The best way to say it is that Joshua has infiltrated the AI village and with the insurgents and guerrillas. Basically they’ve abducted the child. As this is happening, it seems that the Americans have also arrived. Essentially these rockets ascend into the air and they smoke out the whole village and then it all unfolds from there.

Q: What would you list as your cinematic influences for “The Creator?” What movies should we see as companion pieces to the creator?

Gareth Edwards: Since my first film, I put up posters in the edit suite of movies that had inspired the film I was doing. There’s some really obvious ones you’d probably predict. But there’s a film called “Baraka.” The cinematographer from that film went on and directed another film called “Samsara,” which is one of the greatest movies ever made. “Lone Wolf and Cub” is a Japanese manga series. There’s a whole bunch of films called “Sword of Vengeance.” The really obvious ones are “Apocalypse Now” and “Blade Runner.” In terms of this film’s dynamic, maybe there’s a little bit of “Rain Man” [in it]. It’s a journey of someone normal and someone who’s a little bit special. And there’s Paper Moon, with its sort of dynamics.

Q: What was your inspiration behind the robot designs? And talk about working with your costume designer for the entire film.

Gareth Edwards: A lot of the costumes were done by the WETA Workshop in New Zealand. Peter Jackson and ILM [Industrial Light and Magic] did all the visual effects — or a lot of them — plus some by the vendors around the world. We tried to summarize the design and aesthetic of the movie as a bit retro futuristic. Imagine if Apple Mac hadn’t won the tech war and Sony Walkman had. everything has this sort of ’90s/‘80s kind of Walkman/Nintendo thing. We looked at all the product designs from that era and riffed off little pieces and tried to put them into the robots. The tricky thing with designing robot heads was to pull from sources. We did a whole pass at one point where we took insect heads and then tried to make it as if that insect had been made by Sony — like the praying mantis — and changed it into product design. Then we took products and tried to turn them into organic looking heads. We took things like film projectors, vacuum cleaners — things like that — and then just messed around. I just kept experimenting; it was like evolution in real life, like DNA getting merged and trying to create something better than the previous thing.

Q: Being a big science fiction director, who are some of the directors and writers that you looked up to and get inspiration from.

Gareth Edwards: There’s the obvious people — Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Ridley Scott. It’s the high benchmark of essentially what we were trying to do. I’m not saying we got anywhere close to achieving it, but the goal of the movie was to try and go back to that style and type of film that we grew up loving, like the film was shot on 1970s anamorphic lenses and things like this. Actually, I hate writing. It’s like doing homework. The worst thing in the world is having to write a screenplay. The only way I can bring myself to do it is to lock myself in somewhere nice. I’m not allowed to leave until I’ve finished. I’ll stay there for like a month or something. I went to Thailand, to the exact place where the beach ended. I didn’t realize I was getting inspired for the movie. I just picked this nice resort and it was like a recurring theme like in the Maldives and now this beach resort in town. Whilst I was there, a filmmaker friend who was in Vietnam said, “Come over and we’ll just do a little trip.” I went there and you can’t just go around that country and not think of all the imagery from films like “Apocalypse Now.” Now I can, but I was writing this science fiction film. So everything I was looking at in my mind was like robots, spaceships and things. You’d see Buddhist monks going to temples and I’d picture a robot buddhist monk. I just spent the whole time going, “Oh my God, what is this movie?” This feels like there was something so appealing about it, this mix of “Blade Runner” meets “Apocalypse Now.”

Q: What was the biggest challenge filming this?

Gareth Edwards: I wouldn’t say it was a particular thing; it was more just the duration of it. We started filming in January 2022 and we finished in June. We were there for six months and it was like nonstop 40 degree heat, people were dying every day. it was a dream looking back at it, to get to do that. But there was a point where you wanted to collapse and you felt like, “He’s only done seven days of filming and there’s still all that is still left.: The first cut of this movie was five hours long and we had so much great, cool material but everything that’s in this film is all the best stuff. The editing process was basically like a game of Jenga where we would pull things out and see if we missed it or it fell apart. We had it packed by the end through the editors, but we finally got it down to two hours. It’s like the old adage “less is more” most of the time.

Q: What are the highest and best values of humanity that you hope this movie ultimately illustrates?

Gareth Edwards: I hope some sort of empathy for others [is there]. That’s a strong value which is very important. When this film began, I obviously didn’t know AI was going to do what it ended up doing this last year. AI was really in the fairy tale of this story. We want to get rid of people who are different from us. All kinds of fascinating things start to happen while you write that script. You start to think, “Are they real? How would you know and what if you didn’t like what they were doing? Can you turn them off? What if they didn’t want to be turned off?” This sort of stuff started to play out which became as strong as the premise and that’s what I’m most proud of.

Q: Two words for you: Hans Zimmer.

Gareth Edwards: Everyone’s iPhone tells you the last 25 most played tracks or something like that. I looked at [mine] out of curiosity and I think 14 were Hans Zimmer tracks. I was like, “I don’t know how we get composer Han Zimmer, but we have to try.” Joe Walker, editor of “Rogue One,” assembled the film. He had worked with Hans a lot and was like, “I’ll talk to him.” We ended up in this strange situation where I had to call Hans whilst in the middle of nowhere; we were going to meet the head of the military in Thailand to get permission to film the Black Hawks for one of those sequences. It was this massive deal meeting that took months and months to organize. It happened to be the same moment that Hans was available to do a Zoom. We had to pull off the road. It was like a hotel in the middle of nowhere and they had wifi. I go in there and get Hans and the worst thing in the world is that they said you’ve got to leave in 30 minutes. You can’t stay because the whole military is waiting for us over here. I was looking at this clock and Hans started telling his anecdotes about “The Dark Knight” and Terrence Malick. All my life I’ve wanted to talk to him about these films and I have to go,” I’m really sorry, Hans, I have to leave now.” It was so against every bone in my body to come away from that.

Q: Talk about working with Oscar-winning cinematographer Greig Fraser.

Gareth Edwards: I obviously worked with Greig on “Rogue One.” Greig had to make this work as well. We were totally on the same page and Greig’s very rebellious. and despite how it might look because he’s, you know, doing his big movies. But we’re both during that, like the build up to this film, I got to go around one of these virtual reality studios where they had this poster on the wall as to how you make a movie. it was every part of the process and I was just looking at it going, “What a strange thing to have. Why are they doing it? Why have they got this poster?” The guy who ran the thing came up to me and went, “Oh, I see you looking at the poster — that’s 100 years old.” When I looked at it, I realized the typography was like 100 years old. We haven’t changed how films are made in 100 years. We still do it the same way. With all these new digital tools and technology, there are other ways to make films. People like Greig and I really want to do things differently because that’s how you make a different type of movie. The process is as important as the screenplay to some extent.

Q: Let’s talk about the opportunity and power of science fiction to drive social commentary and reflection.

Gareth Edwards: I like science fiction because there’s a chance to sneak ideas under the radar. My favorite TV show growing up was “The Twilight Zone” which was in the ’50s and ’60s. Rod Serling, who wrote a lot of those shows, had said the reason he did science fiction was because he could get out from under the radar of the censors and say things you’re not normally allowed to say out loud. If you start to type and work out a film, and you go, “I want to make a film about this. It’s got to have this social commentary to it” — it will be a rubbish film. If you get attracted to an idea, there’s something primal about it that pulls you in. There’s something that needs to be said about this subject matter but about halfway through making or writing a film is when you start to realize what that thing is. It’s like a child who tells you what they want to be when they grow up. You learn what it is and then you try to help it along. Science fiction does it the best because we all go through our lives with certain beliefs and they never really get tested. You do everything you’re supposed to do but science fiction says, what if the world had this different thing about it. Would your little idea still work and you hit against the wall? The thing you used to think was true starts to be false. And you begin to question things. I love that kind of storytelling. I hope our film does a little bit of that.

[For fans of this film or any genre film, go to Big Apple Comic Con‘s Christmas Con, taking place in the New Yorker Hotel this December 16th, 2023, There are many opportunities to steep yourself in sci-fi and other graphic story collectibles. Get posters and other collateral available from “The Creator” and many others as your stocking stuffers.]

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