When the Section Zero Kickstarter campaign was first announced, one of the perks offered for fans was "The Gorilla Dossier," a batch of pinups featuring characters from Section Zero and drawn by all-star artists.
One of the artists, Mike Wieringo, was a particular treat: he passed away nearly a decade ago, and in the time since his death, almost no new artwork from the acclaimed artist has surfaced.
The relationship between Wieringo and Karl Kesel, who writes Section Zero, goes back decades: Kesel was the inker during the legendary run on Fantastic Four Wieringo drew with artist Mark Waid, and along with Section Zero artist Tom Grummett, Wieringo became the penciler with whose art Kesel's inks became most associated by many fans.
Wieringo never drew Section Zero characters in his lifetime, but the idea of using the unique chemistry of the Wieringo/Kesel collaboration to create something new spoke to Kesel -- who found a way to make it happen.
How? Well, here's the story in his own words:
When I work on comics, I always listen to the fan in me— is this story interesting to the fan in me? Does this plot twist surprise/delight/shock the fan in me? Does this cover image grab the fan in me?
I did the same thing with the SECTION ZERO Kickstarter.
Putting the campaign together I had a wish-list of things the fan in me would like to see— in the book and as special rewards. Top of that list: a reward reuniting the original Gorilla Comics artists, each drawing one or two of the SECTION ZERO characters. Since SECTION ZERO was originally part of Gorilla Comics back in 2000, I thought this would be a great and very special way to honor that history. And since Gorilla Comics were drawn by some of the top artists the industry has ever seen, I knew the art would be stop-in-your-tracks stunning. The fan in me saw it as a collection of full-color prints in a manila envelope— a GORILLA DOSSIER. All I had to do was get the artists on board.
Those artists— George Perez, Stuart Immonen and Barry Kitson— quickly and eagerly agreed to help. But there was one person missing: Mike Wieringo. Mike had drawn Tellos— a book closer to his heart than anything else he’d ever worked on. He was an amazing artist who constantly got better with each line he drew, as I well knew from working with him for a long stretch on Fantastic Four, as well as other projects. The only thing he was better at was being Mike Wieringo— one of the most giving, caring men I’ve ever met. I was lucky to have worked with him, and even luckier to have been his friend. And he was no longer with us.
Which meant that Mike couldn’t be part of the Dossier.
Or could he... ?
I started wondering if there was an existing drawing Mike had done that I could adapt into a SECTION ZERO character? But it was hard for me to think of anyone he could have drawn that could be reworked without substantially changing Mike’s art. And for this crazy idea to work I needed to retain as much of Mike’s original drawing as possible. It looked like a dead end...
...And then I thought of Krypto. See, in the second half of the SECTION ZERO story we introduce Liaka, the Russian canine cosmonaut, and reveal that she didn’t die orbiting the earth, but was rescued and miraculously gained super-powers! (And was now a member of SECTION ZERO.)
Knowing Mike’s love for animals, I thought there was an excellent chance he had drawn the super-dog— and a quick internet search showed he had, a number of times. There was one sketch in particular that was perfect, and I contacted the owner for permission to use it. I got rid of the cape, changed the ears, thinned the jaw a bit, put on the space-suit (complete with a Wally Wood-esque “collar”) and voila! Mike was again standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his Gorilla brothers.
It felt good to me. It felt right to me. But to make sure, I showed the piece to Todd Dezago— unquestionably Mike’s closest friend and collaborator. Todd liked it. Even more: he thought Mike would like it.
And that’s how ‘Ringo has a drawing in the SECTION ZERO GORILLA DOSSIER.
Originally released in 2000 as part of Image’s Gorilla Comics imprint alongside books by Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, George Perez and others, Section Zero is about a secret team of experts and explorers investigating the strange and unknown.
“It’s high-octane high-adventure,” said Kesel at launch. “In broad strokes— Jack Kirby does The X-Files.”
Only three issues were published, however, before it was shelved; Kesel describes it as a reluctant decision made for "personal reasons," but the Gorilla Comics imprint didn't last long, so even in a perfect world where Kesel and Grummett could have quickly come back to the project, it's possible there wouldn't have been a publishing infrastructure available to help them finish it.
“Our original tag-line was ‘There is no Section Zero’,” Kesel said. “It was wonderfully mysterious and enigmatic…but it was also kinda prophetic.”
Still, the creators have always wanted to revisit the world, and there has always been fan interest. Unpublished pages released online created a lot of buzz, and the questions continue to come up at conventions.
As Grummett puts it, “I’ve often been asked: when are you going to bring back Section Zero? My response would be: for something that special, the stars have to come into just the right alignment.”
After a number of detours and dead-ends, Kickstarter could be Kesel and Grummett’s best chance to finish what they began 17 years ago.
The project is about three-quarters of the way to being funded with a week left in the campaign. You can see more details at the campaign page here.