Before there was Argo, the Ben Affleck–directed, Academy Award–nominated film, there was “Argo,” the fake film project that became the cover story under which CIA operative Tony Mendez removed six Americans from their hiding place at the Canadian Ambassador’s residence in Iran. But before there could be that fake film project, there was a real film project.
In a conversation with BuzzFeed, journalist Joshua Bearman, who wrote the Wired article that became the basis of the Affleck film, explained the real film project that started the ball rolling: “Argo was the name Tony [Mendez] gave to a script that was in turnaround and sitting in a pile at [makeup artist John] Chambers’ house. That script was called Lord of Light and had been adapted from a successful Roger Zelazny science-fantasy novel of the same name. A small-time self-starting dreamer who called himself a ‘producer’ — isn’t that how it always starts? — named Barry Geller had optioned Zelazny’s book himself and raised money to get the project started. He hired Jack Kirby to do concept art and Chambers to make the alien masks. But the whole project fell apart when Geller staged a press conference in Aurora, Colorado, where he announced his intention to film Lord of Light there, and then use the sets to create a theme park, called Science Fiction Land.”
While the Lord of Light project failed, its remains lived on. The script, of course, was used to save six people. But what of those drawings by Jack Kirby and designed with Barry Gellar, perhaps the most celebrated comic book artist of the 1970s? Well, for years now, they have been sitting in thumbnail size on a website dedicated to artifacts from the Lord of Light project. With the permission of that site, we are proud to share 10 of those amazing drawings here below while pondering the glories that might have been Lord of Light and Science Fiction Land.
The Lord of Light project is, however, the subject of a documentary which can be seen on the film’s Kickstarter page.
Addendum: Barry Geller, the producer who originated the Lord of Light project has provided the following response to the above description of the project byJoshua Bearman: “The truth is often stranger than fiction, and in this case I appreciate the ability to set the record straight. I was building a huge Disneyland-type ThemePark with some of the top scientists and artists, so the Kirby Drawings where both architectual as well as for film production. By Mendez’s own account to the CIA, a month of meetings between he and John Chambers, everything they’d come up with was turned down by the State Department. Then, at the end of December 1979, when I was indicted (later completely cleared) John Chambers had the idea that the Lord of Light drawings and script would be the perfect solution. This proved to be correrct. This is also corroborated by Teny Mendez himself in two filmed interviews, Errol Morris/Bravo TVl and in the documentary filmed by Judd Ehrlich.”