Kong Heads Back To The Future in "King of Skull Island"

Tue, May 1st, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

"Kong: King of Skull Island"

The legendary Merian C. Cooper reportedly once said of his eighth wonder of the world: "Kong was never intended to be anything but the best damned adventure film ever made, which it is; and that's all it is."

That is until award-wining creator Joe DeVito got his hands, complete with opposable thumbs, on the true King of the beasts.  

In 2004, DH Press -- a division of Dark Horse Comics -- released the critically acclaimed "Kong: King of Skull Island," a 160-page novel created and illustrated by DeVito and written by Brad Strickland with John Michlig that acts as both a sequel and a prequel to the original 1932 novel, "King Kong.'

Earlier this year at New York Comic Con, Markosia Enterprises hosted a live contract signing with DeVito that would bring his book and Kong concepts to the U.K.-based publisher in the form of a comic adaptation of the novel and a new ongoing series.

DeVito says the new Kong chronicles are expected to debut this fall -- just in time for the 75 th anniversary of the original "King Kong" novel.

"As I understand it, the storylines will flow from what I created in the 'Kong: King of Skull Island' book," DeVito told CBR News. "The series will begin with an adaptation of the book itself and expand on those plots and characters while expanding into new ones."

The native New Yorker will oversee the project with Chuck Satterlee writing and Dan O'Conner contributing the art.

"I will have major input on the writing and the art, as well as final approval of both of those dynamics all along the way," explained DeVito.

"I met Chuck and Dan for the first time at the New York Comic Con a couple of months back and we all hit it off very well. We're already working together very well and I look forward to seeing the final version. From time to time, however, some of my art may be used for the covers of special issues and the like," says DeVito, who has been illustrating covers for everything from Doc Savage novels to MAD magazines for nearly a quarter of a century.

DeVito's book and concept have been exclusively authorized by Cooper's estate, a journey in itself of Carl Denham-like proportions.

"I first thought up the idea for a prequel/sequel picture book to the original King Kong story in 1991. It took a couple of years for things to gel to the point where I felt comfortable enough to approach the Cooper family. This first happened through their lawyer, the late Charles FitzSimons. The short version is that they liked what I had put together in both words and pictures very much and we have worked closely together ever since," explained the modern renaissance man, who has also sculpted 14" high cold cast porcelain statues in the likeness of Kong inspired by Cooper's creation.

DeVito is excited to return to Skull Island as he developed an entire mythos for the legend while working on his original book and many of those stories were left untold.  

"I had an enormous amount of storyline that was unable to fit into the first book," explains DeVito. "I quite literally had to backtrack almost to the beginning of time to set up the dynamic of the Tagatu people who populated Skull Island. The Tagatu arrived there well over a thousand years before they fell into decline. Where they came from is a major story in itself.

"It is a remnant of their civilization that inhabits Skull Island at the time of Carl Denham's arrival," continued DeVito. "But Denham was not the first traveler to find Skull Island. A lot took place during those millennia. Drifters from unknown civilizations, Greeks, Romans, Orientals, pirates and many more all made landfall at one time or another. There is literally a limitless amount of material to mine."

DeVito admits he has rivaled Ann Darrow in terms of obsession over Kong for more than fifty years.

"That is an understatement! From the first time I saw it on TV somewhere around the age of four; I've been a certified Kong fanatic," said DeVito. "I've seen it over 500 times since."

In sizing up the big-screen adaptations of Kong over the years, DeVito has enjoyed them all -- including the one starring the Big Lebowski -- but none stand up to the grand daddy of them all.

"I realize that many grew up with the 1976 version, but for those of us who grew up with the original, well, there is no comparison. I think [Jeff] Bridges did a very admirable job, though, and in my opinion, the movie's problems were in no way due to him," explained DeVito.

"Peter Jackson's new version that came out in 2005 was much better than the 1976 movie. It contained some twists on the original story and Naomi Watts was quite good. Needless to say, it also had some amazing visual and action sequences. Of major importance, it reintroduced Kong in a positive way to the present generation.

"All things considered though, nothing touches Merian C. Cooper's original 'King Kong' from 1933. Its role as an archetype of the world's imaginative landscape is unrepeatable. It is a virtually perfect movie on several levels: storytelling, visuals, pacing, film score – you name the aspect. It's tough to really grasp how much the film must have beguiled the audiences of its time."

In terms of crossovers for the comic book, DeVito can't see the last Son of Krypton paying Skull Island a visit anytime soon or the King of Monsters for that matter, but the Lord of the Jungle could certainly come a calling. Or perhaps even the Man of Bronze?    

"That's an interesting question. I see Kong as depicted in the original storyline: a creature that is neither man nor ape, but something different; monstrous, all powerful, yet plausible -- creatures the size of Kong did exist. That last part would eliminate Supes and Godzilla out of hand. Although interaction with Tarzan could be interesting and an argument could certainly be made that they have the most synergy, it is a storyline with Doc Savage that I think would make the best crossover of the examples you gave," said DeVito.

"Another interesting crossover that I thought of often when I was a kid that could make an interesting story would be with Kong and the Cyclops from Ray Harryhausen's 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.'"

It should be noted, the special effects master Harryhausen wrote the introduction to DeVito's "Kong: King of Skull Island."

DeVito said his comic book will deliver big time action with big time adversaries for Kong, while introducing some Sumatra-sized twists and turns along the way.

"Most of the creatures and characters that I introduced into my storyline are not in the original storyline. For instance when Kong is young, there is something else that rules Skull Island, and it's not part of the Kong's family tree. The dinosaurs never died out on Skull Island. 65 million years of extra evolution have brought about a few interesting changes," explained DeVito.

"One regret I had with the book is that there simply was not enough room to get everything into it that I wanted. The story was originally meant to be a three book series. There are so many ideas and stories that were left uncovered. I am forming a paperback series with Brad Strickland that, along with this new comic book series, will fully expand on the prequel/sequel dynamic that the book introduced."

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