|"Monster Zoo" on sale in May|
There are certain places where you wouldnāt want to be trapped during a freak supernatural occurrence. A few that come to mind include graveyards, abandoned hospitals, or a lone cabin located deep in the woods. But how about a zoo?
This is the situation and setting for Doug TenNapelās (Earthworm Jim, Tommysaurus Rex) latest Image Comics graphic novel, Monster Zoo. An Ungabe idol found in Africa that houses a vengeful animal spirit is sent to the Los Angeles zoo to help boost attendance. As one might expect, things go wrong, and itās up to a gawky teen and his friends to save the day.
If it sounds as though the premise has all the makings of a great time at the Cineplex, youāre not far off. Filmmaker Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Evil Dead) has optioned the property for feature film development. In a way, this occurrence helps bring the book full circle as its inspiration was rooted in the silver screen.
āIām a huge fan of 1980s Amblin movies, so I set out to pay proper tribute to Gremlins, The Goonies, and Jurassic Park. Monster Zoo is what came out,ā writer-artist TenNapel told CBR News. "A lot of it has to do with the spirit of youth. The hero, Ty, just lost his father in the war on terror. He was a sharp-shooter in Afghanistan, and Ty wonders if heāll ever be as big of a hero. Itās as if he feels his fatherās ghost hanging over his shoulder. But Ty knows he doesnāt have what it takes to be a soldier. Heās gentle. He loves animals.
āThe core of the story is actually really personal. Itās about the heroism that youth is capable of. Now, the vehicle of the hero is that he is an animal-lover. Thereās also a bit of a tribute to our heroic troops."
Considering the types of films mentioned as the template for the graphic novel, Monster Zoo falls into some fun albeit frightening genres. āI just see it as adventure. It is child-friendly in that there isnāt going to be imagery that would scar or jade a kid. Itās supposed to still be scary for all ages, but I donāt have to go into Saw territory to do that if I do my job right.ā
|Page from "Monster Zoo"|
āBut it really is supposed to primarily be a āfunā story. It was sure fun to draw.ā
Indeed, one of the things that excited TenNapel most about working on Monster Zoo was simply āDrawing monsters! I was so hungry to make this book because as I drew these mutated zoo animals, I just loved the idea of them turning into these abominations.ā
So, how does one turn a cute little zoo critter into an abomination? From the artistās telling of it, it doesnāt sound as though he struggled with this task at all. āI have studied animals my whole life, and part of what I love about them is their amazing design,ā he said. āThey are the ultimate in form follows function -- what I call ānatural-lookingā things. So the Ungabe idol was like this pagan abomination that would assault the natural look of animals.
āThe Ungabe curse transforms the animals that betray their form to take on a new evil function. So the body will just split open and expose teeth, the tail becomes the head, and the head becomes the tail. I came up with them by just drawing the source animal first, and then thought of a way to really insult the beautiful form. The monster versions of the animals look scary and tragic all at once.ā
|In-progress page from "Monster Zoo"|
āMy style is a mystery even to me,ā he said. āItās such an amalgamation of my influences and itās not set in stone, so it floats from book to book. I like to keep things cartoony in general because, well, Iām a cartoonist! But itās not that Iām trying to tilt the book into the animation genre.
āI was working pretty rough on Black Cherry and I found it hard to tighten up on Flink [TenNapelās subsequent graphic novel]. I think I succeeded in reigning in my art a little more on [Monster Zoo], which is tighter than most of my books. It definitely takes longer to work this way, and thereās a time and place for tighter work. I think the horror of monster animals wouldnāt have as much impact if I made it looser and sloppier. I also find that because I canāt draw realism very well that I rely a lot more on reference.
āI went to the L.A. Zoo and took photo references of everything, including animals. So when I work from a realistic source, itās going to constrict my art more than if Iām just drawing some cartoony idiot like [Black Cherry lead] Eddie Paretti.ā
By virtue of his career in animation, Doug TenNapel is already working in Hollywood and dealing with studios. Nonetheless, it is still somewhat surprising how quickly the film rights to Monster Zoo were snapped up by Sam Raimi -- especially when one considers the book hasnāt even hit the shelves yet. According to TenNapel, this order of events is all part of his plans.āI sell the movie rights to all my books before they are printed. Once I get the editorās proofs back from the publisher, I usually send those pages out to a few producers in Hollywood. I usually know within a few hours if the book is something the studios want or not. The material is either something they want or itās not. If itās not, thereās nothing I can do to convince them that it would be perfect for them. I actually think some of my best work for a movie adaptation is still available, but itās just out at the wrong place at the wrong time.ā
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Fans of TenNapel have often noticed a theological/Christian theme to many of his works, and the author has never been shy about acknowledging those influences. But for readers looking for such content in Monster Zoo, the creator said, āit doesnāt exist.ā
Two of TenNapelās earlier graphic novels that were optioned for film development -- 2002ās Creature Tech and 2004ās Tommysaurus Rex -- feature Christian themes very prominently. Neither projects have yet made it past the development stage and into production. While such delay isnāt unusual in terms of Hollywood, it still raises the question: is the apparent difficulty in the projectsā movement due to their Christian content?
āThe religious themes did give Creature Tech a rough start,ā TenNapel confirmed, ābut weāve got a writer who can work around some of the themes that give the studios hesitation. Heās a great writer, and I completely trust him with the edits he makes on the religion in that story. Weāll just have to see.ā
He continued, āI think everyone has a point of view they want to put into a story, including the point of view that a religion other than their own is offensive,ā TenNapel said. āIt doesnāt really bother me in that itās human nature. Philosophically it doesnāt bother me, but as a businessman it really bothers me, because I think the broadest market really warms up to Americaās most popular religion.
|Also by Doug TenNapel: Black Cherry and Earthboy Jacobus|
Considering TenNapel is someone with Hollywood experience, the possibility always exists that he could be involved in the development of one of his properties. His services havenāt yet been requested for work on Raimiās Monster Zoo, but the creator doesnāt sound concerned -- he just wants to see his creations grow to become the best films they can. āOnce the book leaves my hands, I become a member of a team. That teamās job isnāt to obey my wishes and desires, itās to collectively entertain a broad studio audience. Iām available to help. Iāve done drafts of scripts, and Iāve also done nothing on movie adaptations. Iām here to serve.ā
As far as āteam membersā go, any production would be blessed to staff someone with TenNapelās famous work ethic and considerable experience. Heās overseen animated series, he has a pilot at Cartoon Network, heās constantly working on new pitches, and he remains fairly consistent with his annual graphic novel output, something that certainly cannot be said of all those who straddle Hollywood and comics. If youāre looking for his secret, itās three words: work, work and work. Well, that and a love for comics.
āI will always make comics,ā TenNapel said. āItās the perfect medium.ā
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