|"Monster Zoo" on sale in May|
There are certain places where you wouldnât 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 TenNapelâs (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 itâs 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, youâre 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.
âIâm 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,â 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 heâll ever be as big of a hero. Itâs as if he feels his fatherâs ghost hanging over his shoulder. But Ty knows he doesnât have what it takes to be a soldier. Heâs gentle. He loves animals.
âThe core of the story is actually really personal. Itâs about the heroism that youth is capable of. Now, the vehicle of the hero is that he is an animal-lover. Thereâs 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. âI just see it as adventure. It is child-friendly in that there isnât going to be imagery that would scar or jade a kid. Itâs supposed to still be scary for all ages, but I donât have to go into Saw territory to do that if I do my job right.â
|Page from "Monster Zoo"|
âBut it really is supposed to primarily be a âfunâ story. It was sure fun to draw.â
Indeed, one of the things that excited TenNapel most about working on Monster Zoo was simply âDrawing 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.â
So, how does one turn a cute little zoo critter into an abomination? From the artistâs telling of it, it doesnât sound as though he struggled with this task at all. âI have studied animals my whole life, and part of what I love about them is their amazing design,â he said. âThey are the ultimate in form follows function -- what I call ânatural-lookingâ things. So the Ungabe idol was like this pagan abomination that would assault the natural look of animals.
âThe 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.â
|In-progress page from "Monster Zoo"|
âMy style is a mystery even to me,â he said. âItâs such an amalgamation of my influences and itâs not set in stone, so it floats from book to book. I like to keep things cartoony in general because, well, Iâm a cartoonist! But itâs not that Iâm trying to tilt the book into the animation genre.
âI was working pretty rough on Black Cherry and I found it hard to tighten up on Flink [TenNapelâs 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 thereâs a time and place for tighter work. I think the horror of monster animals wouldnât have as much impact if I made it looser and sloppier. I also find that because I canât draw realism very well that I rely a lot more on reference.
âI went to the L.A. Zoo and took photo references of everything, including animals. So when I work from a realistic source, itâs going to constrict my art more than if Iâm just drawing some cartoony idiot like [Black Cherry lead] Eddie Paretti.â
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 hasnât even hit the shelves yet. According to TenNapel, this order of events is all part of his plans.âI sell the movie rights to all my books before they are printed. Once I get the editorâs 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 itâs not. If itâs not, thereâs 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 itâs just out at the wrong place at the wrong time.â
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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, âit doesnât exist.â
Two of TenNapelâs earlier graphic novels that were optioned for film development -- 2002âs Creature Tech and 2004âs Tommysaurus Rex -- feature Christian themes very prominently. Neither projects have yet made it past the development stage and into production. While such delay isnât unusual in terms of Hollywood, it still raises the question: is the apparent difficulty in the projectsâ movement due to their Christian content?
âThe religious themes did give Creature Tech a rough start,â TenNapel confirmed, âbut weâve got a writer who can work around some of the themes that give the studios hesitation. Heâs a great writer, and I completely trust him with the edits he makes on the religion in that story. Weâll just have to see.â
He continued, âI 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,â TenNapel said. âIt doesnât really bother me in that itâs human nature. Philosophically it doesnât bother me, but as a businessman it really bothers me, because I think the broadest market really warms up to Americaâs 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 havenât yet been requested for work on Raimiâs Monster Zoo, but the creator doesnât sound concerned -- he just wants to see his creations grow to become the best films they can. âOnce the book leaves my hands, I become a member of a team. That teamâs job isnât to obey my wishes and desires, itâs to collectively entertain a broad studio audience. Iâm available to help. Iâve done drafts of scripts, and Iâve also done nothing on movie adaptations. Iâm here to serve.â
As far as âteam membersâ go, any production would be blessed to staff someone with TenNapelâs famous work ethic and considerable experience. Heâs overseen animated series, he has a pilot at Cartoon Network, heâs 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 youâre looking for his secret, itâs three words: work, work and work. Well, that and a love for comics.
âI will always make comics,â TenNapel said. âItâs the perfect medium.â
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