The Biggest Of Them All: Gossett on Adapting "King Kong" For Comics

Thu, November 17th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

"King Kong" #1, Page 27
Without a doubt the most anticipated film to come before year's end is Peter Jackson's "King Kong." The director of the "Lord of the Rings" series has remade the 1933 classic with Jack Black cast as the overly-ambitious Carl Denham and Naomi Watts cast as the beautiful actress Ann Darrow. It arrives in theaters December 14th.

For those of you whose "King Kong" jones won't be satisfied by just the movie, Dark Horse Comics has a solution for you. One week after the film hits theaters, Dark Horse will release the first issue of the three-part series "Kong: The 8th Wonder of the World" Movie Adaptation by writer Christian Gossett ("The Red Star") and artist Dustin Weaver. They've been tasked with the job of bringing Peter Jackson's vision to comics, which is no small feat indeed. CBR News spoke with Gossett about the series and how he came to be its writer.

"Having worked on the film last year, I was already very familiar with the production and what its goals were in the revitalization of 'King Kong' as they have re-imagined it," Gossett told CBR News. "As a result of having worked for Richard Taylor and the Kong design team, I was already cleared legally to view the script, which was being very closely protected by Jackson's company and Universal. Since I was a known quantity, this made things simpler to get started. Licensed properties of this magnitude are a high-wire act of coordination, and having these matters already settled before I wrote a single page was a significant enough advantage."

"King Kong" #1, Page 28
Gossett has taken on quite a challenge in writing this book. It's one thing to adapt a film to comics, but this isn't your typical movie script. The movie is written by the Academy Award winning team of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Add to that fact that "King Kong" is one of the most legendary stories ever told in Hollywood. Gossett's clearly got his work cut out for him. "All I'm doing is trying to stay out of the way of the filmmakers, honestly," admitted Gossett. "The challenge of an adaptation job is making sure that it accomplishes two key objectives. The first is to stay true to the feeling of the film even though cinema and comics mediums are very, very different. There are very significant differences in what a filmmaker can do to express story points and what a comic book writer has to do to accomplish the same narrative development. Until this job, I didn't believe that these contrasts were all that true, but Frank Miller (once again) has proven to be right. For many years he railed against the thought that movies and comics were almost identical in the way they tell stories. After having taken a major event like Peter Jackson's 'Kong' onto the comics page, I now know exactly what he was talking about. The second objective is bound to the first, in that alot of the time, the strongest way to tell a story in comics form means taking bold departures from the way the story is to be told on screen. Again, when I was researching film adaptations, I read an interview by Bill Sienkiewicz, who was passionately outspoken about the need for a comics adaptation to be allowed to work toward the strengths of the medium itself. [Dark Horse Editor] Randy Stradley and I worked very closely on this script, and I give him a hell of a lot of credit. Few people realize the unique challenges of adapting a major film license into comics form. He's a master at it, and has been doing so for almost all of Dark Horse's history, from 'Terminator' to 'Aliens' to 'Predator' to 'Star Wars' and on and on and on. Overall, I tried to preserve as much as possible the overall scale and core of the story from the perspective that I witnessed when I was in New Zealand."

The original "King Kong" clocked in at around 90 minutes long. This remake by Jackson is reportedly weighing in at a mammoth three hours long. So, is three 40 page comic books really enough space to capture the entire story? "A frame by frame retelling of the script in comics form isn't the best way to adapt it to comics for several reasons, artistically, commercially, etc," said Gossett. "A cool shot on screen has a different compositional anatomy than a cool shot on the comics page, and vice versa. There are key moments, key images, that can work when frozen in time, but character development and exposition are where the two mediums are really distinct. There are ways to play with the human eye on a comics page that a movie screen cannot accomplish, and (sorry for the repetition) vice versa. Ultimately, the artist will have final say about these kinds of visual translations, and as I'm a penciler myself, I was trying to stay out of his way as much as possible.

"It's an interesting job, adaptation, because your goal is to be an invisible servant of the source material while simultaneously making bold decisions as to how to translate one 'story language'-- (in this case the language of cinema) into the other-- (in this case the language of comics storytelling)," continued Gossett. "Again, before this gig, I thought it a much more straightforward process-- to the point where all of 'The Red Star' is written on screenwriting software-- but format aside, I kind of see cinema as conducting a symphony and comics as fronting a punk band. It's been a great experience to break both forms down."

"King Kong" #1, Page 29
Most readers are probably familiar with the basic story in "King Kong."

An overzealous film director, his leading lady, and a screenwriter head to a mysterious island to shoot their movie where they find out the legendary beat that reportedly inhabits the island does exist. Troubles emerged when the Island native capture the leading lady as a sacrifice to the monster, King Kong. The crew ventures into the jungle on the island to find Kong and capture him. At least, that's what we know thus far. The full script to Jackson's epic has been under close guard and even Gossett isn't allowed to reveal too much about the adaptation's story. "I apologize for not being able to reveal anything about the story, but I can say this: This production of 'King Kong' is being made with every bit as much passion, love, and attention to detail as was given to the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. A good amount of the people who made the 'Rings' films the legendary movie experience that they are also worked on 'Kong'; and their collective approach to storytelling, from the leaders of the project whose names and faces we know, all the way through to the front line heroes of the crew, dutifully applying spot make up in the middle of a freezing Wellington night, is unique in the world. Having had the pleasure to meet them and work with them, I can say without exaggeration that this film exhibits a level of cinematic craftsmanship that we have not seen since 'Return of the King.'"

Most readers probably think of Gossett first as an artist, for his amazing visuals on the creator owned series "The Red Star" or on last year's "Elektra: The Hand." With "Kong," Gossett occupies the writer's chair only, leaving the visuals up to series artist Dustin Weaver. "It's funny, actually-- being an artist that has drawn his own scripts for the last five years, my first drafts were skeletal as far as panel description. I knew the artist was going to be getting visual reference from Universal Consumer Products Division (the local holders of the Kong production imagery) so I kept referring to props, sets, characters and costumes in a very, very brief kind of shorthand style manner. Randy helped me recall that there is a difference between artistic liberty and not giving a penciler enough to work from. Like I said, I'm trying to be invisible here-- this project is not about me. I'm nothing but the happy messenger."

 
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