If you are a fan of the independent, small press titles on your comic shop’s stands, then you have probably heard of Zenescope Entertainment. From their flagship book Grimm Fairy Tales to their recent successful Kickstarter campaign, they have been grabbing a lot of people’s attention lately.
One of their latest hit tiles is The Jungle Book, a reinterpretation of the classic Rudyard Kipling tale. Writer Mark L. Miller turns the iconic story on its ear by transforming Mowglii into a girl and making an animal civil war the centerpiece of the series. Mark was kind enough to answer a few questions about the series, and where he drew his inspiration from in writing the book.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What kind of background do you have in comics?
I’ve been reading comics since… well, I learned to read on comics actually. They formed how I look at the world and how I reside in it. I’ve been writing about comics for about eleven years on an entertainment website called Ain’t It Cool News, writing under the pen name Ambush Bug for AICN Comics. There I learned the fine art of criticism (well, a couple of years in art school helped that as well), and I still organize our weekly posts. Now that I’ve started writing comics, I’ve taken a bit of a step back from reviewing and focus mainly on shedding light on independent comics, and providing editorial support for my team of reviewers, affectionately dubbed the @$$Holes.
My first comic was through a small press Milwaukee anthology called Muscles & Fights, where I did a ten page story. It was so much fun I did a couple more and finally, after reviewing comics for ten years, decided to toss my hat into the ring. I wrote three miniseries for Bluewater Comics which focused on Vincent Price’s classic film The Tingler, Roger Corman’s classic Deathsport, and an original vampire story called Nanny & Hank. Nanny & Hank has been optioned for film, and hopefully will get out of development hell and be in theaters soon. It was a story about an elderly couple who is attacked by a vampire and must cope with becoming children of the night in the twilight years. They also have to take care of their grandchildren who suspect them of being vampires.
How did you come to join Zenescope as a writer?
I met Raven Gregory a few years back at a convention and started talking with him. He had read my work on Nanny & Hank and loved the story, and said that when the opportunity arose, he would give me a chance to write something for Zenescope. Soon after, I wrote a ten page story in a Wonderland Annual. Doing this fun little story kept me on their radar, I guess.
What made you the perfect choice for a book like The Jungle Book?
Last year at SDCC, I approached Raven Gregory asking if there was any writing work at Zenescope. It was then that I pitched The Jungle Book mainly because of two things; it was a story I loved as a kid, and I hadn’t seen adapted in quite a long time. Raven flipped for the idea and told me to write up a pitch. Ralph Tedesco and Joe Brusha were looking for a strong series to start off the 2012 year and liked the idea, but I didn’t hear back from them much after that. I sat on the pitch for about two months, and then I saw Raven, Ralph, and Joe at NYCC and reminded them about the pitch. A month later, I get an email asking for a script for the first issue. It literally was one of those emails I thought was a hoax like those emails from some foreign country asking for financial help.
The third issue has just hit the stands. How has the reaction been?
So far reaction to the entire series has been positive. The first issue sold out and was the highest selling book Zenescope ever sold digitally. Initially, I think the decision to change the protagonist Mowgli to a female made people roll their eyes, but this was not done just as a publicity stunt. I put a lot of thought behind this decision and came to the conclusion that casting our Mowglii as a female allowed me to explore much deeper issues.
The female of almost every species in the wild is the one you don’t mess with. She’s the one who protects her young. She’s the one who is responsible for the survival of her species. Once I understood that, it was really easy to write Mowglii’s character. Hopefully, those brave souls who picked up the comics realize by now that it’s more than just adding boobs to a well known literary character.
Issue #3 was one of my favorite ones because it sheds light on another tribe of the jungle, the Apes of Bandar Log and their twisted Bandar Louis. Louis and the apes have moved into the crashed pirate ship the children wrecked into the island, and are taking advantage of all of the spoils in its hull including weapons, pirate clothing, and a special trunk full of treasure. It also introduces another character named Dewan, the Ape Boy who was raised by the Apes. The Apes are these agents of chaos in the jungle with no affiliation with any of the other tribes. One minute they could help you, the next they could attack. Dewan is the same way, and Mowglii doesn’t really know what to make of him.
The Jungle Book seems to be a story about family taking care of your own. Are these themes that resonate with you?
By day, I’m a registered therapist in a residential home for boys and girls. Every day I see kids taken away, reunited, and placed with families. Those themes kind of crept into the narrative of The Jungle Book as each of the four kids who crash onto the beach of the island where the animals live are adopted by families that are very much unlike themselves. Each of the four kids deal with these differences in different ways. Mowglii has been accepted and nurtured by the wolf tribe. Bomani was raised by the tigers, but lacks the grace of the Shere clan and is ridiculed and put down because of it. We see in issue three that Dewan has been driven pretty nuts hanging around with the apes of Bandar all of this time. In issue four, the fourth child, Akili arrives. She’s been raised by the smaller creatures of the jungle and they look up to her as a giant, which has allowed her to become this sort of superhero to these creatures.
All of these personalities are natural evolutions of what would happen if they were raised with certain values and culture. Its nature versus nurture here, but in this story, clearly nurture comes out on top as all of these kids have traits imbued upon them by their adoptive parents.
This new version of Mowglii is quite intense. Did you base her on anyone or any character?
A couple of influences went into Mowglii, the Wolf Girl. One was the title character from Lucky McKee’s The Woman. In that film, a feral girl is captured by a family who attempts to tame her. Pollyanna McIntosh does such an amazing job in that film as the Woman. She’s gritty and fierce and doesn’t care how she looks. She’s all animal survival instinct.
I’m also a fan of roller derby. It’s a fun sport to watch as these tough-as-nails girls bash into one another with reckless abandon. I know a few of them and they are completely normal girls who have respectable day jobs that just happen to throw on helmets and roller-skates and beat the snot out of each other. So there’s a little of that bombastic nature in Mowglii as well.
The art by Carlos Granda has been outstanding. What is your working relationship like?
Carlos is so fantastic. I’ve never met him in person, but I have talked numerous times working through key scenes of the book to get them just right. He wants what’s best for the comic and I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else on The Jungle Book. Sometimes I get pages from him and I’m just speechless. The way he draws the tigers is fantastic. And wait until you see how he draws Kaa the python in issue #4. I’m so lucky to be able to work with him.
Do you think we’ll see more Jungle Book once this series finishes?
I hope so. I definitely want to do more. I have a few more arcs planned out, but it’s up to sales. Right now the book is doing pretty decently, but it’s up to the fans of this book to talk with their friends and tell their stores to carry it and let everyone know about it if they want to see more. The first series feels almost like a travelogue as Mowglii is discovering what’s outside of the wolf territory, and exploring the dangers of the entire island. There’s a lot to introduce in this first series that I hope to expand on later.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
I am currently writing something else for Zenescope that I don’t think I can talk about yet. But it’s with an already established Zenescope character going in a completely new and different direction. I hope to be able to talk more about that soon but fans of the series are going to flip.
I also just completed my werewolf story with writer Martin Fisher for Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine called “Luna: Order of the Werewolf.” It’s about a group of werewolves who decide to abstain from killing and seclude themselves in the mountains of South America to lead a peaceful existence as monks in a monastery. Things are great until a group of mountain climbers happen upon the monastery and tempt the monks’ more animalistic side. The book is coming out as a 100 page graphic novel just in time for Halloween in October of this year. Find out more on its Facebook page.
Finally, I’m working with Black Mask Studios on a few projects including their upcoming Occupy Comics Anthology which gives voices and opinions about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’ve been friends with the founder, Matt Pizzolo for years and its great finally getting to work with him. You can find more info on that here, and on Facebook.
The Jungle Book #3 has just been released, and information about that and the rest of Zenescope’s titles can be found at https://www.zenescope.com/.