Sometimes, it takes a while for a project to really come together. This is the lesson writers Cullen Bunn and Shawn Lee discovered after Oni Press accepted their pitch for a monster-filled graphic novel nearly seven years ago. “‘The Tooth’ has been around for six, seven years,” Bunn told CBR News. “It’s been in development, we’ve just been trying to find the right artist for it.” The search finally ended when Bunn’s friend Matt Kindt signed on, fresh off of his critically acclaimed World War II espionage epic “Super Spy.”
“I had just finished ‘Super Spy’ and I was really burned out,” Kindt said. “I really just kind of wanted a break of some kind, but I didn’t want to just stop working all together. I think Cullen and I were driving back from a convention and he was talking about a bunch of ideas he has floating around, and they were all pretty hilarious, kind of nutty ideas. Well, ‘The Tooth’ was one of those. I think I was just really tired or something, but I thought it’d be super fun to draw that kind of book, so I volunteered.”
Described by Bunn as “a Swamp Thing-meets-‘Clash of the Titans’-meets all the awesome comics your mom threw away when you went to college kind of a book,” the May-shipping graphic novel revels in the adventures of the titular Tooth as he travels through mystical worlds, doing battle with monsters of all shapes and sizes, creatures Kindt delighted in bringing to life.
“The monsters were great,” Kindt told CBR. “Especially coming off of what I normally do, which is usually a little more reality based. It was fun to just come up with a bunch of crazy looking monsters, and the Tooth was just really fun to draw. He doesn’t really have eyes or a face, so I used some simple lines to convey his emotions, and the fights he had were crazy fun. I did realize that I hate drawing dragons. When I finished the book, I swore to Cullen that I wouldn’t draw another dragon. Dragons are hard.”
While the monsters definitely play their part in the story, the real star of the show will be the main character: The Tooth. You can practically hear the epic music swelling as Bunn describes his hero.
“The Tooth is like a force of nature that cannot be reasoned with or fully understood,” Bunn explained. “Looking for expression in his blank face is like staring into the abyss. The Tooth is nearly an expression of pure id. There is grain of humanity, buried deep. A wistful trace of memory, like the smell of gunpowder on an old battlefield. Also, he likes to beat up monsters and rip the arms off bad guys.”
Speaking of arms being ripped off, Kindt, who’s generally known as both writer and artist on his projects, enjoyed stepping into the sole role of artist for someone else’s script, though he did feel the book could have stood a little more violence. “Cullen and Shawn are good storytellers, so it was kind of nice to just wait for a script to show up,” Kindt said. “I have to give them a lot of credit — as an artist, I think I’m probably horrible to work with. I’m used to just writing what I feel like drawing and I thought a few more arms needed to be ripped off. They were really easy going about those kinds of changes!”
Bunn and Lee also encouraged Kindt to play up his penchant for adding layers of meaning, special effects and secret messages to his work. “There’s definitely a lot of extra stuff and a lot of Matt Kindt,” Bunn said. “We sat down and got the story going, then we got the script and pages and it’s like a whole new level where you start talking about what else we can add to it. So, yes, there’s a lot of extra stuff in it that I think people will get a real kick out of. There’s a lot going on and I think people will really like it.”
“The design of the book is where I really had the most fun,” Kindt added. “I’ve toyed with having books and pages look sort of old and weathered and what-not, but for this, I just got to go crazy on it. I’m really excited to see peoples’ reaction when they see the finished book in ‘real-life.’ I’ve never designed anything like this. It literally looks like a stack of old comics. There’s letters pages and covers inside, and if I could have made it smell like moldy pulp paper, I would have.”
But that’s not all — there’s also an interactive page whose secrets will only be revealed if you happen to find yourself in Kindt’s proximity and he signs your copy of the book. And if that’s not enough of a draw, expect the book to be packed with action as the Tooth goes up against everything from the dragons Kindt already mentioned to giant scorpions, ghosts and more. The monster kitchen sink approach came from the creators’ shared love of comics like “Werewolf By Night” and “Man-Thing” as well as Kindt’s longstanding love of Universal Monster movies — especially “The Creature From The Black Lagoon” — which his father would bring home from the library and show on a projector for family movie nights.
“I think it was just the basic ludicrousness of the idea,” Kindt said of what drew him to the project in the first place. “When Cullen was describing it to me I was just laughing and thinking about how that’d never work and it’d never get made. I think that’s what really made me want to do it — the idea of making concrete, something that should never have existed.”
“The Tooth” hits stores on May 25 from Oni Press