Try to imagine a comic which contained the following elements: a giant space eel, demons, alien symbiotes, and resurrection. If that’s not too far-fetched, how about a comic that includes a dead dog, dinosaurs, runaway parents, and reincarnation? The two previous graphic novels I’m referring to are, respectively, Eisner award-winner “Creature Tech” and the 2005 Eisner-nominated “Tommysaurus Rex.” Both books are the works of writer-artist Doug TenNapel, and both are being developed into movies at Hollywood studios.
As you can see, this creator has done well with graphic novels that tackle interesting topics and combine unusual aspects. That being the case, TenNapel should be primed for success with his latest release from Image Comics, “Earthboy Jacobus,” in stores today. In this story, a retired police chief hits a flying whale with his car, only to find a boy from a parallel universe named Jacobus inside the beast’s mouth. The chief then discovers that a society of insect monsters want to kill this boy due to a mysterious virus growing on his hand. After this, he becomes a father-figure to the boy and trains him how to survive the insect monsters by becoming a great American ass-kicker.
As far as origin stories go, that makes a guy who dresses up like a bat to scare crooks seem fairly mundane. CBR News contacted TenNapel to find out more about “Earthboy Jacobus” and his other projects.
To begin with, we asked him about the wilder elements of his books. TenNapel told CBR News, “They sound wild, but it’s only because they are taken out of the context of the book. I mean, if I told you the premise of Spider-Man it would sound like the weirdest piece of lit in the world. So I don’t just make an eclectic cacophony of story elements, they naturally flow from the core plot. Then when I have to pull elements out of a story to write a blurb, they sound really weird out of context. I like it that way. It’s funny.”
As you may have noticed in the descriptions of his books, TenNapel’s works often have themes regarding life, death, and the afterlife. This isn’t a coincidence. The creator explained, “I write about these topics because they are the only topics to really write about. Any story that isn’t about life, death or the afterlife is largely an escapist fantasy. I’m not here to distract, I’m here to engage. Science fiction is inherently philosophical, and I love playing within the genre, turning it on its head and mixing redneck culture into a medium that thinks it’s above conservative ideas.”
In addition to being a fun and challenging graphic novel, you will definitely get your money’s worth when you purchase “Earthboy Jacobus.” At 272 pages, this isn’t a book you breeze through on the bus ride to work. Considering the amount of work TenNapel puts into his comics, though, it seems only fair that we savor his words and pictures in proportion to the time he’s worked on them. The author says he started “dinking around” with this story back in 2000, although the final product is completely different.
In explaining his process, TenNapel said, “I always start with a script. I do a lot of rewriting because once it jumps from a verbal medium to a visual one, all kinds of pacing and presentation changes…I seriously started writing last April, and had the script finished about six months later. The artwork goes at a pace of one or two pages a day – four pages on Saturdays since I don’t have to go into Nickelodeon for my day job (as a producer, writer, and animator).”
TenNapel is someone who got into the comics game a little bit later than some of his contemporaries, and confesses to not reading many comics as a kid. He admits, “I think the only book I read as a kid was Micronauts. I followed it because I was an even bigger fan of the toys.”
For his list of comics which he currently reads, he mainly goes by the author. He said he loves Steve Purcell’s writing, reads “a little Jeff Smith, Evan Dorkin, Chris Ware, Sam Hiti, Eric Powell,” and will read “anything by Mignola.”
In discussing his inspiration for “Earthboy Jacobus,” TenNapel said, “It’s a sprawling trans-generational epic. I wrote it out of a love for the medium of comics! I’m actually a frustrated, constipated filmmaker who could never get 200 million to make the ‘Earthboy Jacobus’ movie, so I made the comic.”
For someone who considers himself as a frustrated filmmaker, TenNapel has done very well in media’s many forms. He has worked as an animator on video games like “Jurassic Park” for the Sega Genesis. He created the “Earthworm Jim” videogame and cartoon series, as well as “The Neverhood” for Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks. In addition, he also worked as a consulting producer on the ABC series “Push, Nevada” with Ben Affleck.
Currently, TenNapel is working on an animated cartoon series titled “Catscratch,” based on an early comic of his called “Gear.” The show is set to premiere on Nickelodeon on July 9th, and TenNapel can’t wait for people to catch a glimpse of it. He said, “I’m very proud of ‘Catscratch.’ It’s a very boy show – lots of big cars and cats insulting each other. The production values are the highest I’ve ever worked on, so it’s kind of a breakthrough in quality for me. I’m a huge fan of old Looney Tunes material, so this was my way of trying to crack modern production limitations to put some of the old heart and soul back into a dead cartoon format.”
|Script pages and rough pencils from “Earthboy Jacobus.”|
And if all of these activities aren’t enough, TenNapel is already at work on his next book. “I’m writing my next graphic novel which I hope to finish by the end of the year,” he explained. “I also hope to re-release the original ‘Gear’ graphic novel this year. If ‘Catscratch’ gets picked up for a second season, I’ll keep plenty busy.”
It seems like a great time to be a Doug TenNapel fan. More comics on the way, a cartoon premiere next month, and “Earthboy Jacobus” on your retailer’s shelves as of right now. TenNapel also mentioned one other exciting production he has in the works: he and his wife are expecting their third child at the end of July.
Hrmmm. You have to wonder what kind of bedtime stories he’ll be telling them?
[Editor’s Note: For more on “Earthboy Jacobus,” read Augie De Blieck Jr.’s review of the book.]