This March, Zenescope introduces another adaptation of a classic story to its “Grimm Fairy Tales” library. “The Jungle Book,” adapted from the Rudyard Kipling story of the same name, follows Mowglii, the girl raised by wolves, as she finds herself in the middle of an animal civil war where all the tribes of the jungle rise up against each other. Shere Khan the tiger, Kaa the python, King Louis, Baloo, Bagheera — even Rikki Tikki Tavi — make an appearance in the five-issue miniseries written by Mark L. Miller with interiors by Carlos Granda.
Miller spoke with CBR News about the origins of his take on “The Jungle Book,” making changes to Kipling’s original tale, the challenge of writing a female Mowglii and a possible connection to other stories in Zenescope’s “Grimm Fairy Tales” universe.
CBR News: Mark, “The Jungle Book” is the latest in a line of “Grimm Fairy Tales” adaptations Zenescope has been offering over the last several years. How did you end up working on this adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic book and what do you find to be the most challenging aspect of the project?
Mark L. Miller: I was talking with Raven Gregory last summer around Comic-Con International in San Diego and pitched him “The Jungle Book.” It’s a story that’s always been near and dear to me since I was a kid and one that hasn’t been touched by anyone in quite a while, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Raven loved the pitch and where I was taking the characters, so it was given the fast track. I’ve always loved jungle adventure stories and “The Jungle Book” is one of the all time classics.
The most challenging aspect is trying not to disappoint fans of the original stories. I love the original Kipling tales and want to convey that spirit in new, exciting and unpredictable ways. I never wanted to do a direct translation of the story, but I think fans of the original might want to give this version a shot. I’m putting well-loved characters in new situations. I don’t want to erase the original stuff. It’ll still always be there; this is just the story through a different lens.
What elements does your series draw from the original “Jungle Book” story?
All of the main characters are here. Shere Khan leads the tiger tribe. Kaa is a python with little ties to anyone but himself. King Louis is the leader of the ape tribe. Baloo, Bagheera, Rikki Tikki Tavi — all of Kipling’s characters are here. They’re just a part of a bigger story than the original. I’d say the roles the characters play in the story are very close to the ones in the books, but the story itself has been expanded to an epic scope rather than the tale of one jungle boy.
Speaking of Mowglii as the “jungle boy,” you adaptation takes quite a few liberties with the original source material with — most notably — a female Mowglii. Tell us a bit about the protagonist and her similarities to the original.
I knew there would be those who do not like the idea of changing Mowgli the wolf boy into Mowglii the wolf girl, but I did so for a reason. First, I’ve always been interested in the concept of feral children. I recently saw a movie by Lucky McKee called “The Woman,” which is about a feral woman being taken in by a suburban family almost like a pet. This is just a fascinating concept to me — having someone raised outside of our own society by a set of creatures other than human. I felt that changing the main character into a young woman would be a way to make this a new version of “The Jungle Book.” Then, after thinking about it, I realized that for most species in nature, the female is the one you don’t screw with. She has to defend her young. A lot of times, she’s bigger than the male and most of the time she has the bulk of the responsibility of her tribe. I felt that a young girl learning about that responsibility would be a fascinating story to tell. Mowglii finds herself in a position of protecting the future of the wolf tribe. She isn’t able to have wolf cubs, but she finds out that she has these abilities her tribe doesn’t have and uses them to try to survive the coming war.
So Mowglii is like Kipling’s jungle child in the fact that she was raised by wolves and is very hard-headed. Changing the character to a female only opens the doors for a more complex story in my opinion.
What’s going on in the animal civil war mentioned in the press release? What are the origins of that conflict and how does Mowglii get drawn in?
The origins of the conflict aren’t really revealed right away. As the series starts, it’s well under way and most of the animals of the island of Kipling are taking part in it in one way or another. The arrival of Mowglii and the three other children sort of hits pause on the war. The animals come to an uneasy truce and agree to keep to their sections of the island. For a while, the truce works as these children grow into young men and women. The problem is, each child has been raised with different values. Bomani is raised by the tigers, who think they are the rightful heirs of the jungle and will do anything to seize that power. Then there’s the chaotic monkey tribe that raises Dewan who are completely whacked out and, in their own little world, they are the leaders. Akili represents the smaller creatures of the forest, as she was brought up as this giant among the meerkat tribe. Finally, Mowglii is raised by the wolves, who are by far the most noble and respectful of the jungle. As old rivalries come to the surface, these four children, who have been raised oblivious of one another, discover that the island is bigger than they ever knew and that the battle to end all battles is very close to igniting.
Who are Mowglii’s supporting cast and how do they differ from their analogues in Kipling’s tale?
I don’t want to give too much away, but there are subtle to not-so-subtle changes to a lot of the supporting cast. Plus, there are characters such as Raa the vulture and Won Tolla the wolf that never appeared in anything but the original books that are being incorporated into the story. Most people know the Mowglii story, and maybe the Rikki Tikki Tavi story about the mongoose and the cobra, but Kipling’s “Jungle Book” stories had a huge cast. I’m trying to incorporate them all as the story serves. This first series is a good way to familiarize readers with the island of Kipling. We get to see it all through Mowglii’s eyes as she ventures outside of the safe territory she grew up in.
Zenescope’s “Grimm Fairy Tales” franchise takes a darker look at many traditional fairy tales and stories. Does “The Jungle Book” continue that trend?
There are a few dark themes going on in this book. The war aspect of it is brutal, and there’s a lot more graphic violence than I’ve ever seen in animal stories in the past. On top of that, we’ve got some twisted stuff going on with the monkeys that I don’t want to reveal, but they are kind of like the Jokers of the jungle. They are these agents of chaos and cause a lot of trouble for Mowglii. There’s always a dark tone to my writing, so it lends itself to Zenescope’s style of storytelling.
Take us through your creative process with series artist Carlos Granda — how much collaboration do you guys have?
I love every page I see. Seeing what Granda does with my words is jaw-dropping. His work is so detailed and intricate. His animal designs are realistic, but still lend themselves to be anthromorphized. I find myself not believing some of the stuff I see on the page. At this point, I just sit back and trust him to do a fantastic job of translating this story. So far, it’s been fantastic.
How will “The Jungle Book” connect, if at all, to other “Grimm Fairy Tales” stories?
Right now, it doesn’t. I really want to establish the island and all of the characters first, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a crossover some day. There are little Easter eggs here and there in the first miniseries that could lead to a connection with the rest of the Zenescope line of fairy-tales-turned-comics. But this would happen later rather than sooner.
Zenescope’s “The Jungle Book” debuts in March.