When Tim Daniel began creating his giant-monsters-destroying-all-things story “Enormous,” he didn’t realize just how big it would get. Although the one-shot was released a year ago by Image Comics, the dynamic writer is now picking it up again as an ongoing series launching in May of 2014 from 215Ink as an ongoing series, while director BenDavid Grabinski preps the pilot for a live-action web series by Machinima. Production recently wrapped on the pilot whose cast includes such talent as Ceren Lee, Erica Gimpel and Steve Brand.
At its core, “Enormous” isn’t just another post-apocalyptic destruction-porn tale. Yes, there are huge creatures hellbent on attacking humanity, but the heart of the story comes from the leading character, Ellen, who will risk just about everything to keep her loved ones safe.
Tim Daniel spoke with CBR News after a weekend on the set, sharing upcoming plans for the story he’s telling in the comics as well as his hopes for the series.
CBR News: Tim, we know that “Enormous” is coming back next year as an ongoing series. How did that come about?
Tim Daniel: Yep. Starting up the big adventure again in May of 2014 with 215Ink as the publisher. It goes back to when the one-shot was all said and done, it was pretty evident that we had this massive, sprawling epic that was shoehorned into a mere 64 pages. There was so much we could not do with that kind of limited space. In many ways, I think both Mehdi and I felt we’d let our readers down. What we wanted to do story-wise on, say, three pages, had to be done in one. Entire subplots were referenced in a mere single panel. It was arduous and admittedly, the read felt chopped, truncated and scattered all at the same time. Our apologies.
But there was an immediate interest in adapting the book for the screen, so it seemed natural to us both that if we got the chance, we should return to the story and tell it as it was conceived. We took it to 215Ink, revealing the full scope of the book and those wonderful folks were immediately on board, giving us a new lease on life and a rare second chance with our readers.
When you were creating the story, was it intended as the one-shot that was released, or did you have more story already planned?
It was never intended to be a one-shot. It was pitched as something much lengthier. The entirety of our tale was planned 3 years ago. However, when presenting “Enormous” to the original publisher, the thought was to go with a single oversized one-shot. I was very grateful to get the opportunity to be published and I readily agreed to the format. I don’t regret that for a moment, and I think it was inspired, but certainly both Mehdi and I relish the opportunity to open this story up without restriction.
With large monsters comes an obviously large amount of destruction. So often in films, the story is lost to the disaster-porn spectacle that ensues. How do you keep that balance in a print medium?
Give the characters a clear purpose and make sure there’s a story-based reason to include a monster in a given scene. This is the same principle that I think drives Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead.” There’s nothing cheap or exploitive about Robert’s zombie count. In fact, he’s quite frugal. We’ll be a shade more liberal with our monsters if only because our world is positively overrun with creatures of all kinds and well, since they’re naturally big, it’s going to be kind of hard to miss them.
Finding the balance between big action and destruction and story comes down to making character the premium. Regardless of genre, stories falter when spectacle takes center stage and characters fall by the wayside. We’ll give readers a bang for their buck every issue though, I can promise you that, because the world of “Enormous” is not just limited to giant monsters. What spawned them is also going to have a profound effect on the humans.
How do you stay focused on the characters driving the story versus the fallout from the creatures?
I’ve plotted a clear through-line for Ellen. We know exactly where she’s going. I’ve done the same for the supporting cast on an arc-by-arc basis. We know who’s coming, going, when and how. Like following a good recipe, and because we have, we can then decide how much extra-salty monstrous action to sprinkle over the top of our character’s tale.
In the past several years, we’ve seen some awesome huge monsters in pop culture — “Pacific Rim,” Gareth Edward’s “Monsters,” “Cloverfield”– what do you think is compelling about these kind of stories? What made you want to tell one?
Since “Enormous” was actually created in the spring of 2010 on an airplane with my daughter, Elle, our story pre-dated any known knowledge of “Pacific Rim.” But those other movies you named were definitely the impetus for “Enormous”; even more so, “The Mist,” “The Host,” “Trollhunter,” and other titles from yesteryear, like “Godzilla,” “Them,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” all played a huge part in the formation of “Enormous.” Nearly every page of the one-shot contains a visual homage to those films listed above and more.
So, at the time, I looked around at comics and could not figure out why there wasn’t one book aside from maybe “Godzilla” that featured giant monsters. I’ve said this before in a previous interview, comics don’t need a $125 million budget to pull off spectacle. What is needed is an artist like Mehdi who is capable rendering a big budget action-adventure in 22 pages. As a fan myself of giant monsters, I desperately wanted more novels and comics to fill that niche, so of course we conceived “Enormous” purely for selfish reasons!
The main character, Ellen, has some really important relationships revealed in the first issue, including with her girlfriend, Megan. It’s not often that we see a lead LGBTQ character, especially in an action comic. What influenced that decision?
Maybe having had several wonderful role models in my life that are lesbian factored, but never was that a conscious decision. When I sat down to outline the issue, there was Megan, Ellen’s partner. That’s how it seems to work in life — people just are who they are and Ellen happens to be in a relationship with a woman at the outset of our story. That threw Mehdi for a nice loop when he read the new script. He asked if she was, in fact, a lesbian. My answer to that is, let’s find out. She’ll let us know if it’s important.
Let’s talk about the “Enormous” webseries adaptation — how did that happen? What was it like when you were approached?
This was right as the book was set for release and I was getting bombed on reviews. The sales were decent for a $10, over-sized Treasury Edition, which admittedly is a bit of a novelty. I was kind of shell-shocked with the entire experience to be honest. Nonetheless, I went to SDCC 2012 to sell the book when it debuted. I was approached at the Image booth, where I was working, by producer Adrian Askarieh. While eyeing several books on the table, he kept shooting glances at “Enormous.” He asked for a bit of background on the book and when I let him know that I had written it, he seemed genuinely surprised. I was not doing any kind of hard sell, just tending the booth, selling books, but after I finally convinced him that I wrote it, we exchanged information. About three weeks later, he gave me a call and detailed his plan for seeing “Enormous” through to production. The entire thing remains dreamlike and a year and half later here we are having wrapped production on the pilot.
Adrian and I were talking on set with Executive Producer Joshua Wexler and our discussion turned to Comic-Con. One of the points that Adrian raised, very astutely, is the growing impression that comics are being marginalized in San Diego, that things like the “Enormous” adaptation no longer happen there. His point is very valid, comics count in San Diego, they still very much have a place there and things like this are indeed very possible because there are folks like Adrian and Josh actively seeking out material for development.
How involved are you in the adaptation?
Both Mehdi and I have had a fair amount of input leading up to production, mainly in review of materials. We supplied concepts, designs and mock-ups as well as three issues of the new series to the pre-production team. We’ve enjoyed a bit of voting power, in terms of offering our choice of an actor for a role. The casting of Ceren Lee as Ellen for instance, was very important to us.
We could not be more pleased with Adrian and Josh’s decisions, especially in finding the talent to realize “Enormous” for the screen. One such decision was selecting writer/director BenDavid Grabinski to helm the production.
His impact on the overall quality of the project extends beyond his unique vision for the material and through to the production team. He’s well respected and connected throughout the entertainment industry, and that much was clearly evident by the abundant talent he amassed on the “Enormous” set. His involvement attracted a cast and crew that elevated the production in every way. From the fresh faces of Ceren Lee and Charles Melton to the emerging names like Billy Miller, Garret Coffey and Dallas Liu, BenDavid also attracted the proven talents of Erica Gimple and Steven Brand. Even seemingly minor roles were filled by Joe Sawnberg, Nathan Moore and Todd Farmer — and each are writers, directors and producers in their own right with scores of credits to their respective names.
I gained a lot of respect for BenDavid in those three days and could tell how personal this project has become to him. I mean, he only had to chase me off set twice the entire weekend and even let me work with the second unit, so I think we got along really well.
Did you always feel like “Enormous” had film potential, or was it solidly a comic the entire time you were working on it?
Nope. No aspirations in that regard to be honest. We set out to make something so big and crazy that it could only be presented in a comic book. In truth, when you’re busy making a book, especially for the first time, your head is down. You don’t even want to lift it to acknowledge a deadline. To think those thoughts, to have those fantasies, you can’t allow for it while you’re laboring your ass off. Without a book there’s nothing to be dreaming about any way. Our goal for the one-shot was simple — to finish it. Later, after the book was done, we allowed ourselves some fun of mocking up an action figure or two — so okay, we’re guilty of selling out in our dreams. But look, this all began as a dream, and that dream became a career goal for us, so I’m not ashamed of that at all.
What do you hope stays faithful from your comic?
I know this answer now after being on set — Ellen. She’s the heart and soul of this tale, equal parts loving and nurturing but also reckless and fearless to a fault. Actress Ceren (pronounced Jaren) Lee embodies those qualities perfectly. Both Mehdi and I were thrilled by her casting and she thoroughly surpassed our expectations with her blend of beauty, vulnerability and physicality. Viewers are going to discover a new action hero extending the iconic lineage of Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor.
Other than that, the adaptation is far more faithful than I expected it to be and at the same time has taken on a life of its own. Knowing what I do about the script, cast, creature designs and even the soundtrack, it’s already smarter in terms of wit and faster in terms of action than the original one-shot. I’m so excited for people to see it, because BenDavid is such a student of film, with a deep appreciation for both the history of cinema and contemporary motion pictures. If you get the chance to view his short “Cost of Living” you’ll see how refined and meticulous he is in his presentation, there’s a very evident and rich nostalgia on the screen that makes his work feel like it’s from another time yet is vividly contemporary all at the same time. The perfect match for a giant monster tale in my opinion!
“Enormous” #1 debuts from 215Ink in May 2014.