SLG's MY MONKEY'S NAME IS JENNIFER Returns in July

Jennifer is a monkey. Jennifer is the pet of an adorable little girl named Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn loves Jennifer. She puts her in pretty dresses, has tea parties with her, and gets involved in magical adventures involving pirates, evil scientists and ninja transvestites.

Jennifer is actually a male monkey. Jennifer hates Kaitlyn. All s/he can think about is how much s/he wants to violently dismember Kaitlyn. Unfortunately, Jennifer has been declawed, meaning all s/he can do is suffer in silence as we watch and laugh.

Welcome to the world of My Monkey’s Name is Jennifer. Unleashed by Slave Labor Graphics in the early 2000s, the book earned a loyal fan base before disappearing after six issues and a collection.

But now, creator Ken Knudtsen is back with an all-new 96-page graphic novel out this July that takes Jennifer and Kaitlyn on an epic new adventure ― not that Jennifer will be happy about this.

We were spoke with Knudsten about returning to his character, what readers can expect, other upcoming Jennifer stories, and how this series was inspired by The Flash. Seriously.

Newsarama: Ken, it’s been a while, so for readers who haven’t experienced the insanity yet, who is Jennifer the monkey, and what is her … or rather his, horrifying existence like?

Knudtsen: (laughs) Well, My Monkey’s Name is Jennifer is a very cute story about a little girl and her pet monkey. And the monkey is crazy, because it’s a male monkey, and the girl treats him like a little girl ― she puts him in a dress, they have tea parties with stuffed animals, and the girls parents bonk him on the head all the time. They’ve also had him neutered and declawed.

Nrama: So … Jennifer has had certain things done to make Jennifer a “Jennifer.” And s/he has a sort of interesting internal monologue.

Knudtsen: Yeah, I actually got the idea for that from…remember when Mark Waid was writing The Flash? Every issue would open with a big splash page of Wally West, and there was a thinking box, and that made it easier to understand that you were reading the story form his point of view.

Nrama: “My name is Wally West. I’m the Flash…the fastest man alive.” Everyone loved that.

Knudtsen: Exactly.

Nrama: Only in your case, it’s “Damn you, I’m a crazy monkey.”

Knudtsen: In case you hadn’t figured that out yet, yeah. (laughs)

Nrama: How did Jennifer and Kaitlyn meet, anyway?

Knudtsen: It’s kind of like Calvin and Hobbes. I don’t want to reveal the complete story, because I love hearing fans’ guesses at conventions. It’s kind of like the old Bugs Bunny cartoons ―  you just hit the floor running, and you have to go with it.

Nrama: And they live in kind of this magical-reality world, where all of the sudden you’re on a ship full of pirates, or a bunch of ninja transvestites from Connecticut burst in. Anything can happen, but the monkey is sort of the sanest…person in all this.

Knudtsen: Exactly! That’s my goal. I want a book where you can tell literally any kind of story.

Nrama: Now, the book came out, it was received well, but it’s been what, eight years since the last issue?

Knudtsen: Yeah, it snuck up on me how long it’s been. When it first came out, I did everything myself ― I wrote, drew, lettered it, everything. And when SLG told me it was going to get collected, I did a whole bunch of other stuff – this could be my only graphic novel ever!

And I burned out. There were a bunch of other writers I wanted to work with at Terminal Press, Chris Kirby and Jim Ma, and for the next couple of years I did some one-shots and things while waiting for new Jennifer stories.

But last year, I was shopping ideas around at the San Diego Comic-Con, and the idea that got the biggest response was for new Jennifer stories. And Dan Vado of SLG told me they weren’t doing single issues any more, so I jumped right into 96-page graphic novel.

Nrama: Is this going to be “Jennifer and Kaitlyn’s Greatest Adventures?”

Knudtsen: Yeah, it’s broken up into three stories.

Nrama: Will the guy with the skull be back, or the ninja transvestites … why am I obsessing about this?

Knudtsen: Oh, the pirates will be back. The lead pirate is actually modeled after my best friend. And you might see the skull guy in the background. We’re going to bring all the characters back as the series goes on.

Nrama: What happens in this story?

Knudtsen: Well, first off, I had a situation where everyone in my life got sick over the course of a month. So I thought to myself, “What would happen if Jennifer and Kaitlyn got sick?” So that brings back Dr. Tunick from the first volume. And then that leads into the story everyone’s been requesting, “What if Jennifer made it back to the jungle…?”

Nrama: I have a feeling that’s going to be a “You can’t go home again” situation for poor Jennifer.

Knudtsen: It does not go well.

Nrama: What else happens?

Knudtsen: I’m still finishing up ― I just finished penciling three pages earlier today, and we’re going to have these ready for San Diego. And then the next graphic novel, I think, is going to be about Jennifer and Kaitlyn going on a family vacation.

Nrama: … oh dear god.

Knudtsen: And the bony man will also be a part of that one.

Nrama: Any chance we’ll ever see Jennifer in space?

Knudtsen: Maybe! I was telling my friend, now that I’m drawing Jennifer again, I want to try and do a graphic novel once a year, so I’m going to be looking for some ideas.

Nrama: Well, anything where you add a psychotic monkey…

Knudtsen: I was thinking of Jennifer at one of those medieval places, where there’s a medieval area and a Western area, like Westworld. Oh, and in the next one, I should mention, the Pretty Dancing Alpacas will be back as well!

Nrama: What was your reaction to the initial response to the book? I remember I was talking with you at San Diego Comic-Con in 2002, and James Robinson came up to declare this was one of the only comics he was reading at the time.

Knudtsen: I’ll be honest, I was super nervous when I started showing this around. I mean, I was at San Diego, I had the first issue done, and I’m looking around, seeing I’m at a superhero convention and I got a comic with a cross-dressing monkey!

But that was when everyone was into monkeys, and they wanted to see it, and everyone was really excited about it. Peter David mentioned it in his “But I Digress” column ― I’ve been a huge fan of his for years, so it was great to see that.

Walt Simonson and Klaus Janson ― they were teachers of mine at art school, and they’re friends now, and they drew pieces for the book, which was just unbelievable. I mean, you see your artistic heroes drawing your character …

And yeah, James Robinson, which was great because Starman is probably my favorite superhero comic of all time. When I was showing my portfolio to Marvel and DC editors ― they would laugh, but they’d admit, “We don’t know what we would do with this, but keep producing stuff.” And that encouragement kept me going.

Nrama: It sounds like real life got in the way of your comics dreams for a few years.  What have you been up to outside of comics?

Knudtsen: Well, I still work retail, though I’m store manager now, and that takes a lot of time. I’ve put out some comics from the smaller companies, but I’ve run into some of the trouble you run into when you’re not doing everything yourself. You know, you’ll put these projects together, and then, for whatever reason, they fall apart.

So it’s been a struggle, and I understand that the stuff I have done hasn’t been widely seen. But to the people who have stuck around ― I really appreciate that. Thanks.

Nrama: You have any other non-Jennifer projects now, or is it mostly the monkey on your mind?

Knudtsen: I’ve been offered some other projects, but I gotta do Jennifer first! Once I’m done with this graphic novel, my friend Chris Kirby wants to do a noir-ish Western, but I’m definitely ready to jump into the next Jennifer tale.

Nrama: Any talk of doing Jennifer in movies or animation?

Knudtsen: That’d be pretty cool! I talked to Adult Swim a little bit, but that was back when Evan Dorkin had a thing going with them. You need a project to pitch to them, as they don’t have their own animation studios, so if there’s a small animation house out there … I’d love to do something in the TV Funhouse tradition, where it’s clearly a puppet or stuffed animal.

I’d love to see it as a movie or TV show, and I’d definitely love a Jennifer action figure…or maybe a crazed plush doll.

Nrama: How’s it feel to be back with Jennifer?

Knudtsen: It feels awesome! I tried to jump-start some other projects the last few years, and they just weren’t clicking. But now that I’m doing this, I’ve got a nice rhythm, I’ve got pages getting done, I’m having a blast. So I can’t wait to keep going on this stuff.

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