In December, Zenescope debuted teaser images for an adaptation of The Jungle Book, translating Rudyard Kipling's classic in their own distinct style — which included turning Mowgli from a scantily clad young boy into a scantily clad woman. With the five-issue miniseries now set for a March debut, Newsarama talked via email with Mark L. Miller — writer of Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: The Jungle Book and "Ambush Bug" of Ain't It Cool News' comics section — about the comic, his love for Meerkat Manor and his thoughts on why making Mowgli a female was about more than "putting boobs on the cover."
Newsarama: Mark, you've written a few different comics at this point, but Jungle Book certainly seems to have the most hype behind it — a full teaser campaign from Zenescope and all that. As someone who is known for talking to people who make comics, is that surreal to watch play out?
Mark L. Miller: Most definitely. I’ve been writing and editing the comics section at AICN Comics for about ten years now. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I actually thought I might toss my hat into the ring and take a crack at writing my own comics. The process of how The Jungle Book came to be is sort of a whirlwind at this point. Raven Gregory warned me of this when I pitched it to him last summer. He said that all of a sudden The Jungle Book would be ok-ed and I’d have to churn out a script ASAP. Luckily, I had a lot of time to stew over the story, so once word came down from on high that it’d be happening it was relatively easy to get down. Seeing the teasers and doing the interviews has been a great experience. I just can’t wait for folks to actually read the story. I really am very proud of it all.Nrama: You're working on the book with artist Carlos Granda. How are his visuals helping to shape your story thus far?
Miller: Well, it wasn’t until after the script for issue one was complete that I began seeing the pencils and inks come in. But Carlos is a fantastic artist. Everything is there that I wrote; every subtle nuance and slight expression. His animals are both realistic and able to convey the human qualities I’m anthropomorphizing into them such as speech and expression. His work is also extremely detailed, which is a type of art that I love. You’ll want to really scan and study some of his big panels just to get every little detail he’s put into them.Nrama: Animals — in fact, "The Great Animal Battle" — appear to play a big role in the story. Of course, it's a fantasy story, but did constructing this part of the story prompt any level of research on well, actual jungle animals?
Miller: A lot of Animal Planet and Discovery Channel shows have been watched. Actually, that’s not completely correct because I’ve always watched those shows. I’m constantly watching shows like Meerkat Manor and Planet Earth, so they are definitely influential in the making of this story. I was addicted to Meerkat Manor in particular a few years ago. Every day is a battle for survival.I’ve just amped that up to a dramatic degree with this Great Animal Battle. In this story, though, the animals remember these battles for survival. As in all wars, the Great Animal Battle starts small then ripples out. In the wild, animals forget all of that petty stuff and move on. Here they are more like humans in the sense that memories factor in greatly to the story. This series starts out with themes of revenge weighing heavy on numerous characters.
Nrama: Over at AICN, you talked about your fondness for the comic's source material — Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. What is it about the story that's resonated over the years for you?Miller: Like many folks, I first experienced The Jungle Book through the Disney movie. I listened to the record until it was completely worn out and scratched up. But as I grew older I discovered the Kipling stories and found them to fit into the comic book medium very nicely. Kipling’s story has a strong moralistic sense of right and wrong, much like a lot of comics these days. It also deals about the rules of the jungle, which factor heavily into my story. Deciding between right and wrong; learning to grow, survive, and make sure your family continues on in a world set against you — these are all universal themes that I first read about as a kid reading comics. Comics really shaped the person I am today for better of worse and Kipling’s themes fit very snugly into that comic book mentality.
Nrama: That said, clearly there are a number of changes from the original text in this comic book version — what went into deciding what to keep and what to alter? What would someone with a fondness for the source material recognize in your comic book? And given the apparent extent of the changes, why was it important to call this "Jungle Book" — and not just make it a series with a new name?Miller: Fans of the original stories will recognize a lot of characters used in this story. Baloo, Bagheera, Shere Khan, Kaa, Rikki Tikki Tavi, King Louie — they’re all there. Some are similar to the ways Kipling set them up to be. Others have been tweaked in order to tell the story I wanted to tell. The changes I made were all done so to translate a story that had a definite beginning, middle and end into an ongoing/serial style of storytelling. So in order to stretch out the original themes, changes had to be made. But die-hard fans of the original shouldn’t feel as if those old stories are erased. They’re still there. This is just Zenescope’s and my own interpretation of it.
Plus, who wants to reread a word for word copy of the original story? Just read the original story, if you want that. This is a new version that is heavily influenced by the original, but different in ways that make it a fresh and unpredictable read. Heavy elements of the original story still remain. The overall themes of a child growing up among strangers—discovering new challenges in this jungle as that child grows into an adult—that’s all still in there. Additional elements have been added to fit it into a comic book format and into the Zenescope Universe. Though we don’t directly cross over into the rest of the Zenescope Universe, it definitely fits into it and will most likely tie into it more in the future.Nrama: Obviously, one of the biggest changes is that the main character, Mowgli, is now a female. It's not hard for skeptical observers to see that and think that it was done on account of putting a scantily clad woman on the covers, which is not an uncommon sight for Zenescope's releases. How would you respond to that notion? And what were your reasons for making Mowgli female?
Miller: I understand that would be the gut reaction people would have at first glance. But I think it’s going to be obvious after reading the first issue that there was a little more thought into turning Mowgli the wolf boy into Mowglii the wolf girl than putting boobs on the cover. Above all else, I noticed that in nature, the female is the most ferocious and deadly of the species. They have their young to take care of and often times, it’s the female animal that is the one you have to look out for. I also recently saw a film by Lucky McKee called The Woman about a feral woman captured by a suburban family. The film had such an impact that I was really looking to tell a story about a female raised in the wild. It opens the doors for a lot of interesting conflict. The events that happen in the first two issues of The Jungle Book place Mowglii as responsible for the future of her wolf tribe on the island all of these animals reside on. Though she won’t be birthing any wolf cubs or anything like that, but she is going to be the one who protects her tribe and makes sure they survive this battle.But if you're really aching to read jungle boy adventure, there are two jungle boys in the story as well. Both Dewan, who was raised by the apes of the island, and Bomani, who was taught the rules of the jungle by the tigers, factor greatly into Mowglii’s story. With the wolves and tigers being set up as bitter enemies, there is especially going to be a lot of tension between Bomani and Mowglii as the story moves on. In the end, though, Mowglii is a hot jungle girl. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that and putting that on the cover. But as you read the story, you’ll realize she is far from cheesecake. Mowglii is a powerful, resourceful, and complex character who just happens to be easy on the eyes as well. Just don’t let her hear you saying that! Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!