MORIARTY Says Doug TenNapel's CREATURE TECH Is Magic!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Holy crap. Where did this COME from?!
I was contacted a little while ago by Douglas TenNapel. I’ll be honest... I didn’t know the name at first. He introduced himself as the creator of EARTHWORM JIM, though, and that was at least something I recognized. I remember back in 1993, when I was dating a girl who was working for Universal’s marketing department, and they had just signed up the EARTHWORM JIM property and they were all “very excited” about it. I think I heard that phrase about 5,637 times in regards to the property. I remember seeing a game, a cartoon, some other merchandising, but I never really read it or watched it or played it. Same way with THE NEVERHOOD, SKULL MONKEYS, and BOOMBOTS, three fairly surreal games from DreamWorks Interactive, all utilizing claymation. I knew of them, but never really picked them up.
One look at his website reveals a guy who works a lot, a hypercreative artist whose work is, I think, quite beautiful. His illustrations and, especially, his paintings are emotive and hyperstylized and for me evoke thoughts of classic illustrators and cartoonists.
The reason he got in touch with me was because he just finished a new graphic novel that Top Shelf is publishing. He wanted to send it to me. Sounded interesting enough, especially from his description of it. He said it was something he’d originally optioned to Columbia Pictures, but after two years, the rights reverted to him, and he decided that he was going to have to draw the project as a comic instead of getting it produced as a film. People just didn’t get it.
And there’s no doubt. It’s weird. It’s incredibly, absolutely, no shit weird. It’s also very funny, profoundly sweet and heartfelt, touching in a strange way, and serious about concepts like faith and family without being in any way preachy or corny. It’s a tightrope act of possible tonal clashes, but it somehow manages to move with consistent grace and ease. I’d even go so far as to say that this particlar book is one of those knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark personal masterpieces. I don’t use this word lightly, and I don’t often write reviews for comics because I’m not moved to. There’s just too much on my plate. But CREATURE TECH provoked me. It dared me. It was so compulsively readable, so beautiful on page after page after page, that I read it three times in a day. All 208 pages of it. And I’ve read it a number of times since.
Simply put, CREATURE TECH is the best American animated film since THE IRON GIANT. Yes, better than TOY STORY 2. Better than SHREK. Better than anything from any studio. I know... it’s a graphic novel... but when you read this thing, there’s no doubt what it is. It’s a movie that just happens to be in print. It’s the complete storyboard, every frame, of something that would blow people’s minds. It’s incredibly entertaining, first and foremost. No matter how strange it gets, no matter how daring a moment TenNapel goes for, the thing always entertains. Every panel is worth looking at. Every character is worth spending time with.
The book begins with images of eels. Giant eels. In outer space. Sounds bizarre, and it is, but it’s also quite lovely. Beautiful, even.
It’s 1854, and in Moccasin Creek, California, twisted scientist Dr. Jameson is working with Hellcat, a demonic entity that he conjured up, trading one of his hands for the ability to do so. I have immediate affection for any villian who proclaims, “My peers claimed that the giant space eel did not exist! They said I was crazy! Now that I have spent my fortune on a laboratory in the wilderness, swapped hands with a demon, and called a giant space eel to Earth, PERHAPS they won’t think I am so crazy after all!!!”
That’s my kind of guy.
His plan is to call a space eel close enough to Earth to be able to prove their existence to the rest of the scientific community. Thanks to the fumbling of Hellcat, though, the space eel slams into Moccasin Creek, killing Jameson and Hellcat and literally burying the eel from the force of the impact.
From there, we flash forward to meet Dr. Michael Ong. We learn how he wanted to follow his father into a religious calling. At 14, he took his first semester of Greek at a local seminary. At 15, though, he reversed completely. He learned that his father was a scientist first, before he became a pastor, and Ong’s sense of youthful rebellion kicks in. He leaves the spiritual life behind. He leaves Turlock, California at 16, already out of high school. At 19, he wins a Nobel Prize. He moves to LA, a celebrity of sorts. His brilliance attracts the attention of the US government, though, and finds himself seduced into doing the last thing he wants to: going back to Turlock.
Seems that Turlock is where Research Technical Institute is located, a low-profile high-secrecy facility that is responsible for cataloguing all of the unexplained things the government has come across and stored up. Many locals get hired to help maintain the place, but ultimately, it’s Ong who has to run the place that gets nicknamed “Creature Tech.”
Dr. Ong isn’t trusted by most of the locals. And that’s fine by him. He doesn’t like or trust them, either. He resents being back in the town, and the longer he stays, the more it weighs on him. He’s gotten so jaded that he doesn’t even see real wonders when they appear before him anymore, as we see in a hysterical early sequence at a local man’s MUSEUM OF THE WEIRD & PAWN SHOP, where a real alien mummy gets laughed off by Ong as a fake. Ong’s distracted by the man’s granddaughter, Katie, a whisper of a girl with an amblyopic eye and an atrophied hand who, despite that, fascinates him. He’s drawn to her.
Ong’s contract specifies that he has to work his way through each and every crate stored at Creature Tech before he’s allowed to close up shop and relocate. That’s 763 items he’s got to examine and classify, many of which are terrifically dangerous and insane. He’s working on them in waves, and upon opening a crate that contains the Shroud of Turin, he sets off a series of events that changes his entire life. The ghost of Dr. Jameson steals the shroud and releases a Slugbeast that sports a parasite it wears almost like an armored breastplate. In the surprisingly horrific action scene that follows, the Slugbeast ends up dead, and Dr. Ong ends up with the parasite attached to him, having replaced his heart. It can’t be removed without killing him, and Ong has to resign himself to the idea of life with his new passenger attached, and he also has to retrieve the Shroud with the help of his new security chief, a Mantid named Blue, genetically engineered from a chunk of amberlith.
Really... it’s not confusing when you’re reading it. TenNapel believes in this world completely, the way W.D. Richter and Earl Mac Rauch completely believed in the world of Buckaroo Banzai. In cases like this, any sort of wild flight of fancy seems appropriate and normal, and the book’s inner logic is so consistent, so tonally correct, that you just accept it and go along for the ride. I did, anyway, and I can’t imagine resisting the charms of this book.
The way the action sequences are designed, they’re all kinetic and inventive, with Ong gradually realizing that the parasite, his symbiote, is actually making him into something more than he used to be, something better. It learns and is able to retrain his body, taking over certain functions completely. It can fight, it can flee, it can climb and swing and a dozen other things. This comes in quite handy as we learn that Jameson’s got the ability to turn any cat into a demon with a simple incantation. The first battle is nearly disastrous for Ong, and it’s only the quick actions of the symbiote that save him.
I’m impressed by TenNapel’s ability to invoke various emotions with grace and ease, shifting gear dramatically but never jarring the reader. He can write a sweet, strange love story that intercuts perfectly with a tale about a father and son and the tensions between them as well as the story of a freaked-out killer grasshopper’s unlikely discovery of his place in the world, and he can punctuate all of this with hilariously surreal moments like the eye-popping short, sweet life of the Meatman on pages 89 and 90.
Take the fine line he walks with his depiction of the Shroud Of Turin. He uses it as an artifact of power, the magical device that powers many of the story’s more outlandish moments. Turns out the blood on the shroud raises the dead. One of the most striking images is when Jameson falls hundreds of feet from the sky, wrapped in the Shroud, knowing he’ll die when he hits, and knowing he’ll get up and walk away afterwards. But TenNapel also brings in some smart and heartfelt debate about the value of something like the Shroud on a spiritual level. Dr. Ong is sure his father will be thrilled to learn that the Shroud is real, since this scientifically proves that his faith is right. Instead, his father is almost disappointed. He calls it a short cut and says that faith has no value when it’s given something concrete, something that “proves” God’s existence. Being able to write both sides of the idea so well is what marks TenNapel as a voice worth listening to. This isn’t just fun; it’s got something to say, something real and lasting and moral. Like THE IRON GIANT, this is a book that makes sure the action all counts for something. There are some amazing sequences as Jameson unleashes an army of demons on Turlock and Ong tries to stop them, but it’s a quiet panel on page 143, a single still image, that packs the hardest punch, as we come face to face with the depth of our feelings for these characters, as oddball as they are. And the absolutely barkingly funny pages that immediately follow elevate the material even further, as we get a glimpse at just how rich and free TenNapel’s imagination really is. And then we double back and around page 163, TenNapel takes us somewhere I would have never anticipated and does something of such incredible courage that I would recommend the book for the unusual grace of that leap alone.
The ending accelerates with all the controlled chaos of the best work of Zemeckis & Gale, and there’s a series of reunions (one of which brought real tears to my eyes, one of which is creepy and unpleasant) that close things out. TenNapel gives his “villains” motivations that we can’t help but understand, and the way he finally brings things to a close is aching, emotional. We close on an image just like the one we began with, a giant eel in space again, and now it means something totally different. Now it counts. Now it’s so beautiful you almost have to look away.
Half of me hopes to see this movie someday soon.
Half of me knows that no movie will ever be as rich and daring as TenNapel’s book.
All of me urges you to seek this out, immediately, and enjoy it for what it is: an original, emotional powerhouse that should speak to anyone who approaches it with an open mind, and an announcement that TenNapel is someone to watch closely from this point forward.
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Aug. 12, 2002, 10:40 a.m. CST
Damn you Moriarty, now I
Aug. 12, 2002, 10:50 a.m. CST
Now it's time to play the waiting game: "Oh my God... Someone wrote "first" in a first post. They're obviously an immature loser. Blah blah blah. Bitch bitch bitch. My penis is small." Well, I got news for you Holier than thou's with your needles up your asses, and your small penises... It's not freaking "Isntitsophisticatednews." Stop acting like your not in your robe living off pizza delivery leftovers. Viva la revolution!
Aug. 12, 2002, 11:02 a.m. CST
by Tons of Fun
I've ben a fan ever since I first played EWJ. I have a copy of a 'Scud: Tales from the vending Machine' comic that is one of the highlights of my collection. I must have this book. Thanks M!
Aug. 12, 2002, 11:03 a.m. CST
Aug. 12, 2002, 11:04 a.m. CST
by KID AB
Terry Gilliam. Say no more.
Aug. 12, 2002, 12:13 p.m. CST
No. "Spirited away" is.
Aug. 12, 2002, 12:29 p.m. CST
I can't say the pages impress me much, but I'll keep an eye out for it.
Aug. 12, 2002, 12:34 p.m. CST
Aug. 12, 2002, 12:53 p.m. CST
Sam and Max!! The greatest computer game ever made!
Aug. 12, 2002, 2:11 p.m. CST
Iron Giant is good, but you know, Miyazaki is GOD
Aug. 12, 2002, 2:38 p.m. CST
"Whatcha doin' with that face fuzz, broth..., er sister."
Aug. 12, 2002, 3:04 p.m. CST
Invader Zim was great, but where's Johnny and Squee?
Aug. 12, 2002, 3:24 p.m. CST
very nice you guys get happy over a comic you really like .. and maybe it is just your presentation that sucks .. but NOTHing got me into it ... and i LOVE animated movies ... I am still waiting to see that "legend of the sacred stone" that harry was loobying so much for nyways
Aug. 12, 2002, 3:39 p.m. CST
Commercial: www.he-man.org/news_images/heman_commercial3.rm Clip with dialog: www.he-man.org/news_images/MOTUPrev.rm
Aug. 12, 2002, 3:41 p.m. CST
Aug. 12, 2002, 3:59 p.m. CST
Yeah, but The Iron Giant sucked.
Aug. 12, 2002, 4:08 p.m. CST
The Iron Giant is hardly worthy of being called the best animated film of the 90's. Maybe in the American media, yes, but fans of animation need to take a serious look overseas - I don't mean just Miyzaki either. Yes, Kiki, Laptua and Totoro are all great movies for kids, Nausicaa is as good a sci-fi fantasy action movie as you'll ever see, and Mononoke is a masterpiece, but Miyazaki is mainstream Japanese animation. There are plenty of great animated films for mature audiences over there. And I'm not talking hentai. You want a serious headfuck? Try a little movie called The Adolesance of Utena. It's about lesbians, swordfighting, the end of the world and so on. It's an outrageously brilliant visual mindjob. Of course Ghost in the Shell, Akira and Perfect Blue are all popular choices. Fans of Star Wars would be wise to take a gander at a brilliant direct-to-video movie series called Giant Robo (only DTV because of the hour-long running time of each episode - the DTV industry in Japan actually means quality, in contrast to what it represents here.) Giant Robo is an adventure serial that, in my opinion, captures the style and heart of those pulp spectaculars far beyond what Star Wars itself accomplished. It's a true heroic bloodshed serial adventure, with secret societies, giant robots, super powers, climactic battles, super-science steampunk technology and the like. Another Japanese anime film, The End of Evangelion, stands as one of the best science-fiction films EVER made. Bar none. This movie and the tv series that preceeds it are the most damning blows to the American animation industry you could imagine - Evangelion deals with teenage sex, suicide, love, hate, masturbation, death, the evolution of humanity...and yet it's completely free of pretension and its characterization is just as important as its story. Meanwhile, Disney is making a movie about a magic snowflake. It's shameful.
Aug. 12, 2002, 4:33 p.m. CST
Please rip out your own eyes. You should not see any movies ever again.
Aug. 12, 2002, 5:16 p.m. CST
Iron Giant is a masterpiece. Best Animated movie, possibly the Best Children's movie, and easily the best Superman movie I've ever seen. It's not preachy - if you saw that movie and thought it was preachy, you're a frikkin' moron who knows nothing about children's literature. It was didactic, yes, but not preachy. The morally instructive elements flowed naturally from the story, as opposed to being tacked on or crammed in. Disney is preachy, force feeding treacle and happy thoughts. Spy Kids was preachy, tacking an awkward family message on to a neat concept. Iron Giant was not preachy; it was simply a classic children's movie.
Aug. 12, 2002, 5:31 p.m. CST
I'm sorry, which part of 'AMERICAN' did you fuzznuts fail to understand? Nobody is saying Iron Giant is better than Miyazaki, but that wasn't the original premise, was it? Wankers. Honestly, has your doctor prescribed regular ire exercises for you, and you have to raise it a certain number of times a day? (Mine recommended four.)
Aug. 12, 2002, 5:37 p.m. CST
Just wanted to point out that the claymation games was made by Dreamworks, not LucasArts.
Aug. 12, 2002, 5:47 p.m. CST
I just have to reiterate what capjamestkirk said about The End of Evangelion. It is one of the finest motion pictures (not just anime) EVER produced (too bad it's not very accessible, and absolutely requires viewing the TV series or at least reading a detailed summary of the first 24 episodes). It is a perfect balance of an epic sci-fi movie, and a personal anti-narrative experimental indie film. From it's innovative design and production work (there's a segment of the film where the animation cels are photographed from behind, instead of from the front as usual --- which I've never seen before), complex and compelling story, to its thrilling action and adventure - The End of Evangelion is outstanding. It's an unflinching and completely uncompromising film. Dark, disturbing, and totally sincere. Go watch the (imo, not as good) TV series already available on VHS/DVD. Then go buy The End of Evangelion on September 24th.
Aug. 12, 2002, 5:54 p.m. CST
Never in a million billion years would I ever have expected to see my hometown as part of a plot to any kind of entertainment. I had to look three times at the article until I finally accepted the reality that someone wrote a stroy that has Turlock and space eels in the same story. Amazing......
Aug. 12, 2002, 7:18 p.m. CST
by TMA 149
SKIP TO THE LAST 3 LINES ANIME IS SUCH FUCKING GARBAGE. I DON'T CARE IF I'M ON THE OUTSIDE AND IT'S AN AQUIRED TASTE. IN CASES LIKE THESE AQUIRING A TASTE JUST MEANS LOWERING YOUR STANDARDS TO THE POINT THAT YOU CAN ENJOY MEANINGLESS UNSUBTLE GORY PRETENTIOUS BADLY ANIMATED BULL SHIT. AKIRA WAS SHIT AND GHOST IN THE SHELL WAS GRADE A %100 PURE SHIT. I DON'T SEE HOW ANY OF YOU POOR FUCKS CAN SIT THROUGH THIS COMPLETE CRAP. I HATE YOU ALL FOR EVEN BRINGING THIS WASTELAND OF A GENRE UP. I'LL ADMIT THE STYLE BEATS AMERICAN ANIMATION EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE (AT LEAST AKIRA DIDN'T PULL THAT MAKING ONE FRAME LAST 20 MINUTES SHIT)... BUT THE STORIES ARE STILL TOTAL RUBBISH. FRANKLY IT ENRAGES ME THAT ANIME EVEN HAS AN AUDIENCE. I SAY WE NUKE JAPAN AGAIN AND GO FOR ALL THE ANIMATION STUDIOS THIS TIME SO I DON'T HAVE TO HEAR ABOUT THIS EVANGALION OR WHAT THE HELL EVER ANYMORE. BUT I HATE WHEN PEOPLE COME IN HERE TO BITCH AND MOAN AND I HAVE TO READ 20 POSTS AFTERWARDS SAYING "THIS GUY DOESN'T HAVE A CEREBRAL CORTEX IS HE DOESN'T ENJOY THIS MOVIE MAN WHAT A DUMB ASS I SUGGEST YOU GO WATCH THE NEW STAR WARS BLAH BLAH BLAH --HARRY SUCKS I THINK HE'S LOST TOUCH BLAH BLAH" SO ALL I REALLY HAVE TO SAY IS THIS COMIC LOOKS PRETTY COOL, I LOVE THESE BLACK AND WHITE SCHIZOPHRENIC LOOKING OFF THE WALL DEALS. YEAH.
Aug. 12, 2002, 9:13 p.m. CST
WELL TMA WE CAN MAKE IT THROUGH "CRAP" LIKE ARKIA AND GHOSTIN THE SHELL BECAUSE WE DON'T SPEND ALL OUR TIME POSTING WHILE OUR DICKS ARE JAMMED IN ELECTRICAL SOCKETS...jeez, mang, take a deep breath or something. On a less profoundly idiotic note, how does this kind of crap happen? Do they simply bump the caps lock and not look at the screen before they send?
Aug. 12, 2002, 10:20 p.m. CST
Iron Giant was not against "guns" in an anti-NRA sense. It was using "guns" as a metaphor for what the Iron Giant was, i.e. a (literal) killing machine. The message was that he didn't have to BE a gun, not that he didn't have to USE a gun. Watch the movie again with that in mind. The hunters are, as has been pointed out, minding their own business. The focus of the scene isn't the "evil" hunters, it's the instrument of death, the gun. The message of the movie is that sentient beings don't have to have a single (violent) purpose. It's not saying that picking up a gun is always wrong. There's a subtle distinction.
Aug. 13, 2002, midnight CST
And people disliked DK2...? What we really needed was a giant space eel and poor art? And no DKSA reviews from Harry or Moriarty here...
Aug. 13, 2002, 12:14 a.m. CST
It looks alike though with a difference, maybe it is the same guy. I have a Scud book, thought it was pretty dumb, but the art was better than this. I shouldn't be this brutally honest. I can't see the comparison to KRAZY KAT he made. It looks like you're trying to make the right friends here, Moriarty (I'm not blaming you). I know you didn't claim it, but I doubt this is the next HELLBOY (which is poorly written but with spectacular artwork). What these books have in common is that they try to combine so many things that they can't do any one thing right. Music lyrics and writing are very different, it's frustrating to read so much disposable, unfinished stuff in a 5 dollar book, it feels like you're paying for some idiot's 'brain farts'.
Aug. 13, 2002, 5:37 a.m. CST
Aug. 13, 2002, 8:44 a.m. CST
God, this looks like it will really, really suck if it is made into a movie. I say that because the plot sounds like a compilation of lovecraft, Independence Day, and god-knows what other pop-culture mishmash. The artwork looks exceptionally bad. And yes, Hellcat DOES look like Annie's dog.
Aug. 13, 2002, 12:26 p.m. CST
by Kentucky Colonel
Just for the record. And Iron Giant rules. And will continue to rule. And what's the deal with Anime', anyway? I enjoy some of it, like Akira and the awsome Metropolis, but what's up with the Japaneese obsession with little boys and monkeys? Speed Racer for example...and there are others I can't remember. Is it a cultural thing (Donkey Kong?) or something more metaphorical that I haven't grasped yet. If anyone can clarify this for me I'll e-mail you a shot of Ezra Brooks 90 proof Bourbon.
Sept. 27, 2002, 10:38 p.m. CST
No, Douglas TenNapel was not the person who did Scud. Rob Schrab did scud, I believe. However, TenNapel released a wonderful graphic novel titled "Gear", which has been my favorite graphic novel for a while. It was released under Rob Schrab's publishing company or whatever. So it still had a connection to scud. There's scud stuff for sale in the back of gear an' all, too. www.tennapel.com has more shtuff about doug.. you'd probably be most familiar with Earthworm Jim, whom he created.
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