TenNapel GEARs Up

The Neverhood's Doug TenNapel sprouts feature film and comic book legs.


Videogames.com caught up with Doug TenNapel for a Q&A about a couple of his current projects, and fans of his previous work, the games Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood for example, will be surprised that only one item on the roster is a video game. The first is a comic book called GEAR, the second is a full-length live-action film called Mothman, and the third is a 3D combat-style game for the PlayStation. What we know of the game is that it'll feature a slew of all-new characters TenNapel is creating for DreamWorks, and it's expected to release during fall of '99. Here's what TenNapel had to say about the film and comic book.

VG: Tell us about your GEAR comic book. When will the first issue be available?Doug TenNapel: GEAR is a six-issue series that hits the shelves in November. It will be released monthly from November 1998 to April 1999. GEAR is about a war between cats, dogs, and giant insects. Each species lives in a different town, and each town is guarded by a giant robot. There are also groups of fanatics who are trying to take over other towns via mysterious alien mechanisms. The art style is kind of like Earthworm Jim meets the Japanese ink brush. I'm using ancient black and white techniques to draw Ren and Stimpy-type creatures. I'm having fun with it.

VG: What will fans of your previous work, such as Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood, appreciate about GEAR?DT: Most folks familiar with my work know that I try to do something completely different with every project. The strange thing is that as I look across my character groups there are lots of similarities. GEAR has funky, oddball, way-out-in-left-field humor, giant robots, and a Christ figure who is a flawed being with unlimited potential. Oh, and I always have characters with different-sized eyes. VG: Do you think that game fans will find the tone of the comic appealing? Will it have similar themes as found in video or PC games?DT: There's already a huge crossover between comics and games. Probably because both mediums have a history of cutting the boring stuff out. GEAR is a roller-coaster ride from the start, and I like to put my characters in uncomfortable situations as well as in direct conflict with one another.

Another similarity between my games and my comics is that I don't just create the individual characters, I try to set them in a world. Earthworm Jim's world had rules for non-sequitur humor. Neverhood had a complex history. GEAR has generations of governments in conflict.

VG: Do you foresee the opportunity for multimedia crossover with GEAR? Perhaps a game somewhere down the line?DT: I think GEAR could work as a game. I wouldn't guarantee that it would be an absolute fit, though. Games are funny in that the gameplay is number one. GEAR is so plot driven that the game would take away from the story. I think GEAR would have a more natural marriage as a full-length movie. But let me take a little time here to rant. I hate the way that character groups are automatically put into a video game just because a movie is successful. I focussed hard while making GEAR to create something pure, something I made just for me. I don't want to be in the habit of thinking, 'Oh, if I make this girl with bigger breasts she'll look better in a video game.' You may think this is extreme, but I've heard this previous quote around entertainment circles at least 20 times!

VG: Do you think that the comic and video/PC game audiences are similar in general?DT: As I said before, there is established crossover. Both mediums have hard-core loyal consumers driving them. Both audiences love sci-fi and fantasy in general. Both audiences admire the overall presentation over the actual presentation of art and story. Perhaps in this category the comics industry is better than the games industry because there are real alternative voices being supported in comics whereas alternative voices in games tend to be crushed by marketing behemoths. A strange little comic can be made and published by one person, but a strange little game still costs two million dollars to make!

VG: You also have a feature film, Mothman, coming out. What's it about, and has production started?DT: Mothman is a live-action feature film I wrote and directed. It's about an animator in West Virginia who thinks he sees an urban legend called Mothman. There is puppet animation in the intro credits that Mike Dietz did for me, but the rest of the film is live action. We shot most of the movie last December ('97) in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. We just finished editing and are working on sound effects and the musical score. We just put up a web site at www.mothmanmovie.com.

VG: Has anything you've learned in video game development helped you build your comic and movie?DT: It's aaaall good. I learn stuff from every project that crosses over to my other projects. For instance, I storyboard all of my animation before I shoot one frame. I storyboarded every shot in Mothman before we ran any film. My comic GEAR is basically a well-designed storyboard. Video games have taught me how impatient an audience can be. They don't want to wait for their stimulus, so it helps me pick up the pace in my movie.

VG: What comic books/writers/artists do you like? DT: I like Mike Mignola who does Hellboy. His writing is good, and his art is clearly the best in the world. Rob Schrab's Scud is a favorite of mine. Rob's publishing company, Fireman Press, is publishing GEAR. I also wrote and illustrated a Scud issue, and Rob appears in Mothman. You can kind of see the crossover in our projects.

VG: What audience are you targeting for both the comic and film?DT: GEAR is targeted at the action crowd. It's been called "Bone meets Akira." Mothman is for the film-fest crowds. It's an art film, but it's not the typical "four guys in a room talking for two hours." I thought that the film-fest audience would enjoy some sci-fi for a change.

VG: Is Spielberg involved in either project?DT: He hasn't seen GEAR yet, but many of the key people involved with Mothman work for DreamWorks SKG and Amblin. Mark Russell is the producer and he works in Steven's office. Mark's wife is an animator here at the Neverhood, so there's that crossover thing again. Marty Cohen is in charge of postproduction on Saving Private Ryan and The Lost World, and he is the executive producer of Mothman. I think ten of the Neverhood employees have worked on the project in one way or another.

VG: What role are you playing in both the comic production and the film production?DT: The comic is small, so I'm trying to do everything. I wrote and drew every issue. I created the characters. The covers are being done by my art friends. They are painted by Ellis Goodson, a Neverhood designer; Edward Schofield, a Neverhood animator and the lead actor in Mothman; Mark Lorenzen, a Neverhood designer; and Mike Koelsch, the package illustrator for Earthworm Jim and a designer of Wild 9's.

On Mothman I wrote, directed, and had a tiny acting part. I also funded most of the 65k movie.

Be sure to stay with videogames.com for more on TenNapel's upcoming PlayStation game.

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