Interview: Big Hitters In Tim Daniel’s ‘Enormous’

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The giant monster subgenre is difficult to twist into something novel and exciting for horror fans, however Tim Daniel and Mehdi Cheggour are on a mission to do just that with their upcoming Image Comics/Shadowline one-shot Enormous. The book follows a desperate team of survivors as they try to fend of the massive monsters, or The Enormous, that are eradicating humanity. Oddly enough, humans are responsible for creating the monsters in the first place. Daniel is well known for his work on “The Walking Dead Survivor’s Guide”, but now he switches over to the writers chair with Cheggour by his side on art duties. The creative team has developed an insane world with breathtaking monster designs that pop off the page.

The “Enormous” project has been in the works for over a year now and it’s finally coming to fruition in early July. Daniel took the time to chat with Bloody-disgusting about developing the rich world of “Enormous”, the state of humanity, his favorite horror films and plenty more.

Let’s start it off nice and easy, can you give us the quick and dirty on Enormous?

TD: Sure thing. The catalyst for Enormous is a humanitarian effort attempted in concert by the world’s wealthiest nations. The technology employed to achieve the goal of creating new areas of arable land does not exactly function as intended. The result is the emergence of the Enormous, giant beasts that ravage the planet. Ellen Grace, is the most fearless scout on the lone remaining North American Search & Rescue team. We join her as she navigates the streets of Phoenix.

The giant monster destroying earth is something we’ve seen quite a bit of over the years, what makes Enormous stand out within the genre?

TD: That’s just it, “giant monster” – singular. Enormous is all about the plural. We don’t have one giant beast lumbering around a city, we’ve got more than we can fit into our tale. They’re big, fast, deadly and elusive. We’ve got an entire ecology of mega-fauna and mega-flora (Jen de Guzman at Image gets the credit for employing those terms) that pretty much rule the earth or at least southern Arizona, as far as we know.

Now, the story is really about humans attempting to do something good, and it turning into something larger than they can handle, quite literally. Is this idea something that you fear we are currently heading towards?

TD: A wonderful question. Yes and no. On one hand, humanity can be pretty self-focused when it comes to our treatment of this planet. There’s a hubris that definitely clouds our better judgment, even when we mean to do right by nature. On the other hand, nature is really good about reminding us all of how insignificant we are. We might feel in control, we have even developed technologies that can alter nature, but we’ll never harness it. Nature always rears up and throws us from the saddle the minute we try to take hold of the reigns.

What is it that these giant monsters represent for you?

TD: Oddly enough, maybe some of my fondest childhood memories; playing Ultraman in the front yard with my younger brother, trying my 12 year-old-best to stay up late on a Saturday night to catch Creature Features on KTVU, Channel 2 in San Francisco. As far as what they represent to me in the story, I’ve never honestly given it a second thought. My hope is that readers draw their own conclusions about what the monsters do or do not represent, one that best fits their personal sensibilities.

Is this a sort of morality tale in the vein of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or even some of Lovecraft’s work, or is there more to it than that?

TD: Morality tales are very tricky, because when poorly handled they can quickly become didactic, so I’ve tried to steer clear of that territory and focus on entertaining the reader. If anything, Enormous may be closer to Shelley, because I’ll admit, I’m not all that familiar with Lovecraft, whereas I’ve read Frankenstein at least four times. However, one of the key influences for Enormous is The Walking Dead, so I’ll take door number three and Robert Kirkman. In terms of morality, Kirkman’s The Walking Dead is slippery. Readers can alternately identify with and revile any of the characters because of the choices they make. Likewise, Enormous is heavily informed by Jack Finney’s classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, not only for its meditation on nature, but because the novel is truly a predator-prey set-up employing a simple structure of hunt or be hunted.

You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that Enormous is definitely inspired by all sorts of monster movies such as “Cloverfield,” “The Mist,” “The Host,” “Monsters” and “Troll Hunter”. How do those come into play in the book? Have you always been a huge fan of the genre?

TD: Always been a huge fan of the genre. I have my favorites and tend to watch them repeatedly. I was pretty happy with the recent spate of films, but I am a bit frustrated as a reader by the dearth of giant monster tales in the print medium. Even more so, I am confused as to why there aren’t more when it requires so little budget to destroy a city in comics or novels. Each of the titles you listed receives a visual homage in the pages of the book. Specific to The Host, Enormous may share some passing thematic similarities, whereas The Mist might well be the biggest inspiration. Those familiar with either Stephen King’s novella or Frank Darabont’s film adaptation, know that each gives us a cast of characters sorely lacking in a consensus for survival and scads of monsters both big and small that bring the mayhem.

The characters must be pretty fed up by this point, could you tell us a bit about them and why they are suddenly taking a stand?

TD: Our cast is pretty worn out since they’ve been at this for awhile. As readers we are joining them a year after the first appearance of the largest apex predator. They are not making a stand though. The humans face a situation in Enormous that is akin to a housecat toying with a cricket on the bathroom tile. They are kind of boxed into a figurative corner by these beasts with no real sense or hope of escape. They think they can find salvation if they can just buy enough time to execute a simple plan. Ellen Grace, the story’s protagonist, is particularly myopic in this regard. As a member of the last Search & Rescue team in North America, her sole focus is locating and retrieving orphaned children. Ellen’s more than willing to endanger herself and her peers to achieve this goal. Her brand of heroism proves to be both rewarding and very costly.

The monster designs are pretty badass. Could you tell us how you (or Cheggour) came up with them?

TD: Total team effort and that’s why we’re co-creators on Enormous. I would come up with names for the beasts, to use as shorthand in the script. A list was formed, a very ambitious, lengthy one. Each beast had a paragraph description. Each description was based upon a set of guidelines. Mehdi would then sketch out the creature. In turn, I would be manipulating picture references in photoshop and tweaking his sketches in the same way. Mehdi came to the creatures with a grounded-in-reality approach, whereas I was always challenging his patience with demands of exaggeration. Every design had to have more spikes, more legs, longer neck, and eight eyes – that kind of thing. Ultimately, that balance yielded creatures that a reader can both recognize from life and puzzle over at the same time.

The artwork is absolutely breathtaking. How was it to work with Cheggour?

TD: I said this about Mehdi when we announced Enormous at Image Expo, he holds the production value of a mid-summer blockbuster motion picture in his hands. His talent is such that pretty much anything I could dream up, he brought to life, often far exceeding my expectations. That made for a potent collaboration because we could fuel each other’s contribution. His stunning art emboldened my writing. Our challenge was, Enormous is the first time we’d each taken on something of this magnitude. Obstacles in our path were often of our own making, since learning the process of creating a comic was a part of the process itself. In the end, what we found is that we formed a pretty solid bond of collaboration and friendship. Looking at the book, I feel like I hit the lotto with an artist of his caliber.

Aside from The Walking Dead Survivor’s Guide, this is your first big attempt in the driver’s seat, how did you find the experience compared to your other work on comics?

TD: No comparison. The TWD Survivor’s Guide was all research and design which came with a different set of concerns, namely living up to the standard Kirkman has set in the series. Whereas pure design is all about extending the vision of the creators and rounding out the reader’s experience. Designing for books such as Morning Glories, 27, Debris, Bedlam, Cobblehill, Scarlet, Powers and Takio to name a few, means honoring the diverse voices of those creators. A logo, or cover dress can look cool or attract the eye of a potential reader, but anything I do better be telling that particular creator’s story as well. In conceiving and executing Enormous, I really had to learn everything I thought I’d already known simply by being a reader. I’ve read comics for 30+ years, and foolishly thought I inherently understood storytelling aspect like, scene transition, dialogue, page layout, pacing, character development…you name it! The crucial support came through the experienced trio of letterer Johnny Lowe, editor Jade Dodge, and Shadowline publisher Jim Valentino. Their contributions to my growth as a writer have been invaluable.

As you’ve mentioned in other interviews, and on the Enormous website, this project has been in the works for quite some time, how long has this been stewing in your mind?

TD: Since April of 2011! The entire story took shape over the course of the next 2 months while Mehdi and I prepared our 8-page pitch.

As it stands, Enormous is a one-shot, with the possibility of turning into a series. How much of the series have you mapped out already?

TD: Enormous was originally conceived as an ongoing series. The book due out in July has a definite beginning and end. We wanted readers to feel closure and satisfaction, but we also want them to know that we are prepared to deliver more of the story, so long as we get their approval to do so through strong sales!

Do you have any other series in the works right now or are you going to continue focusing on the production side of the comics biz?

TD: My focus will continue to be design and production. After completing Enormous, both Mehdi and I were exhausted. That feeling lasted less than 3 days when we confessed to each other in email that after nearly a year and half of working on Enormous, it had become a part of our daily lives. We’re both very anxious to see if readers give us the chance to continue on! In fact, we’re both so excited at the prospect that we are working on some new designs and a short prelude featuring Madridge.

I hate to ask but as a final question, can you tell us your top 5 horror movies?

TD: Don’t hate – interrogate! I’m happy to answer this since in 2 years I’ll look back and laugh at myself.

This changes all the time, but here we go:

1 – The Mist (Darabont for this film and The Walking Dead television series)
2 – Alien (climbed right back up the list after a recent viewing)
3 – Halloween (the original 1978 version)
4 – 28 Days Later (totally visceral)
5 – Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Blob, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Living Dead, 30 Days of Night, The Thing, The Shining…all of them and more, get an honorable mention in this spot because I can’t choose!

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Tim!

TD: Thank you Bloody Disgusting, really appreciate you featuring Enormous and other Image-Shadowline titles like Grim Leaper, Green Wake, Rebel Blood and Bedlam! Before I sign off, I’d like to invite BD readers to come check out all the Enormous material we’ve been sharing over the past year on facebook and the official website. See you in July!

Look for “Enormous” in stores July 5th!