We’re in the midst of a golden age of pop culture, and there’s no shortage of things to quench our nostalgia thirst. It seems like nothing stays dead for long anymore, that no matter your favored franchise or cherished character, you’ll never have long to wait for the next reboot or addition to its mythology. Many of these stories can be superfluous, so fans should sit up and take note when truly important and worthy tales are told about these characters. Well, good news, because that’s exactly what writer James Asmus and artist Carlos Magno have done with one of the biggest characters there is.
This week sees the release of issue six of Kong of Skull Island from BOOM! Studios, the final issue of the first arc, which tells the previously unrevealed origin of the mysterious tribes of Skull Island. Unrelated to the upcoming film, the series builds upon the original King Kong stories by his creator Merian C. Cooper and the official prequels by Joe DeVito, and has presented a bold vision of how both the ape and human inhabitants of Skull Island came to be. It's a compelling expansion of the Kong myth, and a remarkably relevant and character-driven series with some of the most beautiful artwork you'll find on the comic stands. I was lucky enough to pick the primate brains of both Asmus (Quantum and Woody) and Magno (Lantern City) about the end of the first arc, the future of the series — which has recently been upgraded to an ongoing — and much more.
Check out the full interview with the creators along with a jaw-dropping six-page preview of issue six, which is in stores now. And let us know if this series has you excited by pounding your chest in the comments below!
Thanks so much to you both for talking to me about this series. I’m a big fan of the book. With the first arc wrapping with issue #6, what have you learned about writing or drawing Kong stories that you didn’t know when you started?
JAMES ASMUS: I continue to be surprised by just how deep a story can dig in this world. I jumped at the chance to make a life-or-death survival tale with giant savage apes, but I've been surprised by how many rich and relevant turns we could explore. As soon as I learned the book was successful enough to swing right into more stories after this first arc, ideas started exploding out from some corner of my brain—way more than we'd reasonably be able to tackle. But it did give us the chance to really pick and choose the ones we all could get the most excited about.
CARLOS MAGNO: In previous Kong stories, all the attention was always focused on the creature, and rightly so. But what about the people who worshiped Kong? In all the films, we saw these people were just a backdrop, and served only to illustrate the terror that Kong created. What James and I are doing is something deeper, putting the people of Skull Island out in front. It was something that even I was not prepared for.
Ewata and her Kong, Valla, don’t have the typical relationship audiences expect to see between Kong and humans, particularly with how female leads tend to be used in the films. What made these two compelling protagonists to you?
JA: Well, for starters, since the major Kong films were all riffs on the original story by Marian Cooper, they have mostly stuck to the same broad strokes. But, strangely, I always felt Ann Darrow and the natives of Skull Island had the most interesting relationships with Kong, yet the story never treated them as the heroes or focus. As soon as BOOM! approached me about the book, I knew I wanted to make a native woman our lead, and try to find fresh ways to weave in those dynamics that intrigued me. Our story is in collaboration with the expanded mythology of Skull Island that Joe DeVito has been creating over the years, and he had fleshed out a history with multiple Kong and a long period where the natives had trained and lived with the giants. I was always most interested in the way humans' approach to Kong can illuminate so much about our nature toward each other and things different from us. It made immediate sense to me that we could focus on an already bonded Kong and her trainer, and put their lives and their relationship through a brutal test. That approach still gave us chances to explore the divide (with massive fights, destruction, and dinosaur attacks!), but also let us get away from just repeating the same beats and perspectives of Kong stories you've already seen.
Carlos, your artwork in this series is stunningly detailed. What kind of tools are you using? What kind of references do you use for the dinos and apes?
CM: Thank you very much!
I still belong to the old school, although sometimes I find myself a beginner! I work with plain paper, pencils with two different densities, pens for the nanquims, and brushes. My desk is chaos. But what really helps my art the most is my work environment. I have a great office; I listen to good music and sometimes I leave the television on. My children are always with me.
I try not to use references since Kong is detached from reality in many ways. When drawing a dinosaur, I invoke my memory rather than looking for pictures and illustrations. What has sometimes helped me keep my art on track is the artistic references of Joe DeVito, and nothing else!
What was the hardest character design — whether human or monster — to create for this series?
CM: I think all the characters have their own degree of difficulty. But there is one who is the most difficult, called Ghost. I can’t talk about him, though, because this incredible character will appear in issue #7 and I don’t want to ruin the surprise. But I can say that James and I are working hard to create a magnificent universe and incredible characters.
The beginning of the sixth issue mentions that the events that follow depict “The First Great Battle for the Dark Heart of Skull Island.” Should readers expect to see a second great battle soon, or is the war for Skull Island a longer one?
JA: Well, I'm trying not to repeat myself so quickly! But there are some very interesting, multi-sided conflicts coming up across the next few issues. Hopefully, things zig and zag away from expectations, but nonetheless deliver some satisfying and epic Skull Island showdowns.
A Kong fights a monstrous two-headed T-rex in this issue. How can you possibly top that in future stories?
JA: Ha! Yeah, I was excited when that idea hit, feeling like it pushed the boundaries of the world enough where we're delivering something surprising and new, but not so far as to break the rules. Of course, at the time, I thought we were only doing six issues, otherwise, maybe I would have saved it!
What comes next is less an out-of-left field surprise, but instead more about building up twists, cool variations, and threats from some elements that we've already introduced in the series. There are little things that have already happened in the book which will soon take some very different and dangerous turns!
What aspects of the burgeoning, tenuous civilization on Skull Island have you most excited to explore in the second arc?
JA: We are about to spend two issues following a Kong's perspective and experience trying to survive inside Skull Island, alone! Once I learned we were getting more issues, and more chances to explore, I wanted to jump away from politics for a bit and expand what the book can do—by going all in on Kong! Once the action gets going in part one, it's basically wall-to-wall survival and dangers piling up on top of each other. The deceptive thing is, there are still plenty of stealthy bits in those issues setting up a pretty big and personal reckoning for our major (surviving) characters and this new society as a whole. Issues #9 to 12 will play like a sequel, rebuttal, and break-neck heightening of our first arc. I can't wait for you all to see it!
What would you most like to draw Kong fighting that you haven’t got to yet?
CM: James and I are making every effort to be as original as possible. All we can do to put Kong in the most unusual situations and fights, we are doing. That being said, I really wanted to draw Kong fighting against the biplanes, but our story won’t ever get to that point.
What has you most excited about the second arc of the series?
CM: That we are creating new characters and new conflicts before we eventually get to moving Kong away from the people. This will connect it to the events that everyone knows. I don’t quite know what else James is going to come up with, but I think we're going to make Kong even wilder.