Interview: Mark L. Miller Puts His Stamp On Kipling's World With 'Jungle Book: Last of the Species'

In February of next year Zenescope is unleashing a new volume in its popular "Jungle Book" series centered around a female, wolf-raised Mowglii and her brutal adventures with the various inhabitants on Kipling Island. According to Zenescope, "Jungle Book: Last of the Species" will see Mowglii rise against a dangerous new foe. I spoke with "Jungle Book" writer Mark L. Miller via email about the new volume, how he uses his day job as a youth therapist to inform his story and how he's diverting from Rudyard Kipling's original tale.

MTV Geek: What can fans expect to see in "Jungle Book" volume 2?

Mark L. Miller: With Volume One of the "Jungle Book," I had to worry about introducing not only a huge cast, but also a new world and rules that apply to it. Now that I've done that and really was able to adapt and reinterpret Kipling's original stories which follows Mowgli from his introduction to the jungle to his face off with Shere Khan, now I can take my version of Mowglii on her own tale. This second series is less adherent to the original story and gives me more freedom to explore and develop these characters more. What happens once you've taken revenge? Where does that anger go? What ramifications will ripple out of that act of revenge? These are things that will be dealt with in "Jungle Book: Last of the Species" which will focus on taking Mowglii to all sorts of new places on Kipling Isle and challenge her in new ways. One of the things that happens with this series is that Mowglii is a little older and at that teetering point between child and adult. This new series will see her dealing with the events in the first series in her own way, which most of the time results in chaos, since she is an extremely unpredictable and impulsive character.

At the same time, I wanted to continue to expand on the Great Animal Battle, which will continue to escalate after being started when the Tigers of the Shere decimated the Wolves of the island. Now that most of the wolves are gone, who will the Tigers' next target be? I'll be introducing two more very formidable tribes in this series which factor greatly in the war.

I'll also be developing the other three human characters, as I feel they are just as important as Mowglii in this story. Bomani is now in Mowglii's shoes in the last series as he lost his adoptive father Shere Khan, so he will be dealing with pressures of leading his tribe as well as dealing with his own feelings of revenge. At the same time, Dewan and Akili factor in the story as either allies or enemies of Bomani and Mowglii and sometimes both at once.

Geek: For those who might be unfamiliar with this version of "Jungle Book," who is Mowglii?

MLM: This Mowglii is a female, stolen from her crib at the very beginning of the first series by some swarthy pirate types. But the ship transporting Mowglii was taken off course in an ocean storm and crashed onto an island full of animals in the middle of a Great Battle. Taking the crash as an omen, the four sole survivors--four small children, were divvied up between the tribes and borders were set to try to enact some kind of peace treaty in this war. As with the original tale, this version of Mowglii was raised by wolves. The main difference, is that this Mowglii is a female, which raised a lot of stink when it was first announced. I thought it made Mowglii a much more compelling character as the female of the species is always the tougher in the wild because with her lies the future of her species and she is usually the one to protect, feed, and raise her young. Blame it on me growing up in a single parent household with a strong mother figure in my life, I guess, but I've always been attracted to powerful female characters and wanted to give Mowglii some strengths and weaknesses that might be harder to find in female characters in comics than one would think.

Geek: What kind of research goes into your writing of "Jungle Book"? Are you looking back at Kipling's original work at all?

MLM: I took quite a bit from the original Kipling stories. I haven't seen the Disney cartoon since I was a kid, but once I had the idea of this big series I reread the original stories and took characters that some might not be completely aware of. Everyone knows Shere Khan, Baloo, Kaa, and Bagheera, but less might know of Kala Nag the elephant, Tobaqui the fox, and Grey Brother, all of whom appear in one form or another in my miniseries. Some of the characters were only mentioned once in passing in Kipling's tales, but that allowed me to develop them and give them new purpose in my story. It was fun scouring those old stories for new animals and characters to explore. Kaa, Baloo, and Shere Khan are all there, but some new old faces from Kipling's stories show up as well.

I also have always been addicted to nature shows on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. When the series was on, I never missed an episode of MEERKAT ISLAND and because of that, the meerkats play a very important role as the bulk of Tribe Tavi, which makes up the smaller animals of the jungle. I don't know how many Sunday afternoons I've sat and watched one wildlife documentary after another. I can't get enough of them and have definitely used bits and pieces from those shows in bringing these characters, both human and animal, to life. There is a new show on Animal Planet called RAISED WILD about feral children raised in some way or another without the presence of man. This series has been fascinating and given me tons of fodder to play with for "Jungle Book".

Geek: What kind of liberties do you take with your story? How important is it to stay true and how important is it to divert?

MLM: Most of the films made about THE "Jungle Book" seem to follow the same pattern; Mowgli grows up with the wolves, befriends Baloo, comes in contact with the apes, encounters Kaa, and fights Shere Khan. All that happened in the first series of the comic as well, it's just that these were short stories when Kipling wrote them originally. The liberties I took with adding new humans to the mix and the Great Animal Battle I thought would add a more epic scope to it. I wanted this to be a series of miniseries, even though I didn't know if the series would be successful enough to warrant a sequel. Thankfully, it did, so some of the little story bits I seeded through the first miniseries can come to full bloom in this series and the ones coming after.

I think when you are doing some type of reinterpretation, you shouldn't start out to make a better story than the original. I could never beat those original Kipling tales and would never try to. I can only tell my own interpretation of it as I see and understand it and hope that some of that matches others' understanding of the story. But to me, I'm most excited now, because the possibilities of this story are endless with all of these different characters and species to play around with. I want to make sure there will always be that core of familiarity to the series that folks who have only read the original stories or seen the cartoons or multiple films made about the material can latch onto.

Geek: In an interview with Broken Frontier you mentioned how your work as a therapist helps inform the characters in "Jungle Book," can you go into that a bit further? What specifically are you pulling from your work for these stories?

MLM: As I wrote the original series, I realized early on that my day job as a therapist in a residential home for boys and girls was seeping into the story. Every day I hear stories and see children who have been taken from their homes and placed into adoptive families or foster or group homes to be raised by parents that do not look or act like them. So obviously a lot of that applies to Mowglii, Bomani, Akili, and Dewan. These four characters are very unlike their parents on the island and they've come to terms with that in different ways.

Mowglii seems to not be effected by the difference as the ties to her wolf family are strong. But Bomani just isn't equipped to be a tiger, simply because he's not. He's big and cumbersome and somewhat clumsy, so he is the focus of a lot of ridicule from his tribe and has self esteem issues because of it. Bomani is also a cutter, an issue that is more common than one would think among children and teens, which very much ties in with his lack of self esteem and sense that he deserves to be punished. Dewan was brought up in a chaotic environment with the apes and his actions reflect that as he can be playful and friendly one minute, then snap and try to kill you the next. Yet there's an innocence and simplicity to him that seems always apparent. Akili, even as a child, is so much bigger than her parents, causing her own self esteem issues with size that is often seen in teenage girls, but because of her size she's been elevated to this almost goddess like status among her people, so she has turned that to her advantage by becoming the closest thing to a super hero the jungle has. In one way or another, these are all issues I've seen or heard stories about in my day job.

They always say, write what you know, and in this case I used a lot of the issues I see everyday to flesh out these characters. In all of these cases, these children have experienced some kind of trauma. They all experienced the same trauma, but what differentiates them from one another is how the way they were raised and who raised them. It's very much a nature vs nurture argument as I'm trying to imbue the nature of these species into how these children were raised and how those animals interact in the wild factors into how these children interact with one another.

Geek: Tell us about the artist on "Jungle Book" volume 2. What's your working relationship like?

MLM: The book is actually just coming together and so far I'm really liking Jorge Mercado's work so far. His style seems to lend itself to give the characters, especially the animals a sense of realism, while still giving them characteristics to emote without becoming too cartoony. It's harder than it sounds, but the artist on the original "Jungle Book" miniseries, Carlos Granda, and now Jorge Mercado both seem to get that. I'm loving each and every page I've seen so far. As with much of comics these days, the key to a successful relationship between artist and writer is communication. This is provided by a good editor which Zenescope has many, so it's been great so far.

Geek: Potential readers might be turned off by some of the buxom art on display in many of Zenescope's comics, what do you think about this? As a writer, do you feel like Zenescope's art choices can detract from the story at all?

MLM: Well, I know there are folks who judge a book by its cover. I know some who have said they were offended by the women in poses on Zenescope covers. But I know just as many people who buy the books because of that. I can't sway opinions if you're for or against the covers. I honestly think the stigma attached to Zenescope is somewhat unfair given that most all comic book covers from mostly all companies in the industry have been known to depict extreme-proportioned human forms in suggestive poses. All I can say is that if you're not reading "Jungle Book" because of the covers, I think you're missing out on a good story I'm putting my all into, in my humble opinion. I think if you're offended by the cover, you can quickly leaf past it to get to the story. If you buy the book for the cover and find a cool story inside, then that's good too. It's a win-win situation either way, if you ask me.

Geek: How did you get involved with "Jungle Book"?

MLM: Zenscope editor/writer Raven Gregory had read my NANNY & HANK miniseries I did a couple of years ago and liked it a lot. When the spot opened up for a ten page story in one of his WONDERLAND ANNUALS, he asked if I wanted to do one. Of course, I said yes and did a funny little story about an old couple and a hungry bed of roses. Raven loved that story and told me to stay in touch if I had any ideas for any Zenescope characters. In an email conversation, I asked Raven, if they had done anything with the "Jungle Book" and he really liked the idea. A few weeks later, I pitched Raven, Ralph Tedesco, and Joe Brusha at San Diego Comic Con, then returned to them with a more solidified pitch at New York Comic Con. A week later they said they needed the script for issue one in three weeks and since then it's been a whirlwind. Raven warned me that when it happened, it would be quick and it was. Not three months later the first issue of the "Jungle Book" was released and at the time it was the highest downloaded first issue ever for Zenescope and sold out of the first printing.

Geek: You did a run on "Grimm Fairy Tales" for Zenescope as well, any plans to work more on that title?

MLM: I'd love to do more. I had a lot of fun working on GRIMM mainly because I was challenged to work with someone else's character--an already established one, with many fans and many issues before mine. It made me want to do the fans of the character right and really find a voice for Sela, which I think I did. In my arc, she's been incarcerated and has to deal with being imprisoned and also dealing with the loss of her daughter who has been basically stolen by one of her greatest enemies. At the same time it's a mystery since the prison she's been in isn't exactly what it seems. I'd love to return to the character and fan reaction to my take on Sela has been great. She's a fun character. Different than Mowglii, but still extremely strong in her own way. That's one of the things Zenescope doesn't get enough credit for, having a ton of strong female characters to read about. I'm lucky enough to have written stories about two of them and hopefully will be doing more in the future. At the moment, I'm happy developing Mowglii and the crew in THE "Jungle Book" though.

Geek: What else are you working on?

MLM: Well, I have another miniseries coming out from Zenescope in May I believe and I hope I'll be able to talk about soon.

I also have a 100 page graphic novel called LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF coming out from FAMOUS MONSTERS hopefully later in 2013. It's a story about a group of werewolves that has secluded themselves in a monastery in the mountains of South America away from the temptation of hunting man. And it is going really well for them until a team of mountain climbers happen across their monastery and throw everything into chaos. I co-wrote that one with Martin Fisher.

MLM: I'm also working on a few creator owned books at the moment, one with the artist on NANNY & HANK, Steve Babb called URSUS, which I hope will be gaining momentum on soon. Finally, I am in the process of doing my very first screenplay with a producer and things look really good with it so far. I'm hoping we can talk about that soon too as it is definitely a fun concept and one fans of horror will most definitely be interested in.

Plus, I'm already looking ahead to do the next "Jungle Book" chapter after this one, so along with the day job and the writing/editing at Ain't It Cool News for AICN COMICS and AICN HORROR, I'm keeping myself busy and out of trouble for the most part.

Geek: Thanks for taking the time, Mark.

"Jungle Book: Last of the Species" #1 hits shelves February 27th, 2013