Tim Daniel had an idea for a monster story that was too big for Hollywood. It would require dozens of different species of gigantic monsters, an Oscar-winning actress like Jennifer Connelly to play the lead and a hundred-million-dollar budget to pay for the rollicking, city-destroying, cataclysmic plot.
But although Hollywood probably couldn’t easily handle Daniel’s runaway imagination, something else could, and easily: the independent comic book industry.
“I wanted to tell a story so ridiculous and preposterous in scope that you couldn’t do it on screen,” he says, sitting at a picnic table on his sunny back porch in Missoula. “I wanted something that felt like a big-budget monster movie that didn’t require the big budget. And that’s what I’ve discovered about comics—it’s complete freedom.”
Forget CGI and green screens. Forget summer blockbusters. Forget everything you know about Marvel, DC and comic book movies. Even forget Jennifer Connelly if you dare. Daniel’s new comic series Enormous is accomplishing everything the writer set out to do, with nothing more than a pen, some paper and some help from talented friends, including illustrator Mehdi Cheggour and editor Matthew Meylikhov. The first episode was released on July 2, with subsequent issues coming out once a month.
Like all good comics, to understand Enormous, you have to first understand two origin stories: the origin of the author and the origin of the current indie comics industry.
Daniel’s first introduction to comics was like most kids, reading X-Men at a friend’s house when he was 12 and immediately becoming enamored with the Marvel world. But his reintroduction, many years later, was different. He was working at Amazon in Seattle in the early 2000s, where he and his supervisor would walk down to Zanadu Comics during lunch breaks. He picked up Powers, a new kind of comic with an independent publisher.
“I immediately saw how different it was. It had adult themes, adult language, darker themes,” he says. “It appealed to me. I had only stopped reading comics five or seven years before, and this is what had happened during that time.”
Then, in 2003, Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore created The Walking Dead. The series, like Powers, was published by Image Comics, a company founded by disenchanted illustrators who wanted to own the rights to their creations (something that doesn’t happen at comic behemoths Marvel and DC).
“I thought, this is next step in comics,” he says. “The story was wildly compelling. It wasn’t just a cheap horror tale. There was something real there that transcended the genre. I read absolutely everything.”
At around the same time, the Internet was connecting comic book readers and comic book creators in totally new ways. Daniels, who by now had a wife, Erin, a daughter, Ellie, and a new job in web design at the University of Montana, was suddenly interacting with the comic book creators he admired so deeply. He took his web and design talents and applied them when he could, wherever he could, in the indie comic book world.
“It started with a logo design for [comic book writer] Nick Spencer’s Existence 2.0,” he says. “Then I was doing design for all of his covers. Then I was doing it for more authors then I could count. Website design. Logos. T-shits and lunch pails for Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. I was working with my heroes.”
But while working next to the big hitters in the indie comic book world was fun and rewarding, Daniels realized he wanted more. He wanted to write. And the indie comic book industry was such a collaborative, cooperative place that his dream became a reality with the assistance and guidance from the people he had met—and thousands of hours of hard work.
He met Moroccan illustrator Mehdi Cheggour on an Internet forum after seeing a great drawing Cheggour posted to a comic book Facebook page. Daniels’ mentor, Image Comics founder Jim Valentino, helped him develop his story for a one-shot (a standalone story, in comic book nerd-speak) in 2010. A few years later, another indie comic publisher, 215 Ink, finally picked up Enormous as a series.
And so we arrive back at our giant monsters, the spawn of man’s arrogant tinkering with science, the creatures that crush the surviving population of humans like ants. Just as Enormous isn’t like a mainstream comic, it also isn’t like a mainstream monster tale.
“In 2010 I was on a plane with my daughter, Ellie, and we were kind of bored,” Daniels says. “We were looking down at the earth, imagining if the world were filled with giant beasts. We started listing monster movie rules—stuff from the old creature features like Godzilla and Ultraman. I knew then that I wanted to write the story that broke all of the rules.”
So, what is the opposite of a classic monster movie? Enormous isn’t just about one monster attacking one city, it’s about a host of species of monsters (plants and animals) that are taking over the world, all thanks to GMOs. And instead of a burly, ultraviolent, two-weapon-wielding man for the protagonist, we have Ellen Grace, a queer woman who is equal parts caring and kick-ass. And the monsters aren’t the only ones who are affected by the ecological disaster—humans themselves are also mutating.
Like The Walking Dead and Powers, Enormous strives to go beyond genre and focus instead on story and relationships. It reads like a blockbuster (and its art is beautifully cinematic), but its themes are human and personal. It’s a world that was created—and could only be created—free of sprawling budgets, industry restraints, market testing and endless levels of editorial approval. The result is a thin comic, in little Mylar sleeve, with enormous heart.
And finally, even though Daniel created Enormous with the intent that it could never be filmed, the comic has already been optioned by entertainment company Machinima, which has recently released the first installment of the Enormous live action web series. Perhaps the comic book movie industry, like the comic book industry, continues to evolve.
Visit comixology.com for more info on digital copies of Enormous.