WITH SCOTT CUNNINGHAM
The creator of Congo Bill raps with Marc Bryant.
Scott Cunningham knows his big apes. His wife
is a doctoral candidate in physical anthropology, providing a
wealth of research material. Scott himself has created stories
about a variety of primates in his work, from ALIEN METAPHOR
for WORLD WAR 3 ILLUSTRATED to his Bigfoot character for
the NICKELODEON comics, Scott has run the gamut of knuckle-draggers.
In his recent CONGO BILL miniseries for VERTIGO, Scott
gives the big gold gorilla the same trademark shot in the arm
that has revitalized other such long-time second stringers as
JONNY DOUBLE, ANIMAL MAN, DOOM PATROL, HUMAN
TARGET, UNKNOWN SOLDIER and two different incarnations
of the SANDMAN.
PopImage: Tell us about CONGO BILL.
Scott Cunningham: The original CONGO BILL
is really two characters. The title for the DC series (which was
the backup story for ACTION COMICS, beginning in 1960)
was CONGORILLA. Congo Bill was a big game hunter and business
tycoon who with the aid of a magic ring, was able to switch his
mind with that of a great golden ape. A dying African chief, whom
Congo Bill unsuccessful attempted to save the life of, passes
the ring to him before he dies. In the proposal that Vertigo editors
approved before I began writing my own mini-series, the scene
with the same characters was very close to the original. In the
end, though, I felt it was necessary to alter a few things, though
most of the basic elements are still in place.
of government assassins return to the jungle to "get" CONGO
BILL, structured to acknowledge the precedent set by the
novel HEART OF DARKNESS and the film APOCALYPSE NOW."
Where did the idea/concept for the story come
from? Why this character?
The idea/concept was very much a collaboration
between the series editor Axel Alonso and myself: a team of government
assassins return to the jungle to "get" CONGO BILL, structured
to acknowledge the precedent set by the novel HEART OF DARKNESS
and the film APOCALYPSE NOW. Once the initial concept was agreed
upon it was up to me to flesh it out.
One reason I chose Congorilla was that I remembered
reading it as a kid and liking it a lot. I also draw and write
my own comics and one of the series that I do is called ALIEN
METAPHOR and features a bigfoot character (some of the stripes
actually made it onto the pages of HEAVY METAL, the bulk
of the comics appeared in the underground political comic WORLD
WAR 3 ILLUSTRATED). Ape imagery has always been a big part
of both my comics and paintings (Paintings! Yes, I'm afraid to
admit it, but I have a background in the fine arts). The other
big reason was that Axel and I had already agreed to revive a
character whose setting wasn't in America and to add a "realpolitik"
angle to it story. Then the whole revolution started in the Congo
(May 1997), overthrowing the dictator Mobutu, and that sealed
Did you read the last miniseries CONGORILLA?
If you're referring to the mini that was released
in the early '90s, then I read some of it. Using the DC archives,
I was able to photocopy the series to study, but in the end I
only glanced at it. It's re-conception of the characters was so
different from my own that it seems unnecessary to research it.
This is a bit off the topic, but, since I really wanted my own
series to seem that it was set in the Congo, the bulk of my research
was in reading first-hand accounts of the region, as well as political/historical
analyses of the Congo (and Africa in general).
How did Danijel Zezelj come on board, and what's
it like working with him?
Danijel illustrated my first story for Vertigo
("Worldwide Gangster Robots" in GANGLAND #3). I loved what
he did with that story and so early on in the process he was asked
to come on board. I thought Danijel would be great at conveying
a sense of an exotic atmosphere, a place that was both realistic
but otherworldly, a place were anything could happen. It's interesting
to see that on the DC Message Board most folks single out the
unique sense of atmosphere the comic has. I also think the colorist,
Lee Loughridge, is perfect for Danijel's art, and I've heard through
Axel that Danijel agrees.
Did you have any contact with cover artist
No. But I was very excited that he was available
to do the covers. He was the only artist I requested and we were
lucky enough to get him to sign on. Each of the four covers are
terrific, but I think the best thing about them is how they all
work together, like a thumbnail sketch of how the whole story
evolves. He's an amazing talent.
Any particular influences while you were writing
I already mentioned the Conrad novel and Coppola
flick as influences on the story. I would also add Garth Ellis'
mini-series UNKNOWN SOLDIER, which was a strong influence
on the structure and pace of my series.
A lot of creators have a "soundtrack" in mind
for each project they work on. Did you listen to any particular
music while you were writing the story?
I really wish I could listen to music while I
write because the isolation can get kind of oppressive at times.
But I become easily distracted and the only way I know to keep
focused is to minimize the influence of the outside world.
What have you enjoyed most about doing this
Seeing it finished; seeing the words and ideas
take a final form; feeling like something out of your head can
take on a kind of reality.
What does CONGO BILL offer the reader that
other comics of its kind might not?
Unusual, daring artwork, Danijel's certainly no
run-of-the-mill illustrator; an exotic locale and a political
and cultural angle that gets a lot more specific than most stories
have tried before. And maybe, maybe a moral for these amoral times.
Or at least, a context in which to act.
What would you like for the reader to take
with them after they've finished the story?
A sense that the readers have been on a journey,
and that this journey has taken them someplace they've never been
Any dream projects you'd like to tell us about?
Any future projects you would like to mention?
Both are sort of related. All I can say is yes
and no to both questions. Yes, I have both a dream project and
a future project, but I can't comment on either at this time.
Big thanks to Scott Cunningham for taking time
out for this interview. I'd like to urge everyone who hasn't read
CONGO BILL to check out this wonderful example of cutting edge
All characters, titles, images mentioned or shown
are copyright and trademark their respective creators.
Marc Bryant is Features
Editor for PopImage.
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