WonderCon has come and gone, but I connected with a handful of promising artists and creators, and I’m excited to feature them in a series of WonderCon Spotlight interviews!
Today I have the privilege of chatting with Norm Harper, a comic artist who recently brought to life Rudyard Kipling’s classic (though brief) tale around the adventurous mongoose Rikki Tikki Tavi. Simply titled “Rikki”, Harper’s comic rendition fleshes out the world of Rikki Tikki Tavi: we meet other members of the mongoose clan, catch a glimpse of his strained relationship with a future father-in-law, and glean a bit more understanding for their endless feud with snakes. Capturing the spirit of classic Don Bluth films like Secret of N.I.M.H and American Tail, Harper’s comic successfully scratches a particular itch of nostalgia for those of us familiar with Chuck Jones’ classic cartoon, as well as providing a great foundation for newcomers to the story.
Mr. Harper was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the comic, which you can find below. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about your background – what projects did you work on before, and what motivated you to bring the story of Rikki-Tiki-Tavi to life in comic format?
I’ve tried my hand at various kinds of writing over the years – including kids’ books and screenplays. But comics were always my first love when it comes to storytelling mediums. So it was great to release Rikki as my first graphic novel. I currently own and operate Karate Petshop – a small press publisher dedicated to all ages comics and kids’ books.
I fell in love with “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” by watching the Chuck Jones animated version back in elementary school – it’s about 23 minutes long, so it was a perfect video to show on a rainy day when we couldn’t go outside for recess. I must’ve watched it at least two or three times a year for four or five years in a row. And I remember one specific viewing, sitting in the darkened classroom and wishing the cartoon wouldn’t end, wishing it was longer. I wanted the feature film treatment of this story. So when I reached adulthood and realized that there hadn’t been any other adaptation attempts of the story, I decided to do it myself and fulfill that childhood wish on my own. After doing a lot of work on the adaptation and considering a couple of different routes for it, I decided to take Rikki to the comic page.
What were some of your biggest challenges in this re-telling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic story?
The biggest challenge was in the changes I had to make to Rikki’s character. Kipling’s original Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is a very confident character, who is mostly happy with his situation. “Oh, hey, I got washed away in a storm and adopted by humans! That’s great! Every mongoose wants that to happen.” That works for the short story. But my feeling was that to justify lengthening the story Rikki would have to grow as a character during the events of my version. I had to change it enough that his worldview could be upended from beginning to end. But I also still needed the elements of the short story to occur in a recognizable way – Rikki needs to get caught in the storm, Karait needs to ambush him in the garden, Nag needs to sneak into the house, Nagaina needs to be fought in a final battle down in her tunnels. And somewhere in all that he needs to meet Darzee and Chuchundra.
There were a lot of false starts in the form of outlines and early drafts that didn’t work. But once I hit upon playing with the theme of identity, and seeing how that impacted Rikki as a character, it finally all snapped into place. I could feel the adaptation begin to take on a life of its own while still having a lot of the original story’s elements where they needed to be. That’s when I felt like I had something that worked and that I think deserved to exist beyond just an adaptation for adaptation’s sake.
Is the final product as we see it largely what you created, or were there elements of the story that you had to cut before publication?
There were a lot of story elements that didn’t make it into the final comic, actually. There were parts of the original story that I loved but couldn’t find an appropriate place for – most notably Nag’s speech about the mark that the god Brahm put upon all cobras. There was also a lot of world building that I did that ultimately didn’t make it into the story because it wasn’t information that pushed the narrative of Rikki’s story forward. For instance, there was a lot of time spent developing the Chakram mongoose clan; working out their history and their larger culture. Some of that is obviously still hinted at in the final book, but I’d love to find a way to revisit them and spend some time exploring that aspect of mongoose life in greater detail.
Are there any other plans for the “Rikki” story? An updated animated film, for example?
I don’t want to count any chickens before they’re hatched but, thanks to the positive response the comic has gotten, the possibility of an animated film is on the table. We’re currently working with some great names in feature animation to bring Rikki to the big screen and I hope we’ll be able to make an official announcement about it in the next couple of months.
Will you be at any other conventions this year? If so, where could people connect with you during the con season?
We’ve got a pretty busy convention season this year. Our major shows this year include:
– Comic-Con Revolution in Ontario, CA May 13th
– FanboyExpo in Knoxville, TN June 23-25th (this will be the only time this year I’ll be appearing at the same convention with Rikki artist Matthew Foltz-Gray)
– San Diego Comic Con July 20-23rd
– Comic Con Palm Springs August 25-27th
– Alternative Press Expo in San Jose, CA September 23-24th
And we have a number of other smaller shows and store appearances lined up as well. Follow us on Twitter (@karatepetshop) and keep up with all our shows and table/booth info, etc.
Any other plugs or announcements before we wrap up?
If you enjoy Matthew’s art on Rikki then definitely check out our latest book Tap Water and Tuna Party. If you like Calvin and Hobbes then this book will be right up your alley. It’s a collection of a newspaper comic strip that Matthew writes and draws called Spirit of the Staircase – the story of a regular guy named Matt and how his life is changed when a fuzzy ball of optimism named Mumford falls into his life. It’s a classic “best friends with conflicting personality types” scenario, and the expected hijinks ensue. But what makes it special is Matthew’s unique sense of humor, his gorgeous artwork, and the sincerity that he injects into the strip. I’m in love with the comic and really proud of how the collected edition turned out. It’s the first year’s worth of strips with commentary and additional art from Matthew. And we’re planning a second collection to come out early 2018.
We also have a new graphic novel which we’ll be releasing this fall about a thirteen-year-old girl who steps on a crack and does, in fact, break her mother’s back. And so she must travel to Haphaven – the magical world from which all superstitions draw their power – in order to retrieve a rabbit’s foot to save her mom. We’re taking the superstitions we’re all familiar with – horseshoes, rabbit’s feet, four-leaf clovers, breaking mirrors, spilling salt, etc. – and tying them together under a single unified mythology. It’s being drawn by Louie Joyce (Past the Last Mountain). It’s going to be a darker-but-still-all-ages sort of fantasy story, like we used to have a lot of in the 80s –The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth, etc.
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@karatepetshop) and you can keep up with all our releases and news. And you can buy any of our books at KaratePetshop.com.