On May 3, Warner Bros. Animation will release DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery, a new collection of short films that also includes Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth!, Blue Beetle, and The Losers. Produced by Rick Morales (Mortal Kombat Legends, Injustice), these shorts boast an incredible array of talent both in terms of the creatives and phenomenal A-List cast members.
There's something to love about each of these movies, but Kamandi was definitely our favourite. Heavily inspired by Jack Kirby's storytelling as a writer and artist, it's a fun ride and one that ends in a way that left us hungry for more. Paul Giacoppo was tasked with bringing this story to life, and we've no doubt you'll be familiar with his work on shows like Star Wars Resistance and Young Justice.
That barely scratches the surface of what he's done, though, and Paul also has a history working in VFX on huge movies and TV shows like Star Wars, The Avengers, The Irishman, and The Mandalorian.
During our conversation with Paul, we got some fascinating insights into his writing process for Kamandi, as he explained his approach to telling this story and how Kirby's work and iconic movies factored into his approach. He also gets into spoilers by reflecting on that huge tease at the end of the short, explains why certain characters were chosen, and shares his hopes for this hero moving forward.
When you were tasked with writing this short, were you aware that the animation style would be so heavily inspired by Jack Kirby and did that add to the pressure at all?
When Jim Krieg, the executive producer, approached me about writing this short, I was really excited because I knew who the character was, but I realised how little I know about him. He’s such a cool character, and you have this impression from some images, but when I researched and saw more of the world Kirby created, that’s two volumes of material. I thought I’d be able to research Kamandi quickly before starting to write, but it’s huge! There’s so much there and, exactly as you said, it’s all in Kirby’s distinctive art style. We did talk about that. We wanted it to feel not just like a story that Kirby would tell, but Jim told me that all of these shorts would have the same approach in terms of respecting the comic book artwork. DC has done this with a lot of shorts where they try to mimic some of the comic book style, but it’s always challenging to interpret that in a moving image in the TV or animation world. When they told me, though, I was really excited and I think they pulled it off really beautifully.
Beyond the Jack Kirby influences, I loved the cinematic feel of this story, so did you find yourself turning to any specific movies for inspiration as well?
[Laughs] Yeah. I like to say that when you tell any story about a character, whether they’re brand new or a pre-existing historical or fictional character, you always have to show little moments in their lives that tell you more about their entire life. It’s like that scene with Luke on the farm in Star Wars. You have to ask yourself, ‘What are the moments that feel like they’re part of who they are?’ Once that starts coming together, familiar images, moments from movies, and even your favourite animations come to mind, so there was a bit of everything here. There was some Indiana Jones with the trial at the end of The Last Crusade when he has to go through different tasks. This story, though, was adapted from ‘The Mighty One’ in the comics, and it had a similar theme of discovering who that was and the fight over it.
However, in the original story, you knew it was Superman from the very beginning and Kamandi was fighting for Superman’s honour. We decided it would be more exciting to go a different way because most people aren’t familiar enough with the comics to know where it goes. Even when they were reading the comics, they might not have initially realised that Kirby’s future Earth A.D. was connected to the DC Universe and is its future. Of course, it becomes really obvious in the original comics when Kamandi is standing there in front of a statue of Superman that’s been defaced or degraded over time, but we wanted to create a mystery, so when they talked about ‘The Mighty One,’ we just used vague imagery that hopefully made it less clear who it was until the suit reveal. We tried to tell the story cinematically to reveal the surprise at the end, but there was Indiana Jones and Planet of the Apes was a big inspiration too.
You mentioned the Superman reveal at the end, but knowing you were building to that, did that mean avoiding throwing in other DC Easter Eggs no matter how tempting it might have been?
Yes and no. Any comic book reader is going to already know the history, so they’ll be aware of the payoff. With a character like this who is less familiar to general audiences, we tried not to include any obvious characters. There are characters who are also part of the DC Universe, but you don’t know that obviously until you see Superman because that’s what everyone will recognise. So, there are Easter Eggs, but nothing as obvious as Superman.
In terms of this short’s supporting cast, how soon was it you zeroed in on characters like Tuftan and Zuma for help in telling this story?
As we looked through different stories, we started wondering how we could quickly set this up and tell the story we wanted. With a short film, especially, you have to focus on the iconic scenes and the moments that are easy for the audience to grasp so you can get to the meat of the story you’re telling. You don’t have a lot of time, so what’s a story with a very clear beginning, middle, and end that could fit within this amount of time and have an interesting payoff for viewers? We went through a few ideas, but we decided to take certain moments like Kamandi on the raft going past the fallen Statue of Liberty which is the very symbol of fallen humanity, right? That was a moment we knew we wanted to see, and in the second issue, Kamandi and Tuftan were captured by rats, so we figured we could use that as a little predicament they could be in to better establish the characters in the world. When we got to the story of ‘The Mighty One,’ we realised that was a story we would want to see. When people think of DC, they often think, ‘Great, these are DC characters, but how do they connect to the world I know a little bit more fully?’ It was very fortunate this story existed and it tied back to Superman because if it didn’t, it’s one I’d have loved to come up with!
When Kamandi was created, it was partly because DC Comics couldn’t publish Planet of the Apes comic books. I know you said those movies were an inspiration, but how much did you have to toe the line with what you could borrow from that franchise?
[Laughs] It’s funny. It’s true that DC wanted to do a Planet of the Apes comic, couldn’t, and then did their take on it. Kirby did his take. As I looked into this, my research showed that there’s a little more to the story. Around ‘57 or ‘58, there was an imprint called Alarming Tales. Kirby wrote a short story for that about a time-traveller who goes to the future and mankind has fallen, and there’s a war between rats, tigers, and dogs. This pre-dated the Planet of the Apes book by a few years as it didn’t come out until ‘63. The movie was ‘68, I think. When Kirby was tasked with coming up with this world, my understanding is that he had claimed never to have seen the movies and only had a cursory familiarity with them. He just did his take on what he thought it would be like, so I don’t think he was inspired by it. Rather, he was just doing a take on what he thought it might look like, and that’s why his world introduces these much crazier elements. I was surprised by that. With Kamandi, he drew inspiration from his original ‘57 story more than Planet of the Apes which I found really interesting. So, it was the same for me in some ways.
Looking over your IMDb page, I was blown away seeing that, on and off, you’ve been part of the Star Wars franchise from the special editions to the prequels and right up to The Mandalorian. What’s it been like to follow the evolution of the franchise in that VFX realm?
I’ve always worn two hats as a storyteller and an artist. I could tell my life story, but I had an unusual path into both worlds as I’ve always loved movies, but visual effects, especially. I was a kid when Star Wars first came out and when that Star Destroyer came across the screen, my life was changed. I don’t know what else to say as there’s no other way to describe it. Planet of the Apes was very seminal to me growing up as well. I’ve always loved makeup and made my own rubber masks based on Apes, and I’ve always been fascinated with the evolution of special effects and makeup. I was lucky enough to get to work in film and animation, and that brought me to the Star Wars franchise. I got to work on the very Special Editions of the movies that inspired me as a kid and that was amazing. I’ve very thankful for that. With The Mandalorian, I made the computer version of Baby Yoda so we could do the things the puppet couldn’t. I got to work on Rogue One from beginning to end making the digital humans and that was one of the most fun projects I’ve ever worked on.
There is the big Superman tease at the end of the movie that definitely leaves the door open to more stories with Kamandi - I know it’s always hard to say with these things, but is that something you’d like to be part of should it become a reality?
It’s really funny. Once I opened this up, the story almost can’t be contained because there’s so much story to tell with this world. There’s a whole map of what it looks like; boiling oceans and this fallen Earth that’s suffering from natural disasters caused not by nuclear war, but by a cataclysmic event of some kind. To show this as a series or movie…Kamandi is cool because he’s a hero. I always say that Charlton Heston is a hero in Planet of the Apes, but Kamandi is a superhero. They’re very similar characters, but there are a few things that push this guy into superhero mode. Telling that kind of story as a series…almost everybody brings it up. It’s the perfect kind of story to tell in a long-form and I hope it happens.
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DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery arrives on Digital & Blu-ray on May 3.