The creative team behind Kingdom Kong is interviewed, the tie in comic for Godzilla vs. Kong (2021). Featured is writer Marie Anello, whose background includes training in opera, musical theater, jazz, pop, voice acting and drama. In addition, her writing background includes Shout Out and writing numerous articles. Also featured is Mohammad Yazid “Zid” Kamal Baharin, who returns to the MonsterVerse after previously having worked on the Skull Island: The Birth of Kong comic series.
Writer Marie Anello Interview
Toho Kingdom (Chris Mirjahangir and Noah Percival): How long did it take to crack the story? Did Legendary give any guidelines? Was there a series bible?
Marie Anello: From the initial pitch to actually settling into scripting, I’d say breaking the story took about eight months, in part because every revision had to be approved by the film team. Legendary had a concept from the start that I was tasked with fleshing out, and the treatment went through several iterations before we settled on what would become the final script. We didn’t have a series bible, but I was sent shooting scripts for Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), as well as the Skull Island: The Birth of Kong comic to give me a better sense of the context I was writing in. The Legendary mythology team sent me visual references and answered a lot of my questions about the lore and the series continuity.
Toho Kingdom: The Godzilla and Kong stories are each vastly different with Godzilla’s story being a more personal experience and Kong’s more of an action film focusing on a fighter pilot. How was Kong’s narrative chosen?
Anello: With regards to Kong’s part in all this, we wanted to show his growth both physically and emotionally in the time since his appearance in Kong: Skull Island (2017). He’s older and more battle-hardened now, plus three times bigger. We wanted to explore how that affects his relationship with the world around him.
Toho Kingdom: How many versions of Kong’s story were created before a final was decided upon?
Anello: I think we ended up going through about six different treatments before we settled on what would become the final comic.
Toho Kingdom: How are the backgrounds for each of the Legendary Titans created?
Anello: I can’t speak to the Titans aside from Camazotz, but when it was decided he’d be the comic’s antagonist, the mythology team sent me a short primer on what they were envisioning and asked me to pitch some ideas for his powers. I went a bit overboard and did a bunch of research into the Popol Vuh (Camazotz’s mythological origin) as well as the habits and biology of bats, and then worked with the mythology team and the editors to refine it down into something cohesive.
Toho Kingdom: What story elements didn’t make it into each comic and what were they?
Anello: Like many projects, there were definitely some story elements that didn’t make it in. Perhaps the thing I’m most sad about cutting was a reference to the King Kong Broadway musical, which won a special Tony for having a very complex giant Kong puppet. Being a classically trained opera singer with a background in musical theater, I really wanted to work in a gag about that somewhere, but it just didn’t fit.
Toho Kingdom: How did you approach writing Kong? Did you think of him as a monster or as character?
Anello: I don’t know if you can draw a distinction between a monster and a character in this instance, because these monsters aren’t just mindless forces of nature, they have their own agendas that drive the plot of the MonsterVerse forward. Kong was an interesting challenge for me, because as a writer you’re limited to either what can be communicated visually or what others observe about him. It took me a few attempts to really figure out how to get into Kong’s head, because I kept trying to say too much. When writing inhuman characters, you have to keep in mind that they experience the world differently than a human. There’s a purity and a rawness to their emotions, especially Kong who I think, because of how he’s had to live, has a great well of empathy and a lot of weariness to go with it. What really helped me tap into Kong was recognizing what his internal conflict was in this comic. We’ve seen him as an adolescent, but now he’s reached maturity and he has no others of his species to model himself on. He’s spent his whole life developing this symbiotic, protective relationship with Skull Island and the Iwi, but now he’s quite literally outgrowing his surroundings, and there are other creatures out there, other Titans, that view him as a natural enemy to be conquered.
Toho Kingdom: How much of the previous Monsterverse media (novelizations/comics) was taken into account when writing these stories?
Anello: The biggest sources of continuity that I used for this were Kong: Skull Island (2017), the Birth of Kong comic, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), as well as the upcoming film. Kong had to feel authentic to his other appearances, and I really needed to make sure that his presence in this story felt like a bridge from where we last saw him to where he is at the start of Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).
Toho Kingdom: The stories are rather lengthy in scope. Was there a set page number for each comic to adhere to?
Anello: The initial brief asked for 50-60 pages, but I knew pretty quickly that we’d need more space to tell this story and introduce all the elements the team wanted, so I was able to expand the page count and it ended up being around 70.
Toho Kingdom: What was the inspiration behind the Spirit Tiger?
Anello: I didn’t come up with the design, but I did get the chance to characterize the Spirit Tiger a bit more. At some point it was compared to a unicorn, in that it’s ethereal and beautiful and rare, but then add in the fact that it’s a dangerous predator. I really liked that and tried to evoke that sense of awe in the comic when the audience sees it for the first time.
Toho Kingdom: Were there any characters from the Kong Skull Island film that you wanted to include but couldn’t?
Anello: Not from the Skull Island film, but I’d really wanted to include Houston Brooks’s son Aaron from the Birth of Kong comics. I’d hoped that I could work him in somewhere, but sadly there was just no room anywhere in the story we were telling.
Artist Zid Interview
Toho Kingdom (Chris Mirjahangir and Noah Percival): Zid, you are well known for the Skull Island: The Birth of Kong comic. How was it to return to the series with this comic?
Zid: I don’t know about being well known, but I definitely felt honoured beyond words… To be given the opportunity once again to breathe life into the Titan I once worked on years ago, felt like a homecoming.
Toho Kingdom: For Kong, who gives approval for design for the character like Toho does with Godzilla?
Zid: There is a mythological team responsible for approvals, quality control, and consistency for all media tie-in graphic novels at Legendary Comics. Everything I do goes through them and they will give their feedback on what works, what doesn’t, what can be combined from those that work until everyone is satisfied.
Toho Kingdom: The original Legendary Titans all have names existing in mythology and cryptozoology. How difficult was it to create each Titan with each name?
Zid: I have not designed any other Titans other than Camazotz. The pressure was intense. The name Camazotz alone has sprung up a plethora of iterations in popular culture so the challenge was to not resemble anything that has been designed.
Toho Kingdom: How many designs were there for each before each was finalized?
Zid: Oh, I have lost count. There were hundreds of sketches, some I liked that didn’t make the cut and others that I was blindly throwing the darts at to see what would stick. Eventually they were narrowed down to 14, and then three, until we got to the Camazotz that we now have in Kingdom Kong.
Toho Kingdom: What reference material was used in creating them?
Zid: Everything that I could think of from my own visual vocabulary to real world animals – we have to ground the design to reality to give it some sense of believability, but also make it interesting enough that some liberty can be forgiven. It started out with a description on what the mythological team wanted the Titan to represent. And then I produced sketches that came to mind what would best in my opinion reflect the description.
Toho Kingdom: From start to finish, how long did the art process take?
Zid: Oh man, painted comics is a stamina-draining quicksand. Painting indeed is a pain thing. But, we artists are slaves to our passion. After reading the script, I will sketch a rough layout and then have the characters drawn. Upon approval, I immediately jump to paint the backgrounds while I send a copy of the page to my assistants to block out the flats and colour the base on the characters from my lineart for me to finalize later on. The whole bottleneck process alone takes about 4-5 days if there are no amendments to be made. In a month I produced about 5-6 pages on average. Kingdom Kong took me a year to wrap up. After all is said and done, all the blood, sweat, and tears are worth it after seeing the end product turning out the way you can be proud of.
Toho Kingdom: How did you get involved with the MonsterVerse to begin with?
Zid: I’ve made this public in several other interviews. Before there was a MonsterVerse, I tested for Godzilla Awakening but I didn’t get the job. I was disappointed in myself mostly, but luckily the powers that be in Legendary Comics still wanted me around and assigned me to work on other in-house materials. The stars aligned when there were talks about bringing Kong into the mix and my MVP editor Robert Napton hit me up to do another test. And before I knew it, I was a Skull Island representative.