Doug TenNapel Talks the Epic Return of Earthworm Jim

Sketch of Earthworm  Jim by Doug TenNapel

Earthworm Jim has been a beloved character in video games since his launch in 1994, but due to the limitations of cartridge space, his epic story was never properly told. Although Earthworm Jim appeared in award winning video games, an animated series and even a toy line, his story has never been told.

Doug TenNapel created Earthworm Jim 26 years ago and he has spent the last 20 years making 18 graphic novels. His most recent one was the successfully crowdfunded Bigfoot Bill. Over the years, Doug has spent a long time writing the epic of Earthworm Jim, and this first book will be on how Jim became Jim and answer questions such as “Who made the super suit?” and “Why is he launching cows?!”

On the Indiegogo campaign page, Doug gave some insight on the reasons behind this revival in graphic novel form:

“I don’t see comics as disposable rags made to read once then toss aside. I spend a lot of time writing and story and crafting every page and merely reading some thin floppy or a PDF isn’t the experience I’m going for. This book will be something you can enjoy for a lifetime, it’s literature, not pop-garbage and I want to stand on the tip-toes of my ability to reach for the highest possible craft I can accomplish!”

“My track record in this arena has few peers. I Kickstarted two sketchbook archives where we managed leather covers, gold gilded edges and the best printing money can buy. These are one-of-a-kind collector’s items that are not available in stores. The book honors the backers who made them happen. I write for the most diverse audience imaginable, and the backers constantly tell me, “I got more than I paid for!”

“If you look at my books that are made outside of Indiegogo, you’ll see that they don’t have the over-the-top printing production I can pull off through crowd funding. Only through Indiegogo will you find foil-stamped gold cover art, UV gloss coatings, embossing and de-bossing! I hope to explore new printing techniques that make these hard bound books the kind of items you show off to your friends with a durability that ensures a great re-read for the rest of your life!”


I spoke with Doug earlier this week when the crowdfunding campaign launched, since then the campaign has surpassed $100,000 in backing:

Chris Braly: How long has it been since you worked on an Earthworm Jim project, what was that, and why return to Jim now?

Doug TenNapel: Officially, I haven’t been on Earthworm Jim since 1995! That was the last real work that made it into a game that involved me. I’ve proposed a few projects and we talked about a few more and I even did some artwork for them, but over all, the last work I did was in 1995.

CB: According to our sources, you sold the rights to EJ to Shiny Entertainment. Last time we spoke to you Interplay held the rights. Have you reacquired those rights or are you licensing your original creation – are you at liberty to discuss?

DT: I’ll clarify what I can. I never “sold” the rights of EWJ to Shiny. It was a situation where I didn’t know what I was doing with the rights back then and Shiny realized they didn’t have the legal all- clear to even make the game unless I assigned the rights to the company. I wasn’t very smart, but I really wanted to keep my job and I really wanted them to make the game, so without consulting a lawyer, I assigned the character to them and got a guarantee on game royalties. All I’ve done to be able to make the comic was work out a separate deal with the current rights holders. It was something we both found beneficial. I think we’re both really happy on this one.

CB: What stage is the project currently in?

DT: I’ve got all of the notecards (plot and character) down and am about ¾ of the way through the script. I need to finish that by next week and start thumb-nailing! The plot is really easy because I’ve run this through my head hundreds of times in 25 years and I’ve written a few movie scripts for EWJ just to see what would shake out. It’s a tight schedule, but I can work with tight.

CB: Who is handling the creative chores on this? Are you getting any help from the original creative team for the video game and animation series?

DT: I always do everything I can on any project I work on. At some point, there’s too much work that either I’m not good at or I don’t have the time to do. So I’ve got a long time art partner Katherine Garner doing colors on this book. Radka Kavalcova is doing the flatting and I’m talking to Eric Weathers about doing lettering for me. One of my best friends, Joe Potter is doing the book design, he oversaw the production of Bigfoot Bill’s design and really helps put the Making Of book together.

Original Earthworm Jim team

As for the original team, they’re all being interviewed for the Making Of Earthworm Jim comic book. When we had our reunion last week, I pulled out the recorder and asked them questions about what they were thinking when we did the original game. I shook out a lot of info even I didn’t know, so this is going to be a complete telling of that behind-the-scenes story!

CB: You’ve created SO many fascinating projects since your time with Earthworm Jim, what brought you back to this iconic character?

DT: There was a real frustration with being known for epic stories and yet I never got to tell the complete epic of Earthworm Jim. That’s just a sad black hole in the universe I’m going to complete with these books! It’s also interesting because I’ve spent 20 years getting better at drawing and writing, so this new EWJ story will be much better than if I had the story rights back in 1994.

CB: You just came off of a successful, albeit challenging Indiegogo with BigFoot Bill. The finished product looks amazing! What did you learn from that campaign that will inform your approach to this one?

DT: The biggest thing I’m taking away from Bigfoot Bill is the confidence of knowing it will work! Once I figure out a tool or a system I can be really dangerous with it! I know a lot more about the printing side of it all so I’m not guessing. I used the actual shipping realities on Bigfoot Bill to calculate the shipping costs on this one. Most of all I feel a lot more comfortable with Indiegogo in that I know how to use that site better.

CB: Tell us a bit about your process, do you work on the visuals first or the words? Are you a digital artist or pen and paper? Little of both?

DT: I always work on the words first. The visuals are a challenge of their own, but there is nothing quite like wasting drawing pages that are telling an incoherent or un-interesting story. So I like to tell a great written story first in script form, then I can draw with confidence knowing that the hours and hours of drawing are worth it! I’ve done a number of digital books, but I love the look and feel of traditional art. So I’m hand drawing every page with ink and brush. It’s my happy place. Once I scan the pages it’s digital from that point on with lettering and coloring.

CB: You’re friends with many creators associated with the ComicsGate consumer movement, but you seem to be outside of it a bit. What is your feeling about the comicsgate movement these days and do you understand why some professionals have labelled it a “hate group”?

DT: I’m 52 years old and I know what I believe, so I’m not looking for any new movement to join. I only conform to Christ, and anyone else who wants me to behave within a movement is going to be disappointed! I’m a bit on the outside of CG because my values pre date it by oh, about an eternity. They came along over the last year and found me and we had a lot in common. If anyone wants to come along and help me fight for my rights to have my beliefs and still be a story teller then they are welcome on my team. Most of the CG kids have been really supportive of me in a way that few other groups ever have.

I have my own complaints about CG but any of the professionals who label it a “hate group” are doing so in ignorance. I mean, I know what “hate group” means, I think we all know what they’re implying with that phrase, and it’s a lie. Is CG an angry group? Yes! We’re angry because we thought that merely being a good artist and writer was enough to make it in comics or express ourselves in the free world. Then this even more unhinged group told us that being a good writer and artist wasn’t enough. That we had to think certain things before we could make a living. Another problem I see is that anyone, anywhere can put a CG next their Twitter post and
suddenly it looks like something all of the CG kids believe or think. There are people flat out saying foul things and putting a CG next to it. I don’t support that. I don’t agree with anyone in CG 100%, and of course that won’t be enough for some people.

I have a similar problem with having a huge audience that includes anti-CG, leftists, SJWs, weirdos of every kind, and I never thought it was my job as a story teller to go to war with them using my business. My comics are intended for everyone and I mean EVERYONE. I have criminals in prison reading my work and I hope they find a little joy or maybe get a laugh from my stories.

CB: That’s a refreshing perspective, Doug. Back to Earthworm Jim, if this campaign is anything like your Bigfoot Bill crowdfunding effort, this is going to be BIG! Is there a Bigfoot Bill and Earthworm Jim team-up in the future? And will we see more of Bigfoot Bill?

DT: I don’t have any plans to do a crossover… legally it would be pretty tough. But there will definitely be more Bigfoot Bill! I have already got the Bigfoot Bill 2 script finished and it’s ready to draw! I’ll get to work on that right after I finish Earthworm Jim this fall. I’m really looking forward to that because the next chapter in that book is when the story really does donuts in the parking lot!

CB: Nice! What are some of the perks in this campaign you’re most excited about?

DT: I like the one where I will draw an original Earthworm Jim in a signed copy of the book! The Earthworm Jim fans have had me draw that character thousands of times and they love owning a piece of the legend. That’s the dream of every character creator.

CB: What can you tell us about the adventure this time around?

DT: I’m making an epic, authoritative origin story for the suit, Jim’s journey and a universe-wide conspiracy between the planet Insectica (The Queen commissioned the suit from Professor- Monkey-For-A-Head) and Earth. It really brings home the word “Earth” in Earthworm Jim. I’m telling a story that answers WHY he exists. I’m seeing everything come together and it’s satisfying.

CB: Anything else you’d like Bleeding Fool’s readers to know about this project?

DT: I want the fans to know that I’m here to serve them. This book is my thank you for anyone who ever “got it” regarding Earthworm Jim!

CB: Thanks Doug, and thanks for being a fan of Bleeding Fool.

Check out Doug TenNapel’s Indiegogo campaign by clicking here so you can consider backing this special book!

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Chris Braly

I'm one opinionated, based geek. I try to steer this tiny ship and can often be heard monthly on the Comic Book Page Previews Spotlight podcast with several fellow "comic book nerds." Follow me on Twitter @ChrisBraly. My preferred adjectives are brilliant/beautiful.