By Darin and Chad Carpenter and Lucas Elliott; Willow Creek Press; 2015; 148 pages; $19.95
"Moose: The Movie" is an Alaska-made low budget gem that hit theaters around the state this past spring and became an immediate cult classic. Filmed near Wasilla, it's the chilling tale of the fictional town of Gangrene Gulch, which finds itself terrified by the monstrous Moosetaur, a half man-half moose that rampages through the surrounding woods, shredding residents with its hooves and horns and leaving everyone stupid with terror, emphasis on the stupid part.
The movie mocks both horror films and Alaskans with unrestrained glee, and it's funnier than anyone has a right to expect from a production team and cast who, for the most part, had little if any prior experience with filmmaking. Even when blood splatters across the screen it's a riot.
"Moose" is the brainchild, if you can call it that, of the Carpenter Brothers, North Pole resident Darin, and his better-known Wasilla-based brother Chad, creator of the syndicated comic strip Tundra. So with a cartoonist involved in a movie that depends heavily on sight gags, the obvious question would be, "Is there a graphic novel?"
Of course there is, although rather than have Chad Carpenter draw it, that task fell to Anchorage artist Lucas Elliott. The artist delivers a 148-page streamlined adaptation that pulls the main plot threads from the film and weaves them into a fast-paced, eye-pleasing version that can be easily read in a single sitting. It's every bit as funny as the movie, even if many of the best parts and quirkiest characters got left out.
Funny in just the right way
Farming the artwork out to Elliott was a good move. Chad Carpenter is an accomplished cartoonist to be sure. But his style is geared for the funny pages. The movie has a lot of action while the actors' physical appearances on screen are pivotal to the development of their roles. Carpenter is great with visual punch lines, but he likely would have struggled to bring the film to life on the page.
Elliott doesn't use a strictly realistic style either. His approach combines uncluttered panels with humans that are always exhibiting exaggerated physical traits. It's an ideal fit for something never intended to be taken seriously. Whether the characters are just standing around gesticulating or running for their lives, they look funny in just the right way and there's little going on in the background to distract readers. Elliott keeps the focus on what's happening and how the characters respond.
Anyone who has seen the movie knows that the biggest challenge for any artist would be doing justice to its leading man, park ranger Zack del Pollo. The role was filled by novice actor Zack Lanphier, whose face is an ever-shifting canvas of awkward expressions from the moment he steps into the screen. Plenty of the film's laughs are provided by his facial reactions to transpiring events, and capturing that would be a difficult task for anyone. Rather than try to duplicate it, Elliott compensates with the same exaggeration he employs elsewhere. Nauseated, agitated or just dumbfounded, the face of the Zack found in the graphic novel is consistently distorted beyond reality for effect.
Another challenge is the Moosetaur itself. The joke with the monster in the movie is that it's obviously a big guy dressed in brown rags wearing an enormous moose head with glowing eyes. It's too funny to be scary, even when it's killing someone. Elliott chooses to downplay this and instead shroud the Moosetaur in shadows. It never makes a fully revealed appearance and the effect is something like that of the first Alien movie, where there are quick glimpses as the carnage commences, and then the monster is gone, letting the reader's imagination draw its own picture.
The crucial thing for any graphic novel based on a movie is whether or not it can stand alone as its own work. Would it make sense to someone who hasn't seen the film? In the case of "Moose," the answer is yes. The Carpenters and Elliott have pared down the script to the basic plot line here.
Many of the supporting characters from the movie have been dropped or minimized, as have numerous scenes. Fans of the movie will be disappointed to find their favorite bit players eliminated. For the sake of bringing the story into comic form, however, these omissions help smooth the flow. The large array of off-kilter weirdos that pass through the film are a large part of what makes it so quirkily Alaskan, and that aspect of the story is lost here. However, so many walk-ons could have left readers confused and swelled the graphic adaptation to a length longer than necessary.
A few things don't quite work. The hippie scene, one of the most hysterical parts of the movie, is critical to the plot and has to be included. But without the godawful guitar playing and off-key singing, it loses its impact. On the other hand, the overly long closing scene, the movie's only real flaw, is just a single panel taking up the last page here. The joke is delivered and the show is over. It works much better this way.
Like "Moose: The Movie," "Moose" is a fun work produced by some talented Alaskans with a great sense of humor. It's a clever sendup of Alaska cliches and the horror genre, mocking both in a consistently lighthearted way. It's suitable for most ages. One needn't be a comic geek to enjoy it. Anyone who's ever picked up a horror story, been to a scream flick, or spent time in Alaska will appreciate the jokes.
David A. James is a Fairbanks-based freelance writer and critic.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing