Cottonmouth – THE MOVIE!
Cottonmouth poster art by Christopher P. Garetano, using images by Stephen R. Bissette; poster © 2008 Christopher P. Garetano, Bissette art used/adapted with permission; poster posted with permission.
Now Showing: Cottonmouth The Movie — See It Online, Read the Behind-the-Scenes Tale of its Birth…
At the stroke of midnight as October 30th gave way to October 31st, 2008 — Halloween — independent filmmaker Christopher P. Garetano debuted his new short film adaptation of my comic story “Cottonmouth” online.
This was a real thrill for me, and I love the film Chris has forged from my humble three-page (later revised to a five-page) story. Most astonishing to me was (and is) the utter devotion to my imagery: those are my panels brought to life onscreen, and the changes Chris ultimately had to make (all of which I encouraged) to the story for the film adaptation were essential.
For over two years, Christopher poured his own blood, sweat, time and finances into this authorized adaptation of my work. For that I am grateful, and I’m very pleased with the film Chris created.
Here’s your one-stop guide to Cottonmouth the Movie, with an abundance of links beginning with the all-important one that will permit you to see the movie with your own eyes…
Christopher P. Garetano’s adaptation of my Goreshriek and Taboo story “Cottonmouth” (1986, 1988) is alive and online!
To accompany that Halloween 2008 debut, Christopher and I asked my friend, video artist and filmmaker Matt Bucy to shoot a short interview with me about the story, its origins, and the film. Matt shot this interview in the Inkubator Studio at the Center for Cartoon Studies (that’s the work of my good friend, CCS alumni, and Blur cover designer Jon-Mikel Gates on the drawing board behind me) on October 19th, 2008,
Cottonmouth The Movie — How It Came to Be…
Director Christopher Garetano on set of the “Cottonmouth” shoot, with one of the vengeful dead; the vengeful dead is the one on the left. Photo © Christopher Garetano, posted with permission
Cottonmouth the movie was prominent among the ‘secret projects’ simmering on stoves kept tucked well out of sight for the past few years.
Filmmaker Christopher Garetano’s labor-of-love short film adaptation of my 22-year-old horror comic tale “Cottonmouth”, which I’ve always jokingly referred to as “my period piece” (I say, I say, that’s a pun, bwah!), is the first film adaptation of one of my own stories. This makes it nearer and dearer to my heart than those theatrical features derived from my various activities in comics (as character designer, editor, publisher, co-plotter, and penciller): Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze (which incorporated my snapping-turtle villain toy designs into Tokka), Return of the Swamp Thing, From Hell (not my baby, mind you, but the first Taboo adaptation from a graphic novel I nurtured as editor/publisher and that might never have existed without Taboo), Constantine and Ben Coello’s short film adaptation of Wendy-Snow Lang’s Taboo Especial story “Want”, which is a gem. The most I’d ever been directly involved in a film’s creation was at the behest and invite of my good friend Lance Weiler (co-director of the historic digital feature The Last Broadcast, 1998), who asked me and my son Daniel to create a prop for his first solo feature Head Trauma (2006). That prop — a faux Christian comics tract — grew to become almost a character in the film, as Lance encouraged us to flesh out the pages of the comic, working up panels that resonated with key images in the film, based on early rough cuts of the feature; in the end, the comic Dan and I created for Head Trauma represented my most organic creative involvement with any film.
Not a bad legacy, mind you, and one I’m certainly proud of overall, but Cottonmouth represents a major turning point.
“Cottonmouth” was first published in Goreshriek #1 (1986), which is where Chris Garetano first read the story at an tender and impressionable age. It was written and drawn quickly for FantaCo Enterprises editor/publisher Tom Skulan, and secured a place of honor in Goreshriek‘s debut issue. I slightly revised and expanded the story for Taboo #1 (1988), adding an introductory sequence and a nasty final page showing the wake of the spectral visitors in other corporate bedrooms, boardrooms and judge’s chambers, and it’s that version I consider the definitive one.
Early on in our negotiations back and forth, two or three years ago, I sent Chris a copy of the Taboo version, but it’s the original Goreshriek draft — sans the introductory page and coda page — Chris preferred and prefers, and that’s fine with me. It’s his movie, not mine, so I let Chris run with it. Everything I’d seen amply demonstrated Chris’s affection for my work and determination to bring the story to the screen with absolute fidelity to the original — a tough job, as he’s discovered. Comics and cinema are quite unlike one another, and storytelling devices that sing in one medium can easily fall flat in the other. It’s been an interesting process, and I’m thankful for all Chris accomplished.
In late summer of 2007, Christopher apprehensively sent me a rough edit of the film constructed from his 2006 shoot — a shoot chronicled in great detail at the Cottonmouth website documentaries — and I screened it with a select group of Center for Cartoon Studies friends and students. Based on our initial responses and my detailed feedback, Chris mounted a second session to create insert shots and a fuller narrative context of Chris’s own invention which is entirely unique to the film. I heartily approved and approve; Chris rewarded my trust every step of the process!
Filmmaker Christopher Garetano with reference art from “Cottonmouth” on the wall behind him, composed of blowups of my own panels from the original story. These weren’t storyboards; they were panel blowups Chris used to ensure the makeup effects and lighting schemes captured those in my original comics story. That’s what I call high fidelity! Photo © 2008 Christopher Garetano, posted with permission.
There’s a bit of history to share here, some of which Chris doesn’t even know. Here goes…
Back in the 1990s, I was contacted by an aspiring Pennsylvanian filmmaker named Wes Benscoter about adapting “Cottonmouth” into a short film; I wrote back to Wes and encouraged him to do so, stating what rights I’d have to hold on to (there’s no money in this for me, mind you; in fact, every nickel young filmmakers can scrape together for short films inevitably goes into the production itself, so I just wanted to be sure I retained all rights to my art, story and we co-owned the finished film).
I must add the fact that Pennsylvanian filmmakers have been mighty kind to me: my enduring friendship with Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos (which emerged in 1999 from my affection and ongoing active support for their 1998 debut feature The Last Broadcast) has been mighty sweet, culminating in my son Dan and I drawing that already-mentioned faux-Christian tract for Lance’s solo feature Head Trauma (2006), and working with a group of the CCS Pioneer Class of ’07 on the minicomic Jersey Devil for Heretic’s DVD reissue of The Last Broadcast, and so on. Back to Wes and Cottonmouth…
Time passed, and I often wondered what, if anything, became of that project. At the end of June 2002 I received an email from Wes, saying, “I seriously doubt you remember…” — I did, in fact, remember, and still had Wes’s original letters on file — “…but I wrote to you years ago to get your permission to make a short film based on your “Cottonmouth” story from Taboo. You wrote back a very kind and encouraging letter giving me your blessings to give it a go. Well, as you probably guessed I never did get very far…the harsh reality of trying to make movies in PA without spending serious money made me eventually turn to painting and professional illustration … I have had a bit of success…lots of record covers, an art book published, and gallery shows in Japan!” Wes has indeed enjoyed considerable success, and I’m happy to say some of the DVDs in my expansive film collection sport terrific cover paintings by Wes!
So, Wes redirected all his energy from films to his art — which was the precise career path I followed back in 1974-76, landing me on the steps of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, Inc., and the rest is — what it is. My reasons were similar, though the lack of access to the kind of filmmaking technology now available to everyone was another factor: even without the money issues, telling my own stories via comics was ultimately more accessible and satisfying than struggling with silent 8mm film as I had throughout my junior high and high school years.
I’m happy to report, though, that Wes recently completed his first short film, the harrowing and haunting 8-minute Hold Your Fire (2008), which coincidentally premiered at the historic Sitges Film Festival (Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya) in Spain the first week of October, 2008 (!). [Note: As with Ben Coello's adaptation of Wendy Snow-Lang's Want, I will post info, photos and links on Wes's Hold Your Fire elsewhere on my blog and this site in the near future.]
Chris, teaching the dead how to shoot themselves in the face with outsized rubber bands; I always wondered why we cartoonists like to draw zombies with one eye dangling out of the skull socket — now we know. On the set of “Cottonmouth”: Photo © Christopher Garetano, posted with permission
Which is a long way around to saying: I always relate to filmmakers, because I was one during my teenage years, and I empathize with all they struggle with. I’m supportive in every way I can be — including my extensive writing about films and filmmakers, books series like Green Mountain Cinema and the time I pour into regional film events like WRIF, the White River Indie Film festival. I’m (with very rare exceptions) usually quite open to talking to them when any interest is expressed in adapting one of the comics stories I created and own, as long as the interest is earnest and my rights protected.
That said, Chris and I will be sharing more about Cottonmouth the movie and how this all came about and when, but the bottom line is Chris Garetano is the first to bring that impulse to fruition, and I’m overjoyed with the results.
More to come!
(Revised & updated from the original June 10, 2008 Myrant announcement and October 14, 2008 post; all images ©2008 Christopher P. Garetano, posted with permission.)