ANCHORAGE — If you’ve opened a newspaper from one of Alaska’s major cities, chances are you’re familiar with the work of Chad Carpenter, creator of “Tundra” comics. His pot-bellied, large-nosed, hapless cartoon characters have populated the local funny pages for 21 years, starting in the Anchorage Daily News and spreading to over 550 newspapers across the United States, Europe and even the Caribbean.
Now, Carpenter is expanding his Alaskana empire further with “Moose,” a graphic novel that will be the basis for a live action, feature-length film to be produced later this year.
Carpenter wrote the story with his brother Darin Carpenter. In it, a park ranger investigates the case of a “moose-ataur” — half moose, half human — that is terrorizing the fictional small town of Gangrene Gulch, Alaska.
While Carpenter created “Moose,” the novel won’t feature the wise-talking bears, beavers and people familiar to Alaska audiences. “Moose” is illustrated by Wasilla artist Robert Duckett.
“I’m a one-trick pony, I do cartoons,” Carpenter said. “I knew the look I wanted to have wasn’t something I could do — a little cartoony but at the same time more realistic.”
This being set in small-town Alaska (and a Chad Carpenter story), “Moose” is populated by a quirky cast of townspeople, including a pretty young coroner’s assistant who is also the town librarian, a narcoleptic dispatcher, a herd of hippies and several puppets — and, of course, the moose-ataur.
Carpenter expects the graphic novel to be in bookstores by early May. Proceeds from the book will help fund the movie, and Carpenter is also running a Kickstarter campaign to help with start-up costs. He met his fundraising goal of $50,000.
“I figured we’d have a 50/50 chance (Kickstarter) would work,” Carpenter said. If it didn’t, he said, he intended to make the movie anyway on his own dime. The Kickstarter money would “give us more leeway and the ability to pay some actors.”
It’s still not nearly enough — filmmaking is an expensive endeavor, and much of the funds raised through Kickstarter will get eaten up by fees, taxes and the “rewards” promised to backers — but Carpenter will be shopping the project around to find more sponsors.
Carpenter said he’s determined to have an all-Alaskan cast and production crew for the film, with one exception: Carpenter’s friend, cartoonist and “Simpsons” writer Tom Gammill, will be flown up from Los Angeles to play “not a huge part but an important character.”
The lead, park ranger Zack, will be played by Zack Lanphier, a Wasilla resident who teaches high school and served in Iraq with the Marines. The moose-ataur will be created by taxidermist Russell Knight, owner of Knight’s Taxidermy and star of the History Channel’s reality TV show “Mounted in Alaska.” The town of Gangrene Gulch is patterned after Talkeetna and places in the Mat-Su valley, where Carpenter expects a lot of the filming to take place.
Carpenter said “Moose” will be part comedy and part suspense, but family-friendly throughout.
“I think the moose-ataur is the only one topless in it,” Carpenter said.
The other roles are yet to be cast, but Carpenter said there has already been a lot of interest in the project from people who have followed “Tundra” through the years. “There seems to be a lot of people that really want to be involved. Normally a production of a full-length feature film is stupidly expensive,” Carpenter said.
“It’s very humbling. It also puts a lot of pressure on me at the same time. You realize it’s just a goofy movie, not an Oscar-winning film.”
For more of Carpenter’s work, see tundracomics.com.