Mike Wolfer: Q&A
Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2004
Posted By: Tim O'Shea
Artist Mike Wolfer recently was kind enough to talk about his latest collaboration with writer Warren Ellis on Strange Killings: Necromancer for Avatar. Here’s all the background you could want, thanks to the Avatar website: “One of the most highly-regarded creators on the indy comics horror scene, writer/artist Mike Wolfer entered the field in 1987 with his giant-monster saga Daikazu, under his own Ground Zero Comics banner…Wolfer launched his best-known creation Widow around 1991 and the adventures of the genetically altered woman-spider have showcased his trademark character-driven blend of drama, horror, science fiction, and erotica ever since…At Avatar Press, Wolfer has done a number of Widow mini series plus the 14-issue Widow X which collects and expands the entire pre-Avatar Widow saga. His erotic horror character Rag Doll has run in the pages of Avatar's adult anthology Raw Media, and he has also worked on indy goth-girl staple Razor at Avatar, both in collaboration with David Quinn (Faust) and in his own written and drawn serial in Avatar's Threshold anthology…Landmark Warren Ellis creations Strange Kiss and Stranger Kisses were both drawn by Wolfer, and the pair are working together again on the Strange Killings saga…Ellis and Wolfer return for another brutal series featuring combat magician William Gravel! Something with the unholy hunger for human flesh lurks in the Philippine jungle, a horror whose global political ramifications could shake the British government to its very foundation. But eradicating its trail from England is not Sergeant Major William Gravel's assignment. Curiously, the S.A.S.'s top combat magician has been given the seemingly simple task of assassinating one investigative reporter. Before this dark mission's end, however, Gravel's morality as a man will be put to the ultimate test and thrust him into a fight for his life against an army of the undead and quite possibly his very own countrymen…Necromancer is the sixth installment of the William Gravel saga, the first four arcs are currently in print in trade paperback form. Check the Warren Ellis' Strange Killings section for complete information and artwork.” Now on to the interview.
Tim O’Shea: The upcoming Strange Killings: Necromancer is set in the Philippines, a setting with which you're quite well-versed in, having once lived there. What are the benefits/appeal to setting the tale in the Philippines?
Mike Wolfer: With the exception of the Borneo flashback sequence in The Body Orchard, William Gravel's adventures so far have all been in urban environments, so it's fun to see him down and dirty in jungle survival mode. As you mentioned, I spent several years in the Philippines and one thing that struck me about the region was that it was breathtakingly beautiful, yet as you stand on the beach looking into the jungle taking in the sounds and the smells, you realize just how much you don't belong there. Anything could be waiting for you in there and you'd never know it or expect it. This "green hell" backdrop is the perfect enhancement for Necromancer, since we're exploring the most primal conditions of the human experience: life, death, love and sex. William Gravel's in for one hell of a time.
TO: Given that this is horror for a mature audience, how do you go about making the reanimated dead a bit more gruesome looking than what one could see in a comics code approved book? Also how liberating is it to be able to tell stories in general in the mature audience arena?
MW: Well, certainly I'm able to more graphically depict various states of decomposition which is fun for everyone! For Necromancer, the mature readers label is most liberating in that it allows us to portray in the most graphic detail not only the horror of the walking dead, but most importantly their actions. Strip away the conscience and morality of the human being and you have a predatory animal. The living dead in this story are driven by the most base, carnal desires and I think their actions will shock even the most jaded of mature readers. Since my first mature readers work on Widow, I've always tried to give readers the most realistic experience that I can, from the details in the artwork to the motivations and dialogue of the characters. I think that in many books, creators use the "mature readers" label as an excuse to throw in extraneous language, gore and sex, regardless of whether or not it relates to the story they're telling. In Strange Killings, we're dealing with all of those sensational aspects, but they're delivered in a way that's never out of synch with the story or characters.
TO: Strange Killings: Necromancer marks the sixth series that you and Warren Ellis have collaborated upon. In what ways has the relationship evolved from that first series to now? Are you willing to take more risks now, compared to the earlier stories?
MW: I have to admit, when I began Strange Kiss, my first collaboration with Warren, I was quite intimidated. I mean, it's Warren Ellis, for God's sake! I stuck very closely to his every word and he very gentlemanly led me exactly where I needed to go. As each series has progressed, our working relationship has reached a point where I take what Warren supplies and stretch it visually where it's appropriate. For instance, Warren will provide the framework for an action sequence, but he doesn't have to choreograph it blow-for-blow; I know where we start and where we end and whatever happens in between is purely visual and up to my best discretion. Thankfully, it never crosses my mind that I may be taking risks. I understand Warren's vision of William Gravel's world and although he oversees every aspect of each issue, Warren has never asked that I change anything that I've done, which is incredibly satisfying in any collaboration.
TO: What do you enjoy most working with a character like William Gravel?
MW: I think the most fun for me comes from not knowing what Gravel's capable of doing next. We're still learning the parameters of his abilities, what he can do and what he can't do. He's bitter, tired and justifiably paranoid and has the ability to make a man explode just by looking at him. He can control the path of a bullet, teleport and commune with ghosts, yet he almost always prefers to break a man's neck with his bare hands or take on an overwhelming number of enemies with a single handgun. Gravel lives in the world that we try to ignore. When we watch the news and say, "Those things don't happen here," that's where William Gravel is: right in the thick of the dirty, horrific atrocities that occur every day around us. It's never a dull day for a combat magician. And he can make a man explode just by looking at him.
TO: How much research do you do for a project like Strange Killings: Necromancer?
MW: A lot. As I mentioned earlier, I like to make the story as believable as possible, so before I begin a new project, I usually spend a few weeks gathering research materials: books, magazines, catalogs, web links; everything I'll need to fill the pages with as much detail as I can to make the reader feel that they're really there. I don't know if anyone even cares if there's the correct number of buttons on an S.A.S. officer's jacket, but I always keep in mind that someone will notice those minute details and appreciate the realism. Scripting requires its own research as well, not only in regard to each story's unique subject matter, but also in writing unobtrusive British dialogue.
TO: In dealing with nebulous elements that are often hard to portray visually, such as occult and horror, which do you find to be the greatest challenge? Or do the mediums just come naturally to you?
MW: In my own experience, the key to effectively portraying horror is the pacing. If you throw a severed head at the reader on page 1, there's no surprise. I'm very deliberate in setting the scene, giving the viewer visual references to make them comfortable with the surroundings. When the severed head finally rolls out the impact is greater because the tension has been slowly building. As for the occult, one thing that Warren and I have stayed clear of is Doctor Strange magic: flashy bursts of light from the hands and other special effects that look great in a comic book but would never be tangible or perceptible in the real world. This gives Gravel's form of magic an extra punch when viewed on the printed page. He doesn't disappear in a puff of swirling smoke, he's just simply not there any longer. It's startling.
TO: Is there unlimited potential for several more Strange Killings miniseries?
MW: Oh, absolutely. When you think about it, what do we really know about William Gravel? We've been given hints of his past and seen a small portion of what he's doing today, but we've only scratched the surface of a very interesting, multifaceted character. There's so much potential, his title alone, "S.A.S. combat magician" leads the imagination in so many exciting directions that it's hard to decide where to go next with him.
TO: What do you think is the foundation for the success of the series, what sparks the readers' interest, in other words?
MW: Strange Killings is a story about a combat magician, but he's rooted in a very real world. These are real stories in real places. That Gravel is still such an enigma is provocative and the fact that we never know to what lengths he may go is thrilling. This is a man who will kill dozens to save one child, yet murder a rival's family if only to send a message. It's a brutal, disturbing world that William Gravel trods through. He's seen things that would drive men mad and has committed acts even more monstrous than those he's witnessed. I think that readers connect with Gravel because he is our hero, yet he could easily be our villain. We sit back and watch, knowing that what he's about to do is so wrong, but there's no stopping him. Morally right or wrong, he will complete the mission. Just keep in mind that he's not saving the world for you and I. He's doing it for the paycheck.
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