Friday, May 26, 2017

Another Enjoyable Interview with Mike Wolfer--Featuring Letterer Natalie Jane!

Friend of the blog and all-around awesome creator Mike Wolfer has his latest Kickstarter going on currently (as I previously discussed on the blog) for, "Widow: Return to Spider Island." I had the opportunity to interview him again for the blog about his works past and present. I also was able to speak with the letterer on many of his comics, Natalie Jane, who offered some fascinating insight into the lettering process!

Now, the Interview!
Hey Mike, fancy seeing you again on the blog! I want to congratulate you on being the first-ever person to pull-off a hat-trick of interviews on the website--that's right, this is our 3rd interview! I think the reason we keep doing this is because you refuse to stop making so much stuff and your interviews are always fun and insightful. 

Actually, I think it’s because you keep asking me what’s new out of politeness, and I totally take advantage of it!

My first question is if you would mind re-introducing yourself to readers of the site, and my second question is if, seriously though, do you sleep?

Well, I’m Mike Wolfer, writer, artist, publisher, and a whole bunch of other things that aren’t worth mentioning but are still vital to comics creation, and as you said, yes, everything combined does keep me from getting as much sleeping as I’d like. I started in comics back in 1987 by self-publishing my own books, “Daikazu” and “Widow,” then I worked for several publishers for the next 25 years, most notably Avatar Press, where I worked on series like “Night of the Living Dead,” “Friday the 13th,” “Lady Death,” and a bunch of others. In 2014, I decided to retest the self-publishing waters, so I released “The Curse of Ragdoll” through Kickstarter, to great (and surprising) success. And there’s been no turning back!
You've got multiple new projects going on, such as, "Daughters of the Dark Oracle," and, "Widow Progeny," at your own self-publishing company, Mike Wolfer Entertainment, as well as "The Land that Time Forgot" and "Mike Wolfer's Crypt of Screams," with American Mythology Productions. As I understand it, AM is a newer publisher, how did you get hooked-up with them?

My association with American Mythology sort of came out of the blue. I know several creators who were doing work for AM, and it was just one of those situations where AM said, “We’re new and we’re looking for all kinds of fun comics for our roster,” and I said, “That’s pretty cool, I should do something for you guys some time,” and they said, “Can you start today?” I’m super busy with my own MWE series, but working with AM was really something that I couldn’t turn down, particularly when they said that they were interested in acquiring the license to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Land That Time Forgot,” and that they would like me to write it. I absolutely could not say “no,” seeing as how TLTTF is my favorite novel of all time.

Aside from your writing "The Land That Time Forgot" for AM, I was surprised to see the "Crypt of Screams" book with them, as it is both written and drawn by you (and I assume you own the creative rights). What made you want to publish that quarterly title with them as opposed to self-publishing?

Again, it was just a simple matter of them saying, “Hey- We need another book for September. Is there anything you’ve got lying around that we could publish?” Okay, it wasn’t quite like that, but they did ask if I’d like to do a horror book for them. I have a bunch of series pitches for horror series that I’ve been working on for years, but the one that I most wanted to do is “Crypt of Screams.” It’s an anthology title, reminiscent of Warren Publishing’s “Eerie” and “Creepy,” which had an incredible influence on me growing up. The only difference with “Crypt” is that I’m writing and drawing all of the stories in each issue, and that’s allowing me to play around with various inking and gray-toning styles, depending on what best fits the mood of each tale.
Back to "The Land That Time Forgot," in the past you of course wrote and illustrated many comics for preexisting properties. How is it different working on something that has previous media versions as opposed to a concept that is all of your own creation? Is it easier, harder?

It’s interesting. One thing I want to say before we get into it is that working with rights holders can be a nightmare, depending on the owner of the IP, but Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. has been an absolute delight to work with. And the reason that I say that it can be a nightmare is because we’re in the business to produce comics, usually on a monthly schedule, but every facet of a licensed book must pass through dozens of approval stages, which can sometimes delay things, and it can result in books shipping months and months later than they are supposed to because of the revolving door of change requests. What was once approved can suddenly become not be approved. Like art, for example. The pencils are approved, the inks are approved, then colored art is turned in… And they want changes made to the art. Well, now it’s too late to make an easy fix, because it’s already been inked and colored, right? But that’s not the case with ERB Inc. I think that they trust us to put out the best damn comic that we can, so approvals have been effortless, which frees me up from worrying that a retroactive correction is going to blow a hole in the bottom of the boat.

But to answer the question, when working on a licensed property, it’s sometimes best to divorce yourself from the incarnations that have been seen in other mediums, and sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to adhere to them. In the case of “Night of the Living Dead,” I stuck absolutely to what was seen on screen, because that was the “bible.” My work on “Friday the 13th” stayed true to the films, but we did stray a bit from the formula to give it a new twist. A good trick to writing, whether it’s comics, novels, or screenplays, is to “cast” you parts, meaning, the writer should envision actors in the various roles and picture the actors reciting their lines of dialogue. If you can’t picture your actor saying those lines, then the dialogue you just wrote might be off. With “Land,” the novels are the sole foundation on which I’m building, not any of the movies that have come out, but I have to admit, every bit of my writing of the character of Bowen Tyler is absolutely based on actor Doug McClure, who played the role in the 1975 and 1977 films. I can’t picture anyone else in that role, and that’s carried over into my writing.

I was fascinated by how you took your "Ragdoll" comic and then grew it into the epic saga that is "The Daughters of the Dark Oracle," with its many fascinating characters. The best part is it feels very organic how you developed all these aspects out of the original tale. Was it always your intention to take this series you made and have it expand so much, or did the idea to do so occur to you when you revisited the comic for your Kickstarter?

The “Daughters” series began with the reprinting of a gothic horror story that I had done years earlier called “The Curse of Ragdoll,” which ran in an adults-only anthology book titled “Raw Media Quarterly.” When I had originally created the story, it was designed as a stand-alone, but the end was left wide-open for a sequel.” When I decided to once again self-publish, I repackaged that Ragdoll story into a graphic novel, which, as I mentioned, did very well as a Kickstarter exclusive edition. Because of that success, I pursued regular comic shop distribution and broke the graphic novel up into monthly “floppy” installments, and naturally, I had to think ahead to what I would do when the “Curse” story ran its course. “Curse” focused on a character named “Ragdoll,” a Frankenstein’s monster kind of creation who retains the memories of all of the women from whom she is composed. And she seeks brutal revenge against all those who wronged and murdered those women who comprise her. 

It’s a cool story once, but I couldn’t imagine doing that formula over and over, month after month. It needed a twist, and the injection of some fresh blood in the form of a supporting cast who would enrich each other, and help to define just who Ragdoll is through their interactions. Before I knew it, I had a slew of ideas centering around Ragdoll’s encounters with Heidi the Wolfwoman, the Siren, and most notably, the fiendish Countess Bathory. Once I realized how big the story had gotten, I also realized that this was not just the story of Ragdoll, it was the story of all of the characters, who I subsequently dubbed the “Daughters of the Dark Oracle.”
We just talked about the "Ragdoll" Kickstarter and you of course have used the platform for a number of projects. You've said in the past that without Kickstarter it would be difficult-to-impossible for you to make a living doing your self-published works. What is it about Kickstarter that you think makes it such a great tool for creators?

Okay, here’s my quick “State of the Union” cliff notes concerning the comics industry- Sales are rather poor right now, and very few publishers are making money. Small publishers generally lose money on every release, and in many instances the creators are not even paid for their work. The money that comes in from store sales is usually barely enough to cover the cost of printing the book. It sounds terrible, but that’s the truth of it. But damn it, we must create. So… Kickstarter! If you run a campaign cleverly and have something really cool to offer, and make it fun for collectors, you stand a good chance of reaching your goal amount, which is the amount of money that you need to pay your creators and other expenses that go toward getting that comic onto store shelves. Some publishers run Kickstarters as the way to get their books into readers’ hands independent of comic shop distribution, but I use it to generate the funds to get my books into the stores, and to the greatest number of readers.

I've noticed that at times issues of "Daughters of the Dark Oracle" have come-out within quick succession of each other, and other times there seems to be a long time-gap between issues. How is the series coming along and should we expect more delays or will it be on a more regular release schedule in the future?

Yeesh. That’s a tough question, but one that needs to be answered. Yeah, there have been delays, and they’ve been for every reason under the sun. Bottom line is that I’ve moved from being an independent contractor for companies who handle all of the business of comics, to being a publisher who is also responsible to all of the creative elements. And man, it is so difficult to do everything. I do get a lot of production help from Natalie Jane, who also handles all of the letting of “Daughters of the Dark Oracle,” but this past year has hit me hard with regard to finding enough time to actually draw, and the delays in releases has become unavoidable. I’ve been constantly playing “catch up,” desperately trying to finish books just before the drop-deadlines, and it’s really taken its toll on me and my release schedule. So what I’ve done is put the brakes on “Daughters of the Dark Oracle: Orgy of the Vampires,” so that I can concentrate on finishing two other books I’m working on, which are “Crypt of Screams” and “Widow: Progeny.” Issues #1 and #2 of “Orgy” came out this past summer, but the rest of the series (#3-5) have been resolicited for late spring-summer 2017 release. I want to make sure that they’re completely finished way ahead of their release dates.
Speaking of “Widow: Progeny,” I've been reading through the various "Widow Archives" having reviewed the first volume and greatly enjoy them. As I understand it, "Widow Progeny" started some years ago, but then ended suddenly (and without an official conclusion) and now you've returned to the story to finish it, with the new first issue on stands now! Is it a direct sequel to the "Widow" comics, or could someone new to the series dive-in without hesitation? Also, you wrote the series but are only illustrating the final part, what made you choose not to illustrate the majority of this "Widow" mini-series unlike much of your earlier ones?

“Widow: Progeny” was a 1997 spin-off of the main “Widow” book, back when I was self-publishing as Ground Zero Comics. “Progeny” tells the story of a US Coast Guard rescue helicopter crew who investigate a sunken ship in the Caribbean and find the sole survivor of the wreck on a small island. Her name is Katy Wylder, and she’s been a castaway for two years. Katy first appeared as a secondary character in the first “Widow” series, and we never knew what happened to her. But Katy’s not alone on the island. There’s also a pack of hideous, spider-like, freaks of nature that lurk in the darkness of the jungle, and the helo crew has to fight for their lives against the creatures. The reason that I didn’t draw that series back in 1997 was because at the time I was super busy drawing “Widow: Bound By Blood.” I wanted to get this second book out there to expand the Ground Zero Comics line, though, so I signed on Karl Moline as illustrator. 

The first issue shipped to stores, but right around that time I joined up with Avatar Press, and never got a chance to publish issues #2 or #3. So almost 30 years later, when I got back into self-publishing, I thought, “Man… I really should finish ‘Progeny’ sometime.” I put it on my schedule, but once again I was too busy drawing “Daughters of the Dark Oracle” to work on “Progeny,” so Roy Allan Martinez stepped in to take over on art. And here’s another reason why I’m having trouble staying on schedule with “Daughters”: Because of other creative obligations, Roy was unable to start “Progeny” #3 as scheduled, so I had to drop my work on “Daughters” to step in on art for the final issue of “Progeny,” which I’m sure will be a pleasant surprise to a bunch of readers who asked the same question that you did! As I said, “Progeny” is a spin-off. It’s tied to “Widow,” naturally, but it’s a complete stand-alone story. Even though I reference events from the main “Widow” book, it’s totally not necessary to have read any of them to understand “Progeny.” This is just a straight-up, scary and sexy horror story that’s going to lead to much bigger things, and maybe eventually cross back over with the characters and storyline of the main “Widow” book.

I'd often see fans politely asking (and sometimes demanding) that you re-release your "Daikazu" comics about giant monsters fighting you did back in the 1980's and 1990's. I remember you saying that you'd consider it, but in some ways felt weird (and you even said "embarrassed") looking at your old work. I always wanted to read it, so I was pleased to see there was a Kickstarter collecting your work on the comic, and as I understand it the books will be shipping soon, something I am looking forward to for sure!

That’s cool- I’m glad that you’re looking forward to it! Yeah, I have said that I’d be a little embarrassed to reprint those old “Daikazu” stories, but that’s entirely because of insecurity. “Daikazu” was my first published work, so obviously, it’s a bit unpolished compared to my current work, now that I have thirty years more experience! Why am I re-releasing it? I guess “why not?” I’ve considered doing it for a long time, and I got thinking that just because the earliest issues can be considered “amateur,” it’s still a part of my professional history. As a comics reader myself, I love seeing the earliest works of some of my favorite artists, so right there, I’ve shot down my own argument against not reprinting. I’m putting out a series of “Daikazu” reprints under the title “War Monsters.” 

It’s going to be three volumes in all. As you said, Volume 1 covers “Daikazu” #1-5, Volume 2 reprints “Daikazu” #6-8, and Volume 3 collects the “Daikazu Vs. Gugoron” three-issue mini-series. They’re all big volumes, too- Even though you see only three issues collected in Volumes 2 and 3, I had the tendency to put up to 32 pages of story into those old comics, so Vol. 1 is 144 pages, Vol. 2 is 112 pages, and Vol. 3 is 96 pages of giant kaiju action. Actually, looking back at them now that Natalie’s scanning and cleaning up all of the old art to prep it for the trades, it’s actually not as bad as I remember, and really quite cool. Just browsing through the pages, you can really see how much love went into them, in both story and art, so now I’m quite anxious to introduce Daikazu and crew to a whole new generation of readers. If the reception is good enough, I’ll certainly produce some new stories, which I would probably like to do in full color, which would be a first for the series.
So, as I am a big fan of all things Widow, I eagerly posted about your latest Kickstarter which is currently running and features the return of none other than the titular Widow, Emma! It’s called, “Widow: Return to Spider Island,” and I’d love to hear what made you decide to go ahead and revisit Emma after some years with us fans wondering what kinds of adventures she might get up to.

I guess the only way to answer that is by first giving you a boring history lesson. But I’ll make it quick: I began self-publishing “Widow” in 1992, then joined up with Avatar Press in 1997, where they published “Widow” #0, “Widow: The Origin” #1-3, and a several cross-overs with Pandora and Razor. Emma also appeared as a supporting character in the “War Goddess” series that ran from 2011-2013, but I never had the time or opportunity to continue her personal story (I don’t really count the cross-overs as canon). I have many more “Widow” stories to tell, and was really only getting started, but other projects for Avatar Press monopolized my schedule for many years, and I just never got back to “Widow.” But when I returned to self-publishing in 2014, I began making plans to set the stage for her return by reprinting all of the old stories in a series of five trade paperbacks (“Widow Archives”), and I also released the pin-up books “Maximum Widow Uncovered” and “Maximum Widow Exhibition” through my company Mike Wolfer Entertainment. My theory is that there’s probably a whole new generation of comics readers who have never heard of her, so I put out all of that older material to prepare them for new adventures. Which brings us to today!

Would you say that, “Widow: Return to Spider Island,” is meant more for newer readers, old-school fans, or will everyone be able to enjoy the horror that is sure to occur?

That’s the beauty of having all five volumes of “Widow Archives” in print- All of the previous material is available for anyone who is new to the story. However, I’ve written “Return to Spider Island” in the same manner that I wrote “Flesh and Blood,” the very first “Widow” story: You’ll be able to pick up the new book and pretend that you’ve sitting in your car in a drive-in theater back in the ‘70s, and you’re about to get your mind blown by the goriest, sexiest, scariest exploitation horror tale you’ve ever seen. At least, that’s my approach. I’ve made sure that readers who have never read a “Widow” comic are up-to-speed, but really, it’s not going to matter. There’s going to be enough going on to capture everyone’s attention. You’ve read the previous stories, David- you know what I’m talking about. Ha!
One thing I love about your work is that it can always be relied upon to deliver gory scares, sexy scenes, and really creative concepts, I would presume, “Widow: Return to Spider Island,” is full of blood, sex, and cool story-ideas? 

“Yes” to numbers one and two, and “I hope so” to number three! I don’t know why so many stories that I write and so many movies that I love take place on islands, but… This one takes place on an island. Surprise! The premise of “Widow” is pretty straight-forward: A mad geneticist named Langford Harrow had a secret lab on a small, Caribbean island, where he conducted experiments to create a hybrid of humans and arachnids. The result was Emma, the lead character in the story. Her “powers,” if you can call them that, are that she can sprout spider legs from her back, has great physical strength and healing, and an ability to mesmerize victims with the allure of sex. The downside is that Emma has had to battle to control the arachnid instincts within her, the uncontrollable desire to mate and then devour her companion. And even worse, the experiment that created her also created a “spider virus” that she carries that can be sexually transmitted, so if her mate is not killed, their genetic structure will be attacked by the virus and warp them into a spider creature just like her. They can, in turn, also spread the virus, but so far, it has been reasonably contained to only a handful of victims. Emma left the island after Harrow was killed and her true nature was revealed to her, and she embarked on several adventures across the country, from Philadelphia to Area 51. In this story, we see her return to the island of her birth, to reconcile her feelings about her past, and just spend some alone time on the deserted island where her horrific creation took place. Let’s just say, the island isn’t deserted, and she’s going to come face-to-face with some very terrifying individuals from her past, some who she has never met, and others who she thought were dead. It’s going to be one crazy, gore-filled showdown, that’s for sure.

Your partner in life and lettering is Natalie Jane, if she would be interested I’d love to ask her some questions about lettering?

I have some questions for her myself, like, “What’s it like to have to wait forever for the artist to turn in pages, and then have to letter an entire book in two days so that it can go to press the night of the second day?” On second thought, don’t answer that!
I’ve talked with folk about lettering before and always am fascinated about how the process can vary. Would you mind breaking-down how you go about lettering?

Sure! As soon as I receive the script and the pages to be lettered, I convert the script to a rich text file. Then, I put the pages on a template (from the printing company) in Photoshop. Image resizing, clean-up, art or color corrections are done here. I save the file as a .tif. Next, I open Illustrator using the same template and place the .tif file on it. Now, I'm ready to letter! I have a file that contains a variety of word balloons, tails, and caption boxes and I'll copy some of those over and paste them onto the page I'm working on. I choose a font and font size that's legible, open up the script file, copy the dialogue and paste it onto the page. I arrange the words into an appropriate shape determined by the art that's in the panel, put it into a balloon and add a tail. If a sound effect is needed, I create it in Photoshop, save it as a photoshop document, and place it onto the page. When the page is completed, I take another look, move things around if necessary, and save it as an adobe illustrator file. That's it!

I’ve found lettering is something in comics that sadly is often overlooked when done well (or superbly) and only noticed when it goes horribly wrong or is excessive in weird font-tricks and such. How do you manage to make your lettering good but not too much?

As a comic book reader myself, I put myself in the reader's position. I describe my lettering style as "clean". I choose a legible font and font size. The arrangement of the balloons and captions should flow. They should direct the reader's eye throughout the panel, from one panel to the next. I believe that the lettering should shine, but it should never be the star. It should compliment the story/art, not detract from it. I have Mike to thank for laying down the foundation and teaching me the basics of lettering. He's taught me so much and my knowledge and skills continue to grow. He's always suggesting new things and we're always bouncing new ideas off one another. Lastly, my work is a representation of me. It must be good. I would never put anything out there that I wasn't proud of. Plus, it isn't just about me. There's a team involved- A writer, penciller, inker, colorist, etc., and it should all come together.

Thanks again to Mike and Natalie for interviewing with me! You can find the Kickstarter campaign for, "Widow: Return to Spider Island," at this link. It only has 10 days left so be sure and back it before it's too late!

No comments:

Post a Comment