Sunday, April 5, 2015

Re-Interview Time: Mike Wolfer

I've spoken with Mike Wolfer before, focusing mostly on his first Kickstarter for "Ragdoll" which I was quite a fan of (see my review here). He has a new Kickstarter for the "Widow Archives" nearing its conclusion (there is still time to pledge though) which collects some of his earlier work when he released comics about a character named, what else, "Widow"! For a long time it has been difficult to find all the issues of this series, but thanks to this latest Kickstarter old fans of the character--and people new to her thanks to enjoying Wolfer's more recent and easier-to-find works--can enjoy this bloody, sexy, and scary horror comic. Having read a bit of Widow before and loved "Ragdoll" I thought it only made sense to speak with Wolfer again about the "Widow Archvies", and what the future holds for "Ragdoll" in her new series, "Daughters of the Dark Oracle."

The Interview Begins!
Hello Mike! We have spoken before about your “Ragdoll” comic which I was quite a fan of. For those who are new to the blog or forgetful would you mind re-introducing yourself?

Sure thing! I’m Mike Wolfer, a comic book writer and artist. I started my career in 1987 as a self-publisher, did that for almost ten years, then signed-on with Avatar Press in 1996. I’ve been with Avatar for almost twenty years, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, George R.R. Martin, so many incredibly talented creators. Most people know me for my horror work, on titles like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, GRAVEL, FRIDAY THE 13TH, LADY DEATH, and a bunch of others. 

Tell me a bit about the history of “Widow” and what made you want to revisit this character?

My first self-published book was a giant monster homage called DAIKAZU, which had generated quite a loyal fanbase, and had run for 11 issues. I was having a great time with it, but decided to take a breather and do a quick, little, self-contained, three-issue, mini-series that was outside of the giant monster stuff. So in 1992, I whipped up WIDOW: FLESH AND BLOOD, a kind of throwback to the old, exploitation movies I loved from the ‘70s. Two cops are stranded on a tropical island, there’s a scientist conducting genetic experiments, he has a beautiful and mysterious daughter, and there’s some kind of blood-thirsty, spider-monster on the loose.

It’s really interesting how everything took off. Keep in mind, it was the beginning of the indy comic boom. My intent was to do something that no one else was doing, a really gory, sex-filled, horror piece. One story, and done, then back to DAIKAZU. I was doing the WIDOW story mostly just for me, because it’s what I would have liked to read, and I had no idea if anyone else felt the same. I didn’t even reveal until the climax of the series that Emma (the scientist’s daughter) was actually the monster, and I think that blew away a lot of people. So the book came out, and sales were really good, far surpassing my DAIKAZU sales. Something about WIDOW just clicked with readers, even before the hook was revealed. Emma was on every cover, but never in her spider form, of course; that would give away the ending. And that last issue came out, Emma sprouts spider legs, and readers were like, “What the hell?! You can’t end it now! We want more!” Naturally, I listened to them, and published four more WIDOW mini-series, for a total of fourteen issues.

Then Avatar Press came along and made an offer to publish WIDOW as one of their core titles, so we did WIDOW #0 and the WIDOW: THE ORIGIN mini-series, some crossovers and one shots, and they reprinted all of the old stuff with new X-rated material and titled it WIDOW X. But I was also working on other books for them, and that slowly dominated my schedule, so there wasn’t any time for more WIDOW. But for years, fans have been asking me, “When are you going to do trade paperback collections of the WIDOW stories?” I’d been so wrapped-up in my Avatar work that self-publishing wasn’t feasible. I couldn’t imagine even attempting it, as I’d have to totally rebuild a company from scratch, and I just didn’t have the time, unfortunately. But as I saw one Avatar project after another disappear from my schedule, I realized two things: 
1.) I needed to do something to make money, and... 
2.) Now I have the time to focus on returning to my roots, and give my fans what they’ve been asking for.
The Kickstarter for the “Widow Archives” has been extremely successful as it nears its final stretch. Now, you have successfully delivered on promised goods before (something I appreciate in this era of many Kickstarters getting funding and then disappearing into the night with funders’ money)…

A: Well, let me go on record to say that there’s one project I have yet to deliver on, and that’s COUNTESS BATHORY. That was a one-shot book, which was supposed to ship to backers in February, but I’m way behind schedule on it. It’s written, and I’m drawing pages, but I still have a lot of work to do. What happened there was that I’ve been working on a six-issue arc of CROSSED for Avatar Press, but I ended up being out sick for almost two months last fall, so that threw everything out of whack with my schedule. I have GOT to get the CROSSED series done first, so BATHORY has been pushed back a bit. I’m looking at delivery that to backers in May. Which, really, if you look at how some Kickstarter creators deliver years late or never at all, it’s not too terrible of a delay.

I won't hold being a behind a couple months against you considering there is stuff I've backed that I'm still waiting for years later! Is it a bit intimidating to have to handle the logistics of having not just one book, but multiple volumes printed? How are you dealing with the challenge of coordinating all books along with other rewards?

Yeah, the WIDOW ARCHIVES is actually a total of five volumes with the addition of the FANGS OF THE WIDOW ANNUAL, so there will be some crazy logistics to take into account. But like you said, I’ve done Kickstarters in the past, so we have shipping backer rewards down to a science now. And since these are reprint collections, the creative work is done, so it’s just a matter of having the printing and shipping done. Natalie Jane, who letters all of my new work, is doing all of the scanning and clean-up and production for the WIDOW ARCHIVES, so that’s an incredible weight off of my shoulders. As she cleans up the pages, I’m going in and doing some art corrections in Photoshop, to fix some of the anatomy and facial feature mistakes I made twenty years ago when I first drew those stories.

Is there a possibility of new “Widow” material coming out in the future seeing as how an interest has been expressed via the big success of the “Widow Archives” Kickstarter?

Absolutely. I guess a cool concept is a cool concept, and people are seeing WIDOW as a cool concept that’s not dated. Just like when I created that first mini-series back in 1992, I didn’t expect such interest to be expressed. I’m doing the WIDOW ARCHIVES as a “thank you” to all those old-timers who have asked for these collections for years, but I’m pleasantly surprised to see new readers jumping on, who have never seen or heard of WIDOW. With the primary focus of my company, Mike Wolfer Entertainment, on RAGDOLL and DAUGHTERS OF THE DARK ORACLE, fans are naturally asking if Widow might be making a comeback. Let me just say, there’s another reason why I’m putting all of the old material out there now, just before DAUGHTERS launches. I want fans to be familiar with her, just in case she pops her pretty head into another series, if you get my drift.
You have plans to start soliciting the “Daughters of the Dark Oracle” through Diamond Previews as a monthly title. Correct?

Right. You know, it seems that with every project I try to explain, it gets crazy convoluted, but that’s a good thing- It means that reader reception has been so great that I have to scramble to alter my original, modest plans! THE CURSE OF RAGDOLL was a seven-issue serial that ran years ago in RAW MEDIA QUARTERLY. Very few people saw it, but I always thought it was one of my strongest concepts, so I decided to collect that story into graphic novel format and fund it through Kickstarter. That was my first, modern testing of the self-publishing waters, and I planned to publish a new RAGDOLL graphic novel maybe once or twice a year. I followed CURSE with the COUNTESS BATHORY one-shot, as a prelude to that second RAGDOLL graphic novel, which would be titled RAGDOLL: ORGY OF THE VAMPIRES, to be released in 2015. But the Kickstarter for THE CURSE OF RAGDOLL went so well, and reader and critical response was so overwhelmingly positive, that I figured I’d better make some alterations to my original plan. I’ve also had it in the back of my head that my Kickstarter projects have only been getting into the hands of backers, and not comic book shop clientele because they’re not distributed, so I made arrangements with Diamond Comic Distributors. All of the new RAGDOLL stories I had planned will now be in a monthly, comic book format, rather than twice a year as graphic novels, and the new title is DAUGHTERS OF THE DARK ORACLE.

What is the reasoning behind the title change? Is the idea that the world of “Ragdoll” is so big you needed to expand it beyond just her and also discuss the other characters?

The whole concept of RAGDOLL is totally, retro ‘70s. It should be viewed as a combination of Hammer and horror/exploitation films and Warren Publishing magazines (EERIE, CREEPY, VAMPIRELLA). That’s the vibe I’m going for, right down to the gray-toned, black and white interiors. With that in mind, I wanted each new RAGDOLL installment to be a kind of “RAGDOLL VS. _______,” because that’s just plain fun. As I developed each story (yes, I’m working way ahead), I realized that these antagonists are incredibly strong characters in their own right, and could easily be the stars of their own series, and Ragdoll herself is sort of the delivery method for introducing those characters to readers. The story isn’t so much about Ragdoll, but about those she encounters, the world in which they live, and how they influence or change the course of each others’ lives.

“Daughters Of The Dark Oracle” begins with the original saga of Ragdoll?

Yes. The first story I did in this “universe” was THE CURSE OF RAGDOLL, so we really have to begin there, to establish the premise. Basically, Ragdoll is a Frankenstein’s monster kind of creature, created through an unholy amalgamation of science and magic. She’s haunted, however, by the memories, spirits, souls, or whatever you’d like to call them, of the women who originally owned her composite parts. All of those women met untimely deaths, so Ragdoll’s mission is to track down the various killers responsible for those murders. But in the course of her quest, she crosses paths with others of supernatural origin, and she (and we) are seeing that there is much more darkness in the world than we are aware of, and that myths and legends and monsters are real.

So you’ll be expanding out to the other characters, making it so that those of us who have backed the Kickstarters have a “head-start” of sorts (plus of course all the Kickstarter bonuses)?

Exactly! The first mini-series is titled DAUGHTERS OF THE DARK ORACLE: THE CURSE OF RAGDOLL, the second series is DAUGHTERS OF THE DARK ORACLE: ORGY OF THE VAMPIRES, the third series will be DAUGHTERS OF THE DARK ORACLE: BEAST FROM THE BRINE, etc. Quite a few people backed the Kickstarter and have already read THE CURSE OF RAGDOLL, so for you guys, issue #1 of the monthly series has a new, 12-page intro chapter that features Countess Bathory, the Wolfwoman, the Siren, and an all-new character who ties all of them together.
Sample Artwork from "Daughters of the Dark Oracle".
Is that character the “Dark Oracle” of the title?

Yes and no. The “Dark Oracle” is a concept, rather than a character, and that’s all part of the unfolding story, the revelation of what that concept or force is. The character I mentioned is Madame Sabina. In 19th century speak, she’s a “gypsy fortune teller” and “cartomancer,” but in modern terms, we’d call her a “psychic medium,” with true, supernatural powers. She’s the one who is tapped into the supernatural magic which ties all of our other characters together, and she uses what are called “Oracle Cards” to guide her through a very scary, perilous world of monsters. One of the backer rewards in all of my Kickstarter campaigns has been Oracle Cards, which are sort of like Tarot cards, and I just threw them out there with no explanation. They’re just these cool, peripheral items you can play around with. When people read DAUGHTERS #1, everything will all come together, because you’ll see Sabina using those actual cards in the story itself.

As I understand it, the plan is to follow “Widow Archives” with a “Daughters of the Dark Oracle” Kickstarter that will launch on the 20th of this month. Can you share a bit more about this?

Right! Kickstarter has been an incredible blessing for creators. It’s enabling people like me to do those dream projects that might not have seen print otherwise. Let me break it down in simplest terms, while also generalizing. Here’s how it goes: I have a new project I want to do. I pitch it to a publisher, they decline. It’s a risky proposition for them, because comic publishing can be a dangerous, financial endeavor. So now what? I could self-publish it, but where do I get the money for all of the up-front expenses like printing and advertising? Since I’m not working for a publisher who’s sending me paychecks as I complete the work, how am I going to pay the bills while I’m drawing the project? Enter Kickstarter, and the incredible support of those who enjoy my work. I’m giving them cool collectibles and unique, personalized items, and they’re helping me to survive while I create a new project just for them. We’re seeing an incredible burst of creativity in the field, just as we did with the indy boom in the late ‘80s, and it’s all because of Kickstarter.

But yes, the DAUGHTERS OF THE DARK ORACLE Kickstarter launches on April 20, and will run for 30 days, with a goal of $3000, just enough to cover all of my start-up costs for Mike Wolfer Entertainment, as I embark on a regular, monthly release schedule. Backers will be getting Kickstarter Exclusive, signed and numbered variant covers of DOTDO #1 (Blacklight Edition and ‘70s Spanish Movie Poster Edition), as well as an all-new book, MIKE WOLFER’S GALLERY OF TERROR, which is a full-color pin-up book of my work, and a first for me.

What other upcoming works do you have coming up?

For Avatar Press, I have that six-issue arc of CROSSED, which I’m both writing and drawing, hitting stores in July. As for my self-published work, DAUGHTERS is the only thing on my agenda at the moment. There is the possibility that I’ll do other books if I can find the time, but I’m focusing only on DAUGHTERS right now to make sure I’m solidly on-schedule. Considering the success of the WIDOW ARCHIVES Kickstarter, I’ll probably make those available through Diamond as well. I do have several other projects that I’d like to do, and you’ll see some of those represented in the GALLERY OF TERROR book, and I do have a few other surprises that are currently in the works with another publisher, which I’ll be announcing soon. 

As you said, when you first began in comics you engaged in self-publishing, with “Widow” being one example of that. As you once again move back into self-publishing, what is the best/most-rewarding thing and what is the hardest part when it comes to being a self-publisher?

The hardest part is budgeting your time. When I’m working for another publisher, all I have to do is write the script or draw the pages, and that’s it. My single responsibility is to create. With self-publishing, I can spend an entire week creating graphics for ads, doing computer work designing covers and logos, doing email and podcast interviews, promoting upcoming works and Kickstarter campaigns on various social media platforms, fielding emails from creators, distributors, and printers… And not pick up a pencil the entire week. But the most rewarding thing is everything that I just mentioned, because I’m doing it all for me, and I get an incredible sense of accomplishment from knowing that I am going to be directly compensated for all of my time and effort. It’s so much work, with quite a bit of stress, but it’s incredibly fulfilling, particularly when I know that all of that effort is being applied to something which is bringing joy to other people, in the form of escapist entertainment.

Thanks again to Mike Wolfer for taking the time to do an interview. You can find the Kickstarter for the "Widow Archives" here (in case you missed it at the top of the post). You can view a preview of the upcoming Kickstarter for "Daughters of the Dark Oracle" at this link, and to keep up-to-date on everything Mike's doing you can visit his official Facebook page.

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