We’re coming to the end of Dynamite Month, but we still have some excellent interviews up our sleeves. Today we’ve got an in-depth interview with Todd Herman, the artist for Dynamite’s upcoming revamp of the Patricia Briggs’ Alpha & Omega: Cry Wolf comics!
He talked with us about the difficulties of learning wolf anatomy, what advice he’d offer to aspiring artists, and what he used as inspiration for the book. Plus, take an exclusive peek at his Cry Wolf character designs, including his original “Anna,” which he changed dramatically after reading the book!
TFAW.com: How did you become involved with Alpha & Omega: Cry Wolf?
Todd Herman: I became involved with Cry Wolf because of editor Rich Young. I had been doing pencils for Rich on Warriors: Jailbreak at Dabel Brothers, which I got involved with because Rich and I go way back from his days at Dark Horse. When Dabel acquired the rights to Warriors, Rich had heard me vocalize my interest in doing Warriors material enough times that he approached me (and my collaborators Erik Henriksen and Herb Apon) to make a pitch. Fast forward a few years later when Dynamite Entertainment acquired Dabel’s properties, including Jailbreak, and Rich (who was now editing for Dynamite) said he thought I’d be appropriate for a new book they were doing called Cry Wolf and asked if I would be interested in sending them a few tryout pages. I did, and the author of Cry Wolf [Patricia Briggs] chose me out of the handful of artists they were considering for the book!
TFAW.com: Have you read the books at all?
TH: I had not read the books before embarking on the material. I had heard of Patricia Briggs and the character Mercy Thompson, but Cry Wolf and Anna and Charles were new to me. Since I started the book I’ve read Cry Wolf and Hunting Ground, they’re great!
TFAW.com: What was the most challenging part of designing the different characters?
TH: Ha! Well . . . designing the characters was a lot of fun, I think the only real incongruity was that the tryout pages I did were based on the covers of the novels, other than that I was going on very little knowledge of the characters. However, once I got the job, read the script, and read the first novel, I realized that Anna was a much more subtle character than the one portrayed on the cover of the books, I love those covers, but she looks like a larger-than-life superhero on them, and that wasn’t really going to work for the very human aspect of the story we were trying to tell inside the book.
Also, I had to pay special attention to the height and size of the characters. Patty is pretty specific that Charles and Sam are very tall in the books, while Asil, Anna, and Bran are considerably shorter. Dressing them all in Western wear that said more Montana then Texas was a fun challenge! Oh, and also I had to sync up some of my character designs with that of artist Amelia Woo, who is drawing the Mercy Thompson comics. Certain characters cross over, and I had to make sure I was on the same page as she was.
TFAW.com: Was it difficult to draw all of the wolves? How did you prepare for that?
TH: Drawing animals is definitely not my forte–it took me a long time just to learn human anatomy–and previously, when I’d had to draw dogs or horses or birds in a comic or animation, it was usually just for a panel, if that, so it was easy to Google an image that I could crib from. But with this book, the wolf counterparts of the characters are a major part of the book, so I had to really break down wolf/dog anatomy, not to mention learn how in the world to draw fur, and make sure it didn’t look like I was just copying a photograph.
In particular, it made me really admire all over again guys like Arthur Adams who can draw any animal on the planet just as expertly as his best drawings of Batman, She Hulk, or Wolverine. In fact I remember one of the very first conventions I went to when I was trying to break in, I’d shown Arthur a pin-up of the Challengers of the Unknown that I’d drawn, where one of them was riding an elephant. I was really, really proud of that drawing, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “You really don’t know anything about drawing elephants, do you?” Ha! He was right!
TFAW.com: How do you differentiate between all of the wolves, to make them recognizable?
TH: Mostly it’s through size and color. Most of the wolves are a variation on the same basic structure but have specific markings or eye color, according to Patty’s books. I made up a list of the wolves for my editor to give to the colorist early on, being specific, for instance, that this one has a silver tail, or black paws, or that when they’re using their magic their eyes are blue, or yellow. And then I’ll usually send a diagram of a page for my editor to forward to the colorist, labeling who each wolf on each page is so the colorist can keep track!
TFAW.com: Did you draw inspiration from any other artists for this?
TH: Well, I initially looked real carefully at Mike Mignola’s Wolves of St. August, mostly just to see how he drew his werewolves. But Mike’s so iconic and stylized that it’s good to study him and then step away–if I tried to draw like him I’d just make a fool out of myself. After that my inspiration was Alex Toth’s romance stories from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, which I’m fanatical for. This book, despite having werewolves, is primarily a romance, and nobody but nobody did romance like Toth.
In particular, I looked at the way he drew facial expressions and body language, the way he could draw a look of longing for another on a person’s face, the subtlety when their hands would touch, and of course, the way he drew a kiss. Best kisses in comics, hands down. I love how the man would place his hands on a woman’s face as he kissed them, almost holding her head counterclockwise and upside down. Really, deeply moving stuff. Toth could upstage Klimpt when it came to drawing an embrace, in my opinion.
Oddly enough, my other inspiration was Jim Steranko, who I’m in the process of rediscovering. When Marvel reprinted his graphically innovative Nick Fury books in the ’80s I snapped ’em up, and included among the reprints was a rarely seen gem, a romance story he did with Stan Lee called My Heart Broke in Hollywood, which I’ve always loved. When I got assigned Cry Wolf, I remembered that story, which I hadn’t seen in years, and I dug it out and fell in love all over again. In particular, the flat line approach of the drawing, the graphic design-inspired stylization of the women, and the very dreamy quality of the page layouts . . . Steranko, baby!!! Do yourselves a favor and look him up if you’ve never seen his work, his influence is more pervasive than ever in modern comics. Plus Stan’s dialogue on My Heart Broke in Hollywood is so corny and hilarious even for him, it’s gotta be read to be believed!
TFAW.com: Why do you think people love werewolves so much right now?
TH: Do people love werewolves right now? I’d assumed the enduring fad was and always will be vampires! Good question, I think that werewolves are a classic. Like Dracula, Godzilla, and Frankenstein, they’re probably the most easily recognized and most enduring of monsters, and can be interpreted any number of ways, and I’m sure that the romantic interpretation of them is always going to be popular, plus if you’re going to have the power to turn into any animal, well . . . a dog is probably too much of a pet, horses are generally too big and limited in an emotional setting, and fish, lizards, and birds have less emotional range.
I don’t know, wolves are sexy and slightly dangerous, they have an edge! My own view on the enduring human fascination with werewolves is that it boils down to a evolutionary fear of predatory animals, despite being at the top of the food chain, coupled with our own human fear deep down psychologically that we’re animals, too. That’s a concept that in my opinion many humans have trouble coming to grips with, especially considering how we’ve treated animals historically as well as in our everyday lives.
TFAW.com: You’ve done several horror comics in the past, including The Fog and Cut, but this is more like a horror-romance comic. What changes to your style did that require, if any?
TH: Considering that the bulk of my work so far has been horror, Westerns, fantasy/adventure, or something along those lines, this book wasn’t too much of a stretch, coupled with my aforementioned love of romance comics!
TFAW.com: What were your favorite comics, growing up?
TH: All of them. Seriously. Charles Schultz, newspaper comics, Spider-Man, anything by Gil Kane, Curt Swan’s Superman. Anything by Bill Mantlo, his and Michael Golden’s Micronauts were pretty huge. I know everyone likes to cite EC and Warren, but when I was a kid I loved going to the barber shop because they had copies of The Witching Hour, House of Mystery, The Unexpected, Secrets of Sinister House, etc. I have enduring fond memories of discovering Frank Miller’s Daredevil, and Matt Murdoch’s heroism despite his ever-disastrous love life.
TFAW.com: You’ve been involved with comics and animation for years now. Do you have any advice for fledgling artists?
TH: Oof. That’s an interview in and of itself. If you show your work to a professional, try to keep your mouth shut and really listen, and take criticism well, which can really be hard, but it’s an essential part of the territory. You don’t have to agree with every bit of advice they give you, but if they’re working and you’re not, then they know something you don’t, therefore you have something to learn from them. Try to develop a simplified, pared-down style for your layouts, so that you can really get the storytelling down and firing on all cylinders before you dig in with the fun dessert part of the drawing. There’s nothing more frustrating than working really hard on a finished drawing that you’re patting yourself on the back for, but then realizing the structure of the storytelling is unsound.
If you work in mainstream comics, your editor will make you fix it, no matter how pretty your rendering is in any given panel. Beyond that, I’d say learn to draw the figure, you’ll never regret it. Try to be versatile in your style approach: different stories require varied ways of thinking. One aspect of comics that’s super cool and not to be taken for granted is that if there’s a cartoonist out there who inspires you, there’s a good chance they’re accessible, and you’ll get at least a minute or two to meet them at a signing or convention. Use that time to pick their brain, find out how they did what they did and got to be where they are, and read any and all interviews that are available. Experience life, get out of your safety zone both as a person and an artist, learn to at least appreciate the work that is diametrically opposed to yours, and it will only enrich what you are already trying to do. There’s a great Alan Moore quote I once read, “Don’t be cool. Like everything.”
TFAW.com: If you could do a creator-owned book, what would it be?
TH: Oh gosh! I’d like to do at least one original supernatural horror graphic novel in my lifetime, and one comedy graphic novel as well. My two favorite genres are comedy and horror, and I love that, to a certain extent, you can gauge their success very simply: Is it scary? Did the audience scream? Was it funny? Did the audience laugh? I’d also like to do an anthology of horror short stories, that sounds like a lot of fun. When I was growing up it seemed like superheroes were the only option for paying comics work, now it seems like the field’s more accepting to diversity, which is a dream come true! I remember thinking as a kid, wouldn’t it be cool to just draw horror comics for a living, which seemed about as realistic as flying to the moon with a jet pack that runs on Jell-O! Nowadays the field has changed, and that doesn’t seem so unrealistic. I don’t know, we’ll see!
TFAW.com: What other projects are you working on?
TH: Right now, I pretty much only have time for Cry Wolf, and I’ll be doing that book up until the spring, far as I know. I finished Warriors: Jailbreak not long ago, and hopefully that’ll be out soon, that book’s been a dream come true. Beyond that, I’d be up for more Cry Wolf if the opportunity arises. I have no idea what Dynamite’s plans are for further material, but that seems like a natural next step I’d be open to. Looks like I might be squeezing in some commercial stop-action animation work some time after the holidays, but we’ll see. Beyond that, depending on my schedule, I’ve been batting around ideas with one of my oldest partners in crime for an original horror graphic novel, or an adaptation of a very old classic horror story that is now in the public domain, but I don’t want to say any more than that for fear of jinxing it! Stay tuned!
We want to thank Todd Herman for taking a break from drawing to answer all of our questions. Make sure to pre-order Patricia Briggs’ Alpha & Omega: Cry Wolf comics here and save 20%!
Are Herman’s character designs for Cry Wolf on the nose? Post your comments below!