Conducted by: Joshua Pantalleresco

Bringing Wulf and Batsy to Life

Written by Joshua Pantalleresco

Saturday, 02 February 2008

This February, Viper Comics launches a new, bi-monthly series called Wulf and Batsy. I had the fortune to preview some of this over at the Viper Comics' Web site and was intrigued by the premise. Most of all I was impressed by how fun this series seemed.

And then I met its creator Bryan Baugh. Bryan is enthusiastic, funny, and passionate. (And has, in my opinion, the second coolest day job in the universe). This interview is one of my favorites to date.

JP: What are you working on right this minute?

BB: The project that I'm mainly focused on these days, is the third Wulf and Batsy story. I don't mean the third issue of Wulf and Batsy, I mean, the third graphic novel length story. That probably sounds confusing since Wulf and Batsy is only about to start being published as a bi-monthly series in February 2008. But I'll tell you a little secret about Wulf and Batsy—I've actually been drawing stories about these characters, on and off, for the past seven years. I wanted to build up a lot of material before I started trying to get it published. And even then, it took me a good two or three years of "shopping it around" before I found anybody who was willing to take a chance on it.

Meanwhile, I just kept writing and drawing Wulf and Batsy comics for my own amusement and on good faith that sooner or later I'd get lucky. But once I found Viper and they decided to publish it, they naturally wanted to start at the beginning with the first story. So, if you count the number of 30-page chapters I've already drawn up to this point, consider the bi-monthly schedule,and do the math, the Wulf and Batsy material that I am drawing right now is stuff that you probably won't even see for another two or three years. That is the one good thing that came out of the very long time it took to find a publisher for this project. It puts me way ahead of schedule!

JP: Hey, at least your series is going to be timely. Is Wulf and Batsy your first comic project?

BB: No, previously I wrote and drew a short story called "The Bloody Forest of Sasquatch" which was printed in a Viper anthology called Josh Howard Presents: Sasquatch. I also illustrated the graphic novel The Expendable One, (Volume One), which was written by Jason Burns and also published by Viper.

JP: What comes easier to you, the writing or the art?

BB: That's a tough question. Writing stories and drawing pictures is what I have always done for fun, ever since I was a little kid. So, they both seem like play time. That said, there are certainly more pitfalls and challenges with art. I can always write the word "elephant," but it's something else to figure out elephant anatomy and translate it to a drawing! So, technically speaking I guess writing is easier, but drawing is often a lot more fun.

JP: What are your favorite things to draw?

BB: Monsters. All different kinds of monsters. Zombies especially, because there is so much room for variety in their appearance. You can really get creative when drawing zombies. You sit there with a blank piece of paper in front of you and just mull over all the different ways a human being can die. And then a very simple idea strikes you—drowning! And you instantly get a picture in your head of what the living corpse of a drowning victim would look like: rising up out of a pond, all green and dripping wet, with weird, slithery things in his eyesockets and clumps of scum and algae hanging off him. And most of his skin is gone where the fish have been nibbling away at him, so his teeth and bones are showing and they're all green and slimy too. When I get a picture like that in my head, it's just irresistible —I have to draw it! So Zombies are a favorite.

But, werewolves and vampires are way up there at the top of my list, too. I love drawing all the classic monsters as well as new ones I make up myself. Also, I like drawing graphic gore and violence. I'm not a remotely angry or violent person in the least, and I can't stand the idea of real people getting hurt in real life. But I do get an undeniable feeling of visceral, barbaric satisfaction every time I draw a spray of blood or a jumble of guts or a deadly weapon imbedded in a human body. I suppose that's a good quality for a horror comic book artist to have.

JP: Since you like horror so much, I have to ask what are your influences?

BB: Oh gosh, I just love anything horror. Show me any movie with a monster eating people and you've basically got me by the heartstrings. That said, I do have my favorites. I love all the old classic 1930's and 1940's Universal Horror films, of course. Those are the ones I was born and raised on. Of those movies, I suppose The Wolf Man and Creature From the Black Lagoon and House of Frankenstein are my favorites.

I was a teenager in the 1980's—a great decade for horror movies—so that era is very special to me as well. Return of the Living Dead, Creepshow, The Howling and Fright Night are the 1980's horror films that I would point to as having probably the strongest influence on my artwork. But really, I love them all.

I am also deeply obsessed with a lot of lesser-known, low-budget, American and European exploitation horror movies made from the 1960's through the 1980's. There are several weird, obscure horror films from that period that have really affected the way I do my comics. Spiderbaby by Jack Hill, is one of my favorite movies and it definitely set the tone for Wulf and Batsy. You never know if Spiderbaby is supposed to be scary, funny, sick, or sad. It's just all of those things at the same time, and that's the tone I want Wulf and Batsy to have.

European horror films are fantastic, because they are just so unapologetically artsy and erotic and violent. There's nothing else like them. The Hammer movies from England are the most famous examples, of course, but I find the Spanish horror films of Paul Naschy almost more inspirational. Naschy's films display a gushing, childlike love of old-fashioned monsters that I find deliriously entertaining and sweet. Italian horror movies are amazing. They're a whole other world unto themselves.

I love Lucio Fulci. I love how cold, and unemotional Fulci is about horror. In a Lucio Fulci movie, baaad stuff just happens, and there is no hope of stopping it. I love Dario Argento movies, too. Argento's stuff is just beautiful to look at. I could go on and on.

JP: Well, I can say that you know way more about horror than I do! Way cool! Since we're in the horror vein of things, besides Wulf and Batsy, of course are there other horror comics you are enjoying?

BB: When I read horror comics, I pretty much stick to the classics that I've been reading and re-reading ever since I was a kid. I own all the big, hardcover boxed-set reprints of the 1950's E.C. Horror Comics: Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear, which are still the greatest horror comics of all time, if you ask me. When I need to get fired up to draw, I just pull any one of those volumes down and flip through it and suddenly I'm ready to go. Those books—especially the material illustrated by Jack Davis and Graham Ingles—take me right back to the very heart of what horror is all about. I also love a lot of the 1970's Marvel and DC horror stuff: The original Swamp Thing series written by Len Wein and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson is probably the best of them. But I'm also a fan of Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night, House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Unexplained, Ghosts and Weird War Tales.

I also like the Warren Magazines, Creepy and Eerie, of course. They are classics … but something else I love, which is a lot less artistic, but a lot more brutal and insane, are the rip-offs of the Warren Magazines. Have you ever seen these things?

In the 1970's there was a company called "Eerie Publications" that put out a bunch of black and white horror comics magazines with titles like Tales from the Tomb and Tales of Voodoo and Terror Tales. They shamelessly imitated the Warren format, but they were ten times more outrageous when it came to gore and mayhem. They are so over-the-top in their efforts to shock the reader that they are just ridiculous. But the naughty little 10-year-old boy in me finds them irresistibly fun. So I've been tracking those things down at comic book conventions over the past few years, and I just read them cover-to-cover, they are a blast.

As far as more recent comics, I haven't read much of the new horror stuff, to be honest. Hellboy is great, when Mike Mignola draws it. I'll buy anything Kyle Hotz illustrates. My favorite new horror comics guy is probably Richard Sala. He does a much quieter style of horror, but his comics are creepy and moody in an old-fashioned way that appeals to me very strongly. Richard Sala's comics have been a big influence on Wulf and Batsy. I think that guy is doing it right.

JP: What do you think is more important in horror—the violence and gore, or the psychological aspect of it? I'm a Hitchcock fan and I've always been fascinated with the psychology of horror myself.

BB: I don't think either one is more important than the other. I guess it depends on the horror story in question. It's like in cooking. Every horror story has its own recipe and different ingredients are more important or less important, depending on what kind of recipe you are trying to cook up. Gore is like a strong spice. A little bit of that stuff goes a long way. Some people don't like spicy food, others do. I guess I like my horror very spicy indeed.

JP: Nothing wrong with that at all. Do you still have a day job? If so, what do you do?

BB: By day I work as an artist at Walt Disney Television Animation. I work on a show called My Friends Tigger and Pooh, which can be seen on the Disney Channel.

JP: Whoa! You work for Disney? How'd that happen? Not to sound like a complete dork, but that sounds like one real cool day job.

BB: Well, I have been working in the television animation industry since 1999. I spent the first few years working on a variety of different action shows, like Batman and Starship Troopers and Jackie Chan and stuff like that. Animation is seasonal work, so you work on a show, then it ends, then you take the next job that comes along. You end up bouncing around from one studio to the next.

So for a long time I was working on these cool action shows at places like Sony Animation and Warner Brothers and then out of nowhere, in … was it late 2005 or early 2006? I can't remember. But anyway, around that time, I got hired by Disney to work on this new show about the Winnie the Pooh characters. And, I have to say, I am happier and having more fun, working on this cute little show for pre-schoolers than I ever had working on any other animation project. Disney is a great place to work.

But believe it or not, since this happened, I have actually gotten one or two E-mails from "hardcore horror fans" who have made little snide comments, giving the impression that I have somehow disappointed them by working for Disney—as if a "horror artist" getting a job working on an innocent, G-rated cartoon aimed at young children is somehow betraying horror. I always just write back and say, "Well, I actually like this job. You'd be surprised how fun it is. And for the record, Winnie the Pooh pays a hell of a lot better than my horror stuff does!" So, I draw Tigger and Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore for eight hours a day and then come home and draw blood and guts and monsters at night and on weekends.

JP: Does your animation background help or hinder your comics? I imagine there are a ton of similarities.

BB: The things I've learned while working in animation have greatly improved my comics. First of all, there's the sheer fact that, in animation, you are expected to produce a large number of drawings, and do them very fast, on a regular basis. So, that is naturally going to improve your drawing skills and drawing speed. Animation also demands that you stay consistent with the look of your characters so, it makes you hyper aware … more like painfully self conscious .. about making sure each character you draw looks like the same individual, every time you draw them and that all your characters maintain the same size relationships to each other, whenever you draw them in groups. This is what they call "keeping characters on-model" and it sounds like a no-brainer, but try drawing the same character 30 times in one day and see if you can maintain the exact same structure and proportions in every single drawing. It's not as easy as it sounds. I still struggle with it, to be honest. The most valuable lesson though, is that there are certain strict rules to visual storytelling that you must adhere to in animation and when you apply those rules to a panel-to-panel comic book, it just makes the storytelling so much clearer and easier to follow. Since working in animation, I have noticed a lot of comics where the artist must have no knowledge of these visual storytelling rules, because their storytelling is all over the place, and the action is very difficult to follow, or worse, it's downright confusing. So learning about those things has been important. The only hindrance that animation has caused my comics, is that it gives me less time to do them!

JP: So what's the premise of Wulf and Batsy? It looks like a lot of fun.

BB: Oh, it's a lot of fun! It's about a Werewolf and a female Vampire, who are best friends … and possibly more … and the adventures they have as they wander the Earth looking for a place to call home and companions to call friends. But, they have this one problem: they have to eat. And as monsters, what they eat, is human beings. This naturally causes trouble wherever they go. That's the premise in a nutshell.

In some stories, Wulf and Batsy run into other monsters that they have to deal with. In other stories, Wulf and Batsy themselves are the monsters that other people have to deal with. So, by design it's very open-ended. My idea from the beginning was that this would be "my favorite comic book of all time, but it doesn't exist, so I have to make it!"

I cooked up a premise that was chock-full of all my favorite subject matter, and with endless story possibilities – basically, something that I could draw forever, and never get bored of.

JP: What has working on this series taught you as a creator?

BB: Only that if you are unknown, it takes a long, long, long time to convince any publisher to accept and publish a comic book you made, no matter how good you might think it is.

JP: Being so far ahead, and maybe this is too early to ask, but have any of the characters surprised you in the series so far? As in, being more or going in unexpected directions?

BB: Oh yes, definitely. You hear novelists talk about this sometimes, where they say, at a certain point, their characters "came to life" and "took over the story". It sounds like crazy-talk until you actually experience it. In the story I'm working on right now, I have this subplot involving a guy who comes along and tries to manipulate Batsy. My original plan was to have Batsy fall for this guy's schemes and get lured into a dangerous situation. That would have been a very interesting story. But, when I got to the point where I was actually drawing the page where Batsy meets this guy for the first time and he starts schmoozing her, I realized I couldn't draw her with the naïve, trusting look on her face that I'd intended. It just felt wrong. Batsy is too clever for this guy. She wouldn't be fooled by his nonsense at all. She thinks he's a creep. So I drew her with a suspicious expression instead. And I instantly knew it was right and now things are totally different. I've had to go back and rewrite the entire subplot for the next three chapters because of this! But you know what? It's led to even more interesting developments than I'd originally planned. So it's important to listen to your characters when they "come to life!" Wulf is also a lot different now than the character I first imagined. I always meant him to be this tragic, lonely creature. A sympathetic monster. But in a lot of the more recent material I've been writing and drawing, he's become a lot stronger… a lot more cunning and cruel. He has surprised me more than Batsy.

JP: The idea of having them confront other monsters sounds very appealing. And since you're such a horror fan I have to know if there is any chance we'll see stuff like Frankenstein or Dracula in there, or are the monsters going to be more original creations?

BB: The other monsters that Wulf and Batsy encounter are my own original creations. Some are throwbacks to certain traditional monster types, but they are my characters. Like for example, you will see Wulf and Batsy meet a zombie. You will see them meet a mad scientist. But these other monsters are my characters. I don't have any plans to show Wulf and Batsy crossing paths with established characters from other works, like Dracula or Frankenstein. At one point, early on, I considered having a little "in-joke" in the comic, suggesting that Wulf was a descendant of Larry Talbot, the werewolf character played by Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man. Just a little gag for the horror fans, you know. But then I wrote Wulf's "origin story"—that is, the story of who Wulf really is, where he came from and so on and the Larry Talbot joke didn't work anymore, because the math was all wrong. Assuming The Wolf Man takes place anywhere close to the same year the film was made—1940—then Wulf actually became a werewolf long before Larry Talbot did. Wulf is old enough to be Larry Talbot's grandfather.

JP: Plug your book.

BB: If you like Tales From the Crypt. If you like old, exploitation horror movies. If you like comic books with lots of monsters, blood and guts, and scantily clad female characters, you will enjoy Wulf and Batsy—I promise. Because I'm a horror fan, too and that's the kinda stuff I like to see. So, when I make a comic, I naturally load that stuff into it. I'm entertaining myself as much as you guys! Simply put, Wulf and Batsy is a horror comic book made by a horror fan, for other horror fans. So, it does not skimp. It delivers the horror goods.

JP: On that note, we agree totally. Thank you Bryan. Horror fans, this is a great book. Wulf and Batsy makes it debut in February and is currently in this month's Previews. Take a look at it. I guarantee you won't be disappointed. I want to thank Bryan and Viper Comics for their time and patience.

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