Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 12/10/2003
When the Storyteller's a Character
Nope, no deep meta-literary anything, folks. Rather, Neil Vokes, a very fine artist and exceptional storyteller, talks about The Black Forest.
There's any number of reasons to invite Neil Vokes to spend a few minutes jawing publicly in this column. And there's any number of topics, popularly known and otherwise, that we could discuss for the duration of a few installments, much less a single column. For instance, did you know that Mike Oeming typically names two folks as having had primary influence on his early development as an artist, and that Neil Vokes is one of them? [The other is someone named Adam Hughes. And, yeah, it's that AH!] Then there's always his work for the majors, including Marvel's Untold Tales of Spider-Man and DC's Superman Adventures. And, of course, we could dive into Vokes' work in the "Adult comix" biz, or his contributions to various indy series, or...
Well, you get the idea. There's a lot of stuff to cover when discussing the Neil's background. I mean, he's been around for a good long while now, always been a team player, and very, very flexible operator -- if you know what I mean. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.
Yep, that's right. He's done it all, and not only has the scars and wisdom to prove it, he's also willing to talk about it. Always makes for an interesting conversation, that.
Well, given all that, I figured I'd just bring up the subject of his latest project, The Black Forest, then get the hell out of the way and follow Neil's lead.
In fact, I'd suggest we all just follow his lead from now on.
Bill Baker: There's been quite a bit of buzz around your new project for Image, which leads to my first question: What's so special about The Black Forest, and why'd you want to get involved with it?
Neil Vokes: As to why it's so special, I can sum it up in a few words: Robert Tinnell, Todd Livingston, Frankenstein's Monster, Nosferatu, werewolves, World War One and black and white art!
Those are also the main reasons I got involved. I'd read the original screenplay by Todd and Bob about a year or so ago and hinted that it would make one heck of a comic. During that time, we had been developing another graphic novel called The Wicked West, a horror/western hybrid, which was also based on a treatment by the boys. Then something happened: Parliament of Justice. Thanks to old friend Mike Oeming, I had the chance to do a creator owned project in a style I was anxious to use, ink-wash.
The critical success of this book led to my asking Image Comics if they'd be interested in another one by me. They were open to the idea and I mulled over about half a dozen concepts that I had gathering dust on my shelf before realizing that The Black Forest was the best choice. Image agreed at the San Diego Con this past summer and it was a go.
BB: So what unspeakable acts did you have to commit just to get signed on to it?
NV: Well... those unspeakable acts were worth every strange, bizarre, perverted... uhm... [General laughter] Truthfully, I asked the boys if they would like to write a comic based on their screenplay and they said yes. It was just that easy.
BB: Did you have any input into the story itself, or was it more a matter of just concentrating on visually realizing what Rob and Todd had provided you in the script?
NV: I've tried to adapt their story to a different medium. It was written for the screen to be a 2 hour film. My challenge was to squeeze a multitude of characters and action into what was going to be an 80 page book. It has since grown to 96 and I may even add a few more than that. The boys have been very understanding about my changes, which are mostly cosmetic, based on the transition from potential film frames to comic panels.
I have had to drop entire sequences, as the still teary-eyed Bob will tell you. But, as I've said, they've been very supportive in my mutilation... uhm... adaptation of their story.
BB: What particular challenges did this project present you with, and how did you work to meet them?
NV: Other than the challenges of mangling... uhm... adapting their script to comic form, the main hurdles I had were improving on the wash style I have been using of late and somehow getting the whole 96 pages drawn, from scratch, in about 4 months time. I did Parliament of Justice in that same time frame, but it was only 46 pages. This has been my greatest challenge, due entirely to my rapidly aging body and my extreme desire to sit down every day and watch movies while sipping copious amounts of Dr. Pepper.
BB: You've used a wash technique on this and Parliament of Justice to some good effect; what lead to your decision to use that technique on those projects, and how does it effect your approach towards storytelling, pacing, choosing shots, and other comic artist concerns?
NV: I've always loved the look of ink-washed work since the days of the early Warren Magazines. Famous artists like Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, Frank Frazetta and many others did some of their best work in those books in that style. It's been my usual way of doing con sketches for many years now and I even did a 2 issue comic in the same style some years back for Eros Comics, Love Bites.
So, a story about the classic monsters of Universal and Hammer Films, which took place during the first world war, a very "black and white" war, with many horrible images, seemed to cry out for this look.
The same basic reason influenced the Parliament book, because my main inspiration for that were the old silent epics like Metropolis, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Man Who Laughs. I am very film based in my work. I love movies.
I don't think that the style really dictates how I tell a story, since my way of telling a tale is pretty much the same from book to book. It's the story itself that affects the way I do it, more than anything. This was a big budget horror adventure tale, so I told it like Universal or Hammer would, back in their prime, if they had a lot of money to play with. I did try to concentrate more on mood and atmosphere, of course. There are a few large set pieces in the story which call for bigger panels, but I think that my take on a story is pretty much informed by the subject and the characters. To me, character is story.
BB: Why should folks order The Black Forest? What's this book going to give them that they won't get from any other title on the racks right now?
NV: Personally, it's going to give them fun, something lacking in many books today. But, mostly, they're going to get a black and white, ink-washed horror/adventure/epic which is not going to have any super heroes in it.
BB: What else do you have going on right now... or planned for the future?
NV: Bob and Todd and I are hoping to get started on The Wicked West next year. A few interested parties have already been talking to us about it.
Bob and colorist Tom Smith, who is coloring The Black Forest cover, have a very cool idea for another monster rally book, but this time in ancient Japan.
Then, Kurt Busiek and I want to get back to our creator owned character, Jonny Demon, someday soon. Our plans are to rework the storyline we did a few years back for Dark Horse, which was only half the number of issues Kurt had planned. We will probably do it as a large graphic novel in, yes, black and white.
Writer Miles Gunter, co-writer on Mike Oeming's Bastard Samurai has an extremely cool concept waiting for me to have time to work on it, and I have several other fun stories to tell, including returning to my character Eagle from the beginnings of my career. I'm booked for the next ten years!
BB: What do you get from doing this work?
NV: Satisfaction. Fun. A feeling of euphoria when the work is sailing along well. Not to put too poetic a turn on it, but, there's a kind of magical moment achieved when you're in the middle of drawing sometimes that just brightens up my whole being. You remember the old phrase, "I get high on life" ? Well, I get high on my work.
I've always referred to myself as a storyteller, not a comic book artist. Not due to some high and mighty view I have of myself, but because basically that's all I'm doing, telling stories. And, I love doing that.
BB: What do you hope your readers get from your work?
NV: Maybe a little of that fun I try to instill into it and hopefully a bit of that magic, too.
BB: Anything you'd like to add?
NV: I'd like to thank all of the great writers, artists, letterers, colorists, editors, companies, etc. who I've worked with these past 19 years for giving me a chance to do what I truly love to do: tell stories.
If anyone has an interest in seeing any of my other work, I have two very humble websites that contain some of what I've been up to in this job: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Thats_All_Vokes and http://groups.msn.com/NeilsStudio/.
We are also starting a website soon that primarily is about The Black Forest, so you can visit that to see what we've been up to and see a trailer that Todd and Bob have done for the book [Note:The trailer will be on the Image site as of Jan. 1st, '04]. That url is http://www.theblackforest.net/
If you have any questions you can write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Black Forest will be featured in the Image area of the January, 2004 edition of Previews magazine.
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