Werewolves in Ancient Rome!
During a vicious battle with the wolf-king Caradog, two Roman centurions fall victim to the werewolf’s bite. Now, as werewolves, Lucius and Canisius are cursed to relive the legendary feud between the wolf-brothers Romulus and Remus. As their hostility grows, a war erupts that will not only decide the fate of the Roman Empire, but also threatens to claim the life of the woman they both love.
It is an epic tale, blending historical fiction with horror, and at its root, a story of love, and the lengths to which a man will go to win his hearts desire. The art team is fantastic on this project. Dan Parsons handles art for Issues 1 and 2. A comic book veteran who has made a name for himself on Dark Horse’s Star Wars books and recently won the 2015 Inkwell award Small Press and Mainstream Independents. Issued 3 and 4, David Rabbitte slides over from coloring and handles the pencils/inks on a near flawless transition, with Chris Summers taking over as colorist for the remainder of the series. Writer/Creator, Michael Kogge, has written numerous stories set in some of the most iconic universes of fandom, including Star Wars, Blizzard’s Starcraft, as well as Burroughs’ Warlord of Mars.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Michael and got to pick his brain on werewolves and Romans, his experiences in comics, as well as his favorite iconic Sci-Fi female character.
LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO MAKE COMICS?
My first exposure to comics happened in the barbershop my dad used to take me to when I was around six or seven. The barber not only subscribed to stacks of male-interest magazines, he also collected a ton of comics, mostly Marvel and DC Horror from the 1970’s. Sitting there, waiting for my dad to get his haircut was one of the few times as a kid when patience came naturally. How could it not when I was allowed to read up on Adam Warlock, Dr. Strange, and the Tomb of Dracula?
That era of comics remains my favorite to this day, and was partially the inspiration for Empire of the Wolf. I used to tell Dan Parsons, the penciler for issues one and two, that we were going for a 1970s horror comics vibe. Fortunately, it’s one of his favorite eras too. We speak the same language. And David Rabbitte, the artist on issues three and four, understood our goal innately and continued it with such mastery. I am so grateful to have such talented artists work on Empire.
CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT? IS IT MARVEL STYLE OR FULL SCRIPT?
I break an issue by creating an outline of numbered lines that associate with each page in the book (usually 22 for a comic). For every numbered line, I briefly summarize what’s going to happen on the page. I leave a little bit of wiggle room–a blank line here or there–so as not to cram too much plot into each page and allow the story (and later the artist) the room to breathe. Once finished, I’ll reorganize the outline to tighten the plot, always trying to clarify and simplify what I want to say. Then I’ll usually begin at page one and write in full script format.
While I’m writing I’ll gather reference images of any objects or settings I’m trying to describe to make the artist’s job easier. Since my stories are often set in historical worlds, they require a great degree of verisimilitude to be accepted by the reader, which means finding as much visual material as possible to be authentic. I’m also very conscious that the artist needs freedom to interpret my descriptions and not be heavily reliant on other material. The joy of collaborating with an artist is seeing them inspired in ways you never imagined.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A COMIC BOOK WRITER? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?
Being a comic book writer is like being a film producer. If the property you create is your own, and you cannot draw, then you need to go out and hire artists with whom you will get along with for the long haul. I learned that it takes a long time to see an independent project come to fruition — no one creator has the resources of the major publishers — so I would tell a new creator to keep the dream alive even when things seem slow.
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR/ARTIST LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?
My advice to new comic creators is to establish a strong relationship with an artist first, because trust and friendship will be what gets you through the laborious process of making a comic. Moreover, stick to three or four issues instead of developing an ongoing series. It’s best to tell a complete story first, so spend time on tightening that story and make sure you present the best moments within the space (and budget) you have.
EMPIRE OF THE WOLF IS A BLEND OF ROMAN HISTORY AND SUPERNATURAL LORE. HOW CLOSE TO YOUR HEART ARE BOTH SUBJECTS (HISTORY AND MONSTERS) AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE THIS STORY THAT MIXES THEM TOGETHER?
I took Latin in high school many years ago, and always loved stories about the Roman Empire. History presents Rome as the most civilized of all ancient civilizations, though in Empire of the Wolf, it is also the most decadent and monstrous. What’s even more serendipitous is that the story of Romulus and Remus seems to me, a story about werewolves: two brothers, nursed by a wolf, turned their inner savagery on one another. The symbol of Rome is the wolf, and for good cause, since it readily admits that this “greatest of antiquity’s civilizations” was founded by the basest, most feral of men, a man who killed his own brother (Romulus). Empire of the Wolf is more than a mix of two opposite genres, because these genres are actually already woven into each other, the sword-and-sandal epic and the werewolf myth.
DESCRIBE THE EXPERIENCE WORLD-BUILDING FOR EMPIRE OF THE WOLF. WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE?
The challenges were always keeping the world of Empire of the Wolf authentic and realistic while allowing for a degree of interpretation and creative freedom. This requires much research and annotation–you have to know your world before you can play around with it. But when you play around with history, you need to be able unplug from the exact dates and facts and trust your imagination to invent new things. I always remind myself of that basic philosophic question when I get caught up in the minute details: what is history? Does anyone know what really happened? The unknowability of history is why we can read individual historians and get completely different pictures of the past.
OUTSIDE OF COMICS YOU HAVE WRITTEN STORIES FOR STAR WARS, STARCRAFT, AND THE WARLORD OF MARS SERIES. WHAT IS IT ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION THAT INSPIRES YOU?
It’s odd, I don’t think of myself as a science fiction writer, though many of my credits fall in the genre. I read and admire every genre, from literary fiction, history, biography, comics, to the classics, and I am always saddened that there seems to be fence between science fiction and literary fiction, because for me, all literature is valid. But I’ve had a gateway to an audience through science fiction, and I think it’s because I see setting and character going hand-in-hand. One is a reflection of the other, and vice versa. As a writer I get to re-create places and times I would never be able to visit and meet people I would never be able to meet, such as ancient Rome or a galaxy far, far away, or even a living, breathing Mars. You observe a new world through another person’s eyes. That’s the beauty of fiction.
PRINCESS LEIA, SARAH KERRIGAN, AND DEJAH THORIS. WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?
Tough one. Really tough. They all have great qualities. I admire the wise cracking Leia from the first Star Wars film, but also the charismatic senator you hear in the first Star Wars radio drama. And actress Lynn Collins gave such strength to the role of Dejah Thoris in John Carter, she made her character the gem of that film. As for Sarah Kerrigan, she might be ruling the universe for all that we know, so I won’t say anything against her.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE UNIVERSAL MOVIE MONSTER?
The giant tarantula from Tarantula. The poster hangs in my office.
NOW THAT EMPIRE OF THE WOLF IS COMPLETE, WHAT IS THE NEXT PROJECT YOU HAVE PLANNED?
Too many to note! In comics, I’m finishing up another miniseries with Dan Parsons I hope to have published soon.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS IN COMICS?
To tell stories only comics can tell.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?
I’ve traveled back to earlier times. Recently, I’ve been buying the Marvel Essential and DC Showcase black-and-white editions of 1970s’ comics. Their stories are so vivid, so gonzo, they never fail. Gary Friedrich, Archie Goodwin, and Steve Gerber are some of my favorite writers. I’ve also started to collect European graphic albums, as my wife was pleasant enough to let me stop in a comic store in Rome on our honeymoon! Sadly very few of these titles are translated, but the art stuns me. I hope with the rise of digital comics there will be more a crossover of audience – and more translation.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT CREATING COMICS SO FAR?
The first look at any penciled page, to see what the artist has made from my words.
ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?
I’ll be at San Diego ComicCon 2015 singing material for Absolutely Everything You Need To Know About Star Wars published by Dorling-Kindersley. Empire of the Wolf will be available for sale at the Mysterious Galaxy booth and at Dan Parson’s table, so come by and grab a copy. You can also check my future bookstore and convention appearances at michaelkogge.com.
The graphic novel compilation of the four issue series was created and written by Michael Kogge (Star Wars Rebels books), with art by Dan Parsons (Game of Thrones production and over 100 Star Wars comics) and David Rabbitte (Star Wars Insider), coloring by both Chris Summers (Spartacus: Blood & Sand) and David Rabbitte, lettering by Marshall Dillion (Street Fighter, Game of Thrones, and Green Hornet), and the cover painting by renown fantasy illustrator Doug Beekman (Wizard’s First Rule).