“When you write dark and gritty you run the risk of it becoming unintentionally barmy” writer/artist Erik Evensen on the mysteries behind The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay
Back in the 1990s we were all believers in the things that went bump in the night thanks to shows like the X-Files, but these days everyone is much more sceptical. Well writer/artist Erik Evensen is set to change all that with his brilliant new graphic novel The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay released this week via ComiXology. This self-published supernatural story sees struggling palaeoanthropologist Brian and folklorist Winifred investigate mysterious disappearances in the small town of Wolfe’s Bay that may or may not be connected to a mysterious gorilla like figure seen at the scene of the crime. Winifired’s sheriff father is convinced it’s got a supernatural subtext, but who or what is really behind it all? Packed full of twists, turns and terror, but with a brilliant light tone that’s reminiscent of Scooby Doo, The Beast of Wolf’es Bay is a fantastic read, and so, like Mulder and Scully, we set out to find more about this small town’s secrets and contacted Erik hoping to find out the truth behind this mysterious beast.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration for the story, in the issue notes you mention that you based the idea on Beowulf? Have you always had a keen interest in mythology and folklore?
EE: Yes, I’ve been a big-time mythology nerd since I was a child. Neil Gaiman writes in his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, “I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.” The primary inspiration for this book was actually Beowulf. I wanted to adapt Beowulf in a way that made sense to modern audiences, and I wanted to tell a Sasquatch story, and I wound up mashing the two concepts together. But if you know the plot of Beowulf, you can basically follow along, beat for beat.
The book has quite a high level of anthropological detail and again I read at the back of the book that you earned you doctorate in cryptozoological studies as a result of making the book. Tell us a bit about that and would that have been something you did without this book or was it a fortunate by-product?
EE: Well, it’s actually a phony doctorate! There is this great online diploma mill called Thunderwood College that is unabashed with its print-on-demand degrees, and they offer majors in any ridiculous subject you can think of. I don’t believe you can actually study Cryptozoology anywhere at all, so when I saw that, I simply had to have one. I assure you, however, that my other degrees are real…
(Can’t believe I fell for that! — Alex)
In contrast the book’s got a really light tone – almost Scooby Doo like – in amongst the seriousness, was that intentional to alleviate the darkness or just a reflection of your own taste in comics? Is the book aimed at an all ages audience or did you just not fancy going full on dark and gritty?!
EE: I’m a pretty upbeat guy in general, and my creative output is not what you’d call “angsty.” I think the book’s tone came about in part because I felt keeping it upbeat and fun would make it more accessible to people. My biggest fear about the book is that people will think it’s a hyper-serious Sasquatch story, which it isn’t. I think the audience for that might be about a dozen people. Plus, when you write dark and gritty you run the risk of it becoming very unintentionally barmy… I’d rather be up-front about it!
There’s also lots of geeky references (the running Star Trek gags and the constant mention of BBC and geek culture) are you a massive geek / Anglophile as well?
EE: Yes indeed. The dialogue is pretty referency because that’s how I talk, and a lot of the self-proclaimed geeks I know talk. When developing the characters I realised that Winifred Roth, as a folklorist with a PhD in Comparative Literature, would naturally be a big sci-fi geek, and that’s where it all started.
You’re releasing the book via ComiXology this week, tell us how that came about, what are the pros and cons of the platform for you and any plans for your other books to be released digitally soon?
EE: Well, I submitted the book and they accepted it! ComiXology opened their services up to indie comics folks this spring. It was a huge move for the industry, as they are THE digital platform for comics readers. Their system is really great, and their ecosystem is widely adopted. I don’t have any cons to list, frankly! I’m really excited about it and I hope the book becomes more available to a wider audience. A lot of comic shops won’t stock indie books because they don’t sell in big numbers, so it’s not like you can find a print copy just anywhere.
My earlier graphic novel, Gods of Asgard, is available for Kindle and through iTunes, using another service. I’d love for it to get carried by ComiXology, as well. We’ll see…
As a self publisher what do you think are the pros and cons of the digital comics revolution for someone like yourself? Are you an iPad comics fan, what books do you rate, and what do you think it is bringing to the medium of comics?
EE: For self-publishers, it’s a great way to go. You can get your work out there at minimal cost (ie. no printing, shipping, etc.), and there is a direct connection between creators and readers. The sad thing about it is that it cuts into the direct market, and I’ve heard a lot of comic shops complaining about that. I do feel guilt about that, but the direct market is nearly impossible to crack unless you’re a “big gun,” so what else can you do? It’s definitely tearing down a lot of those barriers, but the flipside is that it’s also over-saturating the market. I’ve had a lot of reviewers tell me they were shocked that Beast of Wolfe’s Bay wasn’t a complete train wreck, probably for that same reason. Personally, I don’t read a lot of digital comics. I prefer holding a printed book, and I prefer trade paperbacks to monthlies. I’m currently reading a lot of non-superhero stuff — Revival, Saga, Hoax Hunters, Ghostbusters. I like Mind the Gap pretty well and I love Matt Fraction’s take on Hawkeye.
For those who’ve not heard of you before, tell us a bit about your background in comics, what other books of yours could we check out and which would you recommend?
EE: I’m mostly known for my 2007 Xeric-winning graphic novel, Gods of Asgard, which is an adaptation of the Norse myths. It’s been adopted by a few universities and become the subject of a graduate thesis at the University of Winchester, so it’s academically sound. I had an autobio web comic in 2003, which I eventually quit so I could spend time on bigger projects. You can now buy that as a trade paperback, but it’s probably only interesting to people who like autobio comics. I also co-produced an educational workbook called Super-powered Word Study, which is really a teaching tool, and not something one reads for pleasure.
Finally, any plans to continue the story, perhaps having Brian and Winifred go and investigate other folklore characters like the Loch Ness monster or Scandinavian trolls?! If so, which myths would you like to see them go after?
EE: I don’t want to say too much because I’ve come up with an idea for another adventure and I’m not terribly sure how that will go just yet. I have a solid concept and a great beginning, but beyond that I’m not quite sure. It will most likely involve what we Yankees call “colonial root cellars” in some way… But suffice it to say, yes, I do have plans!
And finally, finally, where do you stand on Sasquatch/trolls/fairies and other such things – are you a believer or a sceptic?!
EE: I’m pretty much a sceptic when it comes to most of that stuff, but I DO find Sasquatch oddly compelling and believable. Which is why I wrote Beast of Wolfe’s Bay the way I did — I wanted to offer a semi-realistic-ish Sasquatch story.