“I can control the pace of the story by revealing what I want, when I want, and how I want” Matthew Petz discusses the digital secrets behind War of the Woods (plus the inspiration for his iconic cover image!)
Every now and again a comic book comes along that is so completely new and original that reminds you of that initial thrill you had as a kid discovering the classics for the first time. One book that did that for us recently was Matthew Petz’s outstanding War of the Woods. It’s such an original idea that you just cannot fathom why no-one has thought of it before! Told from the point of view of a young otter called Phin, it starts out as a wholesome animal-based adventure but soon morphs into something truly out of this world as aliens invade Phin’s New Jersery habitat, and he and his father Nathaniel and a turtle called Issac set out to save the world. Keen to find out more about this incredible book we contacted writer artist Matthew Petz to discover the inspiration for Phin and friends and find out just where the idea for that iconic cover image came from.
I absolutely love the idea for War of the Woods but where did the idea actually come from? Was it the title or just one of those ‘what if’ moments?
MP: Well, originally it was a straight up alien invasion of Earth story. Same basic premise, but the cast were all humans. I was really excited about it. I told my then girlfriend about it, gave her all the major beats and twists, and she just shrugged! She thought it sounded typical and bland. Same old thing. So I started again. This time trying to think of a way to have here, a non comics fan, enjoy the story. I thought if I can get her into it, it will work for others too. So as I was wracking my brain I thought” she loves otters and other cute animals”. Then the lightbulb went off and I thought about refocusing the entire thing but from the animal kingdoms perspective. It was a HUGE revelation. All of a sudden it was fresh and new and full of possibilities. Then the title just popped in, and it was too perfect!
The book starts off with a cutesy Wind in the Willows type feel but quickly morphs into more of a Hobbit style quest with plenty of dark supernatural elements (and of course aliens), what books and characters inspired you when when creating the world of War of the Woods?
MP: Definitely Lord of the Rings, and War of the Worlds. But also movies like Star Wars and Aliens. Big stuff that has a mythology behind it.
How much research do you do into the animal’s look and feel? Is that something you have always had an affinity for or is it something you have to practice and perfect? Or do you prefer drawing aliens and explosions?!
MP: Well it’s two fold, I wanted to write something I would love drawing. And of course I hate drawing cars and buildings and all that. So setting it in the woods with creatures just seemed so much more fun! That said I do a lot of research into the what the animal looks like and try as best I can to keep it realer then cartoony.
Every now and again you get a comic which has one of those really iconic images that defines a series (Watchmen’s pin badge, V For Vendetta’s mask, Batmans cowl) so where on earth did you get the idea for an otter with a turtle on his head – it is a truly unique image and such a great one to use!
MP: THANK YOU! Well it came out of a necessity. One of the character sees a turtle, and when I was writing these chase scenes, I was stumped on how to get him involved in the action. So I just did a quick little sketch of the turtle on the otters head. It was really silly, but oddly awesome and kind’ve iconic almost! It sort’ve looked like a helmet and it solved my mobility problem. From there on in I latched onto it as the”brand” image of the book. My banner for conventions has it on there and it tends to rope in folks curious as to what its all about.
The book has quite a dark and mythic tone to it with the New Jersey Devil, is that based on an actual myth or one you created? And will be seeing more characters like that appear in the new series?
MP: He’s definitely a real NJ legend. As a kid I LOVED stuff like Bigfoot and Nessie. So I wanted to see if I could find a way to include those types of animals. My thinking was that in the animal kingdom these strange beasts might be legendary as well. It was another happy accident, I set it in the New Jersey Pine Barrens because they actually have otters living there, and it also happens to be the home of the Jersey Devil. You’l definitely be seeing more of him down the road…maybe a few other strange beasts as well!
Book 2 is being prominently featured in ComiXology‘s Guided View section, what have you added in to book 2 to make the most of this new technology and what do you think it enables you to add to your storytelling?
MP: With book two I wanted to try and take advantage of digital storytelling. So theres a lot of dissolves and swipes that reveal text and panels. It’s really just one more tool as a storyteller that you can play with. The best thing it allows is control. I can control the pace of the story by revealing what I want, when I want, and how I want. Telling the story in landscape is also a huge plus. I think it has a more natural feel to graphic storytelling. No reading from the left, to the right and down. Feels more cinematic…especially with the way the page gradually gets revealed.
You’ve gone down the self publishing route on this book, how can readers get to read War of the Woods, apart from on ComiXology, and how do you think the growth of digital comics has helped self publishers like yourself?
MP: Well I’ll have a web store up soon for some print copies. And now that I have a large chunk done 160 pages ( and more coming!) I plan to start talking to publishers. Digital growth is huge. You can’t complain about not having a comic, all it takes is time and determination. Get and idea, work on it, and just get it done. Digital is the wild west you can literally do anything you want, the rules are being broken everyday..which is great.
If readers like War of the Woods, where else can we see your work and what are you working on next?
MP: Well you can check out my twitter feed at @matthewpetz or my website at matthewpetz.com. That’s the best place for updates. Aside from more WOTW, the next thing I have is a bit of a departure. A friend and I are working on something called “Lordless”. It’s a super violent insane D&D inspired story. the main character is a badass. I’m really excited for people to see it. Not only is it a fun original story, but were going to be playing with formats and what a comic can be. The first installment will be online soon!
Finally, which animal in the woods do you identify with most? Both in terms characters in the book and just in terms of which animals do you think are the coolest and why?
MP: Wow…Hmmmmmm. Well I think I identify with the make hero Phin the most. He wants to do the right thing even if he doesn’t know how to exactly do that. As for the coolest, I think Murd the fisher cat is tops. Google “Fishers” and you’ll love them! They look almost cute, like a raccoon and bear all mixed up, but that are crazy fierce. I love drawing him!
War of the Woods is available digitally via ComiXology with a collected volume 1 available for £3.99/$4.99 and the first 4 issues of season 2 available for £0.69/$0.99. Or visit Matthew’s website matthewpetz.com for print copies and to get a free sample of issue #1!