Interview by Cory Thrall
Alterna Comics has been releasing a number of amazing titles lately, and when we were given a peek of both ‘Myth’ (reviewed earlier) and this amazing piece of work, “Wolves of Summer”, we could see this becoming a trend. Both comics are great for their own individual reasons, and “Wolves of Summer” – releasing this March 20th, 2013 – is about as individual a comic as you can get.Set during the end of WWII, the comic deals with a group of Hitler Youth turned child soldiers for a still shrouded in mystery organization known as Werewolf (or Werwolf in German), that may or may not have existed in real life. We’ll get to that.
After reading the first issue, I had planned to do a preview and review of the title, but in a stroke of luck I got the chance to interview “Wolves of Summer” creator and writer Tony Keaton about this strongly emotional and dark drama.
1. Please introduce yourself, and your role with “Wolves of Summer”.
Hi, my name’s Tony Keaton, and I’m the creator and writer.
2. The concept behind this title is both heartbreaking and disturbing, but a damn good read. Can you tell us a bit about the premise, and maybe a bit about your main characters?
I was really interested in what kind of an adult a child soldier could become. I wanted Johnny Summer’s half of the story to begin at the moment where the kids’ story would likely end. I wanted to tell the sequel to a story parallel to its original, and have them both feed and enhance each other.
I’ve always loved Scorsese’s “Mean Streets”, and I wanted to play with that template for the two brothers, Hans and Rudi Krüger. The magic of “Mean Streets” is that you just know (spoiler alert) DeNiro is gonna get his, and get shot and bleed out in a dark alleyway, and Keitel is gonna be haunted, probably for the rest of his life, but the fun is in seeing how everything unfolds, destined for doom in its very DNA. Hans (13) is the older brother, and the new commander, hell bent on avenging his broken homeland. Rudi (11) wants to keep the promise he made to their father, to save Hans from the war, from madness, from himself. Their relationship, what they need from each other, how they destroy each other, that’s the heart of “Wolves of Summer”.
3. I find it interesting that children were used in such a way, and the impact it has on Rudi’s life makes that strongly apparent. Did you do any research on the subject, since it’s based on a real idea happening within the Third Reich? Do you believe the Werewolves/Werwolves were more propaganda or an actually trained unit? I know there’s always been some questions regarding this and Goebbels’ forming of the Wolves.
I’m glad you asked this question, because it is definitely a controversial subject. I did my homework on Werwolf, and found two different theories that lead to the same conclusion. No one has claimed that Werwolf had any real significant impact besides being an effective and evocative propaganda tool. It was a disorganized movement, like most operations near the end of Hitler’s reign, and it was doomed to fail. Not even the main proponent of Werwolf’s existence, author and professor Perry Biddiscombe, whose book, “The Last Nazis”, proved to be an especially fascinating read, would argue with that statement. Were there attacks from small groups of former Hitler Youth after the Allied occupation of Germany? Yes. Did Goebbels’ Werwolf Radio exist? Yes. Do I think Werwolf was possible? Yes. For the sake of a good story, even with the pulpiest of pretenses, do I want Werwolf to have existed? Of course, but even so, I think the situations presented in “Wolves of Summer” would be just as plausible if Werwolf was only a myth. I also don’t think that if a group of Allied soldiers ran into a sadistic pack of young Werewolves, and those kids were killed, that those soldiers would be screaming their victory from any mountaintop.
The bottom line is I’m just trying to tell a good story. I’m not trying to justify or prolong any war or occupation with evidence of Werewolves.
4. The emotion these boys feel is very well done and very expressive both in art and script. What did you ‘tap into’ to get these so correct? The wonderful art by Andrew Herbst is a major plus in this area.
Thanks, and thanks on behalf of Andrew as well. From a writing standpoint, I just try to be true to the characters, observe them, and document their behavior. Especially when dealing with kids, adrenaline, and war, any one heightened emotion is going to be visible on their faces from a mile away. However, I can only write “Krause looks down, worried” or “Hans flashes a psychopathic smile at his frightened brother”. It’s Andrew who brings these characters so vividly to life with his awesomely expressive characterizations, and I couldn’t be happier with them.
5. How did you find yourself making comics? From this issue it really seems like you’ve both worked elsewhere. The work itself shows some great comic minds at work. Have you had any other comic experiences? I’d be surprised if not, as this is very well scripted.
I’m a newbie, but I’ve always daydreamed and filled notebooks with plot pieces or character ideas. It wasn’t until I went back to school and professor after professor would tell me I was wasting my time if I wasn’t writing, that I finally said fuck it. Probably due to preciousness, imperfection or nervousness, I just never gave myself a real serious shot at it until now. But now I feel ready, and it feels right, oh and thanks for the compliment.
Andrew is a graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). He previously wrote and created the comic “Grotto” with Ashby Utting, and did everything on his own book, “Bivouac”. Check it out here: http://cargocollective.com/andrewherbst
6. This comic has a bleak, almost depressing tone, and I think with the subject matter that it’s perfect. Did you set out at first to write such an effecting story, or did it evolve over time into what we see in issue #1?
I think if anything, the story has softened from its original incarnation. I actually think some of it is kind of funny. Maybe I’m losing it. Basically, I’m not interested in writing anything that’s not emotional, that you can’t feel in your guts. If I’m writing a song, I want you to either dance or cry your eyes out (preferably both). If I’m feeling that way when it’s being created, than I hope someone can share that feeling with me.
Before putting pencil to paper, I imagined the kids as complete monsters, as irredeemable villains. And though there is that aspect behind all of them, the research led me to see the young boys’ true faces and personalities as well. This was a time when if you weren’t on Hitler’s side, you were dead. All the anti-Nazi resistance movements, they all ended the same: bravery precluded death. I think Rudi would be in one of these movements, if not for his love and responsibility for his brother.
7. Your cast of characters are well defined, even when some only have a line of dialogue or two. The way some are excited, others are scared out of their minds, and others like Hans embrace it, finding power in weakness and strength as fear? The layered aspect of your characters is really one of the biggest selling points, I think. A nearly unthinkable story, but with rich development that makes you care about some and openly hate others. It’s very well balanced. What was your main goal with this group of individuals?
Thanks again for that. Well I think you nailed it: I wanted to write about a group of individuals. Everyone plays their part, and has their own way of dealing with the horrors around them. When it comes to war fables, I’m much more interested in “The Deer Hunter” and “Come and See” than I am in “Rambo”. I didn’t want Nazi caricatures, who are so often (albeit well-deserved, but) forgettable cannon fodder. Now a senior SS Officer doesn’t have any excuse. He knows better, and he should be dealt with accordingly. But a kid, literally born into Nazi Germany, never knowing anything else but what Hitler force fed them, what would they look and sound like at 13? If these born xenophobes saw their beloved country being invaded by foreigners, wouldn’t they fight back as, or more passionately as anyone else? I thought this aspect of WW2 was fascinating and surprisingly under-told. I felt that combining all the love and rage and passion and confusion of youth would make for some interesting characters.
8. Do you have plans for this title that you can share? How about any other future work down the line?
Chapter Two: Knives is gonna be wild. Now that we have everything nicely set up, now that we know who we like and who we don’t, now we can really start to play. And Andrew’s artwork is killing me. It’s so damn good.
I’m working on a ton of new ideas. Probably the farthest along is tentatively titled “Bad Blood Run”. I’m pitching it as something like “No Country for Old X-Men”, and I’d really like to work with Jeff McComsey (FUBAR, American Terror) on it. He doesn’t know that yet.
Andrew will be starting his opus, “Copper Point” after finishing up with “Wolves of Summer”. It’s about kids who see monsters, and so much more, and it’s going to be mind-blowingly amazing. Somewhere in there, I’m going to be bothering him to draw more of my stories (and they won’t take place in forests, well, they probably will).
9. The action in this is clear, concise, and flows smoothly, making it highly effective. How much of this was outlined in the script, and how much do you think came through from the artwork itself?
We both have pretty similar cinematic sensibilities when it comes to staging and framing a panel. Sometimes I specify a certain angle or flow, but most of the time, Andrew is free to play and explore, and that’s where he thrives. He deeply cares about his work, and it shows.
10. Can you explain a bit of the process that goes into you and Andrew creating an issue, or this entire premise altogether?
We’ve been creative collaborators for years and friends since the 2nd grade. We trust and value each other’s opinion, and any suggestions are usually for the best. After I complete a script, Andrew thumbnails it out. Every step of the process, the inking, the lettering, we talk it through. Even though we lived in different parts of the country for 95% of Issue #1, the communication remained strong. “Wolves of Summer” is something that we love and believe in wholeheartedly. We are so excited for it to finally be unleashed upon the world, 3/20/13.
You can find more information by following these links:
PREVIEW SOME IMAGES FROM ‘WOLVES OF SUMMER‘:
Interview/Preview by Feral Fang
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