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B&N Week 23: There Wolf, There Castle

| May 31, 2011 | 2 Comments

 

Tuesday! It really is a great day. I don’t know about you, but I’m loving today.

We’re still talking about horror in general, and characters in particular. Last week we spoke about vampires, but this week, we’re to talk about their little-understood cousins, the werewolf.

As we all know, much has been written about the vampire. They’re in the minds of the public, and the public thinks they know something about them. Vampires are sexy, and that sexiness, I believe, is what’s captured the imaginations of writers and has caused them to be as widespread as they are. Also, something about being undead is in there, as well. [This will lead us to mummies and zombies, as well.]

Generally, vampire detection is easy. If the person’s dead, and you know they’re dead, but they look alive [at best], or you’re running for your life as they come after you, wanting your lifesblood [at worst], then you know they’re a vampire. Werewolves? Not as easy, by far.

Now, I don’t understand why werewolves aren’t as popular as vampires. Werewolves are nowhere as easy to detect. Some versions have hairy palms as a werewolf trait [or of men masturbating a lot, for some reason], others a unibrow [what’s with the hair fetish?], and still others have the pentacle/pentagram/five pointed star as the sign of the werewolf. However, unless someone changes right in front of you, you’re not going to be able to detect a werewolf just by looking at him or her.

Werewolf “lore” has evolved in our lifetime. Some of the changes are subtle, but obvious if you know what to look for.

Let’s take the measuring stick that started the craze, The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney, Jr., is attacked by Bela Lugosi, is bitten, but survives. His survival is now his curse, for now he changes into a savage beast whenever the moon is full. But, let’s take a closer look at this movie.

Lawrence “Larry” Talbot is attacked by a wolf, and kills it with a silver-handled walking stick. This wolf is actually Bela Lugosi, but as viewers of the movie will note, Talbot is actually attacked by a wolf. This is an actual wolf. [Fine, dog works, too, but you know what I mean.] This isn’t a man in makeup. We’re talking about a true animal. We’ll call that Form One of the werewolf. Transformation from man to wolf, and back again.

Talbot then changes into the “wolf man,” which is inexplicable to me, because he never [not once] changes into a full wolf. He’s a man who’s “wolfed out”, but that’s all. He stands on two legs, is fully dressed, but has the sensibilities of a wolf. We’ll call that Form Two. So, within one movie, we’ve got two forms of a werewolf. Fun, right?

Now, in most lore that I’ve read, you have the werewolf changing from a man into a full wolf, with no stops in between. You don’t see a man acting like a wolf, you have a wolf, believed to be huge and ravaging the countryside two or three days a month. [Talk about a period!] That’s the way werewolves had been depicted for centuries. However, the 80s changed all that.

The 80s brought us an intermediate form. Form Three, let’s call it, which is the meshing of human and wolf. You have the Wolf Man tendencies of standing on two legs, but they look more wolfen, and ofttimes, they have something of a human mind. They also started controlling their changes, so it was no longer just the full moon that affected them.

This was a huge change to the werewolf. To go from something uncontrolled that only happened a few days a month to something that was totally controllable and unchained from the source of their change [the moon] is huge.

However, I believe it is the animal nature of werewolves [emphasis on the wolf] that is what keeps werewolves not as prevalent as their “sexier” counterparts. It’s the animal, the not-humanness, that keeps them down. Sure, they can do things that vampires can’t, like move about easily in society, and they’re probably more powerful than vampires on a whole, but for all that, they’re generally considered to be “dogs.” Fun, right?

Because werewolves haven’t been written about as much, there aren’t that many tropes about them. However, the good part about that is that when they’re written about, they’re MUCH more consistent. Let’s examine them. Some are needed, and some are to be avoided.

Surviving Bites: lore tells us that if you survive a werewolf attack, and are bitten, you’ll become a werewolf when the moon is full. You can find this everywhere, and really is a no-brainer.

Full Moon: for all of her mystery, there aren’t that many supernatural creatures closely associated with the moon. What the moon actually has to do with werewolves and the change, besides legend and tradition, is beyond me. But, unless you have a more modern take on your werewolves, this is a necessary trope.

Search For A Cure: Lon Chaney, Jr’s Larry Talbot is the patron saint of the werewolf who searched for a cure and never found one. [He was also killed in most movies, and a way was found for him to come back, which lead to modern immortality theories of werewolves.] He was just damned whiney about it. For the love of back waxing, do NOT create whiney characters! Talk about wanting to go on a granny-punching rampage! Just don’t do it.

Forms: Wolf, wolf-man, and intermediate. Personally, I think the level of control your character has [if any] will be the factor as to whether or not they search for a cure. For wolf and wolf-man, they’re probably going to be searching for a cure because they’re not in control. Intermediate? They’ll probably revel in the power. They more than likely won’t even see it as a curse. Control does that.

Abominations: Made notable by Whitewolf, the Abomination is a werewolf/vampire hybrid. Notice, I said “notable.” Whitewolf did not create the abomination. Gave them a cool name, sure, but it didn’t create them. These powerful creatures are something of a newer trope, but they should be really rare. REALLY rare.

Pack Mentality: Do I really need to go deep into this one? Of course, we all know that wolves roam in packs, with alpha males, and blah blah blah. If you have more than one werewolf in your stories, you have to include something of the pack mentality. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Like I said, there aren’t many tropes for werewolves, and some of them are needed. Now, just like there are different types of vampires, there are also different types of werewolves. You have the loup garou, the skinwalker, and others. (Cop out!) Nope. I want you to do research on them. For werewolves, you have to go really deep in order to get differences. Information for them is far and wide, and if you think you can get what you need from movies and novels, you have another think coming.

So, how do you bring this information into comics?

Well, the first thing you have to decide is which trope you’re going to use to base your character on. I’m going to tell you now, if you use Searching For A Cure, you’re wrong. (Steven! Why are you trying to tell me how to tell my story?) I’m not. I’m just telling you that unless you bring something totally, significantly new to the table, no one’s going to want to read it, because everyone’s already read this story. You have the reluctant werewolf that can’t die/can’t be cured until/unless he kills the person that turned him/started that particular strain. Done. To. Death. Think of something else.

Since we’re talking about horror, it would behoove you to realize that if you give control to your werewolf [Form 3], then this makes them truly monstrous, because they know exactly what the hell they’re doing.

For some reason, werewolves are full of rage, and that rage gets taken out on humanity. [Investigating that rage would be a nice story.] If you give your werewolf a modicum of control, and they still go around killing people for sport…they become more monstrous, to my mind. They’re no longer something to be pitied [and survived], but something to be feared. Let’s take one of the best werewolf movies in recent memory: An American Werewolf in London, and contrast that with another, The Howling.

The werewolf, David, is bitten, survives, and cannot control his transformations. We follow his story, and we feel pity for him because he’s going around killing all kinds of people. This is heightened because he’s now being haunted by those he’s killed, and he’s also falling in love with his nurse, but in the end, he’s killed, and we feel sad for his tragic circumstances.

Now, in The Howling, we have a secret society of werewolves who are in total control of themselves. We don’t feel sorry for them, because they have control over what they do. They can change at will, and they revel in their power. Instead, we feel sorry for their victim, who ends up dying in the end, trying to expose them. Who’s the bigger monster?

And this is what you have to bring to your comics. You have to find that medium of story where you affect your reader viscerally with your monster. There are tips and tricks to doing this, and we’ll talk about that, later.

Like I said, you have to settle on your character trope first, and the rest will start to come into focus after that. [Yes, you can also mix and match your character tropes in the same story—I just don’t suggest mixing them in the same character.]

One last thing. I suggest finite stories when it comes to werewolves. If you try to tell an ongoing story with them, you’re going to hemorrhage readers left and right after a while. Remember the animal thing we spoke about earlier? That’s going to factor in the longevity of any ongoing series you try to start. I’m not suggesting you do market research in order to see what will and will not sell [this hurts your storytelling ability, in my opinion—but you have to realize what will and will not sell at the same time], I’m just telling you that, historically, ongoing werewolf stories don’t go over well. This is in any medium. Readers can’t identify with them, and as such, they don’t last.

As a matter of fact, Robert Kirkman, the latest writing superstar who’s so good that he was made a partner at Image, had a werewolf book that recently came to an end: The Astounding Wolf-Man. What was it about? Couldn’t tell you. Never picked up an issue. A quick Wiki search tells me it’s standard superhero fare within the Invincible universe. But the book ran for a little over two years. If Kirkman can’t keep a werewolf book going, what do you think of your chances?

With finite stories, you’ll be able to say everything you wanted within the pages of your book. It doesn’t get much better than that. Telling a full story in today’s climate? Great idea! Just do your best to make it scary.

And that’s it for this week. Homework: go begin researching werewolves. This is going to be harder than you think, which is why I said “begin.”

Next week, we’ll talk about zombies! Aren’t you excited? The different kinds of zombies, and how we all love and hate seeing them. That’s next week.

See you then!

 

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (2)

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  1. John Lees says:

    One really good werewolf comic I’ve read recently is “Extinct” by Fabien Rangel Jr and Jethro Morales. I reviewed the first issue for the Creator-Owned Zone:

    http://www.comixtribe.com/2011/04/07/review-extinct-1/

    In terms of modern twists on werewolves… it may be unoriginal to mention it yet again, but Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” run had a great story called “The Curse”, which had a twist on the trope so great I can’t believe it wasn’t done sooner (maybe it was and I missed it). The werewolf in question is a woman, and the monthly cycle leading to her change isn’t the full moon, if you get my drift.

  2. Another good suggestion, although as a web serial novel rather than a comic, is David Wellington’s Frostbite:

    http://www.davidwellington.net/serials/frostbite/part-1-the-drunken-forest/1-3/

    Check out his other online novels for his take on vampires and zombies.

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