I always love to chat with writer/artist Mike Wolfer about the myriad projects he’s attached to. Whether it’s his work on the Boundless Comics beauties Lady Death and War Goddess, or his creepy horror on Avatar’s Stitched and Night of the Living Dead, or his new project in development, Malison Plague, he’s an interesting cat who’s got a lot of great insight into the comics storytelling medium.
Beginning in September, Wolfer will take over the writing chores on Stitched, the monthly comic series devised originally by Garth Ennis as a feature film. He had previously handled both the art chores on that book, plus adapting Ennis’ original screenplay to the comic format. The new story arc takes the terror and action to never-before-seen levels and locales, as Wolfer explains below. And he has a special message to all you cupcake lovers out there, too.
What should readers know about the previous Stitched storyline, going into the new storyline?
You’re not even going to say, “Hi,” to me first? After all of the interviews we’ve done together, you’re just going to dispense with the pleasantries? I should have known. I’ve seen the hundreds of photos you’ve taken of female cosplayers at conventions. And by the way: Where are all of the NSFW pics that don’t make their way to Bleeding Cool?
Yeah, about those… I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know.
Okay, then! Anyhow… Stitched. The new storyline will run from #8 to #13, and is a self-contained storyline of its own, just like the first seven issues. But “Black Drum,” which is what I’m calling this arc, is a direct continuation of the first arc. We don’t see any of the characters from the first story, those who survived (if any), but this story is a natural progression of the premise Garth established. Readers who missed the first one should certainly be teased for missing out on a good thing, but they won’t have to have read it to understand what’s what in the new story. Everything is neatly explained, while we simultaneously blaze ahead with new characters and situations.
Although I know that Avatar wouldn’t like you to give too many secrets away, what can you tell us about the new arc? Where will it take us, and what will be the dramatic premise?
In the first arc, we were introduced to the concept of these supernatural creatures being used as enforcers by a black market slaver in the Afghanistan desert. A group of American and British soldiers who are trying to fight their way out of the country must also survive against these unkillable, super-human monsters, so in the midst of all of that, we see snippets of who really controls the Stitches and how they’re created. But we don’t see just what the black magic is that creates them, which is something twisted and horrible which terrifies those who know about it. Like you said, I can’t say too much without spoiling the finale of the first arc, but the action will shift to a cargo ship bound for Sri Lanka, where a collector of extremely rare antiquities is waiting to take delivery of six very unique relics. Actually, the story opens with guns blazing, because a team of Navy SEALS has tracked the ship and boarded it to try to secure those relics for the U.S. Government.
Will there be a difference in tone between the first arc and the second?
There will. The first arc by Garth was essentially a war story with monsters, which worked beautifully, so I’ll be carrying over the military themes into the second arc. But as the story goes along, we’ll be focusing on the dark, supernatural origin of the Stitches, so the direction is going to shift and head deeper and deeper into straight horror. The Stitches were once human, these poor fuckers who were captured and had some hideous black goo poured down their throats before having all of their orifices sewn closed. And whatever that black crap is that they were forced to swallow eats them up from inside, while imbuing them with a supernatural force that makes them invincible. Shoot them, hack off their limbs, crush their heads… Nothing works, they just keep coming. So what we’ll be uncovering is the origin of the force within them that drives them to hate the living and kill, kill, kill.
Stitched originated as a film project, launching first with the 15-minute short film and evolving into an ongoing comic series. Considering that the premise existed in a visual medium before its comics adaptation, what are your thoughts on how those visual cues will continue or change as you move into the new storyline?
I think the major difference is going to be for the artist, Fernando Furukawa. To be honest, as artist on the first arc (in part based on the short film), I really beat myself up trying to adhere as faithfully as I could to what was on-screen. So even though I was drawing and pacing the action in a way that felt comfortable to me, I was still obsessing over minute details, like the likenesses of the actors, the costumes, uniforms, locations, all of it. What Fernando gets to do is work from a blank slate, to create his own unique feel for all of the new characters and locations.
The first Stitched run had a resonant cast: the tough-as-nails but injured leader, the initially weak “last girl” who finds new strength, the wise but cold sniper, etc.
Oh, so you think you have everyone figured out, huh? Have you seen the last issue of the first arc? (Laughs.)
Laugh it up, fuzzball. So, do you think we’ll ever see a return of these characters down the line, or rather, will their influence from the previous storyline survive into the new arc?
No, we won’t see them again. Just like with Garth’s first Crossed story, those characters are off-limits and not to be seen again. Their story has been told, period. But still, I do make reference to them at the beginning of “Black Drum,” because this is a direct continuation of that story, just dealing with a new set of central characters.
In moving forward with the new Stitched storyline as its writer, you’re now directing the artist as opposed to actually being the artist. What are your thoughts on handing off the illustration responsibilities to another artist?
It’s always exciting, and an interesting experience, to write for an artist I haven’t worked with before. You never know what you’ll get, and sometimes it takes a few issues to create a rhythm and understanding of each other’s strengths. Sometimes, in all honesty, that never happens, the successful connection. What I mean is, it starts with the visualization of each panel in my brain, to the transference of those images into words in a script, then that goes into the artist’s brain and finally onto paper. Sometimes, two people just don’t “see” the same way, or have the same understanding of the personality traits of characters. The artist, in a sense, has to be a bit of a born actor; he or she has to understand when a character should show extravagant behavior, or subtle behavior, depending on that character’s personality and motivation. If a character is happy, smiling and buying an ice cream cone from a vendor, their hands should not be in angry fists. If you saw that in a movie, you’d say, “What a bad actor.” It’s the same thing in comics, but it’s the responsibility of the artist to keep that “actor’s” actions in check and always appropriate.
Which brings me to Fernando Furukawa. From the first page, the first panel, his layouts perfectly captured what I had envisioned, down to the most minute details. And he goes way beyond that, adding a very lush buffet of subtle emotions and expressions which make all of the characters, even secondary background characters, unique. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the art, I’m serious. It’s gorgeous, super-detailed, manga-influenced. The action is hyper-realistic and so well choreographed. It’s seamless and flows incredibly well, like some violent ballet. It’s horrible and beautiful to watch at the same time.
Stitched, like Crossed, is a project conceived of by Garth Ennis, but ultimately open to other creators to expand upon. Are you able to make major contributions to the Stitched back story or must your new vision build only off of what’s been printed before?
Aside from the characters of the first story arc, everything else is wide open, including the origin of the Stitches. When I signed on as writer, Garth said, “It’s all yours, run with it,” but he’s also overseeing the major elements, and offering suggestions or ideas on the core or their story, so yes, I can contribute, but it’s been in collaboration with Garth, because it’s his baby. I’m just helping it grow. The cool thing, and something I’m really psyched about, is that we’re dealing with a whole new mythos. It’s a brand new, iconic monster we’re creating from the ground up, so that alone is really exciting, to be able to create a new Frankenstein, in a sense.
I happen to know you’re a huge horror movie fan, especially of classic (or cult) movies from a bygone era. Are there particular cinematic influences you draw from as you write the new STITCHED stories?
You must be creeping on my Facebook page to know that. Are you stalking me? Oh, wait… I “friended” you, didn’t I?
Yep, that’ll teach ya.
Well, it is an interesting question, and I get asked that one a lot, but I don’t have any specific movies, or music, or comics, or novels — nothing — which I use for inspiration. What comes out just comes out naturally. But like you said, I’m a huge fan of old-school horror, particularly from the 70’s, stuff from Hammer Films, Amicus; Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Filipino horror films, I’m all over the map. I was raised on the visual storytelling of those movies, so that’s what seeped into my brain when I was a kid and that’s how I naturally pace my stories today. That’s what scared me then, so that’s how I try to scare readers now. I’m not a fan of, “Page 1, Panel 1: There’s the monster in full view, seen from head to toe.” I just wrote a scene in an upcoming issue where a “deactivated” Stitch is brought to life. Instead of a big splash page showing him jumping out of the crate he’s stored in, I have a shot of the side of the crate, and we can’t see inside it. Then a shot of a human hand shaking the can of pebbles which creates the sound that brings the creature to life. Then the same side shot of the crate, only now the dusty, ancient hand of the creature is rising… And all we see is the hand. That’s it. And to me, that’s scary.
Consider the sentence: “If you’re a fan of ____________, you should pick up the new storyline of Stitched.” What’s a target audience that you would love to see come aboard for the new story, and why?
Hmm… There are so many ways to fill in that blank. How about “horror,” “Garth Ennis,” “Tombs Of The Blind Dead,” “Ringu,” “cupcakes,” “manga,” “shocking gore”… oh, crap, “Mike Wolfer.” I almost forgot that one! “Black Drum” kind of has it all — well, except cupcakes, but who doesn’t like them? The target audience I’d like to reach is obviously the gorehounds. To broaden the scope, I’d also invite the comic sophisticates. I think that many of the uninitiated will find that there’s a whole lot more going on beneath the surface of Stitched than the violence. The Walking Dead has made quite a reputation for itself as “the thinking man’s zombie series.” I think those readers would be very surprised by the depth of the characters and the effectiveness of the slow, simmering suspense we’re presenting in Stitched.
When you look at what you’re doing to this new Stitched storyline, what do you think of as your favorite new contribution to the mythos? Or perhaps a favorite scene or character, if you don’t want to give too much away?
Without a doubt, my favorite contribution would be the origin of the black magic which animates the Stitches. What Garth and I devised for the creation of the vengeful, horrific force encased within these creatures is going to be sad, hideous, and most-likely controversial, but it’s a fantasy scenario based upon a cultural atrocity that’s still practiced in our real world today. It’s not pleasant, but it’s the truth, which makes it all the more frightening, and hopefully, it will get people thinking.