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Astounding Transformation

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It wasn’t too long ago that Free Comic Book Day offerings were mere reprints of new-reader-friendly, self-contained stories. Then, largely due to an impulse given by Marvel Comics, several publishers started to release one-shots featuring original content, so both rookie readers and devoted veteran aficionados had something to look forward to the first Saturday of May.

For this year’s FCBD, though, Image Comics decided to up the ante: the publisher is offering the first issue of The Astounding Wolf-Man, a new ongoing series by its top writer, Robert Kirkman, and up-and-coming artist, Jason Howard. With May 5 fast approaching, BF turned to Howard for an introduction to the title.

BROKEN FRONTIER: How did you become involved in this project?

JASON HOWARD: Robert Kirkman and I had previously worked together on The Pact #4 for Image. We really had a lot of fun with that issue and did some goofy things. Some time after we finished that book I sent Robert a drawing I did of his Science Dog character from Invincible.

I guess he had been kicking around the idea of doing a werewolf superhero book, and in seeing how I drew Science Dog he thought I might be a good fit.

BF: What do you think of the unique marketing strategy behind this title’s launch, i.e. Image offering the first issue for free on Free Comic Book Day?

JH: I think it is a great idea. I wish I could claim credit for it. Strictly from a creative standpoint I feel honoured to be a part of it. As an artist you want people to see your work—good or bad, you want to get it out there and hopefully have some readers connect with it.

Aside from that I really think that the concept of the book is a cool idea and I am excited about the way it is coming together and all the cool things we have planned for the series.

I think that offering it as a part of Free Comic Book Day will give a lot of people a chance to check it out. Hopefully people will like what they see and come back for issue #2, because that is when things really start to heat up.

BF: Seems like you’re a big fan of the event yourself!

JH: Of course, who doesn’t like free comics?!

BF: The series revolves around Gary Hampton—what bad things does he do so he ends up a wolf-man?

JH: Well, I don’t want to give away much regarding the story. But our story focuses on Gary after he has been attacked by a werewolf. It tells his discovery of his new ability and the way it affects his life and how he chooses to use his new powers (or is it a curse…?).

BF: Where does Gary go over the first couple of issues?

JH: The changes in Gary’s life are a key part of the story, I don’t want to give too much of that away.

BF: Since you can’t give too much away about what happens to Gary after the werewolf attack, can you tell us what kind of a person he is, and what circumstances lead up to the werewolf encounter?

JH: Sure. Gary is a wealthy business owner, who doesn’t spend a whole lot of time with his family. Not because he is a bad guy, he loves his family but he is very busy (it takes a lot of work to run a business you know). On a rare family vacation he is mauled by a "bear" and ends up in a coma.

After recovering, Gary and his wife begin to realize that it wasn't a bear that attacked him after all. They discover what really happened and begin to deal with the changes in Gary’s life.

BF: Are you a fan of Robert’s other Image work on Walking Dead and Invincible?

JH: Yes I am. I actually picked up the first issue of both of these series when they first launched, and this was before I knew Robert. In both cases I initially bought them because I was a fan of the artists involved not because of the writer. But it was the stories that got me hooked and kept me buying the series.

While they are both great, I really love Invincible. The art is great, and the stories are fun and surprising. Anyone who is a fan of superhero comics is doing themselves a disservice if they are not buying this book.

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BF: Let’s continue the Robert Kirkman hyping-up thing we’ve got going. [Laughs] From an artist’s point of view, what makes it great to work with him? Robert’s panel descriptions can be very precise, but he mostly tends to leave a lot up to the artist to dive into each scene and run away with it…

JH: That’s a big part of it. Robert’s scripts give enough detail so I know what he is intending but he also leaves room for me to be creative with things also. It is also cool to be working on a book that I would buy even if I wasn’t the artist. I know, everyone says that but in my case it is actually true.

BF: The Astounding Wolf-Man is basically your first big break in comics. How does it feel to be where you are now?

JH: I feel tired. Seriously, it is exciting! I am very grateful to Robert and to Image for giving me the opportunity to work on this book. I have done some work for small publishers off and on the past few years, but as I work in the art department for a large corporation nobody in comics has seen most of the design and illustration work that I have done in my career. Or if they do see it, it is packaging in a grocery store isle or something similar and they don’t know who did it or make the connection to comics.

With Wolf-Man, I think people will be checking it out because of Robert, so I am just trying hold up my end of the bargain and tell the story clearly and work to improve my art with each issue.

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BF: How long had you been trying to break into comics before the work you did on The Pact #4 and Werewolf?

JH: My first published comic book was back in 1996 for a Detroit based publisher called Blink comics. Since then I have done a variety of projects including some forgettable work for Caliber, some stuff for a couple other small publishers including a creator owned book that I wrote and drew but never saw print, a short lived web comic, some pinups for other books, tons of sample pages and portfolio review lines. You know, the usual…

Throughout this time I have continued to work at the day job doing graphic design and illustration. So my comic work has always been fit in around that.

BF: Did any other creative endeavors follow out of that Pact issue before you joined the Wolf-Man team?

JH: I did a cover for a small publisher and a couple other things, but primarily I was working on developing Beta Boys, which is my big robot comic. Writer Mark Andrew Smith (Amazing Joy Buzzards) is helping out with the story, it is way cool. One day I will get back to it, but right now it is all Wolf-Man for me.

BF: Your style has a very cartoony feel to it. How do you make that match with the horror atmosphere of the book?

JH: That’s a good question. The first thing to remember is that the book is called The Astounding Wolf-Man. The overall feel of the book is more like a superhero book than a straight horror book, although it certainly has some darker elements to it. I am working to bring a (hopefully) distinctive look to the material with the art.

That being said, I think that there are many examples in comics or animation where a clean or “cartoony” style effectively conveys a wide range of subject matter. I don’t think that a certain style should necessarily be limited to certain types of stories. When we hit on the scary or gory parts of the book I work to bring that out, and I think sometimes the juxtaposition of seeing that kind of subject matter in a lighter style can be very effective.

BF: So, since the book is a horror-superhero combo, does that mean Gary will use his changed physicality for good?

JH: By nature Gary is a good person, so he begins to look for ways to use his new found "power" to help others. But since his body has become an instrument of evil, things may not be quite so easy. I guess that’s where the drama comes in and you’ll have to read the book to see how it all plays out. [Laughs]

Look for The Astounding Wolf-Man #1 (first five pages  here) at your local comic shop this Saturday, May 5 on FCBD. Better be quick, because copies are bound to fly out fast—before you know it, you’ll find yourself howling at the moon empty-handed till July, when the second issue hits along with a director's cut version of issue #1.

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