Trash, Flies, and Rubber Spiders

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Here on the ranch, we shoot straight. If you don’t want to talk about fluff, I don’t want to write about fluff, and we’re going to get along fine. What follows is the first of what I hope is going to be many fine chats with newcomer Bryan Baugh, whose Wulf and Batsy is coming at you bimonthly from Viper Comics.

When Bryan and I were working out the details of this interview, he was crystal clear about one thing in particular: he didn’t want to do another interview like the ones he’d already given. Very sensibly, we crossed a couple of the campier gimmick-themed interview alternatives off the list and when the time came to talk, we agreed we would just talk straight.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Before we get into the thick of things, why don’t you give us the elevator pitch for the book?

BRYAN BAUGH: Wulf and Batsy chronicles the misadventures of a bad-tempered werewolf and a perky female vampire, as they aimlessly wander the earth over a period of about 250 years. You would think, with their supernatural powers, they would be invincible conquerors and plunderers.

But being a monster is not that easy. Monsters might be above humans on the food chain, but they are painfully few in number. Werewolves and vampires, for all their individual power, are predators who are outnumbered in a world ruled by their prey. So they seek shelter, and hunt for food, and try not to be noticed. In some of the stories, Wulf and Batsy have run-ins with dangerous humans. In other stories, Wulf and Batsy meet up with other monsters – some of which are friendlier than others. That’s the basic set up for the series, in a nutshell. By design, it’s a very open-ended premise that I can do almost anything with.

BF: You have a LOT of Wulf and Batsy material that you already generated even before the first issue went to print. You’ve stated in other interviews that you were continuing to write and draw the property during the entire two to three year period it took to get someone interested in publishing the book. Obviously, that’s a lot of personal time and effort to invest in something that wasn’t initially panning out. What made you keep working on it for all that time?

BB: I actually created Wulf and Batsy in December of 1999. I really got going, writing and drawing the first stories in mid 2000. I was just having fun drawing these comics, I had hopes and dreams, of course, but no contacts with publishers, and no reason to believe it would ever actually see print. It was just this fun hobby on the side of my day job. But between 2001 and 2004 there arose a series of major real life events - some bad, some good - that interrupted my progress and caused me to take several long, periodic breaks from Wulf and Batsy.

Altogether, that whole period of time was a real financial and emotional roller coaster ride – with a lot of extreme ups and downs - and Wulf and Batsy became a very on-and-off thing. I am happy to say that since 2004, things have smoothed out considerably. I managed to get back into the cartoon business, and have been enjoying a fairly steady animation career ever since. And being happily married has kept me sane. Those things have given me the peace of mind and the freedom to spend more time dreaming up my monster stories.

The point I’m trying to make is that there has never been any good reason for me to keep writing and drawing my comics… other than my own entertainment. I liken it to having an old, run-down, antique car sitting in the garage that you go out and tinker with every now and then. It’s not something you do regularly or on a schedule. You do it sporadically, as spare time allows. You never really believe you’ll get it running, or that you’ll ever be able to go anywhere with it, but that’s not really important. You just do it for the fun of it. Writing and drawing stories about monsters is my equivalent to that. It’s just what I like to do for fun.

BF: You’re a self-professed horror fan and a lot of your personal work involves a LOT of gore, women-in-peril, and combinations of the two. Obviously you’re a big fan of some of the big underground pioneers in this area, but how much of this aesthetic is going to come into play in Wulf and Batsy?

BB: That aesthetic plays heavily into Wulf and Batsy. All I’ve ever wanted was to create was the comic book equivalent of exploitation horror movies. Some people say those kinds of movies are just trash. Well then, I say my comics are the flies that live off that trash.

I love stories about monsters, and adventures in creepy, exotic environments, and cruel, ugly men causing trouble, and sexy, scantily clad women in need of rescue. I am very old-fashioned that way. But I don’t take it too seriously either. Part of the fun of exploitation horror is not just how violent and gratuitous it is, but also how goofy it can be. A lot of the most "extreme" exploitation horrors try so hard to be scary or sexy or shocking, but they just come across as the overblown fantasies of naughty little boys.

I mean, you’ve got some silly monster chasing a pretty girl and fake blood all over the place, and you realize what a childish game it all is. I find that sort of thing very endearing. When I watch a movie like Zombie Holocaust, or Tombs of the Blind Dead, or Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, I am giggling like a little kid the whole way through. Because you can tell the filmmakers intended it to be this big, important, scary, epic adventure - but it’s just sooo over the top with all its exaggerated violence and overindulgent eroticism, that it’s just ridiculous. But it’s great, you know? It’s pure, shameless, unselfconscious, unapologetic, unpretentious, exhibitionistic showmanship. These people are out to entertain you, darn it, and they’re not holding anything back!

I’m in that same mindset when I write and draw my comics. Even when I draw something really nasty, like a zombie sheering somebody’s legs off with a chainsaw, I just find it funny. Not because I get any sort of malicious thrill out of it, but because I’m thinking about how bad it will gross people out when they see it. The same goes for this "women in peril" stuff. Whenever you see anything bad happen to a girl in my comics or illustrations, it’s done with about as much evil intent as a ten-year-old boy throwing a rubber spider at Little Suzy Ponytails on the playground. I’m not out to hurt or offend anybody. I’m just a guy who never outgrew the urge to put on a monster mask and throw rubber spiders at girls, that’s all.

BF: What’s your opinion on horror in comics? What’s your take on the state of the industry?

BB: We’re in a new phase of popularity for horror comics, but from what I’ve seen, the results have been very hit and miss. There’s been some good stuff, for certain. I recently read City of Others by Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson, and thought it was great. Thicker Than Blood, by Simon Reed and Mike Ploog was another truly great horror comic that came out very recently. But those are rare exceptions if you ask me.

Most so-called horror comics I’ve seen in the last few years have a lackluster feel to them, like they were drawn by artists who wished they were drawing something else… but it’s a job for them, another credit on their resume that will hopefully get them one step closer to their super-hero dream project. I don’t mean to sound like a bitter know-it-all but when you’ve been eating, drinking, and breathing one particular genre your whole life, you can always recognize the work of somebody who was really into it and that of somebody who wasn’t. There’s just a certain intangible weirdness that seeps out of a person’s artwork when they’ve spent their whole life primarily focused on horror. And true horror fans know the difference, just like junkies know the difference between heroin and methadone.

BF: Brilliant simile. Okay, so if you take charge of that aspect of the industry, what would you like to see?

BB: I just wish they would stop making those Marvel Zombies books. I see that as two completely inappropriate blasphemies rolled into one. It’s like putting a scoop of ice cream on a pizza. Both are great on their own but mix them and you ruin both. I like my super-heroes to just be super-heroes and my zombies to just be zombies.

BF: I really appreciate your candor. Now that we’ve slung some stuff around about the rest of the industry, let’s talk about your contribution again. What do you like most about what you’ve made?

BB: Well, obviously I like a lot of things about my own comic! But one of the things I particularly like about Wulf and Batsy… is just how terribly un-cool they are. Most comics these days seem obsessed with making all the characters so hip and cool. They have great hairdos and excellent fashion sense and look like models and when they talk they use the latest slang and make cute references to popular TV shows. Well, I don’t know… I just don’t find characters like that very relatable.

I much prefer goofy, quirky, weird characters who might possess extraordinary abilities but remain awkward, slightly inept, social outcasts. You know what I mean? I like characters who are sort of culturally disconnected and out-of-it. I’m a big reader of crime fiction authors like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and James Ellroy, who specialize in characters who are very sloppy emotionally and morally. So I tend to write stories about characters like that. All these hyper slick, hyper sexy characters I keep seeing in most other comics are way too cool for me.

Wulf and Batsy goes on sale from Viper Comics this April

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