They say good things come in threes, but so do terrible, nightmarish, bloodthirsty things. Just ask writer Alec Worley and artist Jonathan Davis-Hunt, whose epic werewolf trilogy “Age of the Wolf” begins its third and final arc this July in “2000 AD” prog 1840.
The story of “Age of the Wolf” revolves around Rowan Morrigan, a young woman who discovers she may be mankind’s sole hope for survival after a Norse spell turns most of the world’s population into werewolves. “Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld” picks up with Rowan 35 years after the initial outbreak in a world now completely run by werewolves.
Worley and Davis-Hunt sat down together to discuss “Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld” with Comic Book Resources, and the co-creators explained how this final storyline caps off their blood-thirsty Norse-fantasy trilogy, how the world itself has evolved under permanent moonshine and the likelihood of a Worley-penned “Judge Dredd” in the near future.
CBR News: Alec and Jon — for our American audience who might not be familiar with the previous chapters, what’s the premise of “Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld?”
Alec Worley: Okay, here goes — “Age Of The Wolf: Wolfworld” is the third and final chapter in an urban fantasy saga where an ancient Norse prophecy has brought about a werewolf apocalypse. “Wolfworld” takes place 35 years after the initial outbreak, and the world is ruled by a race of intelligent werewolves. Only a handful of human survivors remain, among them the series’ heroine, Rowan Morrigan. She’s now in her mid-fifties, a grizzled rune-witch dedicated to exterminating the lycanthropes and breaking the moonspell that has destroyed her world and threatens the human race with extinction. When her surrogate daughter Keira is captured by an ambitious werewolf alpha, Rowan must rescue the girl before the werewolves can bring about their own day of reckoning.
“Wolfworld” is a self-contained adventure written as much for new readers as for seasoned fans. I wanted this series to be completely different from the first two and have a far-out pulp sci-fi feel, like something off a prog rock album, a Rodney Matthews poster or an ’80s fantasy epic like “The Dark Crystal,” all funky vegetation, and alien creatures running around looking awesome. And with just a ton of conceptual details in there to absorb you into this world.
I didn’t want there to be anything familiar about the setting, so even the trees and animals have evolved under the weird light of the permanent full moon and taken on gnarly new forms.
Jonathan Davis-Hunt: Basically, we continue the story of Rowan 15 years after the end of book two, when the ‘werewolf apocalypse’ has well and truly brought an end to the world as we knew it. The werewolves themselves are now an established culture, living in almost Nordic/Viking style tribes, with only the merest traces of human survivors left. This story is about Rowan living and hunting in this world — and basically kicking more werewolf ass!
Why make this the final installment? Why not continue to tell stories set in this world?
Worley: It was only ever gonna be three parts, because that’s what Tharg asked for when I finished the first series. When he suggested it be a trilogy, I figured it’s already a story about fate, defying fate, all that “Lawrence Of Arabia” stuff, as well as drawing on Norse mythology to provide the basis for a lot of the characters. So wouldn’t it be cool to build the story along the lines of the three Fates from Norse legend, the three women who weave the threads of destiny: the maiden, the mother and the monster.
I always had a very specific idea of where Rowan’s character was going to end up. In the first series, she’s just a regular girl who works in a dog pound in London. She’s stubborn and principled and practical, yet not quite certain what she’s going to do with her life. Then she finds herself singled out by the prophecy of Ragnarok to be this sacrificial maiden whose death will bring about a terrible new world.
In the second series, “She Is Legend,” the world is fast becoming this primordial fairy-tale forest and Rowan has matured into this Sarah Conner-type mother of the future, dedicated to protecting her species. When I was writing that one, I figured out the theme of the story was not so much ‘she is legend’ as ‘is she legend?’ Is she really this legendary hero that others believe her to be? By the end of that series, though, she ends up crossing certain lines and surrendering her humanity, or at least her notion of humanity. Now, in “Wolfworld,” she’s an old woman who believes herself damned. I wanted a sort of “Red Sonja” meets “Unforgiven” vibe.
Davis-Hunt: I know that Alec always conceived of this story as a trilogy, and I think that structure lends a real weight to the narrative. There is a real sense of beginning, middle and end to the three acts.
This is Rowan’s final, last hurrah. She’s Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven.” She’s old and gnarly but still capable of wiping the floor with anyone around her.
What I loved about “She is Legend” is that it really advanced the basic storytelling structure a lot. You could have very easily turned it into another chase story, but instead you chose to evolve it forward 15 years, include different factions and political groups and even alter the very nature of how Rowan herself is viewed. Will you be taking similar narrative risks in “Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld?”
Worley: Definitely. I wanted to change gears again. The first series was a survival story. “She Is Legend” was an action/adventure. “Wolfworld” is more your classic rescue-the-princess fantasy epic. Only, this time the one doing the rescuing is this feral killer and the princess maybe doesn’t need rescuing.
The ‘princess’ in question is Keira, whom Rowan rescued as a baby 20 years ago in “She Is Legend” and who has now become her surrogate daughter. I really struggled during the breakdown to keep Keira from becoming just this wide-eyed clone of Rowan in the first series. Plus, rescue-the-princess stories don’t give the princess character much room to do anything beyond languish in captivity and exchange defiant quips with her captors. I didn’t want this to become “Krull,” right? But once I got into Keira’s head and worked out a voice for her, she really started directing the plot. She’s inquisitive because she’s never seen much outside of the survivors’ compound in which she grew up. She’s also completely part of the wolfworld, so she’s not afraid of it and has her own perspective and skills. She’s a consummate thinker and uses knowledge to get her way, whereas Rowan has always been more of a hothead and a lot more aggressive once she took advantage of her powers. The bottom line was Rowan had to represent the human world that’s dead and gone, while Keira had to embody everything about humanity that’s worth saving.
With this series, I think I really learned the value of just relaxing and letting your characters do all the heavy lifting in terms of building the story. I heard a podcast interview with Pixar’s Andrew Stanton — it was on “The Q&A With Jeff Goldsmith” — in which he talked about how, when he was writing an early draft of “Toy Story,” that all the time he thought he was writing plot he was actually writing character. Screenwriting books analyze these things separately, but you can’t separate them when you’re writing. You just can’t! Character is plot; plot is character. I can see that in all the TV and comics I’m loving right now, from “Game Of Thrones” to “Scalped.”
I think I’ve also learned the value of keeping things simple. I have a tendency to overcomplicate, just to keep piling on the ideas until the story collapses under the weight of it all. A lot of the notes I got from Tharg when I first started writing for him were pretty much saying ‘less is more.’ I think maybe I was worried I’d never get another shot and wanted to cram everything in before I was out the door. But yeah, simplifying.
The first breakdown for this series was very different. Rowan was the villain, and the main character was this exiled werewolf warrior called ‘No Name’ who was summoned to kill her. I wanted the premise to be “Beowulf” in reverse. I had all this secondary world stuff in there about werewolf culture, which I’d come up with from reading so much about real wolves and werewolf folklore, plus all the Norse myth stuff. I got so absorbed in it, I didn’t realize it was a complete mess. Once Tharg — the Ever-Patient — calmly pointed this out, I went in the opposite direction: clean and simple. I loved No Name and had some killer scenes lined up for him, but he had to go.
Going back to “Game Of Thrones” by way of example, at heart that show is incredibly simple: everyone wants the throne. And that’s it! And the plot rides on these really simple emotional drivers, whether its sex, greed, revenge, duty or whatever. It’s not about working to a 12-point formula. It’s about knowing your characters and making sure they crash into each other as dramatically as possible. The more I learn about writing, the more I’m coming to believe that good drama is ultimately a really simple equation that hasn’t changed since the days of Aristotle.
Davis-Hunt: One of the great things with this series is how far each story leaps on, develops the world and impacts on Rowan as the central character. She has evolved so much since that initial five page opening episode, and equally, the world around her has changed, too. I think readers will get a real kick out of where this final part takes the story and world.
Rowan Morrigan has turned into a fairly iconic “2000 AD” figure, even though she only has two series to her name. What about her do you think resonates so strongly with readers?
Worley: I couldn’t say whether she’s clicked with the readers or not. To be honest, I have to avoid message boards and reviews. It’s the only way I can keep a clear head and not lose hours when I’m working on something else. Hand on heart, I have no real idea how anything I’ve written since 2010 has been received by the readers. I admit falling off the wagon a couple of times. Okay, a few times. But otherwise, I try and keep things as Zen as possible.
I guess all I can say is, I tried to keep Rowan human, even if that meant her not being particularly heroic or even likable. What I love about Katniss in “The Hunger Games” is that she’s really hard to love as a hero. She’s calculating, manipulative and a killer, but she’s all those things in order to survive and protect those she loves. Rowan’s one of those characters who ends up taking on the sins of the world so others can be saved. Garth Ennis’s “Punisher MAX” series and Stephen Hunter’s “Bob Lee Swagger” novels were a big influence on “Age Of The Wolf.”
There’s this scene in the first series that I’m really pleased with, which is rare, because I usually can’t stand seeing anything I’ve written in print. Anyway, it’s where Rowan has just lost her best friend, the world has gone to hell and the ghost of her own mother is now coaxing her into committing suicide. The whole scene is told through these beautifully expressive close-ups by Jon. Everything in Rowan’s world is telling her to quit, but she refuses. Not because she’s the hero of the story, but because she’s this stubborn, contrary, practical woman and that’s what she would do. That was a really human moment for me and probably my favorite scene in the series so far. I’m sure a lot of readers just yawned but, for me, it’s beats like that which give the action meaning. Otherwise, all the ‘Vadoooom!’ stuff just becomes monotonous.
Davis-Hunt: I think much of her appeal has been down to Alec’s great writing and characterization — I also think that, due to the vast time-span the stories cover, Rowan has shown such a huge amount of growth as a character, from reluctant heroine to full blown bad-ass. She’s now had half a century worth of experience, hunting and killing werewolves, which makes her pretty awesome in any kind of a stand-up fight.
Alec and I always wanted her to be a strong, resourceful woman, and I think the readers just really enjoyed that — and her various hunting themed weapons and flowing hair lend her a pretty cool visual aesthetic, which always helps.
Will the wolf god Fenris be making a return in “Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld?” He was conspicuously absent from the second series, but the final page seemed to be hinting at some sort of epic confrontation to come.
Worley: Nah, Fenris won’t be back, I’m afraid. He was there in the first series because I needed a sort of figurehead for the prophecy, kinda like Lurtz is the focal point for the Uruk-hai army in “Fellowship.” Again, I wanted each antagonist in each series to embody a different aspect of the world. In “Age Of The Wolf,” Fenris represents this rampant animal hunger that’s devouring everything. In “She Is Legend,” the evil is really calculating and human — it’s about greed and power and madness. In “Wolfworld,” it’s a combination of the two.
The villain this time round is a werewolf Alpha called Sigrid. She’s this mean-ass den mother built like a blacksmith from a Soviet propaganda poster. I told Jon she’s a combination of that, Rosie the Riveter and Leonardo Da Vinci. She’s a ‘runecrafter,’ which means she combines science and rune-magic to create weird technology that helps advance her species. But she’s also fighting to maintain her standing among her people and her body’s criss-crossed with scars from all the battles she’s had to fight in order to keep her position. She wants her people to evolve and treats them like impatient children. She’s like, ‘Guys, I’m trying to help you, here. I know what I’m doing, so just trust me.’ But the pack want to stick to the old ways and keep resisting. I tried to build stakes into Sigrid’s story as much as Rowan’s and Keira’s. It makes the outcome less certain, I think.
Alec, when are we going to see you on a proper “Judge Dredd” story? It seems way past your call-up time.
Davis-Hunt: Yes it does!
Worley: Tell me about it! But between “Dandridge” and “Age Of The Wolf,” I just haven’t had the chance to pitch anything. I’ve done a couple of “Dredd” prose stories, which I was really pleased with, and my third “Black Museum” is out soon — “Mom Vs. Food” with art by Joel Carpenter. I actually had tons of “Dredd” ideas, but most of them went out the window following “Day Of Chaos.” I wasn’t sure I could have citizens goofing off when half the city’s still scrabbling around in the rubble. Michael Carroll’s done some great, thoughtful work on the post-“Day Of Chaos” front, by the way.
Jon, You have a very detail-oriented style. Your layouts and pencils are so clean, you can practically eat off them. What’s your artistic process like to get such sharp lines and colors, and how would you describe your own style?
Davis-Hunt: Thanks — that’s so nice of you. My biggest influences are probably Katsuhiro Otomo and Frank Quietly. They were the two artists that, growing up, I enjoyed the most. I think my own style lies somewhere in between US and European comics. I’ve always loved the dynamism of American comics, and the illustrative, detailed work of European albums — although the lines between the two have blurred so much in the past decade.
Process wise, I come from a video game background, so I tend to work digitally a lot. I thumbnail on paper, then go straight to really loose pencils on a Wacom, which I’ll then ink digitally. I always ink my own stuff for AD, which I really enjoy (and also means I can make my pencils very rough). Finally I’ll color digitally. I’d say that 80 — 90% of my work is now done digitally, though I still do sketches and commissions on paper.
Worley: If can butt in here: Jon has worked his arse off for this series and done some incredible work. His architecture and his designs really provide a solid foundation to the world, which is needed in any kind of fantasy. Plus, I love his colors. Really succulent. Some of his layouts look like a garden in full bloom. I made sure to give Jon full rein. Some of the panel descriptions in this were pretty much, “Here’s the concept and the dimensions, now do what you want with it.”
You guys are one of my favorite up and coming creative teams at “2000 AD.” When can we expect a follow-up collaboration between you two? Barring that, what other projects do you guys have coming up?
Worley: No follow-up collaboration planned as yet, but I’m open to ideas…
Davis-Hunt: We haven’t signed up for anything formally yet, but I always enjoy working with Alec, and we’ve been very lucky to work together on so many projects. I know we’ve both got various projects that we’re working on individually, but I’m sure we’ll end up working together again. Alec does his best to get rid of me — but I’m just too persistent!
Worley: I’m at the dinner-date stage of a project that I’ll hopefully be able to reveal a bit more about very soon. Just putting the episode breakdown together for that and reading David Simon’s “Homicide” by way of research… After that, I’m hoping to get a “Dredd,” another “Dandridge” and maybe a new series commissioned before Christmas.
Davis-Hunt: As soon as I get the last page of “Age of the Wolf” done, I’ll be back to drawing the mean streets of Mega-City One — which is awesome! After that, I have a couple of new things coming up, but as is usually the case, I can’t say what they are, yet!
“Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld” debuts in “2000 AD” prog 1840, available digitally and in UK comic shops July 10.