Laney Griffin has reasons to be afraid. His young son is dying of Leukemia — and he has a vicious werewolf held captive in his shed. A former athlete whose bright future was derailed by an injury, Laney now finds himself a broke single father, unable to pay for the continued medical care his ailing son needs. When an unknown murderer menaces his rural town, Laney sets off to find the culprit and collect the bounty. What he doesn’t realize is that the bloody crime scenes weren’t left by an ordinary psychopath, but by a Lycan. Although Laney manages to take the creature captive, he isn’t prepared for the equally predatory demeanor of the Lycan’s human side and must confront some hard truths he has tried to escape.
“Curse” writers Moreci and Daniel talked more about their creator-owned series with CBR News, exploring werewolf mythology, their collaboration with a dynamic artistic team and how their own fears influence their writing.
CBR News: Since both of you are horror veterans, I’d love to start by finding out what both of you find scary. How does that manifest in your writing?
Tim Daniel: For my tastes, scary is taking something mundane and infusing it with the extraordinary. The horror is psychological first rather than immediately visceral. Stephen King is the undisputed master of this — a child stepping off of a hiking trail, a rabid dog, an empty hotel. “Curse” ended up scaring me in a similar way, in that central to our story is the tale of a parent fearing the loss a child which is, to me as a father to two daughters, is a very horrific thought.
Michael Moreci: That’s interesting, because I was just reading a roundtable discussion on Dissolve about what these three film critics found to be scary. I really got to thinking about this and, as it is, my opinion is very much in line with Tim. I like small, personal stories that creep up on you and hit you in your core. I don’t like sadism horror — I like supernatural situations blending with the mundane as a means to heighten emotion and really say something honest about the fragility of human lives and relationships. I just watched the film “Take Shelter,” and it scared the bajeezus out of me. All that story does is show a family trying to cope with something terrible happening — and believe me, every family encounters that sooner or later — in a way that is creative, smart and powerful.
Truth be told, I think horror may be the last genre to have this ability. Damon Lindelof recently pointed out, adroitly, that action movies have lost their luster as the only stake they know is THE END OF THE WORLD. Horror saddles up next to you; it burrows deep and forces you to consider some dark possibilities.
How did “Curse” come about — you’re collaborating with some great artists, who are also veterans of the horror genre.
Daniel: Mike and I had a conference call with Riley Rossmo, during which he expressed a desire to draw werewolves. Not three days prior, we had been kicking around the tale of a werewolf hunter with very unique motivations. While Riley is a prolific, stylistically versatile and dedicated professional — he had already made a commitment to his new series, “Drumhellar,” and in order to make “Curse” work, we needed an artist to carry the book and mitigate the workload. Thankfully, Mike suggested “UXB” artist, Colin Lorimer and surprisingly he agreed to come on board and take up the bulk of each issue. Riley stayed on because the structure of the story lent itself to utilizing two artists in a very natural way.
Something I love about Riley’s art is how feral and dynamic it is, sort of controlled chaos. Michael, your storytelling is very tight and thoroughly plotted — especially in worlds like “Hoax Hunters” and “Curse” where you’re dealing with high strangeness, and yet it never feels like anarchy. What was it like working with him?
Moreci: Thanks for pointing that out about my work — I take a lot of pains to be very thorough and precise, always. Owing to this, Colin and Riley have been perfect compliments to my working style (and Tim’s) in that they are total pros. They both have such amazing control over their work, and I think that’s important for the types of story I like to tell. I’ve made it a rule that, no matter how strange or unusual a story I write may get, it has to be grounded in some sort of truth. Not reality, but something fundamental that tethers, say, a werewolf in a small town to the reader’s willingness to believe it’s real. Because that’s the ultimate goal in fiction: complete verisimilitude. You absolutely must allow the audience to be engaged with the narrative. Colin and Riley achieve this in an amazing way portraying both the wolf and the humans are very real. It’s a testament to their craft and dedication.
Daniel: Riley is a much-celebrated veteran creator at this point because there’s a highly appealing frenetic discipline to his work. When I look across his catalogue I see both evolution and versatility. Grab “Proof” or “Green Wake,” for example, and then pick up “Drumhellar” which may well be his finest work to date. As you’d expect, the frenetic discipline found in his work is also the manner in which he works. As a result he can iterate a page several times very quickly refining the approach each time.
And I want to inject Colin into this discussion as well, since our two artists are so stylistically unique, yet complimentary in the telling of “Curse.” For his part, Colin is a very shrewd storyteller. Every choice he’s made has improved upon our scripts without question. He’s also strongly process-oriented, which has made it very easy for everyone involved to know exactly what to expect in each and every panel from thumbnails to colors. By the time we see a finished page from Colin, there are no unwelcome surprises or compromises.
Did you have ideas in mind for the designs of the werewolves? What was important to you about their aesthetic?
Daniel: You used the term ‘feral’ in describing Riley’s art and that was exactly the term Riley used in describing how he conceived the “Curse” werewolf. We looked at scores of cinematic examples and finally he arrived at something fairly fresh — taking the traditional werewolf design and giving it a wild animal look. For his part, Colin has taken Riley’s design and in using it as a basis, he deftly added in a tangible humanity to the werewolf’s appearance, that is — when he’s handling the art chores.
Moreci: It’s a great juxtaposition, because Colin’s work is so visually controlled, then you have this werewolf from Riley that explodes with chaos and fluidity. That’s a big part of the story, which we’ll see more and more — chaos and control. How much can you control, can you remedy, can you suppress? Laney’s life is literally spinning out of his grasp, yet he still thinks he can will it to abide by his desire. It’s one of the greatest human follies — as they say, you make plans and God laughs. Yet we all do it, and we all have our feral wolves to contend with.
The first issue of “Curse” has such great tension. It seems challenging to write horror comics because you don’t control the reader’s speed of intake, and so much of horror is the element of atmosphere and surprise. Readers can turn pages whenever they want, and it can be a risk to the impact of the text/images. How do you control that when you’re writing a horror story?
Daniel: It depends on what the story is really concealing. I suspect that most people are familiar with werewolves. They know what to expect to a great degree from such a tale, but what readers can rely on with “Curse” is they don’t know what our characters are going to do. The unknown can create a wealth of tension and anticipation in the reader’s experience, especially when you have two talented artists that infuse our characters with great emotion and a building sense of dread, fear and desperation.
Moreci: I think the key for all horror — comic, TV, film or otherwise — is character. At least, that’s what makes horror effective for me. A reveal is only as effective as its emotional investment. When something devastating happens to a character you’re deeply invested in, that you’ve come to understand, sympathize with, the impact has true meaning and weight. You can have great style, atmosphere, and suspense, but if the spaces between are populated with characters that don’t resonate with the audience, it won’t matter. I’m not interested in money shots, I don’t care for violence beyond a reasonable point; I want to deliver cerebral and emotional suspense, and that’s exactly what we aimed for with “Curse.”
Those are things you can control — making the story feel real, the characters alive. Achieve that, and you can really frighten people in a way that’ll stick with them for a long time after.
“Curse” takes place in a rural town — a classic monster in the woods set up. What is it about that setting that always feels scary? Are we, as vulnerable humans, just never meant to venture into the woods? â€¨
Daniel: As much as we think we’ve thoroughly conquered and dominated nature — we are also scared shitless by it. Here in Missoula, Montana, where I live, if you go no more than ten minutes outside of town on a hike, you can be mauled by a black bear or mountain lion. Though rare and unlikely, the threat of that possibility hangs in the back of your head. Tell me we haven’t all looked at a dark wood at some point and wondered — what’s staring back?
Moreci: As a lifetime city dweller, my short answer is: Yes. But, to the point of “Curse,” I think there’s something inherently frightening about isolation. We are social animals, there’s no getting around that. When we’re alone, we’re at our most vulnerable. There’s the fear of the unknown, like Tim says, but also that terror of being totally alone with nowhere to go.
In the first issue, we meet Laney — a man with tragedy in his past and his future. As the father of a terminally ill child who requires expensive medical treatments, he is pushed to do whatever it takes to save him, including capturing a werewolf to collect the bounty. What are his limits? How will he be tested?
Daniel: Laney is definitely at a breaking point when we meet him. Personal tragedy, financial ruin, and the looming threat of his son’s condition, all play a part in shaping his rationale. What makes Laney human is — he has not found those limits yet, but he will. Like most of us, Laney will find out what he’s capable of (or not) in the midst of a circumstance he finds himself in, some which is of his own making.
Moreci: That question is a centerpiece to the entire book, and I’m glad you caught it. You know, you always say you’ll do anything for your child, and it’s truly meant when it’s said. But the question is: what’s “anything?” We explore that promise pretty deeply, pushing Laney to the boundaries of acceptable behavior, which engender many means vs. ends conversations. There’s a Latin phrase (used wonderfully in “Battlestar Galactica”) that I often come back to in my work: Sina Que Non, meaning, “Without which there is nothing.” We all live our lives conditionally, but we all have our thresholds that, when broken, all bets are off. You take that something away from a character and then see what happens. For Laney, it’s the well being of his son. Beyond that point, nothing matters.
I felt like an important piece of the story is the idea of survival: Laney is trying to ensure his son’s survival, and the biological priority for a predatory creature like a wolf is survival. Do Laney and his captive have common ground to connect on?
Daniel: An excellent question that gets right to the heart of the difference between Laney and Anton (our werewolf), who draws an immediate distinction between how a human acts upon their survival instinct and how a predator from the animal kingdom does so in quite the opposite manner. The gulf between these two men could not be wider and Anton illustrates this point to Laney several times throughout the course of the series. Of course, that is not to say it has to remain that way — the question then is; which man will make a move towards the other’s position?
Moreci: I’m always apprehensive to call it a survival story, although it absolutely is. I feel like it’s more of a protection story, with both Laney and Anton desperate to keep what is theirs. Like I said above, we’re all guilty of the stubborn belief that things will last indefinitely. They won’t, nothing does. But Anton and Laney are willing to ravage against the day to keep what is theirs, whether it’s their freedom as a werewolf or preservation of their family.
I loved the tag line at the end- “30 Days until the next phase.” Is that an indicator that your werewolves are based in classic werewolf lore? Governed by the full moon and all that?
Daniel: We took traditional werewolf mythology — the full moon’s transformative affect for example, and looked at a moon phase calendar, then matched it against how Anton would exhibit certain physical and behavioral traits of the werewolf while the moon passes through each of those different phases. We seemed to naturally settle on the idea that Anton is simply a wolf in human clothing and the wolf is always present.
Moreci: I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about werewolf lore going in, and I think that enabled Tim and I to make some subtle changes that work well. One noticeable thing that, I think, will be a cool surprise.
The calendar motif is a nice organizing method, showing time elapsing as the wolf draws near.
“Curse” is slated to be a 4-issue series. Any plans to continue it?
Daniel: Any plans for a prequel or sequel are predicated on the demand by readers and the will of the publisher. To date, BOOM! Studios have been very supportive of Curse, now it’s up to us to deliver a story that creates a strong reader demand.
Moreci: There have been talks, internally with Tim and I, and also with Boom. I’m so thoroughly pleased with this book, with how satisfying it is in plot, character, and theme, that in order to do more, it would have to either match or exceed the original. I’d never do more “Curse” just to do it; it would really need to be a special story that absolutely needs to be told.
What part of this process has been the most exciting for you?
Daniel: The most gratifying part of “Curse” has been that this has all gone off so seamlessly and that I got the opportunity to be a part of such a talented team. In the process, Michael and I formed a pretty good friendship and creative partnership. Riley was a top wish-list artist for us both, and then Michael suggested Colin. Having been a fan of his work in “Harvest,” I was floored by the artistic talent he possessed and what that meant for our book. The capper to all of this has been working with BOOM!’s editorial team; Bryce Carlson, Eric Harburn and Chris Rosa, a truly professional staff with a keen eye and strong guidance.
Moreci: This book looks sooooo damn good. The art, the letters — it looks and feels like something special. To know I was part of that has been amazingly gratifying. Working with Tim, who is a great friend, and getting to know Riley and Colin has been such a great experience. I’m lucky to work with such talented people. And that extends to our BOOM! family, as Tim mentioned. Bryce, Eric, and Chris have given us this opportunity and helped craft this book to what it is.
“Curse” #1 hits stores in January.