COMMENTARY TRACK: "High Moon" with David Gallaher and Steve Ellis

This week, The Commentary Track hits webcomics! We're taking a look at the first winning Zuda webcomic, "High Moon." Zuda, of course, is DC's on-line comic initiative. Every month, Zuda features several webcomics, one of which is voted the winner to receive a longer-term on-line publishing contract.

"High Moon" is the creation of David Gallaher and Steve Ellis. It's the story of Matthew Macgregor, an "unchanging man in a changing time" on the hunt for a missing girl in dried-up Texas, c. 1890. It's a western with a twist or two -- here's a hint: "Werewolf Western." Gallaher may have cut his writing chops over at Moonstone, but "High Moon" is his labor of love. Ellis' name you might recognize from books such as Wildstorm's "Jezebelle" and Marvel's "Crimson Dynamo," as well as a plethora of other places. In this series, though, the new formatting and coloring style really pop his artwork up to a new level.

"High Moon" is currently available on the Zuda Comics website, entering its third story act. The next batch of new story pages is due out on Tuesday, May 27th.

Gallaher and Ellis stopped by CBR to look back at a few screens' worth of their collaboration so far. They discuss their working collaboration, the ways the format has changed the story, some classical references, and how a Tarot Card inspired one page.

As always, you'll run across some spoilers in this track, though they're fairly light, this time around.

Page 1

DG: When I first thought of "High Moon", the opening was very different from the one you see here. When we were selected for the Zuda contest, I ditched that original opening and went with something familiar that could draw the reader in -- and then build from there. When you're part of the Zuda contest, you don't have a lot of time or space to drag out your story. You have to make every page matter, while giving the reader an incentive to click to the next page. This scene sets the stage with some transitional dialogue that leads into Page Two.

SE: This was a tough page to do. Essentially, it set the tone for the whole series.I did many versions of this page, before going back to a scribble that I did earlier. This is also one of the most digital of all the pages. It is a piecemeal and collage of different layouts. What I liked about the pencils is that it added a dream-like quality to everything. By the time I finished this page, I had already colored the daytime pages. I wanted a very cool blue sensibility - and those particular types of blues pull the idea of nighttime. If you look at page, everything has blue in it.

DG: When I wrote the first eight pages for the Zuda competition, I realized that I couldn't write a werewolf western without showing a werewolf. I thought it would be a bit of a disservice to the readers. So, I wrote this page and left the script pretty open for Steve to work. Basically, I wanted Steve to capture an image reminiscent of Hercules wrestling the Nemean Lion.

SE: David mentioned Hercules and I wanted this scene to be epic. You go to "Dark Knight" or "300" -- or Jack Kirby's stuff -- they were always epic in scope. This was my opportunity to tap into a mythological sense about our main character, Macgregor, and allow that Herculean sense come out. This was really the break out page of the group. Everything else in the first eight pages was really personal and intimate - and I really wanted it to be the kind of piece that you would see in a museum. I know that sounds high-flautin', but that's the way I think. Page five is fully inked, unlike the earlier pages, and it is the only clean page in the book, where I didn't leave the pencil marks in the art.

DG: This was the last page of our first regular installment of "High Moon". The script references the strange, almost animal-like, behavior of Count Orlac from the silent film Nosferatu. Here, Steve captures that iconography, while still making the image its own entity.

SE: Throughout this story, David and I are playing a visual game of 'hide and seek' with these characters and their relationships. There's a mystery about our antagonist, Conroy, that we reveal throughout the story. I kept the penciling and inking very loose to keep him intriguing. There's almost a conversation about the inks, pencils and colors have. It is a rather obscured page - where you really seen the monstrous quality about him.

DG: A lot of the inspiration from "High Moon" comes from the old-time radio drama "Gunsmoke" starring William Conrad and Parley Baer. I was always fond of the interactions that they had. I tried to establish that same sort of mentor / mentee relationship here. I figured that our Deputy Jeb would certainly fancy a good dime novel from Ned Buntline every now and again. This seemed like a good spot to bring it up. Plus, since Macgregor is a man of sparse words, I wanted his environment to do some of his talking for him. Mac's got some interesting files in that bag of his that Steve and I are happy to explore at some point. This page is also an example of how many little things Steve and I try to layer in the pages, whether they are Easter Eggs, dialogue, subtle imagery, or nods to history -- just about every page is filled with something deeper that just what you see on the surface.

SE: I really love this page. I felt that this was the spot where I hit my stride with "High Moon". Here, Mac becomes a much more interesting and complex character, and by this point I was working texture more into the art. The little things in that page were really fun -- and doing those portraits were fun -- but doing the modified version of the Pinkerton logo with some of those mystical symbols, that was a blast. We play around with a lot of real history in this series. David and I were talking about the history of the Pinkertons and I took their logo, made it more demonic, and added some Latin just to make it more interesting. It creates a mystery and I think it's an ode to David and I when we make this book. There are a lot of little touches that makes this book so fun. And in this page --there's a sense of loneliness, which comes from how we shot the panel. There is a lot going on here. This page really sets up the relationship between Mac and Jeb, and it humanizes Mac a little. Up to this point, most people could have written Mac off as a stock character, but his relationship with Jeb is really an interesting one.

DG: Oh man, this was tough. Magic is always a tricky thing to write into a story. Here, Mac is performing a type of psychometric ritual, reliving the final moments of someone, by looking into their eyes. This scene wasn't in the original plot for the series, but I think the scene is key in establishing Mac's more esoteric background. Steve and I share similar views about magic, which made this scene all the better. I remember when Steve and I were mapping this page out -- and the idea of making this a trippy, almost psychedelic page out of the 70s, was something that really stuck with us. A lot of readers saw a bat-like creature in these panels and thought 'vampire.' I loved using this as an opportunity to play on those expectations, especially since there are no vampires in "High Moon."

SE: Oh, this one. I really wanted cycling color on this to stress how different magic is. One of my favorite comics is Hellboy, but there magic is far too simple -- but in "High Moon," magic is far more of an aberration, a violation of nature. I really wanted the magic to be set apart as something that just isn't pretty. Magic isn't fireballs from your fingertips. It's twisted elements of the psyche. The blood and the twists in the panels are symbolizing that.

DG: While folks are drawn to the shot of Tara, the Sheriff's daughter, they might miss that Tara's pose in the last panel is taken from the Hanged Man Tarot card.

SE: Tara being upside is cool. But, drawing all those pieces of glass took a long time to do. As an artist, this is something you might be inclined to rush, but you can't. I think that this page could be subconsciously inspired by Frank Miller. I don't think it shows in the figures or in the layouts, but maybe in the nuances.

DG: The song that the ladies are dancing to here is "Sweet Violets" from the play "Fritz Among The Gypsies." I had wanted to do this scene from the beginning of the series. Even though I had written this scene a little differently, I absolutely adore how this page evolved -- and, of course, we've got a big scream to finish it all out.

SE: Yeah, the original idea was to have the music flow around the panels -- but it complicated the storytelling, so instead of hand-drawing each note, I got the real musical notation and set it inside the art to make it feel part of the imagery.

Page 35

DG: I don't think we can really get away with showing this page, but I know its one of Steve's favorites.

SE: When I read the script I was reminded of -- probably of my favorite parts of "Lord of the Rings" -- the scene where the King orders Pippin to sing, and it is paralleled by the silent battle. I knew, when I was drawing it, that this would be a pivotal scene. With "High Moon" (and my other projects -- "Tranquility" and "The Silencers", in particular), I really enjoy acting though the characters. The way I try to draw the pages is by focusing on the emotional content -- and I think it comes through here.

On that tease, we wind up the Commentary Track for this week.

Thanks again to David Gallaher and Steve Ellis for dropping by to discuss their collaboration. (The third member of the creative team is Scott O. Brown, the series letterer.) If you want to follow the work in progress, you can read new pages every other Tuesday at ZudaComics.com and follow the series' workblog at HighMoonRises.com

As always, if you have any titles or creators you'd like to see in THE COMMENTARY TRACK, or you're a creator with a book coming out that you'd like to talk about in detail, drop us a line. We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we've had a shortage of those so far. We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!

Now discuss this story in CBR's DC Comics forum.


Tags: steve ellis, commentary track, high moon, david gallagher

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