Comics are a visual medium, and some images grab your attention at the outset. In the case of writer/artist Matthew Petz's War of the Woods, I liked the story from the moment I saw a live turtle being used as the otter Phin's helmet.
The digital series, which reveals an alien invasion of Earth from the perspective of an animal kingdom, has completed two seasons (both Season 1 and Season 2 are available on comiXology) with more on the horizon. Petz recently took some time to discuss how the series came into being and some of his plans for Season 3.
Tim O'Shea: How long was War of the Woods in development in your mind before you actually started producing it"
Matthew Petz: I suppose I had a vague notion about wanting to do a father-and-son adventure story with the backdrop being an alien invasion. Animals weren't even a part of it at that point. It was only when I talked to my wife that I realized changing the perspective to the animal kingdom really gave everything a unique feel to things.
In terms of world-building, how much did you develop the cast before embarking on it?
I roughed out a lot of the cast and the world at large right from the get-go. Once I knew my main character was going to be an otter, things just fell into place. I've mapped so much out that hasn't even been hinted at yet!
Of the cast, understandably you are likely partial to Phin, but what other characters have grown on you as the story has progressed?
The second season introduced an alligator named Hyrum. When I was writing him he was just a cameo animal. He wasn't going to stay around too much. As I wrote him though I realized I would be doing the story a disservice NOT to have him stick around. The idea of southern badass alligator fighting aliens was too cool of an idea! So he’s going to become a bigger part of things.
Can you talk about your design approach for the alien race?
I did a ton of drawings trying to find the right design. I wanted them to be big enough that you could imagine them fighting the humans of Earth as well an the animals. I figured on something the size of a tiger would fit both wars. I did a doodle of them with a giant single tusk that really solidified the design. It felt scary and alien, but also naturally animalistic. Coming up in Season 3 I'll be revealing a lot more about them. Particularly why they look the way they do.
There are a great many battle scenes in the story, but when did you realize you wanted to keep the violence to a minimum so as to not narrow the potential audience?
Right from the start. I knew I didn't want to to have anything gory or too extreme in the series. I really do want this book to be for everyone. There's still violence and action but nothing a 10-year-old can't handle.
How early in the development did you realize Phin has to have a turtle for a helmet? That is so inspired.
Again, that whole idea occurred early on. I was beginning the writing phase when I realized it I had a problem. My cast of animals were going to be running around the forest and getting into all this action. I had to have a way for Isaac the turtle to be involved. So again I did a tiny doodle of him strapped to Phin's head and it all made sense! It fixed the mobility problem and it had the benefit of totally looking like an army helmet! Really, it was a happy accident that really helped he characters and story visually.
In terms of distribution, how important is it to be able to use comiXology for you?
It's paramount. Right now the book is essentially a digital-only comic, so being a part of comiXology ecosystem is a must. The app is so popular at this point you don't have to explain much on how to read the comic. It's great. Plus season two was "guided view native," that sort of thing can really only be achieved digitally. I will do small print runs for conventions, and I hope to find a print home at some point soon, but right now comiXology is the way to go.
You are a one-person band, you do the coloring, lettering and everything. How long does a chapter take to create, and what element of the process do you think you've improved the most as a storyteller?
It can take a long time. Once I've finished drawing 80 pages I always kinda forget that I need to color and then letter it all. But it's my own creation so I totally love doing it. Hmmmmm … as a storyteller I think I've really improved on seeing the big picture, making sure I'm not boring my audience. Early on I was obsessed with making the animals look as good as they could be. Don’t get me wrong I still do that, but I'm much more focused on making sure the script and the art work together.
Anything we should discuss that I neglected to ask about?
Well aside from War of the Woods, my friend Ron Perazza and I did a cool web/digital comic called Lordless. It’s 180-degree the other direction of War of the Woods. Super-gory and violent. Introducing people to a character we hope to do more with in the future. I also have a few other projects I plan on pitching in 2014, but they are still in the planning phases. Finally if anyone is interested in my stuff you can check out www.matthewpetz.com. That acts as portal to my blog, deviantART page and much more.