Our first Kickstarter Spotlight focused on the large scale, a David Fincher-produced film featuring one of modern comics’ most beloved, albeit cult, characters, the Goon. Now, though, we are getting into what Kickstarter is really about*: funding those comics that might never see the light of day without our help, comics such as Edwin Vazquez’s daring “The Werewolf of NYC.”
*Well, maybe the site’s creators would disagree with me there, but what do they know?
You’ve heard the saying before: “There are only [X] amount of plots.” The variable may change, but the message is the same — how you tell a story is what is most important, not what story you tell. Typically, most creators take this to mean experimentation with how the plot is paced, or, in comics, how the pages are laid out, but sometimes it takes experimenting at the most basic level and doing away with typical methods of creation to make something wholly new. Traditionally, comics have been made with the old school, pen-and-paper approach: pencils, inks, and then colors, almost invariably in that order. As copying, scanning, and printing technology improved, painted art became more common, though somewhat of a “bonus,” and these days digitally illustrated art is becoming less the norm and more the alternative. What happens, though, when you try to create a comic with a completely different set of tools, to truly do something different, rather than just an updated version of the norm?
Enter “The Werewolf of NYC.”
Creator Edwin Vazquez specializes in scratchboard, an underrepresented medium in every industry. For those unfamiliar with the technique, think of it this way: if drawing on a piece of paper with a pen is adding, etching away at scratchboard is removing. With scratchboard, you start with a page fully coated in black and gradual scratch bits away, drawing, so to speak, with negative space. Some might argue that it is just drawing with white on black rather than black on white, but there’s so much more to it; successful scratchboard artists understand that the eye works differently with white on black than it does with black on white, and have to adjust accordingly. Go ahead and take one of your favorite pieces of comic art in black and white and throw it in MS Paint or whatever artistic software you have and invert the colores — sure, the novelty factor might make it look “cool” for a moment, but it only takes a few seconds for the eye to start being irritated. Rather than drawing a line, a scratchboard artist has to remove everything that isn’t the line in a process that is more akin to sculpting than it is drawing. Take just two small squares of paper, draw a swirling line in black across one, and then try to replicate that line in white on the other piece by filling the page with black. Difficult, isn’t it? Scratchboard is an unforgiving medium that requires an artist who can almost perfectly visualize their end product before even making a single mark, and Vazquez is bold enough to do an entire comic book in this medium, with plans for three more issues if it gets picked up. This clearly isn’t something he’s doing for novelty’s sake.
Scratchboard is not only an entirely different process, but one that results in an entirely different style. An artist would go mad trying to mimic more conventional artistic styles with the medium, and one can tell from the very first preview page that Vazquez is making no attempt to “fit in” — and, in case you couldn’t tell, the third page will make certain you know that this isn’t your father’s favorite Jack Kirby knockoff. The exciting thing about working in such an underused medium is that Vazquez can’t help but do something different; bold, thick lines are necessary to keep the artist’s sanity in scratchboard, and so Vazquez will have to almost entirely reinvent the wheel for this comic. The basic rules of good comic work are universally applicable, but when working in a medium that operates on such fundamentally different mechanics, the comic book might as well be a completely new art form (to repeat the analogy, imagine making a comic book out of marble). Vazquez’s choice in material will force him to be even bolder in his experimentation than Robert Crumb and his fellow comix creators and I, for one, can’t wait to see what the result is.
I will note: I have not read any more pages of this comic than those that are available on the Kickstarter page and Vazquez’s own website. This comic is a definite leap of fait, and as intriguing as some (such as myself) might find those preview pages, they are sure to put off people who like sticking with today’s commercially available look. Personally, though, I’d rather invest my money in something different than more of the same ol’ same ol’. Vazquez isn’t the only person to have ever made a comic on scratchboard, but it is still something rather underused in the storytelling format, with a whole new rulebook that remains to be written. These days, experimentation can be funded without succumbing to the whims of mainstream publishers, but if only we all pitch in to make it happen. Let’s make sure “The Werewolf of NYC” hits the printers — even if it’s less than you hoped for, it will still be something you probably haven’t seen before. Can you say the same about these “Marvel NOW!” books?
As a relatively small ($3,000) project, “The Werewolf of NYC” has about the same incentives you would expect: a single, crisp dollar gets you a sticker, five dollars get you some buttons as well, a Hamilton actually earns you a copy of the first issue, and thirty earn you a limited edition, hand-printed t-shirt, as well as the previous prizes. The higher up pledges are for the art collectors in the audience: $500 earns you your choice of either the original art for the cover or page 22 of the first issue, as well as the previously mentioned t-shirt, comic, buttons, and sticker. While the sample images seem to indicate a high quality scanner that doesn’t lose any detail, these would be great for anyone interested in the compositional process, even if you don’t ever plan to use scratchboard yourself; seeing how an artist such as Vazquez works with white could very well alter how you work with black. Unfortunately, the best prize, a rad-as-hell silkscreen according book, is already sold out, but between these incentives and the promise that the t-shirts will only be printed in red for Kickstarter (can you say collector’s item?), Vazquez seems to have his bases covered.
My only possible gripe is that none of the incentives include a .pdf copy of the book. While fans of alternative comics probably won’t hesitate to drop $10 on a single issue out of admiration for Vazquez’s drive, those who are on the fence might not be willing to donate $10 for something so visually unlike anything they normally read. Sure, there are $1 and $5 options, but the only people likely to just want stickers or buttons without reading the comic are probably personal friends who wouldn’t read a comic normally. A .pdf copy of this first issue for $5 would be a great idea for Vazquez to help turn the tide and earn that final $1,000 before the project’s end.
As another incentive, if we fund this issue, perhaps will get to see Vazquez dance to some more swanky jazz in a werewolf costume once the second issue rolls around.
Maybe next time he’ll be joined by Mod Wolves.