Last week, Tyler Crook’s “The Lonesome Hunters: The Wolf Child” wrapped up. It was not only the best issue of the series so far, but I think it’s arguably the best comic Crook has made to date. So, obviously, I wanted to talk to him about the arc.
If you haven’t read the series yet, maybe come back to this later. We’re going headlong into spoiler territory here.
The last time we spoke, “The Lonesome Hunters: The Wolf Child” had just been announced with that wonderfully teasing cover for the first issue with the masked child in the forest. Now, here we are at the end of ‘The Wolf Child’ arc, and I feel like you found a way of approaching this story that took away none of that first image’s mystery. While we do learn more about the wolf child in this arc, each answer opens up new mysteries. If anything, the character has become even more mysterious by the arc’s end. Yet the important details necessary for the story to work are clear and unambiguous. What was it like trying to find the balance between known and unknown, and honing the right tone for this story?
Tyler Crook: It can be hard to figure out what the reader needs to know especially when it’s different from what the characters need to know. I like to work out backstories for just about everyone in my stories. I even have ideas for the backstory of random characters like the lady smoking and watching the scene at the end. It can be really tempting to try and explore some of that. But I’m constrained by page real estate.
One of the most important dynamics in the whole series is that Howard and Lupe are involved in something that is way bigger than them and they don’t fully understand the importance of the sword or the risks of the journey they are on. That brings a terrible sense of uncertainty about the decisions they make and how they navigate the world they find themselves in. Hopefully that reflects something of how real life works; where we are in this world that started four billion years ago and living inside cultures with problems that started long before we were even born. But we all have to move forward anyway. Even though we can never fully understand the full complexity of the world around us.
‘The Wolf Child’ definitely adds to that complexity. While it still has its own shape and identity, it’s very clearly the next chapter in a larger story, so it has to address the loose threads from the previous arc, add some new elements that’ll clearly develop throughout the series, but also remain focused enough that this arc of four issues feels satisfying. It’s a lot to juggle, yet I feel you found a very strong throughline with Lupe.
Tyler: My mantra while writing “The Lonesome Hunters” is always “What are Howard and Lupe trying to accomplish?” Whenever I get lost in the weeds, I think about that and it usually gets me back on track. And it helps that Lupe is the narrator. She gets to insert her two cents whenever she wants even if it’s stuff that is happening far away.
I’m glad you found it satisfying. I’ve been writing this book to be the kind of book that I would really enjoy reading. When the story punches you in the gut, it’s not enough to understand it, I want the reader to really feel it. And I’m starting to realize that can make it a real slow burn. I’m trying to make it feel like the world is steadily opening up like some sort of terrible flower, haha. And the reader needs to live through this experience a little bit if they are going to really feel it in the end.
Yes, I remember you saying on a podcast that you wished superheroes felt more, that you wanted to see Captain America fighting and crying because it’s just too much. Ever since you’ve said that, I couldn’t help but notice that in your work you don’t just establish what the stakes are, you make sure the characters feel the stakes.Continued below
Tyler: Haha, yeah. I think about that a lot. Part of it is that old story telling advice of “show don’t tell”. You have to show characters struggling if you want the reader to really feel it. And I don’t have a ton of interest in characters who are “the best at what they do.” I like characters who have to find the courage to do things that are hard. In my mind, Captain America is a great character who would save the world even if he was really, really scared. That part is cool to me.
The other part of it is about wanting to have an emotional experience when I interact with art. Whether it’s comics, movies, or books, I always want to feel something. I think a lot of pop media try hard to avoid that. Like, they will sort of hint at emotional stakes without fully engaging. Not that everything has to run you emotionally ragged, but I think there should be more things that try to get in there and dig into how hard it is to be a human being sometimes.
But it’s not all hard. Especially in the beginning of this arc, it’s good to see Howard and Lupe just getting along. There’s a moment when Howard gives Lupe money to buy them a phone—he’s treating her like an adult and someone trustworthy without a second thought, and it makes Lupe smile.
Tyler: That is Howard showing Lupe that he trusts her. But it’s also him sort of admitting that he doesn’t have any idea how to buy a cell phone. I don’t show it in the story, but I kind of guess that Lupe doesn’t really know how to buy a phone either, but she’s at least hip enough to be able to figure it out. Even with everything going on, Lupe is still just a teenager and as a teenager, it’s pretty rare to have someone just hand you a big wad of money. It has got to make her feel kind of grown up.
This arc is almost the inverse of its predecessor, where things started pretty grim, but by the end Howard and Lupe had each other, and even though there was trouble ahead, we had the sense that they were better off. In ‘The Wolf Child’ it starts off with that lighter tone and gets darker with each new issue.
Tyler: The first story arc was really about Howard and Lupe finding each other. A story about finding friendship is going to be pretty hopeful. This second story arc is more concerned with setting up the stakes. Trying to understand the baggage that these characters are bringing to the adventure. And also, maybe more importantly, I wanted to establish what’s at stake with the sword. I wanted to show how dangerous it can be in the wrong hands. We get to see it in action pretty graphicly by the end.
Yeah, and somehow it feels even more intense because of the way you frame it. There was this thing you did in the first arc, where after the first encounter with the magpies, Howard and Lupe fled to a subway. The mundanity of their surroundings heightened how separated from the rest of the world they are. And you did a similar thing in ‘The Wolf Child’ when in the wake of all the horror that’s occurred, Lupe gets a text message saying the car is fixed. That moment felt so well observed—I know I’ve had those moments when my life is a mess and then something mundane intrudes and it feels like it’s from another planet.
Tyler: Haha! I’m so glad you liked that. That was a moment that made me laugh every single time it came up in the writing process. Those terrible moments in life can feel all-consuming. I always feel like the whole universe should stop what it’s doing and focus on my problem for a minute. But obviously the rest of the universe doesn’t really know or even care about my dramas. It also cracked me up because for some reason cell phones can’t just make a ringing noise. They have to sing some happy little song when you get a message.Continued below
It was pretty clear from the beginning something bad was going to happen in this arc, but I think you made an interesting choice by making it morally muddy. The mother wolf was absolutely terrifying, but I couldn’t help but think just how many mothers would become terrifying if they had that sword and someone threatened their child. It’s easy to see how this is not only a traumatic moment for Lupe, but how it could be something that even years later she would question if she made the right choice and if she did it for the right reasons.
Tyler: It’s been an interesting ride for me. The idea that I had in my head when I started was pretty simple and not that morally complex. But when I started doing the work of writing it, all the characters started to have reasonable points of view. Even the ranchers (or maybe more accurately dairymen?) have a reasonable fear of losing their livestock to this wolf.
But the wolf is also just collecting food for themself and their kid. It’s just a messy situation and inserting a power differential like the sword into the mix is just going to make it more messy. I think a rational reader could come away with a lot of different ideas of who is responsible for what. There aren’t a lot of easy answers.
I have to say, I love the way you handled the Wolf Child. You gave readers just enough to make us think we have some understanding of this kid—then at the end of the arc the kid finally talks and calls into question everything. The moment they speak, they somehow become even more mysterious. And your lettering punctuated that beautifully.
Tyler: I had actually written the first three issues and even had the wolf child speaking a little bit. Then, in the fourth issue where he gives his little monologue, I had the idea that he should have some kind of a monstrous voice. And as soon as I figured that out, I had to go back and rewrite all his scenes to make him silent so when he does talk it would have a greater impact. I think that worked out way better because it makes him more mysterious and it makes it easier for Lupe to project her own thoughts and fears onto the wolf child.
This arc shows us more of the religious group founded by Howard’s father. One thing that jumped out to me was how you didn’t portray this group’s members as single minded. There’s clearly a lot of politics in the church, a lot bubbling beneath the surface, and the three elders (Reese, Olsen, and Larson) sent on the crusade for the sword are clearly all doing it for very different reasons.
Tyler: Yeah, having spent my very early life in a religious community and having a lot of very religious family members, it seems to me that there are a lot of ways that a person can interface with their religious faith and religious organizations. We’ll get into it more in future story arcs but each of these three church guys have different reasons for being in the church. Some of their reasoning is good and some is bad. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how their world views inform this “crusade” that they are on.
Yeah, definitely, especially since what the find in issue #4 seemingly fits everything their church has told them about Howard.
We also saw a bit of Howard’s life as a kid, how he’d have to read books in secret. Even though that moment is more than a hundred years in the past, it feels very connected to now though, especially with book bannings happening so frequently across the United States.
Tyler: I think of young Howard as being a lot like Lupe. He was a curious, smart, caring little guy but his parents had to beat that out of him. A lot of religious communities seem to exist in this very fragile place where any information that doesn’t directly reinforce their faith is considered a threat. Like, their faith is so brittle that it can be shattered by the smallest bit of secular knowledge. The other part of that is a culture that relies on bullying and strict hierarchies. In those communities, the content of the information doesn’t matter as long as it comes from an approved source. I think that’s what’s happening right now in the US; the bullies are trying to make sure that they are the only approved source of information.Continued below
You’ve spoken in other interviews about how “The Lonesome Hunters” draws on aspects of your life, like your parents being a part of a church and choosing to leave it, and how Lupe is like friends of yours when you were a teenager. But you’ve also put a lot of yourself into Lupe. I know you’ve spoken before about how it took longer to find Lupe’s character than it did Howard’s. How much of that search was an introspective exploration?
Tyler: It’s kind of hard to say. Probably a lot. Howard came to me as a character first so a lot of Lupe’s character was designed to speak to and interact with Howard in specific ways. I’m almost fifty years old so a lot of Howard and Lupe’s relationship is kind of built around what I wish I could do to help my younger self. And it’s also an exercise in remembering and listening to my younger self. So Howard and Lupe’s relationship is almost, but not quite, a conversation I’m having with myself. I do think about my teen years a lot when I’m writing Lupe. What it was like in my house with my parents, and the kinds of lives and relationships I saw my friends having. So even if her actions and reactions aren’t what I would do, they are usually something I’ve seen people do in real life.
In the opening of ‘The Wolf Child’ #2, we see what happened to Lupe’s mother. And you’ve spoken in other interviews about your own experiences with a sudden unexpected death. Considering this arc really focuses on how Lupe lives with that, how she is shaped by it, and how she continues to process it, I imagine telling “The Lonesome Hunters” story is part of your own processing too. How do you approach this aspect of the story and the characters?
Tyler: For people who don’t know, my sister Michelle died from a brain aneurysm several years ago. Since then a few people I’ve known have died in similar, very sudden ways. A lot of the original ideas behind “The Lonesome Hunters” are a result of me reflecting on those losses and just how fragile human life is. I’ve said in a lot of interviews that “The Lonesome Hunters” is me taking everything that is stressing me out and cramming it all into one story. That’s kind of a joke but it’s also pretty accurate. Like, I definitely am not trying to use this book as therapy to process these losses, but at the same time, what else are stories for?
On a macro level, I think art and storytelling functions as a sort of laboratory. You can set up these hypothetical situations and run your fictional people through these story mazes and see how they react. And hopefully we can find meaning in the results of these little experiments. So that’s how I’m trying to approach that aspect of the story. But in reality it’s kind of a messy process without any real framework or structure to how I choose stuff like that to include in the story. I’m just trying to make a story that feels real and honest.
You definitely succeeded there. In part, I think it’s because you tapped into the tension between what we know and how we feel. Lupe says directly that she knows there was nothing she could have done to save her mother, but that doesn’t stop her from emotionally feeling like she could have done something.
Tyler: Yeah! So much of the pain we experience as humans seems to come from our ability to imagine how things could be different. And to be distracted and frustrated by things not being the way we want them to be.
For those that don’t know, you’ve been doing a weekly live stream on YouTube on Friday evenings called The Comic Book Cool Down, and on occasion you’ve even worked on “The Lonesome Hunters” pages on the show. On the show, you’ll often be working on a piece and something will turn out a little differently than you expected and evolve in a new direction. So, I’m curious, while working on ‘The Wolf Child,’ what were some of the pages that surprised you?Continued below
Tyler: What I do on my live stream is a lot different from what I do with my comic book pages. On the live stream, I rarely have a solid plan for what I’m going to make and I’m trying make something finished in about an hour. So I’m usually going real fast. With my comics pages, I take a lot more time and develop the page through several stages of sketches, thumbnails, pencils, inks, etc. So it’s kind of rare that I am really surprised by my comics pages. Although there is a scene in the second issue of ‘The Wolf Child’ where the guys from the church are getting in their truck and driving off. At that point, they are still in their normie world and haven’t been fully consumed by their mission. So I made a point to color those pages a little differently, allowing for more pure white on the page and greater color saturation. Now, every time I see those pages, they look so weird to me. Like, it might be a subtle difference for the reader but those pages really pop out to my eye.
Yeah, they cross over from one world to another. By the time we get to the end of issue #4 and the scene is consumed by the red and blue lights, they’re truly in a darker, more intense world.
The trade paperback collection for ‘The Wolf Child’ will be coming out early next year. In addition to the usual sketchbook section, you’ve put something a little extra in there.
Tyler: Yeah! I put together a little four page story to fill up some of that space at the back of the trade. I get that people like the behind the scenes stuff but I’d really rather fill it up with more story stuff, so that’s what I did. I’ve also been aching to make some black and white comics and I took this opportunity to do a little of that. I kind of want it to be a surprise for the reader but I will say that it adds a little bit of background to some of the characters.
“The Lonesome Hunters – Volume 2: The Wolf Child” will be coming out February 27, 2024. Be sure to grab a copy. And you can keep up to date with all Tyler’s projects by subscribing his newsletter.
Written and illustrated by Tyler Crook
$19.99, 120 Pages
From Russ Manning Award-winning and Eisner-nominated Harrow County co-creator Tyler Crook comes this supernatural fantasy about loss, power, and destiny.
Monster hunters Howard and Lupe are on their way to get rid of the powerful sword, but car trouble leaves them stranded in a small town that is being terrorized by a magical wolf and a mysterious child in a wolf mask. While waiting for car repairs, Lupe befriends the child and she and Howard are drawn into a war between the townspeople and the deadly beasts.
Collects The Lonesome Hunters: The Wolf Child #1–#4.