Exclusive: Erik Evensen Talks The Beast Of Wolfe’s Bay
Last week we featured a review of a new graphic novel called The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay by Erik Evensen. The monster hunter story mixing myth, legend, science, and pop culture garnered a solid 4/5 for what turned out to be a very fun read. Today we have an interview with the book’s writer. Mr. Evensen was nice enough to answer a few questions about the book and how it came about. Besides learning about what went in to make Wolfe’s Bay, Evensen gave us a little tease of what’s to come. If you missed the review last week, you can click here to catch up before diving in to the questions and answers. Read on to see all of Wolfe’s Bay‘s secrets revealed!
The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay is your follow-up project to Gods of Asgard. That book did really well and was received positively. How did you go from Norse mythology to hunting Sasquatch?
Well, Beast is still very much about mythology and folklore. I started off with a desire to adapt Beowulf (which isn’t specifically, historically about Vikings, per se, but close enough for these purposes). However, Beowulf has been adapted into comics a couple of times over, and there’s no way I could replace Stefan Petrucha or Gareth Hinds. So I put that thought on the back burner, but I did start wondering, “what if Grendel was something really realistic and believable?” I really liked how Michael Crichton handled the same question in Eaters of the Dead. So apparently, somehow, the idea of believability brought me to Sasquatch.
You have a Masters of Fine Arts and are an educator yourself. Did you pull a lot of your own experiences out for the characters and settings? The story involves myth and cryptozoology, but it’s also pretty firmly planted in the world of academia.
Brian’s experiences are NOT my experiences, but I did start thinking about this story when I was in the middle of my MFA. I finished Gods of Asgard right before starting my MFA, and during the program I thought I should tell a story about being a grad student. However, grad students aren’t really interesting to anyone other than other grad students! Most 25/30-year-olds can’t even fathom giving up a salary and a grownup life to spend more time in school, but that’s what grad school is. So, you need another hook to make the story worthwhile… and somehow, this idea merged with the Beowulf idea. As for the settings, they are definitely inspired by real world places. Winifred’s building, the first building we see in the story, is modeled on Hamilton-Smith, the English building at the University of New Hampshire (my alma mater). Brian’s campus is meant to be like a huge Big 10 school, like Penn State, Illinois, or Ohio State (where I did my MFA). The town of Wolfe’s Bay is a combination of Sunapee, New Hampshire, and Bemidji, Minnesota.
Is cryptozoology something that has always fascinated you? I understand you actually obtained a doctorate in it while researching the book.
Oh yeah, I’ve always been a big fan of paranormal stuff and conspiracy theories, which I think I inherited from my father (to my mother’s chagrin). We always had books on the paranormal and conspiracy theories kicking around the house, including the Time Life Mysteries of the Unexplained. I grew up reading about ghosts, bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, Atlantis, UFO abductions, you name it. If anyone out there is interested in the same stuff, Thunderwood College offers online degrees in all sorts of awesome things, like Cryptozoology and Parapsychology. No coursework needed! Too good to be true? You be the judge. I just wouldn’t recommend using it to get a job…
Brian is our main character, although I’d also be inclined to give Winifred a co-main character title. Can you talk a little about the genesis of those characters and if there were any real world influences for them?
Yeah, once I had decided that Grendel was going to be a Sasquatch, I needed someone to discover him. And it seemed the most fun to write if that someone was a skeptic who should otherwise know better. So Brian pretty quickly became an anthropologist, and Winifred was brought in as his foil, to give me a Mulder/Scully dynamic. I think a big driving force behind their characters was that I wanted to show academia in a pretty believable light. It’s never really presented realistically in pop culture—you have movies where professors have to fight each other for tenure, or people graduate with a PhD at the age of 22, rather than 32. Brian’s experience certainly wasn’t my own, but there are always days when you feel as put-upon as he is in the beginning. Winifred represents everything Brian could be; she’s where he feels he should be and is carrying on the way he ought to be.
There are also A LOT of literary and pop culture references. You filled it up with everything from Doctor Who to Louis Leakey. It will give readers a real kick when they see them pop up, but were you just throwing in stuff you love? What were your nerd culture influences on the story?
Well, Beowulf was my first and foremost influence, of course. And I’ve always been a fan of stuff like Ghostbusters, the X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other postmodern paranormal stories, so I attempted to fit it within that mold. But yeah, my characters drop a LOT of nerdy references. It started out that Winifred, as a nerdy English professor, would be the only one doing it. She’s still the primary culture-dropper, but as a folklorist, hers are very literary and also very sci-fi. Baron Munchausen, BBC stuff like Hitchhiker’s Guide, H. P. Lovecraft, etc. Asher and Humphries became trekkies because I wanted a way for them to bond. One of my friends and I always feign an argument over making Data a human or giving Geordi his eyesight when people accuse our conversations of getting too nerdy, so it was just fun to recycle it here. They’re investigators, so of course they’d be swept up in details and minutiae. And of course Humphries, the pragmatist, isn’t going to care about Data’s sentience. Humphries is pragmatic to a fault.
I wrote it this way because, to some extent, this is how I talk, and how a lot of other self-proclaimed geeks I know talk. I wanted it to ring true in that way, although it’s definitely a bit heightened. One reviewer compared me unfavorably to Joss Whedon, probably for this exact reason, but I think my approach owes more to Clerks than Buffy.
Yeah, if I had to compare it to something I’d say it has kind of a Scooby Doo/X-Files vibe going on. Did you find that way was a good angle to get your themes across? This is more than just a fun mystery story. You present some ideas, especially the possibility of something else being out there, in a serious way.
Well, thanks! That is exactly what I was trying to do. I’m a huge fan of the more comedic episodes of the X-Files, and since they never did a Bigfoot episode, the opportunity was there. And probably because I grew up with stuff like the X-Files and Ghostbusters, which connected real urban legends and conspiracy theories to their plots, I wanted to tie it in with reported Bigfoot encounters and with some legitimate (or quasi-legitimate) anthropology, and explore how people would react. I’m not a scientist, so it was nearly impossible for me to come up with a believable pseudoscience answer for what the “beast” itself actually was. You’ll notice that I didn’t really come out and say, “the monster was a ___.” I definitely let the readers come to their own conclusions.
I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s say you didn’t completely close the book on this particular world. Is it something you would like to revisit? Everything is all about sequels lately!
I do see it as a stand-alone story, in some respects. The last page of the book is actually an homage to the third act of Beowulf, which is a hard part of the story to wrap your head around. But Beast is such a character-driven story, the hard part is figuring out where I want to take Brian and Winifred. There’s a bit of closure at the end of the book, but they’re still young and there are still some adventures left in them, and some conspiracy theories left to investigate!
You’ve gone from Kickstarting the graphic novel to now having it finished and really starting to get out there for people to read. Are you pleased with the experience? Have you been happy with the feedback you’re getting so far?
I am a big supporter of local comic shops, and one of my main goals was to get Beast listed in Diamond Previews (the big direct market catalog), which it was. I’m overjoyed that it will properly hit the shelves of comic shops. However, as an unknown indie creator, my top priority is getting the book into the hands of the public, and Kickstarter has been an incredible asset in that regard. It’s like a virtual Artist’s Alley, where indie creators can set up shop and pitch their projects. Using them was a very rewarding experience. I ran the campaign before I had finished with the project, and I definitely hit some major roadblocks along the way, but I think my honesty about those problems and my commitment to regular updates helped sustain the enthusiasm. But I definitely had to deflect some accusations that I was going to let the project die! So far, my reviews have been pretty positive, so I’m happy with that, too! A lot of folks assume it’s just going to be “guys killing monsters,” when in reality it’s very conversational and character-driven, and I think that surprises people in the right kinds of ways.
What’s next for you? Do you have anything coming up or ideas you’re kicking around we should be on the lookout for?
I did come up with an idea for a ‘sequel’ of sorts and I have started a script, but I don’t want to speak too soon. I also have another Norse mythology script I’m working on, and that could be the thing that escapes my drawing table first. I think it’s far too soon to tell! But I do talk about my process and projects on twitter (@eevensen), tumblr (erikevensen.tumblr.com), and on my website (www.erik-evensen.com), so if you want to stay up on things, that’s a good way to do it.
Our thanks again to Mr. Evensen for talking with us. Be sure to check out those links to stay up to date on what’s coming down the pipeline next. The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay will be available through Comixology Submit soon, but you can get it on Amazon right now. It’s a really fun, smart book that fans of the monster hunter genre will really dig. You can learn more about the book on its official site here. Have you gotten to read the graphic novel yet? What did you think?