Bite Marks and Bullet Holes: David Gallaher on High Moon

David Gallaher on High Moon

David Gallaher puts blood, sweat and tears into his work, quite literally—and his webcomic, High Moon, is easily one of the most viewed comics on Zuda, DC Comics’ webcomic imprint.

Here’s a little rundown for those of you aren’t familiar with the horror-based Western webcomic High Moon: set in the 19th Century ‘Wild West’, it’s the story of Matthew MacGregor, a cantankerous bounty hunter with a secret…he’s a werewolf. Series writer, David Gallaher, alongside co-creator and artist, Steve Ellis, were among the first batch of creators selected to compete on Zuda in November of 2007—and they were voted in as the first viewer-based winners of the monthly Zuda contest.

Now, let’s fast forward two years and three successful seasons of High Moon later, more importantly to October, when Zuda is taking the first three seasons of High Moon and pulling them off the computer screen and printing them in the same format as the recent release of Zuda’s other wildly successful webcomic, Bayou.

Newsarama recently spoke with Gallaher about the news of High Moon’s printing; about his collaborations with series artist Steve Ellis; and what’s in store for the most ruthless bounty hunter werewolf on the web.

Newsarama: You've been successfully pioneering the burgeoning mainstream web comics scene for almost two years now; looking back, was the journey tough? How has it gotten easier?

David Gallaher: After nearly two years, I’d say that the journey, while totally time intensive, has been pretty amazing. As I’m sure Mark Bagley and Kurt Busiek can attest, a weekly schedule can be pretty brutal sometimes. Steve and I do four pages a week—written, penciled, inked, colored and lettered. We’re a fine-tuned machine in a lot of ways, but the workflow can get gummed up sometimes—like recently when I spent three week serving Jury Duty in an incredibly emotionally intense case—while moving houses at the same time – and concluding Season Three.

But, other than occasional hiccups, from a workflow perspective, it has gotten easier. Steve and I live literally two blocks from one another. Outside of that, the long hours, the sleepless nights, the twilight hours spent with Steve Ellis in bars has been extremely rewarding and enlightening. From Day One, working with my team has been an experience unto itself. 98% of the time, we are all on the same wavelength—and our devotion to High Moon is paramount. Creatively, I think we bring out the best in one another. But, from time to time, there are weeks that can definitely be harder than others. When that happens, you do what you can to make the story and the art the best you can—and if time affords you the luxury, you can go back and tweak things later.

Tristan

NRAMA: Let's talk about Season 3 of High Moon; it's come to an end and you've definitely planted the seeds for Season 4--what was your favorite moment of Season 3?

DG: My favorite moment from Season 3? I’m certainly partial to the relationship between Tristan and Deidre. Any time the two of them are on screen together, I have a tremendous amount of fun. I also enjoyed several of the reveals towards the end of the season. And, I took quite a liking to the braggart of the group—Fergus.

NRAMA: What's in store for Macgregor—will he continue to be linked to the meta-history of the Western frontier? Or is he going to get bigger?

DG: High Moon is certainly intertwined with the Wild West. I’m an incredible history buff—and I’m absolutely interested in grounding the series with as much historical accuracy as I can. But, the worldview of High Moon will certainly be opening up very soon!

NRAMA: Season 3 launched on a full moon during a lunar eclipse--can you top that somehow for Season 4?

DG: Usually we launch a new season on a full moon, but according to my lunar calendar July 22, 2009 is the next Solar Eclipse. And, that is the day before the San Diego Comic Con opens, so you never know…

NRAMA: How much time have you put in doing historical and occult research for High Moon? What are some of your most interesting findings?

DG: Before the first season of High Moon started, way before Zuda came into the equation, I had enormous stacks of research that I had been collecting for about half a decade. But, none of that compared the amazingly complex amounts of detailed research I unearthed during Season 2—the subtle differences between hoodoo and voodoo, the occurrence of black slave owners during the Civil War, the geography of the Ardmore mountain range, all the material about Tesla and the history of the golem mythology—I mean, it’s almost a shame that every season of High Moon is only 60 screens. Steve and I try to pack a lot in there—but the stuff we don’t pack—well, it’s an enormous amount of material.

NRAMA: High Moon is going to be the second Zuda comic to be printed by DC Comics—how much of a thrill is that? Do you think the 4:3 ratio translates well for print?

DG: It’s really rather exciting. The first volume will contain the first three Seasons of High Moon, along with some pretty cool bonus material. Having seen how Bayou (Zuda’s first release) came out, I’m pretty confident that the 4:3 ratio is that way to go…especially in regards to our series—which certainly lends itself to the whole ‘WIDESCREEN’ format.

NRAMA: Would you want to take High Moon straight to print or would you prefer that it remain a web comic first?

DG: I like the current model of test-marketing the series on the web, there’s a level of interactivity and immediacy that print doesn’t provide. That being said, I’d love to run a series of High Moon comics that appear directly in print—in the standard comic format that lead readers directly to web series. Plus, I’m kind of partial to doing a high Moon/Jonah Hex or High Moon/Atomic Robo crossover.

NRAMA: What are your biggest challenges as a writer, technically speaking? From a creative standpoint, what are the highs and lows of having a co-creator for a project like High Moon?

DG: The lows? Well, the fact I can’t clone Steve is a big disadvantage. The guy is a massive talent and an incredible workhorse.

But, from a creative standpoint the High Moon process is incredibly collaborative. Every season starts with between two to three months of research. (Though Season One had over three years worth of research material).

I write out an incredibly detailed, highly-researched plot synopsis–complete with a plethora of references. In writing the plot synopsis, I make sure I keep the visuals highly engaging to give Steve plenty of awesome stuff to draw. After I’ve written the basic plot, I send it to Steve who offers his input. From there, Steve will start character designs while I start breaking down all of the pages structurally. I develop a Season Storyboard Map, which is the framework on which the story conforms. For High Moon, the map is 4-columns wide, 15 columns long. It includes all of our cliffhangers, major plot points, twists, turns, and reveals. Things on the map can change around from time to time, but the structure I don’t deviate from.

Soon after that, I start rendering extremely crude layouts, and begin scripting. On a good day, I can write about four 7-panled pages a day. Usually it's closer to two or three pages though—depending on a number of factors, including other freelance work, marketing, HM-related business, writing the story bible, doing corrections for the trade, etc...

After I’ve written a script, I go over to Steve’s house and we go over my layouts and script. From my script and crude scribbles, Steve and I will discuss the layouts—and he’ll start penciling, inking, and coloring. While he is handling the art, I’m usually handling the business and marketing aspects—from sending out PR to tweeting—or whatever. After that, I send the pages to Scott O. Brown for lettering. When we started High Moon, I did the initial balloon placements, now Scott does them. Anyway, Scott and I discuss each page—and after a final review process, I send those pages to my editor, Kwanza, who usually asks me to remove all of my Oxford Commas—and after that—the pages go LIVE!

While the division of labor might be different, at the end of the day, the man hours are pretty evenly split. Steve and I work with each other’s strengths, and counter each other’s weaknesses. When working together, we check our egos at the door—and work towards the greater good of the series.

NRAMA: What sorts of advice would you give creators who are interested in creating a web comic property and competing on Zuda?

DG: If you are thinking about competing in Zuda, be prepared to lose a month of your life during the competition. Make sure that your comic is technically proficient, visually outstanding and emotionally engaging. During the competition, you only have 8 pages – and it is vital you use those pages to set of your story, establish your characters—and WOW your audience.

NRAMA: Are you working on anything else currently? If so, can you talk about them?

DG: Steve Ellis and I are working on a new series developed exclusively for the iPhone, which seems like it going to be a tremendous amount of fun. It’s an all-out action adventure series. Like High Moon, it is deeply entrenched in history, but it’s a little more hyper-kinetic. In addition to that, Steve recently wrapped up an issue of USA Comics #1 featuring The Mighty Destroyer. Currently, he and I are also working on a series of projects for our new Criminal Masterminds studio venture.

NRAMA: What are your plans for the rest of the convention season this year?

DG: Outside of San Diego, I believe we have another show or two before the release of the High Moon trade. Beyond comic conventions, we are talking about hitting some horror or gaming shows later this year.

NRAMA: To close, is there anything you'd like to tell fans of High Moon? Care to give them something to chew on in anticipation of Season 4?

DG: Break out your Warren Zevon albums.

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