With sharp teeth, inhuman strength and a savage bloodlust, those infected with lycanthropy -- the werewolves -- have long since sunk their teeth into popular culture.
But Top Cow and Heroes and Villains Entertainment are taking a new spin on the beast in the upcoming series Tracker, written by newcomer writer Jonathan Lincoln teaming up with artist Francis Tsai. When FBI agent Alex O'Rourke encounters a werewolf for the first time, it begins a long struggle not only to bring a monstrous killer to
justice, but to fight the virus from taking over his own life.
In short, forget about the silver bullets and exposure to moonlight -- Lincoln and Tsai were kind enough to chat with Newsarama, about process, the story's goals and inspirations, and why Tracker isn't about ghouls and goblins, but about cops, robbers, and a whole lot of bite.
Newsarama: Jonathan, we hear that this is your first comic. Could you tell us a little bit about your background, and how you got involved with Heroes & Villains Entertainment?
Jonathan Lincoln: Tracker is my no means my first comic! I spent most of my youth writing and drawing comics in my room . . . but let's just say that Tracker is the first comic I've written that doesn't revolve around some misunderstood dork named "Super-Jon" beating up bullies in his school. The story for Tracker was one I'd been sitting on for a while. I loved werewolves and thought I might be able to do something as a movie, but every time I tried writing a
screenplay, it got too long. The world of Tracker was simply too big to squeeze into a single movie. I mentioned the idea to the guys at Heroes & Villians and they flipped out because they had just been discussing how much fun it would be to do a werewolf story. They were the ones who had the idea of bringing Tracker to Top Cow. Comic books are the perfect medium for developing rich characters and backstory... that turned out to be just the thing Tracker needed.
Nrama: Let's move on to the premise of Tracker. There's going to be werewolves with a touch of noir, but could you and Francis tell us a little bit about the protagonist, and a little bit of what the high concept is going to be? What do you think is the compelling thing here?
Lincoln: It's funny you phrase the question like that because werewolves are pretty high-concept no matter what you do with them -- they have their own lore and rules already in place. In the spirit of doing something different, we're actually trying to strip away a lot of that previous mythology and keep the whole world more realistic. Tracker is about cops and robbers, not ghouls and goblins. In a way, I guess you could say that our high concept is that we're decidedly not high concept.
Francis Tsai: Jonathan’s take on the werewolf myth plays down the supernatural elements in favor of portraying werewolves as a phenomenon that could believably happen in our modern, everyday world. The werewolves themselves are more subtle in appearance and don’t look as obvious as what we’ve come to expect. I kind of like the “physical
disorder” approach of werewolf-ism in the story, and I’m enjoying interpreting that visually for an audience.
Nrama: Francis, in terms of werewolves as a mythological monster, were there any particular werewolf "moments" from either film or fiction that were bubbling in your head when you put pencil to paper? In other words, could you tell us if there were any influences that got you into the werewolf mindset?
Tsai: Actually, in light of what Jonathan and the Top Cow and Heroes and Villains guys were after, I intentionally tried to eliminate previous versions of werewolves from my train of thought. I kind of imagine it more as a physical disorder as I mentioned before, or even a kind of mental illness with certain physical manifestations.
Nrama: You have Alex O'Rourke, the ostensible hero, but he seems to have this dark side that he'll be fighting against, in the form of his new lycanthropy. Will he be putting his loved ones in danger every time he "changes"? And if so, what makes him different than the monsters he tracks?
Lincoln: I've often said that all good werewolf stories boil down to a single picture: a good man wakes up with blood on his hands. That moral dilemma is at the core of the whole series. Tracker is all about blurring the line between our hero (Alex) and our monster (Herod). When a boyscout like Alex gets infected with the lycanthropy virus, it screws up every element of his perfect little life. Not only does it threaten his job at the FBI, but it puts him in constant danger of hurting those he cares about. He is no longer in control of his temper or his actions, and keeping them safe means keeping them far away. Call me a sadist, but I love seeing that kind of impossible situation play out.
Nrama: Jonathan, you mentioned awhile back that you would be making some changes to the werewolf mythology. How are you taking your own spin on it?
Lincoln: As I said before, our main goal with this comic is keeping it grounded. There are a lot of hokey conventions attached to werewolves -- pentagrams, silver bullets, full moons. Tracker does away with that stuff in favor of a more realistic and scientific explanation for the disease.
It sort of reminds me of the turn zombie stories took a few years back. Meteorites in Pittsburgh were fine in the '60s, but now we want something less campy. So people like Danny Boyle tried fusing the mythology with something like The Hot Zone . . . what you got was this great pseudo-scientific explanation for the zombie phenomenon that added a whole new dimension to the genre. With Tracker, we're trying to bring that same gritty sense of the everyday to werewolves.
Nrama: Francis, coming from a background of conceptual design and architecture, we wanted to ask how you approach building a character from the ground up. How do you make each one unique?
Tsai: Design wise I approach the cast of characters as a group, and try to have an understanding of the role each plays and how they interact with each other. Obviously the characters have to look different physically just so a reader can easily tell them apart. Beyond that, I try to imagine each character as a real world person, with a specific past, personality, political orientation, favorite style of clothing, food, music, etc. Things like this help round out
the character in my head, so I have some idea of how they look and act if they’ve just rolled out of bed, if they’re pissed, if they’re confused, or whatever the story calls on them to be. I’m no actor, but I imagine the process is similar to what an actor does to prepare for a role, except that I’m doing a version of that for everyone who appears in the book.
Nrama: Is there a particular character (or two) you enjoy drawing most? Or just enjoy the most from reading the script? If so, could you describe them to us?
Tsai: Well, one thing I enjoy seeing and reading is a strong female character. I really like the Jezzie character, who is the tough female agent in the story. I hope she gets some good stuff to do later on in the book. Overall, I enjoy seeing how Jonathan handles the interaction of the characters. I have aspirations to write my own stuff down the road, as I’m sure many artists do, so it’s always educational to see how a pro goes about it.
Nrama: In terms of working with one another, what do you think each of you's particular strengths are for a project like this? Can you describe to us your back-and-forth?
Tsai: Jonathan’s been really open and helpful, and I had the chance to sit down with him for an extended period at the San Diego Comic Con. During the con I had the chance to pick his brain a little, and also listen in when he described Tracker to various fans and reporters. I try to stick as closely as I can to what he’s laid out in the script, but I will suggest minor changes here and there visually to help clarify things. It’s been an enjoyable process.
Lincoln: Frankly, there's not a lot of back-and-forth. Francis draws something, and I scoop my jaw off the ground long enough to tell him how awesome it is. That said, we did do a lot of talking about the initial look of the series, especially what the werewolves would look like. It was important to me that the creatures weren't too different looking from normal humans (I didn't want to have to write a million scenes in which bystanders were all saying "I swear, officer, it was some kind of animal!"). So instead we came up with something a bit more subtle that allows werewolves the ability to blend in more. You wouldn't even notice the fangs until it's too late.
As far as Francis' strengths go, I would say his greatest strength is in making the impossible appear commonplace. Again, this goes back to keeping the material grounded. Every panel he draws looks like a snapshot from a real live crime scene--there's almost a documentary feel that pushes the whole story into the realm of possibility... which is where we want to be.
Nrama: Time for the last set of questions -- are there any moments in this series that you can tease us with, that you're particularly excited with? For those who are reading this who might still be on the fense, what would you say to get the skeptics on board?
Lincoln: I don't know how much I'm allowed to say, but I'm incredibly excited about Herod and his backstory... especially in relation to the Handel Foundation. Herod is so much more than just some serial killer, and the end of this arc really digs into how he became the monster we see today. Again, it comes back to the line between good and evil.
Tsai: If Tracker was a car, it would be an 08 Bullitt Mustang, painted with flat black primer, supercharged and running open headers. It’s a scary re-interpretation of an old classic, but one that is a product of modern technology, that is not quite street legal, and that will smear you across the pavement if you’re not careful. How’s that?