Talk about street-level buzz.
When Ryan Colucci decided to make a comic, he started from scratch. His own money, his own marketing, his own editing, and a lot of patience.
"[I had] an unrelenting desire to become a comic creator," Colucci said. "You can’t leave it up to anyone else, because in comics, there is no one else."
All his work and money is paying off later this month, when the original graphic novel he developed — Harbor Moon — hits shelves through publisher Arcana. Colucci co-created the comic with writer Dikran Ornekian and artist Pawel Sambor.
And by sending out free review copies to critics, Colucci has already generated a lot of buzz for book. Critics from websites as diverse as Broken Frontier and Werewolves.com have been praising the graphic novel.
One of the reasons reviewers have fallen in love with Harbor Moon is that it tells a werewolf story, but in a whole new way. In this story, the small village of Harbor Town, Maine, is filled with a strange, new type of lycanthropy."We enter Harbor Moon with Timothy Vance," Colucci explained. "He was modeled on a Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" character from his Westerns. He is a mystery to the reader and to the residents of Harbor Moon. We peel back layers of Tim’s character just as we pull back layers of the town’s. The werewolf-themed story breaks the boundaries of the standard horror story and is more like a mystery, as readers have found out through the first 23 pages of the book, posted for free on the harbor-moon.com website.
"It was always our goal not to spoon-feed anything to the reader. This is a mystery first and foremost," Colucci said. "We quickly come to learn that the town doesn’t want [Timothy] there for some reason, and we hope to put you there with Tim, unsure why that is — and soon fighting for his life because of it."
The central mystery surrounds the complex system of wolves in the town, but they aren't like other werewolves of mythology. And not everyone is a werewolf.
"The key for us was keeping readers guessing as to which characters are actually wolves," Colucci said. "There’s even a point in the story where the hero thinks he has it figured out and then he’s thrown for a loop – and hopefully the reader is as well. But even those reveals hopefully take a backseat to the bigger mysteries of the story – who is Andrew O’Callaghan, why is our hero looking for him? And what is this town hiding?"For an as-yet-unpublished, indy title, Harbor Moon has already gotten a lot of attention from reviewers, and Colucci chalks that up to his own persistence in contacting each of them personally, then sending them review copies. "As a completely unknown creator, with a completely unknown artist, how was anyone going to know about my book or, if they did, have a clue if they should spend their hard-earned money on it?" Colucci said. "I was and am really confident in sending the book out for review, but at the same time you have to accept the fact that when that book goes to a reviewer they may hate it. And you just need to take it on the chin and move on. We’ve gotten about 40 reviews so far; luckily, about 38 of them are positive."
Most reviewers hail the fact that this werewolf book doesn't merely follow the same formula as other tales about werewolves, but instead takes the mythology in a new, intriguing direction. "I think part of it is that werewolf stories are all re-telling the same narrative… and audiences are savvy enough to know they’ve seen it before," Colucci said, citing the familiar story of a lone person who gets bitten and struggles with lycanthropy by himself. "The loner wolf approach never made sense to us because wolves travel in packs. We take a pretty different approach and tried to ground this in as much reality as possible."
The creators also did their research on wolf behavior and tried to infuse that into the story and the characters.
"[The] werewolves of Harbor Moon are not a curse," he said. "They are also not a spirit. They are a species, a race if you will. You can't become a werewolf from a bite or a blood transfusion or an Indian ceremony. The wolves here don't turn on a full moon. However, their animal instincts are sharpened or heightened during a full moon. Their religion is based around this, almost like the Native Americans. They turn when they are pushed — if they are in stressful situations or angered. And Harbor Moon is run to protect its citizens against such things. In fact, this is why the town was created in the first place."And unlike most werewolf story, the wolves of Harbor Moon aren’t terrorizing a village or town; they are trying to protect their town and way of life. "There is even a power struggle in the town over what it means to truly be a wolf between the young and old of the town," Colucci said. "There is a clear delineation in the pack and a definite family structure to it all. Dikran and I tried to model the society of Harbor Moon on the research we did on actual wolves."
For Colucci, the story in Harbor Moon came out of a script he optioned while a student in the Peter Stark Producing MFA Program at USC. Although he ended up starting an animation studio in L.A. after graduation, he always knew Harbor Moon would be a graphic novel. "I've had a love of comics longer than I've had a love for movies," he said. "I knew from the start that we weren’t creating a movie script, but something that would play out better as a graphic novel. It was more liberating that way. We could do whatever we wanted because we didn’t then have to sell it to a studio executive or agent. We just had to please ourselves.
"I think some writers and creators are creating graphic novels or comics in the hopes it becomes a movie," Colucci said. "That was never our intention. Once the book was going, it was a graphic novel – never a means to an end."
After he and Dikran molded the script into a graphic novel, Colucci had to find an artist. He started by putting an ad on an art forum, and he got a response from an artist in Poland. The language barrier -- and the distance between them -- made Colucci reluctant at first. But once he saw Pawel's work, he decided to take a chance."It took me a while to find Pawel, but once I did, everything fell into place. He penciled, inked, painted and lettered everything," Colucci said. "He has a very unique style that people sometimes compare to [Ben] Templesmith, whose artwork I love... but I think Pawel is different enough and his coloring is vibrant enough that he stands out a bit rather than be a clone.
"I grew up a comic geek — I am still a comic geek — and I have to admit that I would geek out every time I got pages in," Colucci said. "He really captured the dark, creepy nature of this town, at least how we envisioned it. The best moments were when he would send pages with blood splatter: They're my favorite. Something else I admire is how polarizing his art is. The people that like his style love it. The people that don’t, loathe it. I'd much rather that be the case then have a capable, but generic art style in the book. And thankfully so far, those that love it have outweighed those that don’t."
The book also has six pages in the middle when the hero, Tim, reads pages from an old tome, and the creators all decided to go with a completely different art style, which was done by Nikodem Cabala. "But everything else was Pawel," Colucci said.Now Colucci is hoping readers give Harbor Moon a chance, offering the first 23 pages free because he wants to not only spark people's interest, but also get feedback from fans through the email link on the website. "I promise I read and respond to everything sent my way, including questions about getting your own book off the ground," he said. "I’m actually hard at work on my next three books, all being done on my own just like Harbor Moon."