Bigfoots vs. Monsters: Talking to the Savage Team

Talking to the Savage Team

A lot of fans think they have a great idea for a comic book, but usually, those ideas never go anywhere. Yet for Jeff Frank, his idea about monster-fighting Bigfoots was good enough to get a team of established creators to enthusiastically support it.

With art by Mike Mayhew and writing help from Dan Wickline and Steve Niles, Frank's new four-issue miniseries Savage takes the idea of Bigfoot and puts it on its ear. In this story, all the Sasquatches in the world are on our side.

"In a world where good is supposed to defeat evil, shouldn't there be a monster on our side? Sort of, someone at the top of the food chain? Along with monsters preying on us, shouldn't there be a monster preying on them as well?" Frank said of the idea behind Savage, an October comic from Image's Shadowline. "So I thought of an ambiguous monster – Bigfoot – and I made him the ultimate predator of other monsters. In Savage, the Bigfoots are protecting the world from monsters."

The originality of that concept was why Steve Niles backed the project. "Jeff and I have been friends for years, and when he told me the concept behind this comic, I just thought it was such a good idea – giving a new written history for some of America's most mysterious monsters. So I've been helping Jeff put it together and get it into a comic. And seeing it now, with Mike Mayhew's spectacular art, is really cool."

Frank said that while he's been a comic reader his whole life, he had never even attempted to write one before. "I've been interviewed about comics for TV, I owned my own store and I've been around comics my whole life. But I never really thought of myself as a writer," he said. "That's why it was so invaluable to have Steve sit down with me and hash out the story and plot."

Because Niles was so busy with 30 Days of Night when it was time to write the script, he brought Wickline onto the project to help out. "Jeff had taken the first pass at a script, so Steve asked me to look it over and help get it ready," Wickline explained. "So the story is by Steve and Jeff, but I just tweaked it a little. I tend to like to add things to help stories along. There are a couple little plot devices that I put in to ground it in reality. It's a pretty wild idea – Bigfoots vs. werewolves – so what I did was put in things like, the car the main character drives was a non-descript car, but I made it a very specific car to give this character a personality. It just helps ground it all in reality."

The story explores the idea of a secret organization of Sasquatches who are saving the Earth from being taken over by monsters. The reader is introduced to this secret world through the eyes of the main character, Peter.

"He's a nice, average guy," said artist Mayhew of the main character. "He's got a great wife and little girl, and he's got a decent job as manager of a shoe store, but he's just one of those guys who thinks he has more potential, mainly because he's got these brothers who are so wildly successful. One of his brothers is an NFL quarterback, one of them's a construction magnate, one of them is a big Wall Street guy, but Pete hasn't achieved anything even close to that. They're all at the top of their game, but he's kind of down on himself."

"He's living his life day to day and doesn't feel like he has a purpose," Wickline added. "So when he gets the chance for something extraordinary in his life, he's open to it."

Enter Sam, a mysterious old man who shows interest in Peter. As the story continues, it's revealed that Sam can shape-shift into a Bigfoot, fighting monsters for the good of mankind.

"Sam seems like a homicidal maniac at first. He's just a creepy old man driving in this 1970 Pontiac Grand Prix, just killing people along the road," Mayhew said. "He seems like this psychopathic killer, but there's some kind of method to his madness. The further you get into the comic, you see that he has a purpose. And that purpose involves Peter. And it gives Peter that change in his life that he's always wanted."

Of course, that change comes with a price, Mayhew said. "It's one of those things where, be careful what you wish for. And that's the emotional center of the book," he said.

"It's really Sam's story and Pete's origin," Wickline said. "You've got the incoming and the outgoing. And through these two characters and their journey, we get to see the bigger story."

For artist Mayhew, his childhood love of monster movies got him interested in drawing the violent, gory fight scenes in the comic, but he said the idea of a "good" Bigfoot also works visually.

"I think Bigfoots have a look that seems a little friendlier to people. It's more lifelike and apelike than other creatures," the artist said. "Whenever you have something with that hint of humanity or something that looks like apes, that makes them seem like they help us more, like the tradition of King Kong or Mighty Joe Young. And I think the concept of the Bigfoot fits into that. He's not exactly like an ape, but he's got that quality."

The artist wanted to emphasize that humanity, so he cast the roles of Peter and Sam with real people. "I wanted them to have a kind of quirky, idiosyncratic personality. I cast the roles and took a bunch of pictures, so I have one consistent person in the role," Mayhew said. "Whether you see them from a mile away or up close, you recognize them."

Mayhew said fans of his painted work will see him change up the art a little bit for this project. "For this horror book, I wanted a more raw feel. And I knew when I got to the monsters, I didn't want to have to worry about rendering and lighting. I just wanted to kind of have fun with it and be energetic and free, so I'm doing this all in pen and ink," he said. "I think it's giving the work a lot of energy that maybe my painted stuff doesn't have. And I have a great colorist on board named Frank Bravo, who is giving it a lot of dimension."

For Frank, whose day job is working in the merchandise department for the L.A. Dodgers, just looking at how Mayhew has depicted his characters is a dream come true. "Every time I open my computer and check my mail, I'm always looking for new pages. I get so excited. It's like seeing the finalization of a dream, you know?" he said.

"It was kind of fun to go over Jeff's script," Wickline said. "He has a lot of enthusiasm but not a lot of experience yet. So that's how we worked on it. He gets a pass at the script and gets everything he wants in the story, then I kind of come in and tweak things. And I think it's turned out to be a lot of fun for everyone involved."

"It was a little tough, to tell you the truth," Frank laughed, describing the process of writing his first comic. "I thought because Steve [Niles] was on board, it would get done immediately. I came up with the idea three years ago, so I thought it would be made within maybe a year, but you can't rush good art. That's the one thing I've learned. You've got to be patient if you hook up with a great artist like Mike, because he really takes the time to design the characters and make sure the look of the comic is right. And he can't just make those pages overnight. So that was my big thing. It was a big experiment in patience for me, so you can imagine my excitement that it's finally coming out."

And now that the comic is finally coming out, the creators are surprised to see that the idea of Bigfoot is really, with the internet abuzz with the claim that a Bigfoot carcass was found in Georgia.

"It's pretty good timing, isn't it?" Niles said. "I mean, that Bigfoot is fake, obviously, but I guess it proves that people are still interested in the idea. I write about monsters and stuff like this all the time, so it would be great to think they're real. But I honestly don't think they are."

Mayhew said that even if all the crypids in the news are not fake, anyone who's frightened by them can take comfort by reading Savage.

"Perhaps there are strange, cryptozoological creatures out there that defy scientific explanation," he said. "Like the hero of Savage, let's hope that some of them are on our side!"

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