Night of a Thousand Wolves is the story of one family's desperate fight for survival against an onslaught of ravenous wolves. Not just wolves, also a whole mess more as the story goes on, but I won't spoil it here. It's written by Bobby Curnow, art, colors and cover by me, Dave Wachter, published by IDW.
Period stories seem to be my thing, so whether it's the American Old West, The Great Depression, The Swinging Sixties, or the Dark Ages, I always begin with lots of research. I'm a real stickler for getting the details right. Sure, every once in a while I have to fudge it, whether it's because I can't find the information in the time I've got, or for the purposes of story. But for the most part, I do my best to be historically accurate.
This story takes place somewhere around 1000 A.D. in Scandinavia, so I had to start off with a lot of research into the period. I collected as much material as I could in regards to clothing, hairstyles, weapons, buildings, landscapes, and of course, plenty of wolf pictures in various activities, and kept everything in a file on the computer, categorized for easy access. My goal here was the appearance of authenticity, which is important so that we can be fully immersed into the story.
From here, I get into the the nitty gritty of making comic book pages. I begin by creating rough thumbnail layouts of all 22 pages of story. I work out the panel layouts, the blocking, the general flow of the page and approximation of the main elements in each panel. I work in Photoshop, with my trusty ol' Wacom tablet by my side.
Next up is refining the pages. In Photoshop, I fade the thumbnail layer and work on top of it, working out the details, many times layer after layer until I've finally got it figured out. I rarely go onto a page of paper with an actual pencil. It's at this stage that I've worked it out to the point that would traditionally be considered "loose pencils."
When I'm satisfied with how the page is coming out, I print the page out onto watercolor paper as a very light blue line drawing. From here on out, I get away from the computer and work the page by hand. With brush and brush pen, I ink the page using the blue lines as my guide. This is where I really work out the details of line and shade.
I use an ink wash to continue the process of shading, to better "sculpt" the forms out of the two dimensional paper and add some texturing effects.
Finally, it's time for colors. I really wanted to try something I hadn't done before on the comic page, and thankfully I was given the freedom to do so with this project. I had been getting back into watercolors with some one off commissions leading up to this, and decided that this story would be perfect for a watercolor technique. There's a gritty, natural quality that can be achieved with real paint that I don't think is possible through computer coloring.
For the cover of the first issue, I had come up with about five different designs that each had a different image and tone. Writer Bobby Curnow and I both agreed on the same one immediately. This design captures an off panel moment that occurs in the story but goes unseen on the page. Since this is just the beginning, I wanted something that was more foreboding rather than outright violent, that expressed a simple innocence that is about to be disturbed.
The process is much like that of the pages. I begin with a simple thumbnail. This time, though, I'm also thinking of the colors included with the layout early on.
Bobby pointed out that it seemed awkward to have the wolf seemingly coming down out of the tree. (Since most people have never heard of the legendary Tree Wolf, I agreed.) It was changed easily enough while maintaining the integrity of the layout.
I refined the sketch.
Here's where my process changes a bit from the way I created the pages. Since I was going to paint this out completely, with no inks, only watercolors, I didn't want any blue line showing up. So I lightboxed the sketch and used some real pencils (Dixon Ticonderoga #2, in case you were wondering). This is an enhanced picture of the pencils, they're actually done much lighter.
In Photoshop, I fine tuned a color test to work from as I painted.
Finally, I painted the thing with watercolors. I showed the finished painting to a few artist friends who work in the business and it was suggested that I flip the image to make it read better left to right. One of those obvious things you only notice after fresh eyes have taken a look. Bobby suggested I match the color of the berries to the wolf. I thought that was a pretty good idea, so I did that later in Photoshop. And there you have it, finished cover art.
It's not a perfect system, by any means. Nothing ever comes out quite like I've seen it in my head. But the beauty of working with real inks and paints is the "happy accidents", those unexpected things that happen on the page that you can't control or plan for, but actually come out looking better and more original than anything intended. I often feel like I'm fighting my instincts, or maybe it is my instincts fighting all the control and discipline I've been saddled with over the years. So I try to keep myself open to the accidents, and become less regimented in my approach. I'm always working on my process and technique. I change my style a little here and there to fit whatever project I'm working on while attempting to speed up the process. I try to push myself into new areas that I haven't personally explored. The more nervous I am when starting a project, or even in the moment I'm about to touch brush to the page, the more I think I might be doing something right. I'm really proud of how this book turned out. Bobby wrote one hell of a yarn, and I think it's my best work to date. I can't wait to hear what readers think of it.
If you like what you see, Night of 1000 Wolves issue 1(of 3) will be in stores in May. You can pre-order it now, it's in the IDW section of the March Previews catalog.
Be sure to check out my website at http://davedrawscomics.com
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