Cry Havoc: Werewolves & Terror [Interview]
January 27, 2016
SIMON SPURRIER: To explain why I love Ryan's work I have to start with a slightly grouchy admission: I worry comics are becoming more obsessed by style than by storytelling. The former's great and all, but if a comicbook artist can't handle the latter they're in the wrong bloody job.
Ryan is literally the best of both worlds. His stuff has bags of style, sure, but I'm not exaggerating when I say he's genuinely one of the best sequential storytellers working in comics today.
With CRY HAVOC, I needed that mix. The story melds myth, military, action, and romance, so it desperately needed someone who could take those extremes in their stride, making it look gorgeous but clear.
In terms of structure and genre there's never been a comic like this before, so Ryan's genius is to make it feel familiar, unthreatening and—simply—bloody beautiful.
IC: CRY HAVOC features one writer, one artist, and three colorists, each of are deployed to specific ends. Can you tell me about the creative team on CRY HAVOC, and the motivation behind the different color schemes?
SS: First and foremost, it all came about through the needs of the story.
For me, comicbook storytelling can best be described as the art of controlling the rate at which information is disseminated. That's a super-pompous way of saying that comics = pace. With CRY HAVOC, the natural rhythm inside the tale took over, and required the central character's story to be told in an unconventional way.
There are basically three phases in Louise's tale. She starts in London, where she gets attacked by a horrific occult being...next she travels to wartorn Afghanistan with a unit of mercenaries, each of whom is a shapeshifting monster...and lastly she's held captive in a mysterious prison. That rhythm I mentioned? It works best when these three phases are unravelled side-by-side rather than one after another. I suppose you could say CRY HAVOC is something of a mystery story, where the puzzle lies in finding out how this one extraordinary woman came to transition between these mismatched phases. How did she wind-up there?
Anyway, we realised it would enhance and simplify the telling of these three parallel threads if each one had its own distinct vibe. Readers should be able to glance at any given page and know immediately which stage of Louise's life it comes from. We've used a whole crapload of cunning formalist stuff to help this along—default grid-layouts, textual density, yadda yadda—but the really cool idea was to assign a different colorist to each section, helping differentiate them. As far as we know that's never been done before, and it works so well.
By chance it also happened that just while we were contemplating all this stuff there was a big conversation going on throughout the industry about how under-appreciated colorists have historically been. We found ourselves, coincidentally, with a really lovely way of showing off just what a dramatic impact colorists have on the finished product. We pushed really hard to get three of the best—and best-known—names in the field, to make the most of it.
While I'm on the subject of the team, I'd like to throw some well-deserved props towards letterer extraordinaire Simon Bowland (if there's any justice in the world we'll soon see the industry waking up to the importance of this role, just as we currently are with colorists), and designer Emma Price, thanks to whom CRY HAVOC is literally the most beautifully put-together artefact you'll find on shelves this year.
IC: What can you tell me about Louise Canton and the conflict she's about to face in CRY HAVOC? How do you two see her, from a writer's perspectives?
SS: We all know someone a bit like Louise. She's passionate and stroppy and messy and inconsistent. She's creative, flaky, brilliant, musical, infuriating, brave, easily-distracted, and utterly disorganised. She's spent her entire life being told that what she really needs is to be more ambitious, more controlled, less chaotic. Get your shit together, Lou. And she believes that instruction, because it's the way our world seems to work.
CRY HAVOC is a story about stories in general and folkore in particular. I see myths as a representation of living, uncontrollable, evolving, chaotic ideas. Their meaning is far more important than their truth, which is a form of importance we as a species are quickly forgetting. When Louise gets caught-up in horrific, monstrous realities which quite literally transform her into something savage and uncertain, it's really just a catalyst for all the pre-existing chaos inside her to bubble to the surface.
Her story is intrinsically related to the struggle between chaos and control, in other words. That's a struggle which defines not only how each of us lives emotionally but how our entire society works. CRY HAVOC reaches quite widely and draws in all sort of really big stuff—the war on terror, big pharma, mental health, realpolitik, folkloric history, etc—but it's all meat and metaphor in service to Lou's personal journey towards self-acceptance.
IC: You're mixing genres a bit here, with the werewolf and the war aspects of things, but in a way that feels different, maybe due to the immediate relevance of the inclusion of private military contractors and the War on Terror. Here's the question all writers love—can you break down your thought processes that led to this mash-up? Do you see it as a mash-up, even?
SS: Ha! Horrible question! :)
I guess the simplest way to answer is that I have a pretty acrimonious relationship with the whole idea of "genre" in the first place. I can sort of understand that it might be useful occasionally to be able to organisationally label stories—though, frankly, far less often than you'd think—but the sort of language we use to do so is really stupid. For instance, compare and contrast these well-known genre types: Horror, Western, Mystery, Period-drama. That's one emotion, one location, one narrative structure, and one timeframe. None of those words are mutually exclusive in any way. Likewise, I don't know of a single piece of fiction which isn't technically a "fantasy". When people say "science-fiction" they tend to mean "it's got spaceships in it," whether or not the story has anything to do with science. And don't even get me started on the idea that "superhero" is a genre. It's not. The point is, all these terms aren't even describing the same sorts of things, let alone telling you anything useful about what actually matters:
What's the story about?
All of which hopefully explains why it seems far less of a problem for me than for most people to be mixing up elements that seem incongruous. Because they only, y'know, seem incongruous. They're actually not. With CRY HAVOC I spent an awful lot of time forming a controlling idea which builds a really clear thematic bridge between a bunch of really cool stuff: monsters, mercenaries, music, etc.
When you make it your business to tell stories about stories, which is kind of my thing, and in particular the way that stories affect human society in the form of myth, you quickly realise you're dealing with pluripotent material. You can say anything about anything.
The real trick isn't coming up with awesome tales about awesome stuff, but having to be cruel and reductive when describing those tales to a world which is convinced everything needs to be neatly fitted into a little box. Hence when people ask us what CRY HAVOC's about we mischievously reply:
It's not about a lesbian werewolf going to war, except it kind of is.