Everyone knows high school can be an undeniably frightening, terrible place. But when you take awful hormones, raging emotional outbursts and add on top of all that funkiness a couple of werewolves, and somehow, math finals don't seem like the most horrible thing in the world, after all. "The Pack," a graphic novel written by Mike Raicht and illustrated by artist Daniel Faccilongo, combines the nightmarish realities of werewolves and teenagers.
Published by Th3rd World Studios and hitting stores just in the nick of time for Halloween, "The Pack" is a homage of all the tropes, ideas, places and concerns of your modern day horror story. And, when you first crack the spine, your eyes are immediately drawn to Faccilongo's linework, filled with befitting harshness, shadows and heaviness. But it's when you start reading the story that you're fully sucked in, when you know you're reading a script from a guy who loves the genre, who knows the beats and who's there to take you on a horror-filled ride. Raicht spoke with CBR News about werewolves, gore and marrying them together with a John Hughes-ian style of teenage drama.
CBR News: Mike, tell us about "The Pack." What's it about and who's it for?
Mike Raicht: "The Pack" is a bit of a murder mystery mixed with a teen drama in a small town, with werewolves thrown in for fun. A local star high school football player has been murdered, torn apart actually, and there are plenty of suspects around town. Who did it and why? We're not sure. But that's the fun of the story, hopefully. As for who this story is for, I'd have to say me, sadly. I grew up going to my local video store every week always looking for two things -- more obscure and horrid horror movies to absorb, and more teenage dramas like "The Breakfast Club" and "Pretty In Pink" to grow up with. There were an abundance of both being released every week on VHS in the mid-late '80s and early '90s. I think I watched every single one of them in my local video shop. In a way, I guess this is me trying to write one of those '80s horror movies but with a bit of a John Hughes sensibility with the characters involved. If you loved that era or had as much fun with those stories as I did, then this book is for you. I'm not sure if we succeeded completely, but it was a load of fun trying.
I'm sucker for horror stories, in any medium. Or, rather, horror stories done well, and "The Pack" is done very well. What do you think are the key elements that go into crafting a good horror story?
I think one of the most important things to do in a successful horror story, or in any story, really, is to develop characters people actually care about, to give you someone to root for, to sympathize and empathize with, and to want to survive the carnage. Part of the job might even be creating characters you don't want to see survive. I know the good horror stories all do that. I also love it when the horror seems real and the choices the characters make feel genuine within that world. That is important as well.
"The Pack" deals with a type of monster that hasn't been represented well in a long time in werewolves. Thanks to shows like "Twilight" and "True Blood," they've kind of, well, devolved into something essentially nonthreatening. This is not the case in "The Pack." They're brutal and they're savage. What other characteristics were important for you to nail so that the wolves in your story actually had teeth?
I do think there are some good werewolf movies out there, although probably a bit out of date now. Ones with brutal werewolves, which are the ones I love the most. I dug "Dog Soldiers," which had a bit of a different take on things. I also thought the first "Ginger Snaps" had a great vibe to it and was horrific in its use of the werewolf as teen metaphor. The original "Howling" has some pretty intense scary moments in it as well. That one makes you feel a bit grimy while watching it. It tackles some tough topics.
We wanted the werewolves in this story to be an extension of the base instincts of the person infected. Since teenagers are filled with raging hormones as it is, that was a lot of fun to play with. As a group they can be the cruelest and most sensitive. Walk through the halls of any local high school and you'll hear kids destroying people with words and deeds on a daily basis. Now imagine on the nights surrounding the full moon their basest instincts take over. Not many towns in America would survive that kind of unfettered emotion. They barely survive teenagers as it is. That is where we add the teeth in this story. Taking those teenage years, the time when we're all exposed nerves, and allowing those emotions to control these kids even more completely. It's a scary proposition.
I'm no gorehead, but I can appreciate it when it makes sense. Going into a movie like "Evil Dead," you expect the entire thing to be gory; reading a Joe Hill book, you expect sporadic moments of gore. How did you temper the outpour of violence when crafting "The Pack"? It could've been very easy indeed to have the werewolves tear something new on each page --
I love Joe's work. I think with his work, the build up to the gore is a huge part of the experience. "Evil Dead" has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek as it pours buckets of blood on people. Both are a lot of fun done right.
In comics, we control the pacing a bit but we don't have the benefit of the music to drive your anticipation of something. What we do have though, is violence and gore you can linger on. That is when the artist really earns his keep, and I think Daniel [Faccilongo] did an amazing job with the violent and gory moments in this book.
The most important thing we wanted the violence in this book to do was to drive home how animalistic our werewolves really were. These are killers driven by their most base instincts. These are not cute werewolves looking to save anyone. If they have a problem with you, they will tear you apart. A lot.
I want to also give credit to Jon Conkling, who did an amazing job with the coloring in this book. He deserves a lot of the credit when the gore feels extra gooey or if the fading light of the day feels unnaturally creepy.
You have all the high school student stereotypes, you have the eerie settings, the John Carpenter nods -- heck, it's even being released right around Halloween. Where does this love of the genre come from?
Funny you mention Carpenter because "The Thing" and "Halloween" are huge influences on me. I love the characters in both. Horror has been a part of my life for way too long. I watched "Alien" when I was 5. I would sit in my grandfather's living room as he slept and play with army men as some Saturday afternoon horror movie was on. Horrified, but enjoying it. I read Stephen King's "Night Shift" when I was 9. I grew up loving it all, even though it was probably detrimental to my mental health as a kid. I couldn't get enough. I guess I still can't. Hopefully other people feel the same.
How did you and artist Daniel Faccilongo end up on this project, and what was the collaboration like?
The amazingly talented Alberto Ponticelli suggested him to me. Alberto was someone I met while an assistant editor at Marvel. We keep in touch from time to time and I'm a huge fan of his work. We had been speaking about artists in Italy and he sent over some of Daniel's work. I believe it was samples of Batman and Hellboy. Beautiful and creepy stuff. Mike DeVito at Th3rd World and I agreed he'd be a great fit and approached Daniel to work on the book with us. Luckily, he said yes.
Working with Daniel was great. He brings a grittiness and an edge to everything going on. I also really dig his teenagers. He really gives them attitude. And obviously he draws some awesome werewolves and gore which was a must for this book.