Editor's Note:: The following artwork may not be appropriate for all audiences.
Sure, John Constantine gets to be in a comic book titled "Hellblazer" and utter all kinds of too-cool-to-be-true remarks in his series, and even be featured in a big budget motion picture, but there's more than one man of magic in the comic book world. But Avatar Press' "Witchman" isn't just a book about magic, mysticism and curses: it's an authentic horror comic book. Premiering in September, "Witchman" is written and illustrated by Mike Wolfer, who wants to bring something fresh and new to the world of comic books.
"The Witchman himself is a bit of an enigma, a mysterious and murderous instrument of vengeance that lurks in the Louisiana bayou," Wolfer told CBR News of the series titular character. "On stormy nights, the residents of the swamp country have always been fond of telling ghost stories of the Witchman and have always treated his existence as an urban legend, but in their hearts lies a fear that there may be more truth to their tales than they wish to acknowledge. Through the course of the series, we'll learn that the swamp dwellers' fears are well-founded, because if you venture into the dark, into the swamp, into his domain, 'The Witchman'll get you.'
"Deep in Louisiana bayou country, the tales are whispered that somewhere out there, lurking in the swamp is a heart-ripping horror that waits for the unsuspecting: The Witchman. The legend of the Witchman has evolved and changed over the years, as fact and fiction intertwine. Is he a resurrected Aztec priest from an ancient, lost tribe attempting to fulfill a centuries old sacrificial rite? Is he the vengeful spirit of the murdered son of a bayou witch, exacting revenge on the defilers of his childhood home? Is he the ghost of the witch woman herself or is he, in fact, an insane serial killer that is all-too human? No matter the origin or truth to the tales, one fact is irrefutable: For 20 years, people have disappeared into the swamp, bodies have been found with their hearts cut out or missing their heads, and unspeakable crimes have been committed that have never been solved. Someone, or something is out there. Waiting.
"This is our point of entry. We'll be exploring the urban myth of the Witchman and see the various shreds of fact that point to his identity and to the truth, but when venturing into the realm of ghosts, so much is beyond our human comprehension and thus, anything is possible. Modern man believes that the impossible is just that, until scientifically proven otherwise. And that is what I find frightening: Being faced with something that we have never seen or experienced, something that has no logical explanation and, of course, something that can kill us and curse our souls to everlasting torment. The concept that these unexplained horrors may lurk on the fringe of our reality isn't a pleasant one, but it sure is scary."
Sure, the swamps and magic may cause some readers to think of a DC Comics/Vertigo series, but "Witchman" isn't an homage to those books. It's origins date back to 1984, where Wolfer found himself attending the Joe Kubert school and wanting to take his craft to the next level, with a self-published series. "My first attempt at producing an entire comic book was a story titled, 'Tomb,'" he explained. "Although I only wrote and illustrated about 5 pages of the horror tale, the story featured a killer with the mask that now belongs to the Witchman. I abandoned the project, but have always wanted to use that mask somewhere down the line. The mask itself is based on an actual archaeological artifact unearthed in Central America, considered to be a ceremonial mask used by the Aztecs in rites involving human sacrifice. During my early research, I found it particularly interesting that the ancestors of the Aztecs quite possibly migrated south from North America, before their proliferation in central Mexico. Though not likely, it is possible that the Aztec culture could have left behind traces, relics or even an ancient curse in what is now the southern United States, and for the purposes of my story, as far east as Louisiana."
Bringing the project to Avatar Press wasn't too difficult for Wolfer, who found that his work on "Warren Ellis' Strange Killings" not only drew him positive attention, but also allowed him to flex his writing skills. "Warren allowed me to handle the actual scripting of the series, as well; in effect, writing the dialogue with his full approval," explained Wolfer. "With 'Friday the 13th,' I was illustrating Brian Pulido's stories, but eventually moved into the position of writer and illustrator with 'Jason vs. Jason X,' after which I wrote the 'Friday the 13th Fearbook.' In the last year, I've been offered many more writing assignments, such as scripting John Russo's 'Escape of the Living Dead' and George Romero's new 'Night of the Living Dead' series for Avatar. It's an interesting position in which I now find myself: Most readers know me as an artist, but I've done far more writing in the last year than I have illustrating. I absolutely love visualizing others' scripts and there is an inherent excitement in seeing my words transformed into pictures by another artist, but there is something expressly unique about handling the entire production of a story myself."
His star rising at Avatar, Wolfer was ecstatic to be offered a chance to bring "Witchman" to life, not only because of his strong relationship with the company, but because it allowed him to explore new creative territory. "I am not bound by any preexisting criteria or previous works, as is the case with licensed series that must pass through several approval stages with the license holder. In essence, there are no editorial or licensing constraints with 'Witchman,' necessary evils that have unfortunately hindered the progress and quality of some of my previous projects. 'Witchman' will be judged by its own merits and it is my hope that because of Avatar's 'hands off' approach, readers will be getting a pure, undiluted experience in carnal horror."
Horror comics have been growing in popularity over the past few years, from Steve Niles' big hit "30 Days Of Night" and Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead," but Wolfer isn't concerned about being lost in the shuffle or being compared to other horror books. He's found the response to "Witchman" on the Internet to be positive and feels his book proudly stands as something unique. "In my estimation, the tone and content of "Witchman" and the pacing of the story are what make it different from other horror comics we've seen in the past," said Wolfer. "My sense of plotting is more like that found in a screenplay, as opposed to the traditional comic book pacing which adheres strictly to a 22-page formula to accommodate a serialized, monthly structure. I'm a big fan of the slow building of suspense and I don't believe that you need to throw every conceivable clich (including an enormous body count) at the reader in the very first issue. If that is where the story is going, be patient, we'll get there and when we do, I'll have been given the opportunity to reach that logical climax without the sense of overkill. But that's not saying that there won't be plenty of scares and gore to go around, right from the start.
"'Witchman' is geared to an R-rated, or 'mature readers' audience and this is something that we don't see on the comic book racks as often as we should. With this series, I didn't have to tone down the story to keep it safe for an all-ages readership or to appease a nervous license-holder such as New Line Cinema. 'Witchman' is meaner, nastier and more emotionally intense than many of the horror comics currently on the market. This is the real deal, with no punches pulled."
While he's focused a lot of energy on "Witchman," Wolfer plans to do a lot more work with Avatar, and feel blessed to have worked with the company. "I was fortunate enough to have been in the right place at the right time when I began working for Avatar Press in 1996, and over the last 10 years, Avatar has helped to guide my career, positioning me to work with some of the greatest writers in our industry, like Warren Ellis, Alan Moore and Garth Ennis. But it hasn't been just luck: A large part of my success is due to the efforts of Editor-In-Chief William Christensen, who keeps finding for me the next bigger project and this belief in my creative abilities is incredibly gratifying. Every day, I find myself saying, 'I can't believe I'm working with George Romero and John Russo,' or, 'I can't believe I had the opportunity to work with New Line Cinema on 'Friday the 13th.' Though I can't disclose information at this time, I'm thrilled to be scripting two major new projects for Avatar in the near future that are personal favorites of mine and illustrating a third that will be an incredibly exciting departure for me in both theme and style. And I'm working on "Witchman," "Night of the Living Dead," "Escape of the Living Dead." From the perspective of a self-proclaimed 'fanboy,' how could I not love going to work each day?"