Public school educators like to joke that they can tell when a full moon is approaching based on the level of rambunctiousness of their students. For the rest of us, we have to rely on the calendar or werewolf sightings in our neighborhoods. Although the latter is not as reliable as one might think, werewolves and the phases of the moon have been inextricably tied to folklore for centuries, a truth that artist Steve Ellis and writer David Gallaher embrace in their brilliant western/horror amalgam High Moon. In advance of Halloween this month, comic publisher Papercutz’s Super Genius imprint is releasing the first of three volumes of the creators’ tale of a bounty hunter hoping to keep evil and his own demons at bay.
With tomorrow’s full moon on the horizon, as well as Misters Ellis and Gallaher appearing at the New York Comic Con this week, Mr. Ellis spoke with about the collaboration with Mr. Gallaher on High Moon, how he approaches rendering the project, and when we can look forward to seeing more High Moon.
FreakSugar: For folks who might be visiting High Moon for the first time, how would you describe the conceit of the series?
Steve Ellis: A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western with werewolves! It’s about two characters struggling with the inner conflict of whether to live like a beast or die like a man.
FS: What was the genesis for High Moon? Is it an idea that one of you had an approached the other, or did the book grow organically through a series of conversations?
SE: Essentially David Gallaher came to me with the initial concept for the first book and at the beginning it was driven mostly by his writing; but as it’s gone on, it’s become much more of an organic back-and-forth collaboration.
FS: You and David Gallaher have collaborated for quite some time, on both this and The Only Living Boy. Is there way you approach that collaboration that is different on High Moon from The Only Living Boy?
SE: On High Moon, I think I defer more to the master plotline that David set out from the beginning when we’re doing our story meetings. But with The Only Living Boy, since it grew organically between the two of us, there’s is a lot more collaboration on the plot and the overall vision for the series.
FS: Following up on that, what is the back-and-forth on High Moon like? What’s the conversation like when the two of you are shaping the design and the feel of the series?
SE: The conversation usually begins with David bringing his original concept to the table. I then start to sketch things and between the two of us talking, sketching, and rewriting we come up with what ends up being the plot. Then David takes that to work up a script while I go do layouts. What’s great is that there is always room to touch up dialogue and art along the way as needed.
FS: Do you have a certain frame of mind that you have to get into when you tackle a book like High Moon? Does your creative process change from working on this to, say, The Only Living Boy?
SE: Yes, I would say when I’m considering the art, especially in High Moon, I’m trying to maintain a level of mystery and almost noir type visuals—like hiding things in shadow and creating a sense of tension and horror. And while there are scenes like that in The Only Living Boy, the tone of the book is different and much more of an adventure. It requires a different and less dark mindset.
FS: In that same vein, how much does the project itself impact how you draw and ink High Moon? There’s definitely a difference, for instance, in your work in The Only Living Boy and High Moon—both of which fit perfectly.
SE: I’m a big believer that every project deserves its own visual feel. So I wouldn’t want High Moon and The Only Living Boy to have the same sensibility. I tend to use rougher edges lines and more spatter in High Moon, and when I scan the art in I don’t erase all of the pencil lines purposefully because I like the rough, sketchy, dirtiness and I use the pencil lines in the texture and the color. Another big difference is how I apply color in High Moon. I tend to go for an animated flat style in The Only Living Boy and in High Moon I use a lot of textures.
FS: At least in my experience, I’ve never seen a genre mash-up quite like what we see in High Moon. Do you have any particular westerns or horror films that stuck with you that inform how you approach High Moon?
SE: For Westerns, I would say the original Django, High Plains Drifter, and Unforgiven. And for horror, I have an nontraditional viewpoint. Things like Pan’s Labyrinth and the scene in Lord of the Rings when Aragorn goes to call the army of the dead—all of that material really influence the visuals in High Moon.
FS: Following up on that, there’s sometimes a romanticism that’s tied to the moon, and the same can be said of western yarns so many of us grew up with. Do you think that has any impact on why the two genres fits so well in High Moon?
SE: I think the romanticism about the moon is all about mystery and secrets. Things that come out at night. And the romanticism of the western is glorifying this struggle to tame a wild beast that is the west. That implies a hidden danger, a mysterious beast. And that is why the werewolf fits so well into that.
FS: With Papercutz publishing volume 1 on October 17th, what can we expect to see in the re-release?
SE: When we first envisioned High Moon, and we knew we were doing it with in a widescreen format, my first instinct was to think about it along the lines of Frank Miller’s 300 with big grand pieces of art and grand landscapes. This volume is HUGE, about 150% bigger than the previous volume, so you won’t miss out on any of the details! I’ve gone in and retouched some of the pages of art, we’ve re-lettered the entire book to adjust for the new size. The series is available in both hardcover and softcover and the whole package is simply outstanding. To conquer the some of the retail challenges of the landscape format, the series will be released with a slipcover that will orient the book as a portrait, so it racks nicely on bookcases and store shelves.
FS: I asked David this and I’m curious about your thoughts on the matter. Why do you think stories of the moon crop up so often in literature? What do you attribute to our fascination with our lonely little satellite?
SE: The moon is a lone beacon in the darkness, but because we don’t see it completely revealed all the time it plays a sort of hide and seek with our imaginations—which gives it a certain amount of mystery. Because of its transitions each version of the moon has a certain significance in mythology.
FS: High Moon has some big stories popping up in 2018. Is there anything you can hint about what we can expect to see?
SE: High Moon Volume 2 is being released in 2018 with 60 pages of story that has never seen print. Imagine our old west werewolves hanging out in Victorian London with some very notable people!
FS: Do you have any projects rolling down the pike that you’d like to tease?
SE: There will be a High Moon Volume 3. And The Only Living Boy Book 5 will be out in October as well, but keep an eye out for more The Only Living Boy announcements next year…wink wink.
High Moon Volume 1: Bullet Holes and Bite Marks, with art by Steve Ellis and written by David Gallaher, is on sale Tuesday, October 17th, from Papercutz.
Fans attending New York Comic Con can visit the Bottled Lightning booth at R7 in Artist Alley to meet writer David Gallaher and Steve Ellis. Fans can also join David Gallaher at the Comic Book Fan All Star Trading Card photo booth on Thursday, October 5, 2017 from 3-4 pm at the Comixology Booth #1E in Artist Alley for their chance to take a picture with him and talk about their favorite stories.
And be sure to check out tomorrow night’s full moon!
From the official press release:
Just in time for Halloween, Papercutz’s Super Genius imprint will publish the definitive edition of the first of three volumes of HIGH MOON, the acclaimed graphic novel series by writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis. Originally published by DC’s Zuda Comics imprint in 2007 and the Winner of the Harvey Award for Best Online Series, HIGH MOON is a unique western and horror genre mash-up about the investigations of a mysterious bounty hunter, one whose own dark secret emerges every full moon. Or, as Molly Crabapple said, “With werewolves, gunslingers, and the sumptuous artwork of Steve Ellis, HIGH MOON will change everything you thought you knew about the Old West.”
Super Genius will publish HIGH MOON: BULLET HOLES AND BITE MARKS this October, followed by volume 2 in May of 2018 and volume 3 in Fall of 2018. For their release of HIGH MOON, Super Genius will remaster the existing art for Volumes One and Two, before concluding the story with all new material in Volume Three. All three graphic novels will feature new covers by artist and co-creator Steve Ellis, the storyboard artist and illustrator on AMC’s Breaking Bad (The Cost of Doing Business) and The Walking Dead (Dead Reckoning) games, and the co-creator of THE ONLY LIVING BOY graphic novel series, also written and co-created by Gallaher and published by Papercutz.
In HIGH MOON, former Pinkerton agent and current bounty-hunter Matthew Macgregor investigates a series of strange happenings in a small Texas town. Drought has brought famine and hardship to Blest. The summer heat pushes the temperature to unbearable heights during the day. The nights are even worse– for the streets are haunted by strange, unnatural creatures. And even as Macgregor works to uncover the truth about the creatures, he struggles to keep his own supernatural nature a secret.
The Super Genius editions will be larger than the previous Zuda Comics print edition and will present the landscape formatted series in a removable slipcase that allows it to be racked vertically, maximizing its visibility for retailers and consumers. All three volumes of HIGH MOON will be published in hardcover at $24.99 and simultaneously in paperback at $14.99. HIGH MOON: BULLET HOLES AND BITE MARKS will be available in bookstores and comic book stores across the United States and Canada on October 17th, 2017.
Get ready to howl at the high moon.