A. Quinton — Sep. 21st 2010
I recently had a chance to email some questions to the creators of the werewolf comic Feeding Ground, and writers Swifty Lang and Chris Mangun were kind enough to respond in detail. Read on for a deeper look at the care and detail that’s gone into constructing the world, characters and mythos of Feeding Ground.
Andrew: Feeding Ground is influenced by the imagery of Mexico’s Día de los Muertos and the aesthetics of EC horror comics. EC’s Tales from the Crypt comics were loaded with zombies, vampires and other “classic” American monsters, and Mexico’s myths are about creatures like the duende, the culebre and everyone’s favourite, the chupacabra. When putting together the story for Feeding Ground, what was it about the werewolf that stood out against such a diverse array of monsters?
Of all the monsters and myths, both of Latin origin and of the EC horror ilk, none carry the capacity like the werewolf to act as a kind of metaphor for the human will of the people pitted against the pressures of this politically charged region. Inherent in the character of our werewolves is this complex transformative struggle between the powerless and the powerful… between the solitude of choice and the need for pack “belonging.” In this harsh landscape, men are forced to change themselves, to join gangs, leave their family, and even kill to survive. The werewolf only amplifies this in a way that makes this human transformation more visible. A zombie couldn’t hold up in this device, it’s just not a social monster or a “thing” consciously dealing with the depth of human choice and consequence. The story of FEEDING GROUND traverses the experience of a broken down society, one that has failed to provide for basic human needs and continues to wrong those that live within its borders. Where our story and monsters hopefully takes the reader is where our characters must go within themselves, through brush and beast, in order to move their lives, forget all their belongings, cross harsh terrain only to belong to a society that may or may not treat them better.
The modern superstitions surrounding Mexico’s were-coyote-like nagual seem to be a mixture of pre-Columbian Aztecan myths and European werewolf myths introduced by the influx of Spanish culture during the Colonial Period. How did these pre-existing myths, ancient or modern, influence the writing for Feeding Ground?
While our comic acknowledges a rich back-story of the historic collision of pre-Columbian and European myths present in this region our comic is set firmly in the present. It deals more with modern themes such as Capitalism, which has created new circumstances for both the rich and the poor and thus requires new acts of rebellion, new kinds of myths. But, at the same time, Pre-modern myths were an outgrowth of slave economics and created very specific desires, most importantly freedom and the promise that the oppressed could one day live a better life. Our story is influenced by this struggle, not only to believe in this myth, but be the driving fuel behind why ordinary men and women leave everything behind, to walk towards what history has called the “Promise land.” The idea, for those that there is no greater freedom than the ability to transform one’s circumstances (or body), to have a will stronger than the modern man, or even wreak havoc on the town that wronged you or someone you love is very appealing.
A few months ago, Swifty mentioned that werewolves were “the least represented monster” during the “Horror Renaissance” of the previous decade. There was certainly a lack of compelling werewolf stories and movies during that time. Why do you suppose that was? Is it harder to tell an interesting story about werewolves than it is to write about other horror creatures?
Swifty: Werewolves have been beholden to specific rules of transmogrify that are limiting as opposed to liberating. The conception of the moon as catalyst and silver bullets and wolf’s bane as destructive agents have created a lumbering monster that is at best horrified by its own existence and at worst has stripped the agent of free will completely. Without the choice of transformation there is an absence of moral questioning. That is an insipid beast. This has also led to individuation of the creature that is frankly clumsy. This beast seemed to fall out of fashion because it had been marginalized as a creature with both limited ability and visual inventiveness. Something like the Predator was frankly way cooler. A werewolf never appeared sillier than Jack Nicholson leaping from window sills in Mike Leigh’s Wolf.
I think an equally fair question is why was horror marginalized to a fringe between the mid-eighties and mid-nineties? The werewolf has worked in a comedic context (American Werewolf in London) and also as a metaphor for puberty (Ginger Snaps) but with the destruction of the concept of the pack, family loyalty, obligation you are no longer exploring what is most fascinating about a group dynamic; the basic need for individuation among a mass and culpability. This conceit is something wrought with drama. The pack versus the individual was tackled with incredible success in my mind in the book Sharp Teeth. Obligation to a group and the need for security amongst the huddled is something so primal and universal that it transcends being human, and is linked directly to the animal world. This is a horrible thought in its own right. The werewolf presents the opportunity to reflect the neediness of existence, and the compromises we make to belong.
It really depends on what one finds interesting. If one is out to create senseless splatter, which is the norm among most horror, a horror of the body, as opposed to exploring monstrosity and internalizing the effect of change, the task becomes more difficult. Axe wielding, brain chomping, teeth gnashing, they can all be conveyed in a very visceral manner. What one has to be more delicate about is maintaining that shred of humanity amidst the ability to cause so much destruction. Establishing a believable pecking order and flushing out all the politics of group dynamics is probably the greatest challenge. Think how difficult it is to get any human group to communicate effectively and portraying that dynamic with honesty. Now add unmitigated primal urges.
Werewolves are commonly used in storytelling to represent the dangers of indulging in man’s baser instincts (whether we’re talking about “man” as a species separated from its origins in nature, or “man” as the biological sex generally more prone to violence and “animal” behavior). You’ve said that with Feeding Ground you’ve “created a new werewolf mythology that specifically relates to gender (our women kick ass)”. Without giving any spoilers, can you explain a little more about your werewolf mythology’s basis in gender? Señora Busqueda definitely has some kick-ass strength, whether she’s defending herself or doing what’s necessary to keep her family safe… it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see her as a mama wolf protecting what’s hers.
Swifty: The current role of the female wolf in werewolf mythology is a reflection of both the natural order and Patriarchal thinking. ‘She’ is the property of the Alpha, and it is her as a possession that signifies status amongst the pack. While this does exist in the animal kingdom and the concept of ‘arm candy’ is definitely prevalent among human beings, FEEDING GROUND allows us to really explore and explode that conception. Women’s cycles are clearly linked to the moon, and throw in the werewolf and you are left with a hapless creature that is victim of both biology and circumstance. She-wolves, in some sense, are less powerful than the princess in the tower. So the opportunity arises to examine what makes women unique and stronger than men. Without giving too much away, choice is power and it is a direct affront to victimhood. But even more so, restraint reveals true mastery of one’s world.
Thanks for your time, guys! Issue one of Feeding Ground comes out September 29th. Check it out– I’ve read it and it’s fantastic.