Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flesh & Blood – An interview with Neil Vokes

Mark your calendars, folks.

October 19 will see the release of the first part of Neil Vokes' and Robert Tinnell's new 4-part comic book ouevre Flesh & Blood which will be of special interest to all the readers of this blog as this is not just created by two of the biggest Hammer Horror (and Glamour!) Fans in the industry but also because the epic story contains a lot of Hammer related references.

Prior to the book release Neil and Robert have kindly agreed to an interview conducted by email. Both had more or less received the same questions and I had initially planned on posting this Q&A as one long post with both of their replies but plans changed when I received their answers. They simply were far too in-depth and detailed to have appear in just one single post. I therefore decided to release this interview in two parts, one with Neil's answers, the other with Robert's replies. Following that I will also post a review of the actual comic.

But for starters here are Neil's replies.

I first started chatting to Neil Vokes sometime in the early 2000s when I first joined the Eurotrash Paradise. At that time I had no idea who he was and mainly knew him as the witty defender of all things Bava, Hammer and Western.

I finally learned of him as a comic book artist with the release of PARLIAMENT OF JUSTICE which incidentally maps the time when he moved from working for The Man and drawing other people's stuff to creating his own Vokesian universe based on characters drawn by him and created by a range of writers, first among those his good buddy Robert Tinnell.

As is often the case when you notice that someone you know socially is actually out there as a creator, I was initially a bit hesitant to approach his work. What if I didn't like it? Would I have to pretend that I did?

But I needn't have feared: PARLIAMENT OF JUSTICE and even more so the two BLACK FOREST (for which he and Bob Tinnell won the Rondo Awards) and WICKED WEST books had me hooked as a fan. He also regularly published in “Little Shoppe of Horrors” and provided the chapter illustrations for two film books: IN ALL SINCERITY, PETER CUSHING by Chris Gullo and VINCENT PRICE: THE ART OF FEAR by Denis Meikle.

His style is very distinct, halfway between cartoon and realism, and his female characters just ooze good old fashioned glamour yet with a very modern sensitivity. I have since met him in person (together with Dick Klemensen and a bunch of folks from the ETP) for the last Fanex a couple of years ago and am proud to call him a friend.


Also look out for his contribution to BELA LUGOSI'S TALES FROM THE GRAVE # 2 and for DR. STRANGE: FROM THE MARVEL VAULT #1 ...and many, many more. He also just finished 50 sketch cards for the Hammer Films Trading Card 2 set and has also done some Iron Man 2 cards.

Your new comic book collaboration Flesh & Blood will be out later this month. I know of a bunch of guys who are eagerly awaiting this (myself included) but what would be your elevator speech if you met someone who hadn't yet heard about this?

NEIL: If you've ever enjoyed the old Universal Pictures monster rallies and /or Hammer Films' classic Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. adaptations, you’ll get a kick out of this new series- we gather together all the legendary characters from horror film and literature and throw them into one storyline where they all clash.

Flesh & Blood is not the first time the two of you have worked together. Previous collaborations include The Black Forest and Wicked West books. Can you describe how the creative process works between the two of you? Are you living relatively close by or in different parts of the States? How often do you get to meet in person during the creation of such a book and what major challenges are involved in this process?

NEIL: Basically Bob tells me what to draw and I draw what I want anyway- but seriously, we work out a story between us, with Bob doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to story construction and dialog. I’ll draw layouts based on his plot/script and work on the visual storytelling-kind of like being the director/art director/photographer/editor- then after I'm done, Bob goes in and adjusts the dialog and adds whatever captions, etc. that it needs. We don't live anywhere near each other-more the shame-but then, if we did, we’d probably get even less work done-lol. So we rarely get together for a face to face and work thru the Net and the phone. This seems to work for us, so far-but I wish we could do more in person.

How did the two of you meet for the very first time? And was it love at first sight? ;-)

NEIL: Pretty much- we met at a horror con thru mutual friends-we hit it off right away mainly because Bob was a filmmaker who loved comic books and I was a comic book artist who loved films. Sometime later we talked about some of his unrealized projects-THE WICKED WEST and THE BLACK FOREST-I thought the BLACK FOREST screenplay would make a very cool comic and Bob let me take a crack at it- the rest is history.

Though Flesh & Blood is an entirely original adventure lots of references to the old Hammer Horror movies can be discovered. In actual fact it often feels that this is the type of story New Hammer should have adapted if they had followed in the footsteps of Terence Fisher & Co. What is your own personal relationship with the Classic Hammer Horrors?

NEIL: I saw my 1st Hammers at a drive in back in 1964 at the impressionable age of ten-the reissue double feature of HORROR OF DRACULA and CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN-I was already a film fan-I watched movies on TV all the time growing up- but horror and westerns are probably my top two favorite genres. Those two films by Terence Fisher with Lee and Cushing just blew me away- the visuals, the colors, the music, the performances, everything made my ten year old heart fall madly in love. I attribute much of my storytelling abilities to film-true I am very influenced by comic books, but when I draw a story I'm making a 2D film on paper-those Hammer classics went a long way to making me the artist I am today.

What are your favourite Hammer films and why?

NEIL: Damn- I pretty much love them all-lol- but I'd put virtually all of Terence Fisher's Hammer films at the top of the list-I'm a Dracula nut-as Bob is a Frankenstein nut-a perfect match. Lee’s performances as the Count are definitive for me-not so much the stories, which diverged from the novel a lot-but his characterization of Dracula is everything I think of when I read that novel or think about him when drawing. The Frankensteins, with Peter Cushing though are the better stories-His character actually has an arc, culminating in my favorite Baron film, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED- a gripping, taut tale with Cushing's Baron in full on "I'm going to do these horrible things in spite of everyone else's feelings because I'm right and they are all wrong-so get out of the way!" Wonderful film. Then there's THE GORGON,CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF,THE MUMMY,BRIDES OF DRACULA-four of the most beautiful looking Hammers-and...Well, I could do the whole interview on what Hammers I love and why...back to FLESH & BLOOD.

Any guilty pleasures (with regards to Hammer)?

NEIL: Heh...I'll stick to one for now-probably LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES,which I saw in a Times Square theater in the '70s with COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE (or SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA)-GOLDEN VAMPIRES is not a great Hammer-the Kung Fu is poor, the editing a bit awkward, no Lee Dracula (awful!),etc. but it has Cushing's Van Helsing, James Bernard's score and an undeniable charm.

Say Hollywood came calling and Flesh & Blood was going to be adapted who would you like to see star and direct?

NEIL: We talk about films of our books all the time, Bob and I-maybe it will happen someday. But should it actually take place, Guillermo Del Toro is my 1st choice as director-his visual eye is glorious-Fisher meets Bava- the stars...Mark Strong or Jason Issacs as Dracula, maybe Ralph Fiennes or Jeremy Irons as the Baron, Scarlett Johannsen as Carmilla, maybe as the Countess, Eva Green as crazy Katya, Gerard Butler as Horst and Ryan Gosling or Jake Glyllenhaal as Van Helsing...but I'll probably have no say in the matter-lol.

I may be oversimplifying but some of the main differences between the US and non-US (in particular European) comic books appear to be that American comics for a large part are geared towards the monthly 20+ page market whereas a lot of the European material is allowed a much larger scope right from the start. I am in particular thinking about the works of Jacques Tardi, Milo Manara, Hugo Pratt etc. When reading your comics I often sense more of an auteur feeling along those lines. Am I talking through my arse? As writer and illustrator what are your influences and are you actually inspired by non-US comic book creators?

NEIL: As to "auteur”, well, I suppose Bob and I do tend to do certain thematic things in our books-Bob has definitely got a Frankenstein jones-but as we need each other and other collaborators to make our books, I think auteur is a bit much.

My main influences are American comics, but I do enjoy Moebius, Manara and some others- I think my stuff tends to differ from most American artists because of my love of film. Again, when I draw a story, I’m pointing a camera at a set and actors. If anything, my influences are Bava, Fisher, Del Toro, Welles and other visual storytellers in that vein.

Not counting Flesh & Blood what has been your favourite work so far and are there any dream projects you would like to tackle?

NEIL: My favorite creator owned book may very well be EAGLE (which has just been reprinted) because it gave me my first taste of artistic freedom back when I was still figuring out what kind of artist I was-and my fans from those days are still with me, thank was PARLIAMENT OF JUSTICE, which I did with writer Mike Oeming-that truly changed my career around for the better. It got me out of the "work for hire" gutter and brought out my true "voice" (and my love of ink wash)-I was allowed to break out of years of following the guidelines within corporate comics (which is not to say I didn't enjoy working on many of those books)-it lead directly to THE BLACK FOREST, FLESH & BLOOD and an ongoing partnership with Bob Tinnell. If you want to know my favorite work for hire comic then maybe CONGORILLA or TARZAN THE WARRIOR or SUPERMAN ADVENTURES or...heh-I dug a lot of them.

Dream projects? THE VOICE, written by Bob as another screenplay-a dark, goes for the gut horror tale with supernatural undertones-I’ve already laid out 22 pages and hope to finish it someday. EAGLE, of course-I dream of returning to that one all the time- Again I’ve started a new story and my old writing partner, Jack Herman has rejoined me to script it-someday…then there’s that adaptation of DRACULA I hope to do one day-hah-that’ll never happen-and who would want to see it anyway? There are a half dozen “someday” projects I want to do before I’m physically incapable of doing them (including new chapters of BLACK FOREST, WICKED WEST and FLESH & BLOOD) …time will tell.

Last but not least: I hate the term “graphic novel”. What's wrong with calling a comic book a “comic book”? Discuss!

NEIL: No discussion necessary-I agree- when asked by anyone what I do, I say I'm a comic book artist-calling myself a "graphic novelist" is like a garbage man calling himself a "sanitation worker"...nuff said...;o)


Neil D Vokes said...

Great,H-thanks! But...ya left out my revised version with the "dream projects" answer added-lol

Holger Haase said...

Ooops. Sorry about that. I indeed completely overlooked it. It's added now.

Ron Zoso said...

"then there’s that adaptation of DRACULA I hope to do one day-hah-that’ll never happen-and who would want to see it anyway? "

*jumps up and waves hands furiously*

Nice interview guys. Off to read part two.

Holger Haase said...

Nice catch, Ron. ;-)

Yeah, I can just imagine the way Neil would draw Dracula's brides. And I wonder who Dracula himself may resemble. LOL

Neil D Vokes said...

Thanks for the revision,H2! and guys,my DRACULA would RULE! The Count himself would NOT resemble any certain actors -lol- I've drawn a good dozen variations on the Count since I was a teen- I "see" him in my;o)