Interview: Mike Wolfer – Creator of Maximum Rissk and Daughters of the Dark Oracle

After working on acclaimed horror comic series such as Night of the Living Dead, Godzilla, Skin Trade and Lady Death, creator Mike Wolfer is taking the indie route with his new comic Maximum Rissk, which is connected to another upcoming series that he is working on called Daughters of the Dark Oracle, as he explains in the following interview:

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Dread Central: So your comic Maximum Rissk is on IndieGogo because Kickstarter wouldn’t feature it, right?

Mike Wolfer: More precisely, unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo allows creators to run campaigns for projects with adult content, and Maximum Rissk is an adults-only, one-shot comic. To back it up a bit, in the ‘90s I self-published an erotic horror comic series called Widow that was later incorporated into the line-up of publisher Avatar Press. When they reprinted all of my previous Widow stories, we bumped it from an R- to an X-rated format, which meant that I had to add new, explicit material. Many of those pages featured the demonic villainess Rissk. I’m currently repackaging all of the existing Widow stories as a four-volume trade paperback set called “Widow Archives,” and I funded the collections through Kickstarter, so of course all of those adult pages I added for Avatar Press had to be removed. Maximum Rissk is a sort of companion book, containing all of the material that had to be excised from Widow Archives.

Those pages aren’t vital to the Widow storyline since they were supplementary and added years after the creation of those original stories, so they can easily stand on their own. The Indiegogo campaign for Maximum Rissk is already fully-funded and runs until July 6, 2015.

DC: And I understand that it ties in to your upcoming book Daughters of the Dark Oracle?

MW:  Quite possibly. Daughters of the Dark Oracle is the umbrella title of the new comic series that I’m self-publishing as Mike Wolfer Entertainment. Daughters will be composed of different mini-series, each featuring a stand-alone tale, but all within the same continuity. In other words, you can read one mini-series without reading the others, but they can all be read as one entire epic. The primary character throughout is Ragdoll, who is a Frankenstein’s monster kind of creation, and as she tears her way through 18th century Europe on her personal quest for vengeance, she’ll encounter various others of supernatural origins, like vampires, werewolves, and the like. The first Daughters mini-series is titled The Curse of Ragdoll, which is a four-issue serialization of a graphic novel I published last summer. That graphic novel actually collects the seven-part Ragdoll serial that ran in Avatar Press’ “Raw Media Quarterly” back in 1998.

DC: What made you want to re-visit Ragdoll after all these years?

MW: The practical side of my decision is that over the last two years, I’ve seen my assignments for Avatar Press dwindling to next to nothing. I’ve worked on many of their horror titles like Friday the 13th and George R.R. Martin’s Skin Trade, and at one point was either writing or drawing (or both) Night of the Living Dead, Lady Death, Warren Ellis’ Gravel, Garth Ennis’ Stitched, and several others. But without that previously consistent workload, I needed to look to other avenues for income. I figured that it was a good time to test the self-publishing waters, and to also explore the Kickstarter option for funding new projects. Since completing my last assignments for Avatar left no time to write and draw a new series, I decided to collect and reprint the Ragdoll serial I had done years ago. Very few people had seen that story since it saw print in the adults-only “Raw Media Quarterly,” but I always thought that it was one of my strongest characters and stories, and it had never been collected into one volume. To make it a little more reader and retailer-friendly, I cut it down to an R rating, rewrote it, and added new panels and entirely new pages, and published it as the trade paperback The Curse of Ragdoll.

Reader and critical response was incredible, and the Kickstarter to fund its publication was very successful, so now I’m pursuing a regular, monthly series, which will be available in stores beginning in July, and I’m launching with The Curse of Ragdoll.

DC: Is the plan for Daughters of the Dark Oracle to become a huge series with various side series?

MW: Absolutely! Daughters of the Dark Oracle: The Curse of Ragdoll is the introductory story that establishes Ragdoll and her plight, the Gothic setting, and the supporting characters. It’s a great tale of revenge, lust, and horror, and it’s my homage to the Hammer Films and the Warren Publishing Company magazines of the ‘70s (Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella), which were an incredible inspiration to me as a kid, and still are to this day. Ragdoll is a creation of both science and magick, a stitched-together composite of countless female corpses. But because of her supernatural origin, her consciousness contains the memories of the women from whom she’s composed, and she knows how each of them met their violent ends at the hands of others. One by one, she’s tracking down those killers to exact her bloody-and often ironic- revenge. I’ve already scripted the five-issue sequel, titled Orgy of the Vampires, which features Ragdoll going head-to-head with the incredibly insane Countess Bathory, and I’ve begun writing the third mini-series, Beast from the Brine. From there, anything is possible, such as a future appearance by Rissk when we least expect her.

DC: And apart from Rissk, the protagonist of Maximum Rissk, can we expect to see your other established characters appearing?

MW: Nothing is set in stone, but the possibilities are there. If Rissk appears, can her adversary Widow be far behind? We’ll have to wait and see. The Daughters series is an incredible opportunity for me to have fun, combining some of the most popular characters I’ve created over the years into one interconnected epic.

DC: The series will be explicit in nature. Does self-publishing give you the freedom to feature whatever the hell you want?

MW: It does, but I still exercise my own discretion and restraint. Most of my work has been erotic horror (Widow), or Gothic horror (Ragdoll), or just straight up horror. Now, although nearly my entire catalog of work contains some kind of exploitation elements, that’s not the point of my stories. It’s not just about sex, or how shocking the deaths can be- those are just small elements of the entirety of the work, but it’s not uncommon for some readers to focus only on the nudity and gore and miss the actual theme and intent of the story. I guess you could look at it this way: I tell stories that include a little of everything and I’m not going to shy away from showing certain aspects of life, including sex and death. When you look at Widow, that’s a story about a woman whose DNA was manipulated when she was in the womb, resulting in her admittedly fantastic human/arachnid nature. But the “arachno-virus” that created her is still alive within her body, and can be sexually transmitted. So although Widow is a story about Emma finding her place in a world where she’s an anomaly the themes of sex and sexuality are naturally explored because of her condition.

The creation of the Ragdoll story is a bit more complex. In 1998, I was commissioned to create a seven-part serial for an X-rated anthology comic, with each installment running 10-12 pages. That story was Ragdoll. Naturally, there had to be at least one sex scene per chapter, because that was the gig. So now, when it’s re-packaged as Issues #1-4 of Daughters of the Dark Oracle: The Curse of Ragdoll, many of the scenes revolve around people taking their clothes off. I’ve removed all of the X-rated panels, but the sexual situations are still prevalent. That’s how the first story is framed, and I can’t get around that. But that is NOT my plan for the sequel mini-series. As it originally appeared in “Raw Media Quarterly,” The Curse of Ragdoll was a great revenge story with completely unnecessary sex scenes wedged into it. Moving forward into Orgy of the Vampires, readers will still see titillating scenes, but they won’t feel forced. If they happen, they’ll  be within the natural progression of the story, rather than prerequisites.

And then there’s Maximum Rissk.As I explained earlier, that book is comprised entirely of pages which were created as X-rated filler, so there’s no deep, philosophical aspect to the story. In my Indiegogo introduction, I stated it as bluntly as I could. It reads, “Warning: Because this material was created for a totally exploitative, X-rated comic, there is absolutely no redeeming, artistic merit to any of it.” I think that covers it pretty well!

DC: Can you talk about the style of artwork?

MW: Maybe it’s my age and my artistic influences, but I love black and white. Seeing my work in color is always a kick, but there are things that go on when you color a page that can have adverse effects on the composition, contrasts, and focus of each panel. What I’m doing is replicating the style of the ‘70s Warren books, black and white inks with gray tone ink washes.

There’s something romantic about black and white, and it’s engaging for the reader, as their imaginations are tasked with filling in the blanks. It’s up to them to imagine just how red that blood is, you know? I also do some things visually that people have always described as “cinematic.” Really, all comic artists practice cinematic storytelling- that’s our job- but I guess there are some things that I do that are a little different, like focusing on objects in a room rather than those who are speaking. It might be corny, but here’s an example: One scene in The Curse of Ragdoll takes place on a ship that has a rat infestation. As Ragdoll is delivering a soliloquy, she mentions that someone who cannot escape is “like a rat in a trap.” Rather than focus on Ragdoll as she delivers that line, I show a close-up of the face of a rat that is watching the whole proceeding. It’s not a new technique, but it’s one that can be used to evoke emotions, or visually punctuate the dialog.

DC: What else does the series have in store that will delight horror fans?

MW: Fans of classic horror will find Daughters of the Dark Oracle comfortably familiar, with its Gothic horror settings, costumes, and time period, but it’s my hope that I’m creating a fresh approach to the genre. The entire story is told from the perspective of the female characters, so if we’re comparing it to “classic” horror, it differs in that it’s not focused on the men, with the female characters simply reacting or being affected by the decisions and actions of those men. Daughters is the reverse of that. This is, in essence, a story about feminism, but it’s not anachronistic. Readers with modern sensibilities might look at it and say, “The depiction of the female characters is sexist,” but rather than be politically correct by modern standards, Daughters is historically accurate, and we’re seeing how women in that time period were actually treated. But it’s how they react to that treatment that is the thematic core of the book.

Rather than suffer in silence and resign themselves to the place they’ve been assigned in a “man’s world,” they each have the strength and inner fortitude to challenge the patriarchal mentality of the time. As for the horror aspects, I’m putting some twists on those as well. Yes, we’ll see vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of legend, but I’m addressing those legends head-on with a “real world” approach. We’re going to see what is legend and what is not, and see these creatures for what they really are. It’s more science than fantasy, and the characters themselves will learn that much of what they know of supernatural creatures is actually just contemporary, bullshit tall tales created to scare children. These monsters are very real, and aren’t affected by the fairy tale protections man has fabricated to make himself sleep better at night. The Daughters of the Dark Oracle – the “monsters,” if you will – aren’t simple, savage creatures of the night. They’re intelligent human beings with frightening, supernatural powers, which makes them the deadliest beings on this Earth.

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