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

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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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Fearsome Facts – Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

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Sir Christopher Lee returned to portray the charismatic count of Transylvania in Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) for the first time since taking on the iconic role in 1958’s Horror of Dracula – an eight year absence. 

And while Lee endured a love/hate relationship playing the Carpathian Count over the years, the actor reluctantly tackled the role a total of 10 times for the Silver Screen. Three of those performances came outside of the purview of Hammer Horror, but this list is dedicated to the first Hammer Dracula sequel to feature the return of Christopher Lee in the lead role.

Now, here are 5 Things You May Not Know About Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

5. Dracula: Speechless

Dialogue never played a crucial part in Christopher Lee’s portrayals as Count Dracula, but this film is the epitome of that contentious notion. Lee doesn’t utter a single word during Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ 90 minutes of run time. In interviews over the years, Lee said that he was so unhappy with his lines that he protested and refused to say them during the filming process. “Because I had read the script and refused to say any of the lines,” Lee said in an interview at the University College of Dublin.

However, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster insisted that the original script was written without any dialogue for Dracula. There was even a theory that circulated for a time which postulated that Hammer could not afford Lee’s growing salary, so the studio decided to limit the Count’s screen time. Did this lead to the demise of Dracula’s dialogue? Regardless of whom you want to believe, Dracula is the strong, silent type in Prince of Darkness. 

4. Double Duty for Drac

Hammer Film Productions doubled down, so to speak, on the production and post-production aspects of Dracula: Prince of Darkness. First, the studio filmed the vampire flick back-to-back with another project titled Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966). In doing so, Hammer used many of the same sets, actors – including Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer – and crew members to shoot both motion pictures.

Second, Dracula: Prince of Darkness was featured in a double billing alongside the film The Plague of the Zombies (1966) when it screened in London. Insert cheesy cliche: “Double your pleasure, double your fun with Doublemint Gum.” 

3. Stunt Double Nearly Drowned

Dracula: Prince of Darkness introduced a new weakness in the wicked baddie, but it nearly cost a stuntman his life. During the film, it was revealed that running water could destroy Dracula. Wait, what? Apparently, leaving the faucets on at night not only prevents frozen pipes, but blood-sucking vampires, too.

All kidding aside, it was during the climactic battle scene in which Christopher Lee’s stunt double almost succumb to the icy waters on set. Stuntman Eddie Powell stepped in as the Count during that pivotal moment, as Dracula slipped into the watery grave, but Powell was trapped under the water himself and almost died.

2. Lee Loathed What Hammer Did to Stoker’s Character

Christopher Lee’s return to Hammer’s Dracula franchise was a stroke of genius on the part of producers, but Lee was more than a little reticent when it came to initially voicing his dislike for playing the iconic role. As mentioned above, a lot of speculation swirled around the lack of dialogue given to Lee in the Prince of Darkness script. And if you don’t count the opening flashback sequence, which revisits the ending of Horror of Dracula (1958), Count Dracula doesn’t appear on screen until the 45-minute mark of the film.

Dracula’s lack of character, and presence, began to affect Lee particularly when it came to signing on to play the character in the three films following Prince of Darkness. Indeed, the lack of meaningful character development led to Lee initially turning down Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Scars of Dracula (1970). Lee said in countless interviews that he never got to play the real version of Count Dracula created by Bram Stoker, at least via Hammer Studios. This was a true disappointment to the late actor.

But Hammer guilt Lee into taking on the role over and over again, because the studio claimed to have already sold the aforementioned films to the United States with Lee’s name attached to the projects. Hammer informed Lee that if he didn’t return the company would have to lay off many of their workers. The tactic worked, since Lee was friends with many of the Dracula crew members. Fortunately for fans, Lee kept coming back for blood.

1. Faux Pas

Outside of the character of Dracula only appearing on screen for the last half of the movie, Dracula: Prince of Darkness had even more pressing issues that unfortunately survived all the way to the final cut of the film. One of the most appalling of these occurrences happens during the picture’s climatic confrontation. Watch the skies above Dracula and you will see the trail of a jet-engine plane staining the sky.

Another faux pas occurs in this same sequence when Dracula succumbs to the icy waters. Watch closely as the camera’s long shot clearly reveals the pivots holding the ice up underneath Chris Lee. Finally, watch the dead girl who is being carried during the opening funeral sequence. She is clearly breathing and quite heavily at that.

***

Which Dracula: Prince of Darkness moments did you find the most interesting? Were there any obscure facts you would have enjoyed seeing make our list? Sound off on social media!

 

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Carnivore: Werewolf of London Howls on VOD

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Joining the ranks of The Curse of the Werewolf, An American Werewolf in London, The Company of Wolves, and Dog Soldiers, Carnivore: Werewolf of London is the latest in a long series of fantastic British werewolf movies. Directed by Knights of the Damned’s Simon Wells, the film focuses on a couple trying to save their relationship by taking a vacation in a remote cottage, but rekindling their old flame soon proves to be the least of their worries as they learn that something with lots of fur and lots of teeth is waiting for them in the surrounding woods.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London stars Ben Loyd-Holmes, Atlanta Johnson, Gregory Cox, Molly Ruskin, and Ethan Ruskin, and is available to purchase now on Google Play, Amazon Video, iTunes, and Vudu, although it doesn’t appear to have received a physical release as of yet.

More information about Carnivore: Werewolf of London is available on the film’s official Facebook account, along with a ton of production photos.

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John Carpenter … NOT DEAD!

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We currently live in a world of false alarms. Within the last several days we’ve suffered everything from warnings of doomsday to Rotten Tomatoes accidentally celebrating the passing(!) and career of the very much still alive John Carpenter.

That’s right, kids; earlier today RT tweeted, “John Carpenter would have been 70 years old today! We celebrate his birthday by looking back at his five favorite films.” The tweet… has since been deleted.

We are here to tell you… John is very much alive! Alive and well, even. Carpenter himself responded on Twitter by alerting the site that “despite how it appears, I’m actually not dead.

This is great news indeed. One of horror’s best and brightest is still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Now then, let’s take this time to celebrate the man’s birthday PROPERLY by talking about our favorite films of his. Speaking personally for myself…

Prince of Darkness is a movie that both unnerves and scares the hell out of me. One of Carpenter’s most thought-provoking works is just as frightening now as it was when we first received that grainy transmission as a dream from the year…

Tell us your favorite Carpenter movie in our comments section below.

…and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN!

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