By day, Eastin DeVerna is a mild-mannered English teacher. At night, he transforms into an all-powerful entity capable of creating or destroying entire worlds (mostly at night. Even gods prefer sleeping in). Eastin is a comic book writer, who – along with co-writer Ryan Davidson and artist Dan Buksa – created the new series Howl, which has gotten positive buzz. We spoke about the story world, his writing process, collaborating with a co-writer and artist, finding time to write with life always happening around you, what comics he’s reading these days, and what future works he has in store.
Publishing your own comic can seem as long a longshot as a spider bite giving you superpowers. Like a lot of creators today, you turned to crowdsourcing to help fund Howl. How was that experience? What has it yielded, for you and your backers?
EDeV: “The first issue is done, and that one has been distributed digitally…to the Kickstarter backers. That was actually finished before we did the Howl Kickstarter. We wanted that to be a reward that we could send out immediately once we were backed. I’ve backed a lot of Kickstarters before…sometimes it’s six months or a year or even two years before you finally get a reward. So we had that one finished, we paid for that out-of-pocket, Ryan and me. We funded issues two and three and the print run for issues one, two, and three.”
How did Howl originate?
EDeV: “[Ryan and I] probably came up with the idea in…2007 or 2008. We were talking…about what hasn’t been done.It was around the time that vampires were the biggest thing; zombies, The Walking Dead, all the movies. No one’d really tapped in on werewolves in a long time.
“At the very beginning, it took place on another planet that was eventually colonized by Earth. They’ve gone through their periods of civilization and history to the point that they eventually reverted back to the Wild West. It was gonna be a Wild West town with a werewolf problem. We started messing around with that, wrote/co-wrote a few short stories…but [there was] something not quite right about it. We were gonna do it as a novel. But then we kind of realized that was totally not the way to go. When I signed up for [a graduate comic book class with Batman/Swamp Thing/American Vampire writer Scott Snyder], that’s when we [realized] ‘This would probably work better as a comic.'”
Have werewolves been a dream world for you to write about your whole life? What’s your history with lycanthropes?
EDeV: “Probably Abbott and Costello Meet The Werewolf. Or the old Bela Lugosi stuff. I liked Underworld; I feel like that’s not [werewolf]; that borders on a superhero universe. Anything that’s not our world fascinates me. It’s…about the excitement that there are other things out there: other worlds, other universes, other realities, even other planes – ghosts, supernatural things, things we can’t see with our senses.
“Even when I was a kid, my sister, my neighbor, my brother and I would go to the library and pick out old ghost books, books about the Loch Ness Monster, Unsolved Mysteries…go on ghost hunts around my town; go into my shed in the backyard with a flashlight in the middle of the day, looking for ghosts…there was always excitement that there’s more out there than we can see or perceive.
“I’ve been reading – not very deeply, but face-level – of quantum physics and theory, the bubble theory and the multiverse Grant Morrison is obsessed with. The world is so much bigger than we know. Thinking about the universe and how small Earth is and how small we are, how small our problems are, sometimes drives me nuts. I’ll be cursing out the car in front of me in traffic…in the grand scheme of things, this is the one thing I’m focusing on, all of my energy and everything I ever was. And it’s so irrelevant.
“When we came up with [Howl], I think me at the time was more shocked than me as a 12-year-old would’ve been. I was so immersed and grounded in literature at the time, going through my undergrad English major and MFA.”
You were really into comics when you were younger, then drifted away for some years. What pulled you back into orbit?
EDeV: “I read a few graphic novels in an adolescent literature class I took for [English] education. And I liked them; I forgot how much I loved comics. And then taking [Snyder’s] class, the first one we read was The Dark Knight Returns. And since then, it’s been a snowball effect…a very expensive hobby.”
You and Davidson co-created and co-wrote Howl. How did that collaboration work and evolve?
EDeV: “Before we actually got to writing, we had tons and tons of notes. We each wrote a short story based in this world, to get the feel of it and flesh it out. And then we started…comparing notes, and it just seemed more like a visual story, the world we wanted it to take place in. And so we were like ‘Maybe it needs to be seen as well as read.’ We started scripting it; we could visualize it a lot better and it helped the flow of the story.
“What would be different about a werewolf story? The classic ones have one werewolf terrorizing a town. Wouldn’t it be cool if we reversed it and did like an I Am Legend thing? A human in a world where everyone was a werewolf except for him, and on every single full moon it would turn into complete and utter chaos?”
How did Dan Buksa come into the picture?
EDeV: “It’s kinda hard finding an artist. If you want something good, you’re gonna have to pay for it. We would approach people with the story and our pitch, and they’d say ‘That’s awesome! I like it!’ And we’d never hear from them again. Eventually I asked my friend Scott Kearney, who did the T-shirt* design for Howl.
[*The T-shirts = one of Howl’s Kickstarter rewards]
He was busy with freelance stuff, but he sent the script around to a few friends. Two days later [Buksa] emailed us back with four pages of the script sketched and inked. He was really dedicated; he liked the idea; he wanted to make comics just as badly as the two of us did.”
How did Buksa’s art complement or contrast the artistic style you first had in mind for the world of Howl? How does he factor into the story collaboration?
EDeV: “Dan’s art is very gritty and dark and filled with lines. Very stylized. I was thinking about it a little bit more realistically at first. And I’m glad we didn’t go that way, because it’s a werewolf story.”
“We write the script first, the outline of the story; we don’t have it completely scripted because we find that even when we do that, we go back and re-write constantly. We’ll send Dan a PDF of the whole script – town descriptions and dialogue. He’ll read it, he’ll give us notes, and he’ll send us the pencils – what he thinks each page is gonna look like, the thumbnails. If we think something’s off or weird, he’ll make the adjustment, and then he’ll go into the pencils and inks.
“We have a basic idea of what the page should look like, or how many panels. But we’re flexible. Dan has a lot of good ideas for layouts and economy – if he thinks [a] panel is a waste…if it’ll make the page flow better, [we] totally go for it.”
Some comics are conceived as a limited number of issues; some are written as trade-paperbacks-to-be. How did you conceive of Howl as far as length?
EDeV: “It was initially going to be a 10-12 issue series. I want it to be more compact than my [original] thesis. Now…we’re looking at six issues, seven issues, the length of a larger paperback trade.”
You teach. You’re married. How do you find time to write?
EDeV: “It’s hard. I don’t have a set schedule. I’ve never been an organized person. I wake up at different times every day. Sometimes, on the weekends, I dedicate a few hours a day. I get into grooves. I’ll write for a month straight, I miss one day, I don’t get back to it for two or three months. Lately I’ve had deadlines to stick to; I’ve been cutting away from TV time.”
What comics are you reading these days?
EDeV: “A lot of Image books. I’m a big Superman fan so I still read Superman…Action Comics. The comics I’ve been reading for the longest time are Batman – Scott Snyder’s run – and Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan, the writer from Lost. The art’s amazing. East of West is really awesome. Another book by Jonathan Hickman called The Dying And The Dead. Sandman.
“Grant Morrison’s been on fire. There’s one book called Nameless. It’s this horror/Lovecraftian/surreal…it’s out there but not too out there. You can get on-board. This other book, Annihilator, a pretty trippy comic about this Hollywood screenwriter writing this story, and the other universe is actually a universe. The characters from the screenplay are existing in a different universe and they eventually merge and crash together. The guy thinks he has a brain tumor, but it’s a bullet that’s in his head and it’s slowly killing him, and the only way to survive it is to finish the story. I’ll read anything by Grant Morrison now. Southern Bastards, by Jason Aaron (Scalped) and Jason Latour. I recommend that one.”
What would be your dream comic to work on?
EDeV: “For the longest time, one of my main goals was to have a book published through Image. You still have a lot of creative freedom, you can write the story you want, you have great exposure, you’re getting paid for your work. So far, comics – between reading and making them – has only cost me money.
“Since the Image renaissance, a lot of these companies like Dark Horse and Boom! have been jumping on the creator-owned [comics], because that’s what sells. Other than your staple big-two books, people are into good, creator-owned, character-driven stories. It’d be a dream if I could get one of my books published through Image.
“I’d love to write an encapsulated Superman story, about Clark as a younger person, maybe. Another character who’s always interested me is Green Lantern – Hal Jordan. The endless possibility of these other worlds, other universes. It’d probably be about what NASA wants to do, what’s out there. I guess it’s tough to do in DC since there are aliens everywhere.
“Marvel? I’d love to write a Thor book. I love the fact that they’re gods living amongst men. I’d try to play more on that rather than Thor as a superhero. And that opens the realm to ‘If Thor and them really exist, what if every other religion has their gods existing? What if they interacted with humanity?’
“Or I’d like to write a more quiet story, kind of like Matt Fraction did with Hawkeye, trying to save his apartment building from being taken over by the Russian mob. Really character-driven. Work with an artist? I love Rafael Albuquerque. Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba.”
Any writerly advice you’ve received you’d pass on to others?
EDeV: “Stop when you know what’s happening next. That way you don’t write till you run out of ideas. Stop when you know exactly how you’re gonna finish it; that way when you pick up the next day, you’re not sitting there for an hour staring at the screen.”
What’s next for you after Howl?
EDeV: “I have another story I’m working on right now, and I already hooked up with an artist for it. It’s called Samurai Grandpa. It’s sort of like an old man Logan story mixed with a little bit of the quirkiness and adventure of Samurai Jack. This old samurai is putting his sword away, retiring. He returns home to his family. There’s an inciting incident that sends him on his one, final, last adventure. I hooked up with a Toronto-based artist, Shawn Daley, through Twitter. Twitter has an amazing comics community. His art reminds me of Jeff Lemire’s.”
Where can readers find/purchase Howl?
EDeV: “It’s exclusive to Kickstarter backers right now, but very soon we’ll be putting it up on Comixology digitally, and soon after we hope to have a web store for hard copies.”