With Kill Wolfhead, Brandon Thomas and Pete Woods add to the world of The Incal, handed the torch by Alejandro Jodorowsky to explore another story in the world he and Mœbius created. The title is available through Humanoids here.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Brandon, thanks for sitting down in the Yeti Cave for a conversation about your fantastic installment into The Incal world, Kill Wolfhead. How’s everything going today in your respective corner of the world?
BRANDON THOMAS: Doing well! Very excited to finish my series Excellence in 2024, in addition to a couple really cool unannounced projects being worked on in relative secrecy. Any day you can wake up still working in comics is a good day.
CBY: It's good to know you've got more upcoming work for us to check out soon! Now, The Incal is a seminal title in the world of both graphic novels and science fiction. Unlike a lot of the superhero fare that influences the industry, it isn’t generally a book young kids were picking at the corner drugstore, given its rather rowdy, adult subject matter. When did you both first encounter it? Upon seeing it, did it immediately connect with you in a way that allowed you to see yourselves later getting to create within its narrative universe?
BT: I’ll admit that I don’t remember exactly when I first read it, but the thing that made the strongest impression on me was the artwork. I came into comics right around the birth of Image Comics, and while that was definitely an artist driven movement, the insane little details and immaculately rendered backgrounds all throughout Mœbius’ work were a big eye-opener. I’d never seen anything like it, and from that iconic first page, you knew that there was something different about this book. I do remember that it was one of the first international comics I’d ever read, so that was something else that drew me in. There’s a density to the storytelling that instantly jumped out, like every page is crammed with panels that are crammed with dialogue. Really makes you slow down and better appreciate every bit of linework.
And no, I never imagined that I’d be invited to contribute to this world, but this book is the gift that keeps on giving. Have never had a story printed in so many different languages and formats, it’s been an awesome experience start to finish.
CBY: I should admit before proceeding, I have not personally made it through all The Incal material and lore (as the story has run deeper over the years than my pool of free time lately). I had, however, read the first volume before receiving Kill Wolfhead, and the immediate parallels and referential imagery are copious and clearly well-considered, and with Kill being one of the first characters introduced in the original work, you’ve certainly gotten to the heart of the source material. What sort of nods to prior titles were non-negotiables, and what did you want to squeeze in that might not have made the cut due to space/narrative constraints?
BT: I think we got in just about everything we wanted, and the main thing I wanted to emulate was that sense of storytelling density I mentioned earlier. It was a goal to really fill the panels with as much story and text as they could hold, without getting in the way of Pete’s amazing artwork, which was definitely a challenge. To me that was necessary to make it feel like a book that truly belonged in the larger Incal universe, and obviously, I was pretty obsessed with the “falling page” which became an emotional touchstone for a lot of the book’s characters.
CBY: It's certainly an iconic visual starting point that readily recalls John DiFool's waking moments where The Incal began. On the note of details from The Incal you’ve yet to explore, what does the conversation look like around subsequent publications in the universe; are there more stories Jodorowsky and Mœbius had in development beyond the releases of Psychoverse (Mark Russell & Yanick Paquette) and Dying Star (Dan Watters & Jon Davis-Hunt)? How much material was available as a basis for these stories before you started working on them?
BT: The Incal was my starting point, and I got to enjoy the other new books strictly as a fan. At the time, I didn’t want too much exposure to what Mark and Dan were doing, since I was concerned it would influence what I wanted from this story about Kill.
CBY: From its origins in Heavy Metal, The Incal has been with Humanoids - what did the conversation look like around putting together this new publication with the editorial/publishing team? Since you've had ample experience working on existing IP, how was the approach taken for Kill Wolfhead distinct from other company-owned properties you’ve been involved in over the years?
BT: Freedom, freedom, freedom. To me, The Incal has always signified unpredictability, and uniqueness, and audacity. Fortunately, that exact same vibe permeated the entire process of creating this book with Humanoids. I mean, the fact they approved and supported a book like Kill Wolfhead is proof of that.
Before I officially pitched anything, they told me to go back and re-read The Incal, to see which characters and settings stood out to me, and I came back with this crazy idea about diving into one of the side characters who appears the least. Despite that, his appearances were definitely notable, and Kill felt like a central character, who was only playing a background role in the original story, but had a history and worldview that demanded further exploration. There was just something about him. The visual of him and his ridiculous name got stuck in my head, and this was the final result of that. Kill probably planned it that way the whole time.
CBY: Ah, finding the uncharted territory to carve a new path. For anyone picking this up without having gone through The Incal, it’s not much of a spoiler to mention Kill Wolfhead’s role in the universe as a notorious sexbeast (if there’s a better way to label him, let me know). This story explores the ramifications of his actions as they ripple across worlds, like Genghis Khan writ galactic. Let’s talk dads, father figures, and mentors; Kill Wolfhead, soldier of fortune, may not have been around for his kids, but which positive male role models were around for both of you along the way?
BT: Well, I’d guess that anyone who read this wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that I have a pretty complicated relationship with my own father. No Genghis Khan sexbeast type stuff (thankfully) but some of the feelings, angst, and resentment displayed by some of the Killdren hits a little close to home. That said, the greatest gift my father ever gave me was my introduction to comics, which was a decision that forever changed the entire course of my life.
CBY: The Incal universe is typified by metaphysical technology beyond current levels of comprehension (i.e. Clarke’s third law; “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”). Kill Wolfhead has a wide-open narrative with metacognition an important component of the story - were there any ground rules you had to adhere to? What operative constraints were placed on the story, or was it relatively boundless?
BT: Relatively boundless, but it had to make sense within the confines of the story. There were important details of Kill’s history that intentionally stretched the boundaries of good sense (and perhaps taste), especially the notion that somehow Kill Wolfhead could get any woman pregnant, no matter the species, or time, or place. Once something as nuts as that becomes an accepted fact, almost anything goes. One of the main goals here was to really cut loose as a storyteller, have fun, and just throw insane ideas at the wall without sticking around to see what stuck. It was fantastic and thrilling, and there are moments that make me laugh out loud, which typically doesn’t happen in my work.
CBY: Unlike many other narrative worlds, The Incal has explored its expanded universe primarily through prequels. In terms of tension and setting stakes, what principles of storytelling do you find most useful in making a story fully engaging to a reader that may well understand in the back of their mind the eventual fate of those in the prequel upon their appearance in the latter period of the source material? I think Kill Wolfhead does this effectively, so what would you say to others trying to avoid the marginalizing effects of “plot armor” in comics?
BT: Much appreciated, and while I understand the general concern, I don’t really subscribe to the idea of “plot armor” being a huge concern in most stories, prequel or not. Fact is that the main characters in stories like these have always had an impervious quality that not every other character benefits from, but that’s really always been the case in fiction going back decades.
The term has always struck me as very “inside baseball” if that makes any sense, and the problem is not really about the audience knowing that, for instance, Anakin Skywalker is destined to survive the events of the prequels to become Darth Vader. Because he himself doesn’t know that, the people around him don’t know that, and as long as that’s the case, you always have a good chance to wring some well-earned drama and heartbreak out of any story.
I’m not crazy about the term because it places the POV of the audience as paramount, where I’d like to think that a story is more of an evolving dialogue taking place between the audience and the characters whose stories they’re experiencing. One is not inherently more important than the other, or at least it shouldn’t be. Not sure if that answer is too meta, but maybe (laughs).
CBY: I certainly think that makes sense - you've raised a good point - it doesn't matter whether you know the destination or not if a writer can keep the journey itself engaging. Conflict, tension, and engagement all happen one panel at a time. We’ve obviously dug deep into the source material and touched upon other influences that contributed toward the edition of Kill Wolfhead now available to the public. However, can you both provide us with an idea of unrelated comics and other media you’ve been enjoying lately? What should our readers ensure they check out once they read Kill Wolfhead?
BT: The Incal Universe is all about pure, unbridled storytelling, so I’ll recommend some tv shows I’ve recently caught up on that have a similar vibe and willingness to take big risks. Severance (Apple) was amazingly bold in its style and purpose, and anyone that likes twisting, mind-bending thrillers will love it. Poker Face (Peacock) is equally daring, maybe even more so. It also has some of the best guest stars you’ll ever find in anything. Also re-watching The Sopranos, and watching it as an adult, instead of a college student, is a whole new experience. I didn’t realize at the time it was so funny. After living a little more life, it hits a whole new emotional gear.
CBY: Severance was brilliant, and now I've got Poker Face to add to my watch list. First, I've got more comics to read for the next batch of interviews. Thank you, Brandon, for joining us today in the Yeti Cave, and hopefully you can join us again to discuss Excellence upon its release!