Enter the Raoverse, There are No Refunds for Emotional Damage - An Interview with FELL HOUND
Interview Content Editor Jimmy Gaspero welcomes Fell Hound into the Yeti Cave, writer and artist of the recently Ringo-nominated Commander Rao to discuss the successfully Kickstarted And We Love You. Fell digs deep to discuss their artistic process and explain why Kasey and Julie just can’t go on a picnic and have a nice time.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Fell! Welcome to the Yeti Cave. Last Sunday morning, in anticipation of this interview, I read Commander Rao, And We Love You, and Do You Believe in an Afterlife? and I’m still a little mad at you that you made me feel things. But enough about me, how have you been?
FELL HOUND: Jimmy! Thanks so much for the welcome. I am sorry about the feelings but due to the overwhelming response, we cannot offer refunds for emotional damages at this time. Haha.
I have been well otherwise! I am writing to you now from a cabin in the woods.
CBY: Oh, that sounds fun! What inspires you and drives you to tell the stories that you do?
FH: I have that artist’s curse where I use storytelling as a mouthpiece to vent about aspects of life that are traditionally harder to talk about. Which kind of explains why everything ends up being some kind of tragedy, because I find it much easier to express joy in real life than sadness. And I always thought, if I couldn’t tell people how I felt, maybe I could show them? I’m also a big fan of escapist stories, things that take me as far away from real life as possible, so I tend to lean into heavy sci-fi and fantasy. Also queer stories. Can never have enough of those in my life.
CBY: I’m curious as to the origin of both Commander Rao and And We Love You. Since they are so intertwined, did you work on it all as one complete story or did working on Commander Rao give you the seeds to expand on Julie’s story?
FH: Surprisingly, Julie’s story came first! I originally had the idea for And We Love You back in 2013. It was a 4-page comic titled The Girl with Technicolor Blood. It was a very personal comic hampered by the fact I couldn’t draw that well in 2013. I started practicing, redrew it in 2015, but still couldn’t achieve what I wanted to. Eventually it was put on the backburner until my drawing skills caught up. After Do You Believe In An Afterlife? came out, I started feeling more confident about tackling Technicolor Blood again. But I had another problem: I had no audience. When you’ve been trying to make the comic of your dreams for 10 years, there comes a lot of fear to have it fall on deaf ears. And I knew if I were to release Technicolor Blood for a third time, I wanted it to be the best and final time. So I once again delayed it, and decided to make something else instead. That something else became Commander Rao! While developing Rao I began to realize the similarities between the two stories (at that point both stories surrounded a dystopian war). And they kind of just naturally bridged together.
The whole Raoverse really hinged on this one gamble. If Commander Rao became a hit, I could hitch AWLY on its coattails and finally bring the story of my dreams to a wider audience. And if Rao had failed? I’d just keep making other comics until I was certain AWLY could land. CBY: The panel layouts, really the overall look of And We Love You is phenomenal, the vivid memories played out overtop the disturbing, black & white background. Can you tell me how you developed this look for this story and about your artistic process in creating your comics?
FH: Thank you so much! I’m so glad you were taken with the visuals of And We Love You. I think what helped was having drawn this comic twice before. I had a basic idea of what worked and wouldn’t work. In 2013, the comic was in full color, and the blood panels were drawn in a surrealist-collage-way with no separation between memories. In 2015, I switched to the black-and-white backgrounds and put different memories into different blood borders. And now in 2021, it was moreso expanding on the 2015 version with new skills and techniques. I downloaded over 100 blood/splatter brushes to prepare for AWLY. The first 8 pages of the book took 3 months of trial and error before landing on a visual style I was happy with. There was also A LOT of back and forth with my editor, Frankee White, to ensure the blood splatter panels looked visceral but also kept the integrity of story flow.
Drawing these pages turned my brain and my hands to mush. But it was worth it!
CBY: I find myself thinking a lot about memory. Why certain memories, seemingly insignificant, stick, while others fade away. How did you go about choosing the memories that makeup Julie’s life?
FH: The memories were decided based on relevance to the greater Raoverse, but also in the direction of the story I wanted to tell. In the end, I wanted the Raoverse to be a great, tragic love story. So the majority of Julie’s memories focused on her relationship with Kasey: how they met, the joys and the pains they suffered through. I wanted to show they had this timeless bond that transcends life or death. There’s a great “having your life flash before your eyes” feeling to And We Love You, and I’d like to think Julie would’ve thought of Kasey the most when that happened. There were also aspects of her early pre-war life mentioned, but just like real life, the older we grow the less we remember. It was important we knew Julie had a troubled childhood, but I think when dealing with a limited page count, you have to be very focused on what to prioritize.
CBY: You worked with Lucas Gattoni lettering this story, and LetterSquids for Commader Rao, both excellent letterers that really elevate the comics they work on. Is there more freedom or confidence that comes with writing, especially action-heavy SFX, knowing you have a great letterer on the team?
FH: I honestly try to give all my collaborators as much creative freedom as possible. My scripts are generally not that wordy because I want people to interpret them and do what they think looks best. LetterSquids actually chose to write his own SFX based on the art in Commander Rao, a decision I greatly supported knowing Squid’s incredible eye for sounds and design. I don’t think anything I’ve written could’ve matched the intensity and dynamism Squids brought to Rao. Working with Lucas was also a dream. He put so much care and attention into the world of And We Love You, knowing when to go loud for the big action scenes and when to go soft for the quiet moments. I couldn’t be more grateful for the work both of these letterers brought to the Raoverse!
CBY: What are your interests outside of comics? Do you have time for any other fun, hobbies, or excursions into mysterious realms?
FH: I used to play tons of video games. Probably an unhealthy amount. I’d plow through 100+ hour games in 2 weeks. After my RSI last year I had to dial it back but I’m still chugging my way along Horizon Forbidden West! I’ve been trying to be more active and picked up longboarding last year. However, within 10 minutes I stepped on the wheel and sprained my ankle, so that’s probably a sign I should continue to be a hermit, right?
CBY: Maybe? I don’t know though, I’ve always been an indoor kid. The indie comics community – pretty cool, right?
FH: THE BEST!!!! I love the community so much.
CBY: What is it that draws you to a wartime setting? Why can’t these lovely characters you created just go on a picnic and have a nice time?
FH: To be fair I did have a stretch goal in And We Love You where if we hit $50,000, I’d rewrite the book into a happy beach episode. The goal was called “No more war, no more sadness”. Sadly we were $30,000 short! :P My secret is that I’m actually a bit of a lazy writer. I didn’t want to think too much about worldbuilding, but still wanted an excuse to draw things I loved. And what do I love to draw? Armor. Big weapons. Things that go “WHOOSHH! FOOM! PEW PEW, SLAM!”
Having a sci-fi war was honestly the easiest excuse I could think of to incorporate all those things.
CBY: Your work contains themes of characters fighting for what they love or finding a reason to live, all while dealing with loss and trauma, grief and revenge. Will CBY readers continue to see you take on these themes, are there other things you want to cover with your work? What’s next?
FH: I had this phase in my life where I was really sad. And I didn’t know how to talk about it so they ended up weaving their way into my works. I am happy to announce I am less sad, nowadays! I will probably still write about sad things though, because I love the power and catharsis behind a good tragedy. But I think emotionally, I also want to create more hopeful stories that make people feel warm and fuzzy inside. While I write notoriously sad things, a lot of the books I enjoy are actually wholesome YA stories. I think that’d be something I’d like to tackle one day.
CBY: Which comics, books, tv shows, and/or movies are you checking out now?
FH: I just read Supergirl Woman of Tomorrow and now I am obsessed with the idea of giving Supergirl a sword. I’ve also been watching the “Bridging the Rift”, a Youtube show which dives into the making of Arcane (a show I have rewatched too many times to count). I loved hearing about how the whole thing came together, all the trials and tribulations of making something you’re so passionate about without caving to public pressure. I’m pretty awful when it comes to watching TV shows or movies (in that, I watch maybe 5 things a year). But I rewatched Everything Everywhere All At Once for the fourth time recently. Still holds up!
CBY: Where can you be found online?
FH: I’m most active on Twitter where you can find me @FellHound_. I also have Instagram @fell.hound. And if you’d like to know more about what I do and how to grab my books, visit my website at fellhoundart.com.
CBY: Thank you so much for joining me in the Yeti Cave today, Fell. I want to encourage everyone to read Commander Rao and especially And We Love You, regardless of how emotionally devastating you will be, it will be worth it.