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DF Interview: Simon Spurrier, Ryan Kelly take a bite out of comics with Cry Havoc

By Byron Brewer

Folklore is jam packed with monsters. Centuries ago, these fictions were at the bleeding edge of relevancy, but they have all faded. Cry Havoc, a new comic from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Ryan Kelly, asks what happens when those monster tales force themselves back into the modern limelight. Who resists them? Who gets caught in the middle?

To learn the answers to those and other questions on this unique series, Dynamic Forces spared no expense and interviewed BOTH writer and artist. Here’s the 411.

Dynamic Forces: Si, tell us how this unique book came into being.

Simon Spurrier: The simple version is that I've always been a massive geek for folklore in general and monsters in particular, and I wanted to mix the big bloody visuals of a beast-centric book with something smarter and more meaningful. An “up your game, lazy to the generic Creature Feature, basically.

Having made that decision, the whole thing just organically grew and started invading a bunch of more modern territory: black ops militaria, the war against terror, chemical control, sexuality and so on. We've ended up with this very intimate story about a woman who gets ripped out of her domestic little life and cast adrift on a sea of Realpolitik, rampant mythology and ideological revolution.  Oh, and the mating habits of hyenas.

The slightly more pretentious version – if you can credit such a thing – is that it's always struck me as fascinating that these incredible and creative ideas which we call folklore (ideas which, don't forget, were once so widely believed that they were held to be facts, or at least as articles of faith) have a shelf life. No matter how wondrous or practical, no matter how bloody-fanged or erotic, monsters always fade away. Hence nowadays we scorn the idea that goblins creep out in the night to tangle our hair, or that shape-shifting monstrosities lurk just outside the comforting tungsten glow of that streetlight outside our window.

It simply occurred to me to wonder how someone might feel about all that if they were actually one of the monsters. What they might do about it. And how the rest of the world would react. You give that even the slightest thought and the whole thing quickly becomes a beautiful, savage metaphor for the experience of literally anyone who feels lost and disenfranchised, trying to make themselves Matter.

In depicting a story like that – a story which has to combine both the macro and the micro, the savage with the sensitive – I couldn't think of anyone more perfectly suited than Ryan.

DF: Ryan, tell us about the design work you did for this book. With both military hardware and a heaping helping of dark supernatural, that must be some range of design!

Ryan Kelly: There’s a lot of military stuff, and it all looks very familiar. The familiarity works to our advantage, I suppose, as we want it to feel grounded in real life, so when we introduce the scary stuff, it’s all the more jarring and disturbing. It’s tricky, because I don’t want these mythical monsters to look, dare I say, “comic-bookey”. They’re supposed to look spectral and shape-shifting. They are throwing off all kinds of kinetic magic energy when they materialize. As an artist limited to pens and paper, it’s a challenge to depict things perched on that plane of physical horror and myth. In Cry Havoc, it’s not so much what the monsters look like; it’s how we think we perceive them in our minds. It’s all very cerebral, and I have to keep telling myself that as I’m drawing the stuff.

DF: Si, can you tell us a little about the storyline. I know Image describes it as Jarhead meets Pan’s Labyrinth.

SS: Ha, yes, that's our attempt to orient the potential reader's expectations. On the one hand it's the wide-screen military erosion of the Self (a staccato rhyhtm of silence and brief bursts of violence); on the other hand a truly disturbing and very un-Disneylike take on myth and magic. It does a pretty good job, as far as elevator pitches go, although I think Cry Havoc has rather more grasping tentacles of genre than just the two.

To strip it down as brutally as I'm able, it's the story of a gay London street-musician, struggling with her own identity, who gets violently dragged into a supernatural sphere: an experience which comprehensively f*cks up her life.

In order to try and do something about it she's sent to wartorn Afghanistan, embedded with a unit of Private Security Consultants (think Blackwater), each of whom – like her – conceals a monster inside themselves.

Their goal: to locate and kill the leader of an incipient revolution, who may be the worst fiend of all.

One really cool thing we've done is to take these three sections of the character's story – the beginning in London, the middle in Afghanistan, and the end in, um, a Mysterious Location I Can't Say Much About – and to treat them as melodies, playing side-by-side rather than one after another. As the story progresses we jump between these phases in the protagonist's life in a really exciting way, letting different moments strike sparks off one another and juxtapose. 

To really make the most of this unique mechanism we've done something unprecedented: each separate section of the story is colored by a different big-name talent. We've got Nick Filardi, Lee Loughride and Matt Wilson. The effect's spell-binding. It really helps differentiate the three parallel time-zones, and it shows off something which the industry is only just starting to realize: how profoundly the colorist's art impacts on the finished article.

DF: And who are your protagonists? Tell us about the characters that will take us through this legendary fantasy.

SS: The main character is Louise Canton - “Lou” - a young musician living with her girlfriend in London. We all know someone like Lou: the one who strives so hard to be organized, to be ambitious, to participate in the anodyne rat race around her like a good little consumer ... but just can't do it. She's got too much chaos in her. 

The tragedy of Lou, and a billion people like her, is that nobody's ever told her it's okay to be chaotic.

Lou is savaged by a half-seen monstrosity one rainy afternoon, near the site of the ancient Newgate Gaol. She assumes – you would, wouldn't you?  – she's been attacked by a werewolf, and considers this quite the most tacky thing she can image. As it turns out her attacker is far older and far stranger than any crappy Hollywood lycanthrope, and its influence flips her life upside down ... and starts to drown her in the chaos she's been trying so hard to repress.

Most of the other characters we'll get to know arrive during the central part of Lou's tale, as she travels across Taliban territory in the hills of Southern Afghanistan. Despite her utter lack of experience she's been placed with a unit of specialists who, she'll slowly realize, are each monsters in their own way.  They're a fabulous bunch and I hesitate to say too much about them because each episode focuses on one of them – and the beast lurking inside – at a time. Expect cosmic crows, ravenous fireflies and a truly hellish form of vampire. 

Actually, one little hint: my favorite team-member is Óttar, a tall Scandinavian man, constantly horny, who undergoes a particularly brutal transformation when aroused. Any scholars of Norse myth out there might have an oinkling – sorry, inkling – of what to expect.

DF: Wow! Er uh … Ryan, I know it is early but are there any characters yet that you have latched on to as your favorites?

RK: Our hero, Lou, is conscripted into a special mercenary outfit that consists of the same, mysterious human/monster hybrids as her. It’s like the Dirty Dozen, but each character is a curious amalgam of soldier and the worse thing you could possibly imagine in your mind. Si has endowed each character their own eccentricities and deep, disturbing secrets. It’s a band of weirdoes with supernatural abilities and it’s a fun thing for an artist to draw. I feel like I’m finally getting to draw an X-Men comic.

My favorite character, overall, is Commander Lynn Odell, the rogue mercenary they are ordered to intercept. Her story slowly unravels as Lou delves deeper into the mission.

DF: What did you think of the innovation on this book of having multiple colorists defining the story’s threads?

RK: Our colorists really define each story stage and make Cry Havoc the living and breathing world that it is. It’s interesting how my line work takes a back seat, so to speak, once the color is added. Each colorist brings their own personal sensibility and style to the time period under their creative watch.

It’s interesting: It feels like a play, when you have to strike a set and put up new scenery for the next act. It’s like that. Lee, Matt and Nick are great. They are total pros. Their color doesn’t overpower my line work, yet there is so much going on in their paint strokes. It’s beautiful to look at. 

DF: So how has it been working with your co-creator? (Er uh, that’s Ryan for Si, and Si for Ryan, lol)

SS: A dream come true, obviously. I've been an admirer of Ryan's work for years, and was venomously jealous when Kieron Gillen worked with him on Three. When Cry Havoc started forming, down in the dank parts of my brain, I knew Ryan would be the perfect artist for the job. Like I said before, it needs someone who can handle both ends of the scale-spectrum, every point on the emotional continuum and a dozen shifts in pace and tone every episode. It needs a master. Got one.

I think it's a lot easier these days for artists to get noticed if their work embodies a dramatic and deliberate style – irrespective of whether they can actually tell a bloody story or not. That's the central art in comics, storytelling, and it's horribly undervalued by the buzz-machine.  In Ryan's case I truly believe – and this is no idle hyperbole – he's one of the greatest visual story-wranglers working in comics today.

And, seriously, he gives great monster.

RK: I’ve always been curious about Si’s writing. I had only read a few things here and there, and I thought it was clever and inventive work. What I didn’t realize, until Cry Havoc, is there’s much, much more to the clever and witty style. I was immediately taken with how crafty and resourceful he is.  Everything in Cry Havoc is extensively researched and sewn into the full breadth of this story. He’s a smart guy and great collaborator. I’m proud to have this book on my drawing desk.

At first, I thought Cry Havoc looked like any other pitch, but once I read the first script, I knew I had something really special on my hands. I don’t really respond to concepts and plot lines and stuff. It’s not until I read the characters and listen to them talk that I feel it’s a real comic book.

DF: What would you like the vaunted “new reader” to know about Cry Havoc to make him/her want to pick up #1 in the New Year?

SS: It's not a book about a lesbian werewolf going to war. Except it kind of is.

RK: Be prepared to be scared. I made a rhyme. You better get the first issue or...you’ll need a tissue. Because you’ll cry. Cry havoc. There, more rhymes.

Dynamic Forces would like to thank Simon Spurrier and Ryan Kelly for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. Cry Havoc #1 hits stores January 27th, 2016!

For more news and up-to-date announcements, join us here at Dynamic Forces, www.dynamicforces.com/htmlfiles/, “LIKE” us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/dynamicforcesinc, and follow us on Twitter, www.twitter.com/dynamicforces.

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Updated: 11/27/20 @ 3:25 pm






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