Cassandra ‘TeknicolorTiger’ Aponte || Interview with a werewolf

What got you into werewolves and how old were you when you discovered them?

Werewolves have been a fairly constant presence in my life since I was young. My older brother was very much into them and we watched An American Werewolf In London quite a few times. My mom was pretty liberal with what we watched so long as I covered my eyes at the sex scenes. But, werewolves didn’t really become a prominent feature of my art until I was in university. I think about 2009 or 2010 or so, when I was watching the movie “Quills” with Joaquin Phoenix and Geoffrey Rush, that I became inspired to start writing “The Monster of Amber Peace”. Which would later become my brainchild, “Creatures of Alchemy” (Still a work in progress.) My first draft was something like 40,000 words and was extremely self-indulgent. But when I decided to appropriate for others, I began to realize that so much more could be done with the genre than what had been previously established. I’ve been exploring the concept of the werewolf ever since.

Do you share the same love of other types of shapeshifters?

Oh absolutely. I think werecats are probably my second favorite shapeshifter after werewolves, particularly to draw. But I also enjoy reading about other shapeshifter myths. The whole idea of a human being able to take on another form as an expression of transcendence is just fascinating to me. And it’s particularly interesting to read about how the individual deals with that, too. Or how creators deal with it. Like how one might create rules around a wererabbit versus a weretiger, and of course we always compare that to how werewolves are handled, since they tend to be the standard.

What do you think it is that attracts you to werewolves?

I think my answer to that will be somewhat needlessly complicated but here goes: my attraction to werewolves is probably due to a few things. One, I’ve always just liked monsters and things with sharp teeth and I’ve always been good at drawing them, particularly dog-like things (even though I’m definitely more of a cat-person in real life). Two, the werewolf embodies a lot of themes that I’m just naturally drawn to. Themes like transformation, Otherness, disparity, duality, psychology. Which brings me to three; that link to mental illness. As someone who has had to deal with mental illness all her life, there’s something about that clinical link to lycanthropy that just speaks deeply to me. The potential inability to control oneself, the hurting or pushing away of loved ones, that other voice inside your head, mood swings that can encompass extreme bouts of rage – all very classic werewolf in a way. These are themes that I really want to explore in my stories and characters, too, in my own way. I know they’ve been done a lot in the genre but… Not very well, as most people will probably tell you.

Do you prefer a gory werewolf tale or a more modernised, romanticised version?

A bit of both maybe? I’ve never been a fan of romance, really, but like anyone, I enjoy a good story with good characters. I admit to deriving a kind of satisfaction out of watching/reading a werewolf maul a hapless victim, but foremost in my mind is “sure this is entertaining… But is it a good story?” So I guess my tastes tend more towards the former, but characters are free to romance each other so long as they are good characters and the story keeps me interested. And that it tries to do something different rather than adhere to tropes and clichés. But I think it’s important to point out that that’s extremely rare in the genre. But I’m glad to see people are realizing that now so I think we’ll start to see more experimentation in the very near future. At least, one hopes.

What does the ideal werewolf look like in your opinion?

This is going to sound odd but I don’t think I have an ideal werewolf. I appreciate any design that has thought put into it. I probably have a few nitpicks therein though – mostly with functional anatomy. I see a lot of artists draw their werewolves with these problematic, bird-like hind legs and that just drives me crazy. Haha. (I did some stupid doodles about it here: scroll to the bottom of the page to see this image.) But I guess if I had to be honest, I prefer a werewolf that is still largely wolf but

Give some cinematic examples of your ideal werewolf.

The closest would probably have to be the werewolves from Van Helsing. Airbrushed abs and cartoony animation aside, there’s just so much I love about their design. I love that each of the werewolves were different. I love the subtle human-like features in their face. I love that they were big and scary and angry. Another werewolf design that comes to mind that I liked was Remus Lupin from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”. I know a lot of people hated that design and I can see why. To be honest, the first time I saw that movie in the theatre I was a little underwhelmed. But the more times I watched it – and then read the books – the more I appreciated it. Especially in looking at the concept art. Oh my God. That lovely anatomy in the face and torso. I think my only real nitpick with the Lupin wolf (other than being a little on the dumb side behavior-wise) is his lack of fur. Not that a werewolf has to be entirely coated in a thick pelt in order for me to appreciate it, and the hairlessness lent to the sickly look they were going for with Lupin. I wish they would have had a chance to show what Fenrir Greyback would have looked like in full-on werewolf form. At least to provide some contrast for us werewolf fans. Because I’d like to imagine he would have looked healthier by comparison. But Lupin also had that creepy factor going for him. Where the Helsing wolves were more powerhouses, something that looked like it would just leap out at you suddenly from a hiding spot, Lupin looks like something that would just stalk you for days. There’s something slightly more… Believable about the way he looks over the Helsing wolves. And I really appreciate that creepiness.

Oh and something else about the Lupin wolf was that you could vaguely tell that he was based on Lupin human. Similar though subtle structures in the face give it away. Which I just adore.

What should a werewolf NOT look like in your opinion?

A werewolf shouldn’t look like it has had no or very little thought put into its design. Whatever a designer’s limitations, whether it’s an undeveloped skillset when it comes to drawing or design, or a limited movie budget, there’s still so much you can do with the look of a hybrid creature. For example, the werewolves in “Late Phases” look more like Twilight Zone-style reptile monsters, but you know what? They still TRIED, even with a limited budget and with them having to make multiple suits. I could still appreciate what they did there. But you know what I don’t appreciate? Wolfmen (“Wolves” aside – cause the make up effects in that movie were pretty awesome.) I’m talking more “Penny Dreadful”-style werewolves where it’s like “Oh, we blew our budget on set dressing so here’s a guy with lint stuck to his face”. That show is amazing and creepy but you know what’s not amazing and creepy? Ethan Chandler. Also werewolves with elliptical pupils. Unless it’s a werefox or something, what’s up with that?

Give a cinematic example of a werewolf that didn’t quite meet your expectations.

There’s been a handful. “Penny Dreadful”, which I just named. “Hemlock Grove” was another one – amazing transformation sequence but then suddenly regular wolf. (Not that I completely dismiss regular-looking-wolf-werewolves as they are loyal to folkloric tradition, but this goes back to what I was saying about creative design.) I think the biggest disappointment was in “Ginger Snaps”. Yet another severe case of reptilian werewolf. I honestly really liked “Ginger Snaps”, but the werewolf design was a complete letdown. They improved it in the second film, but I feel like the first was definitely had the better story.

Stepping away from the cinematic side of things, what is your favourite werewolf novel?

I think that’d have to be “Moon Dance” by S.P. Somtow. But I also really enjoyed “Wilding” by Melanie Tem. Both books can get quite surreal, especially “Wilding” but when dealing with something that’s already kind of surreal – the concept of a person transforming into an animal – I think it’s rather well suited. “Moon Dance” was probably one of the novels that first got me thinking out of the box when it comes to werewolves. The story focuses more on an interpretation of Native American myth than Western and the characters are fascinating (though fairly black and white). “Wilding” is about a family of female werewolves, and the whole set up is very contrary to the vast majority of the genre, which tends to be very male-centric. Both books are visceral and atmospheric and full of great imagery.   I also recommend John Skipp’s anthology “Werewolves and Shapeshifters: Encounters With the Beasts Within” as it has some of the best short stories on werewolves I’ve ever read.

Back to cinema, what is your favourite werewolf film?

I’m gonna be boring and say “An American Werewolf In London”. Even though it’s the most iconic film of the genre, it’s still a solid film, even some thirty years later. It has great special effects, sympathetic characters, good atmosphere. It’s far from a perfect film, but it’s just so deliciously classic, right down to when David and his friend step into that small, English pub and everyone is glaring at them. Sure, it’s formulaic and predictable, but I think that’s mostly just because we’ve all seen it a billion times, but I still greatly enjoy it every time. As for newer films, I really enjoyed “Ginger Snaps”, probably for the opposite reasons I enjoy AWIL. It reaffirms the obvious feminine aspects of the werewolf with its focus on puberty and Otherness. It introduced some new ideas on what werewolves could be and could represent. And in spite of the oddly designed werewolf, the ending still felt pretty solid to me. “Van Helsing” is an obvious guilty pleasure as well. The film is… Not very good, but it’s fun and I always enjoy eyeballing those very nicely designed werewolves.

Do you have any werewolf related songs to recommend?

I was kind of dreading this question because I don’t have a lot to answer with. There’s always Zevron’s classic “Werewolves of London” I guess. That one that everyone’s heard. But I guess another would be “Howl” by Florence + The Machine. The style is kind of… Romantic, I suppose, and I’ve had people dismiss it as such, but if you listen to the lyrics it’s definitely referencing the old Wolfman movie and even quotes a few lines from it. Also Florence Welch just has such an amazing voice.

What do you think of the way representation of werewolves has changed over the years? (In both literature and cinema.)

Well, I don’t think it’s changed that much in cinema, but I’ve seen a rather larger shift in literature. But that’s usually how it goes, I think. In cinema, they’re still monsters that eat people, in literature they’re… Mostly monsters that seduce people. At least that seems to be the prevailing representation. They’ve definitely become more romanticized over the years. And I think there’s a bit of good in that, or if anything, it’s an indication of how culture and society is changing. We no longer see monsters in monstrous things because we realize that there’s no greater monster than humankind, etc. Werewolves used to be representative of the untamed wilderness, that threat of everything you’ve worked so hard for – a family, a food source, a way of life – to come crashing down because you can’t control yourself or you can’t control what’s hungry and vicious out in the forest. People lived in closer contact with wild animals like wolves. But now-a-days, most of us very rarely come into contact with that. Perhaps barely anything bigger than a squirrel or more vicious than a deer. Wolves, in reality, like most predators actually, are very shy to begin with and only do what they must to survive. And we realize that now. I think this shift that we see in the literary portion of the genre is perhaps indicative of a subliminal desire to return to what humanity has lost; contact with nature and the natural world. It’s not something we fear any more, it’s something we romanticize and long for. My personal opinion of that is that it’s somewhat laughable. Sure nature can be peaceful and beautiful, but it’s also pretty cruel and nightmarish. I sort of scoff at a lot of these sorts of romantic, wish-fulfillment-style werewolves with that in mind as I feel like, in the creator’s pursuit of an idealistic self reflection, they tend to ignore an essential aspect of their animal self; that they’re capable of doing a lot of damage for very selfish and basic reasons. I mean, clearly that’s not just an aspect of a wolf, but any animal, including human. What does one do with big, sharp teeth, enormous claws, and unlimited stamina and strength anyway? File paperwork? I don’t think so. The werewolf, in my opinion, is by design, a weapon.

Tell me something that makes the werewolves in your works unique, what makes them special?

Ha, I think this is kind of a tough one to answer because I don’t really feel like there’s a lot that make my werewolves that special. At a glance, I guess it’s  – and this is what people have told me – how I draw them. I try very hard to make a working amalgamation of human and animal in every part of its body. I’m fascinated by that hybridization and I like for it to show. I’d like to think that this extends to my characters’ personalities as well. Each are living with this animal in their heads, and each have to deal with it in their own way. To complicate matters more the animal isn’t just an animal, it has its own personality with its own set of wants and

What are you other passions? Vampires, zombies? Body horror? Etc etc.

Yesss. I was looking forward to this one. I’ve got a few, but I’d say the most prominent aside from werewolves is the paranormal, namely ghosts, demons, and the occult. I’m more of an armchair scholar in that regard though; I’m not a ghost hunter, I don’t converse with them through a Ouija board or whatever, but I do enjoy reading about them, watching movies (even if they aren’t scary, per say) and TV shows. A guilty pleasure of mine is “Ghost Adventures” which I like to put on in the background while I work on art. I’m very wary of the paranormal because, even if it’s not real, a very real fear of mine is dabbling in it and bringing something home with me. But I guess that’s what I just find so fascinating about it; we just DON’T know if it’s real or not. We’ve got evidence that we can record, but duplicating that evidence, even in a similar environment, is nearly impossible, thus it has to be dismissed scientifically. But, I’m actually totally okay with this. I think I’d be disappointed if we knew for sure either way. I just really like the…ambiguity of it. I also just really like creepypastas. I spend a lot of time scouring the SCP website.
http://www.scp-wiki.net/

Tell us about your most recent werewolf related work.

I wish I could talk more about “Creatures of Alchemy” but it’s one of those that just keeps going through it’s own cycle of transformations (see what I did there?). I’m determined to get it written though, and have it manifest in either a comic or novel. But for now the characters exist in a role-play/art/writing group I run on DeviantArt called “Silver & Bone” which has been sort of my idea playground for the past few years. (The characters will be fairly different in “Creatures of Alchemy” than in Silver & Bone though.) But as for projects people actually have access to at the moment, I just recently had a piece published in the latest issue of Werewolves Versus,  I collaborated with a friend of mine on a short story entitled “Cages”. The piece is a bit a spoilery to the short story so I won’t provide a link, but I was very proud of how it turned out. And the short story my friend wrote for it is amazing, heartfelt, and tragic. So if you’re into that sort of thing, then I recommend picking up that issue. It’s pay what you want (or you can get it free if you like and even pay later). The rest of the works found in the zine are equally as impressive. Don’t be fooled by the “Romance” theme, there’s still plenty of horror to go around.
Silver and Bone

Werewolves Vs

Who is your favourite character within your own work and why?

So much to say for this one. My favorite character is definitely Vance Hayden. I probably draw him more than any of my other characters just because he’s so much fun (also he’s got a defined model in Jude Law, so that makes it a lot easier for referencing.) I hope I can do him justice by describing him here in a few sentences because he’s kind of a complicated fellow. In both Silver & Bone and “Creatures of Alchemy” he’s the last in a long line of pureblood European werewolves and he’s a complete sociopath. While he’s a known womanizer, he’s more likely to eat his partners than screw them… Or probably more likely to do one then the other… Sometimes doing one while doing the other…. He’s a complete hedonist. In a lot of ways I guess he’s a fairly typical werewolfy werewolf, because he loves doing werewolfy things like eating people, but I’d like to think that I’ve done a fair job of humanizing him and in that making a more interesting werewolf character. He’s charming, he’s competent, intelligent, clever, good at camouflaging himself and is in fact, one of the longer lived werewolves in both the RP I mentioned and “Creatures of Alchemy” (though his age doesn’t really come up, it’s implied). And he’s lived so long due to a combination of incredible luck, his canine instincts, and learning from past mistakes. He’s handsome in both human and werewolf form. I drew a lot of

Do you have any big upcoming plans relating to werewolves?

Nothing definitive. I really want to draw more comics and write more stories with my characters. I’ve put it off for far too long. In fact, that’s part of why I set up a Patreon. So that it might help to boost my productivity in that regard. Just last night I started to write a short story featuring Asher, another character, that takes place in the “Creatures of Alchemy” universe. I hope to have a first draft available for viewing on my Patreon sometime soon.
Patreon

Where will you be available to meet fans in the near future, if you are doing any outings or signings?

Not yet! I’m working towards that though. I’ll probably be attending Vancoufur in March and hope to go to Vancon in August. I’ll be an attendee for both though.

What do you think of the furry movement and how it has affected the way people perceive werewolves?

Interesting that this comes on the heels of me mentioning I’ll be a furry convention, haha! (Though I don’t really think of myself as a furry.) I definitely think there is an overlap and it should be obvious as to why. It’s unfortunate that “furry” has become such a offensive term, however, because most furries I’ve met have been wonderful, supportive people. But I think the furry influence goes back to a previous answer in which I mentioned people wanting to recover in some way from their disconnect from nature. While I do think there is a fair distinction between a werewolf and a furry, I don’t deny that they have a lot in common. Especially if you portray werewolves as sentient, personable creatures rather than bloodthirsty killing machines. I think one of the key features of a werewolf, however, is that they are able to transform from a human, and presumably back and forth though I’ve read some pretty interesting stories about werewolves that were never able to take on human form again. I suppose context is probably the most prominent thing to consider when talking about what separates furries from werewolves. As for how the furry movement has informed werewolves, I definitely think the whole wish-fulfillment aspect of being able to take on the shape of an animal is part of it. And the idealization of nature and wolves, in particular, has informed the development of sentient, non-violent werewolves.

Vampires and zombies have both had some serious popularity in the last few years; what do you think needs to happen to give werewolves that same boost? (Because whatever it is we need to make it happen!)

Fundamentally, we need a breakthrough franchise that elevates werewolves from schlock horror movie icon to something more sophisticated. And to do that I think we, as creators, need to examine what it is about the werewolf and it’s story that has held it back from doing so. This is naturally problematic, because it seems like everyone has a different idea on what makes a werewolf. I’ve seen a few recent films (like “When Animals Dream”) that have really tried to do something different. Each time it fails because there is no hook for their target audience – basically, the werewolf doesn’t look like what the vast majority of werewolf fans believe a werewolf to look like – and when the movie does make an attempt it looks terrible. (Referencing “Late Phases” here mostly.) Werewolf fans seem to be a very visual bunch. I think it’s going to take the right combination of good storytelling and attractive special effects for the werewolf to become a viable franchise. It seems so obvious to us werewolf fans, but those who have access to the resources for making a film or professionally publishing a novel just haven’t hit on the right formula yet. The beast has proven to be a moneymaker though if you look at the sales, but obviously not to the extent of, say, “Dracula” or “The Walking Dead”. But as long as there are people like you and me, I definitely think the genre has a chance of gaining the same sort of recognition as the Zombie or Vampire. It’ll just take some time to find itself. Oh and we also really need to free ourselves from clichés and tropes. I think that’s part of what’s really holding back the genre, myself. By limiting ourselves to what we think the werewolf SHOULD be, we can’t do anything with what it COULD be. Part of what makes zombies and vampires so sympathetic to more people is that we see ourselves in them. Humans are vain; we want to see a reflection of ourselves in their monstrous visages before we can give them our favor. But in modern society, human-like animals (whether killer or not) are the stuff of children’s tales. And it seems only a limited number of people can really sympathise with the werewolf. To that end, I really think it has to do with how the undead have really just benefitted from better storytelling.