Joey Liverwurst || Interview with a werewolf

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

Werewolves are common enough in pop culture, I have no idea when I first heard about them. I remember an unimpressive book about The Wolf Man in first grade, and a little Halloween party favour that may have been a Wolf Man or a Cat Man, not sure.

I actually disliked werewolves as a kid because I knew them mostly as unshaven, unshod guys with crooked teeth and no muzzles making a nuisance of themselves. I remember around age twelve or thirteen reconsidering them as more wolf-like and taking a sudden interest in them that has lasted to this day.

It’s not completely consistent, though, because I remember as far back as age eight or nine, a book where werewolves were like a regular pack of wolves, only contagious.

And I remember that being both scarier and more compelling than the whole un-wolfish Wolf Man dynamic of yelling and killing people. I don’t so much remember one thing getting me into them, as getting into them and gradually going deeper and deeper, heh.

I guess if there’s any consistent arc for me, it’s always wanting a less embarrassing representation of werewolves than a few throwaway bad howls.

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

Not really. The more canine or closer to a werewolf, the better. I don’t care about wereclams, wereoysters, etc. I also don’t get the obsession with pairing werewolves with vampires.

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

Well, I don’t know that this is the definitive or only answer, but let’s start here:

As frequently as werewolves are featured, I rarely feel there’s any exploration of them so much as recycling the same tired tropes. Werewolves generally are supposed to have long life spans, and here’s this amazing life-changing condition a character comes down with,

and what do writers do with werewolves? Generally create them and kill them.

There’s so much that’s fascinating to explore with new werewolves’ new lives, but they tend to just get killed. Silver bullet. Woo! Edgy.

So it’s partly this wide-open canvas where I want to see what werewolves do with their lives.

But that’s probably not what attracts me to werewolves so much as what keeps me coming back.

One thing that came up recently in conversation is that, to me, in contrast to vampires and zombies, werewolves aren’t dead. They’re as alive as you can get. They’re life and vitality and vigour and energy and ferocity all crammed into one package that’s about to burst at the seams. So whereas I’m turned off to celebrating and glorifying death and oblivion,

werewolves are like so much life and energy, it can’t be contained. They’re radioactive, really.

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

I’ve never been a gorehound, and as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. I reject the notion a werewolf can’t take some responsibility, even if he or she is consumed with hunger, bloodlust, or whatever. There’s a whole month to plan for the full moon, and some mindless robot isn’t a very compelling character.

If you kill literally everyone around you, not only are you a jerk, but you’re going to get noticed pretty quick.

A werewolf who overestimates his self-control is a sympathetic figure, and the occasional accidental (or even deliberate) kill here and there can be the stuff of a good story,

but “all gore, all the time” sounds like some cheesy slogan for a cable channel, not a way to live with a great gift, special ability, super power, curse, yada yada yada.

So a werewolf who’s just like a bomb going off over and over is boring to me, not to mention completely unsympathetic and either evil or a non-entity. Why even introduce a personality or persona for that character if he’s just a mindless or remorseless killbot? Unless it’s like an amnesia or blackout situation where he’s powerless to stop it and also horrified by it.

Regarding werewolf erotica… I don’t care about werewolf porn, and I don’t care about werewolf stories for eleven-year-old girls who think courtly love should be an adult-size neutered puppy to cry with them at sad movies and arm-wrestle with vampires over their adolescent affections. I guess if people get something out of shifter romance, more power to them, but it seems pretty formulaic to me. Harmless enough and probably a decent day job for a few people, but not something I want to dabble in, even just to see. Well, werewolves are creatures of extremes, even if they don’t have to be dumb about it.

What does the ideal werewolf look like in your opinion?

I find I focus more on the look of the werewolf in transformation than necessarily the finished product, since a werewolf isn’t likely to spend the time transformed primping and preening in front of a mirror anyway. I like there to be some mystery retained about it. A completely demystified werewolf is a sad thing to think about.

“Oh, look, that thar’s a werewolf. Yawn.”

I often wonder why werewolves so often are depicted as brown anthropomorphic wolves, since I’ve never heard of a brown wolf in nature. Red wolf? Grey wolf? Sure!

But it also makes sense a werewolf’s human hair colour would carry over to wolven form.

I had an interesting conversation the other day about bipedal werewolves versus quadrupedal werewolves, and I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. If we are to assume werewolves retain human intelligence and any self-control, it stands to reason they could stop short of transforming all the way, at least for a little while. So while I think it only makes sense a werewolf could transform into a big old wolf, I think it also makes sense that same werewolf could learn to walk on his (or her) hind legs.

Consequently, I can see werewolves ranging from silver-grey and dark dull grey to brown, copper, and even auburn, and always having wolven heads, but bodies capable of ranging from furry bipedal wolfman to dire wolf and even modern not-that-intimidating wolf. One thing I do think people lose sight of is the difference among “what I like” and “what I want” versus “what is likely” and even “what is real.” You may like a green flying werewolf with laser eyes and big shiny feathers, and there’s not necessarily even anything wrong with liking that,

but claiming that’s what a werewolf is or ought to be is rather far-fetched.

Why even call it a werewolf then?

I guess what I’m getting at there is, I have my ideas of ideal werewolves and consensus werewolves, but if somebody transforms in front of me, I’m not gonna argue they did it wrong.

Give some cinematic examples of your ideal werewolf.

Honestly, offhand (or offpaw), I think my favourite is a rather obscure one you can’t see much of. There was a two-hour movie pilot for a 1987 television series called simply Werewolf,

Anyway, the first transformation on camera was the main character’s werewolf roommate. You see his eye in transformation; then you see his back in transformation; then you see his hand or forepaw in transformation. You only saw a quick flash of it here and there, and the big wide dark eye narrowing and the shirt splitting open both were very effective, even scary.

Later transformation scenes and the post-transformation werewolves weren’t bad, but I think they still took a back seat to the mid-transformation scenes amid shadows.

Nothing ever really is going to supplant the imagination; the trick is to jog the imagination into running wild, thinking it saw something it never actually quite did.

I wouldn’t say I dislike An American Werewolf in London, but there’s really nothing to aspire to in it unless you want to become an uncontrollable killer who himself gets killed almost immediately amid much anguish. One of the best things about it probably is the deliberate decision not to show the werewolf very much, and people don’t even realize it.

I don’t think it counts as cinematic, but PlayStation had a commercial with a werewolf some time around the early 2000s,

and that’s honestly one of the best werewolves I’ve seen on camera. That short commercial was a better werewolf “movie” than most of the real ones with big budgets.

And while not many cartoons take werewolves very seriously, a few got the look of a werewolf down simply because they could do things non-animation couldn’t.

One of the dumbest things I’ve seen was in The Howling IV, I think. When people start to turn into werewolves, they liquefy. Idiotic. They liquefy down to skeletons, then regenerate as demon-wolves. Not fun to watch and just stupid.

It still wasn’t as dumb as The Howling II, but really, what is?

One reason I tend not to see movies for special effects is that they may be historically important but tend to look outdated pretty fast. So if the movie is all special effects and no story, it ceases to be very worthwhile within a few years. I’m talking something like Independence Day, not An American Werewolf in London (which is still impressive).

Most CGI looks like garbage a month after it comes out.

So I’m sure I could name werewolf movies from the fifties that were “OK” at the time and helped advance makeup to where it was better by the seventies, but I’m not going to say those movies are cinematic treasures forever just for that reason.

What should a werewolf NOT look like in your opinion?

A werewolf should not look like a Chihuahua.

A werewolf should not look like a gorilla.

A werewolf should not look like Michael Jackson.

A werewolf should not have a flat face.

A werewolf should not be bald all over.

A werewolf should not look like a YouTube star with Lee Press-On Nails and vampire fangs.

A werewolf should not look like a Wookiee.
Let me try to corral those thoughts.

I think almost anything that’s a hybrid of human and wolf is fair game. Honestly, if a werewolf looks like a regular old real wolf, that’s terrific. Maybe not that exciting, but it’s refreshingly true to the concept and literal; you can’t disqualify it.

I would argue the two key offenders are flat-faced apemen with an overbite and bodies that are overly hairy but otherwise human, and the MTV Teen Wolf-inspired “werewolves” that are just vampires with sideburns, looking like extras from some sort of David Bowie comeback video.

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

“All of them”? Ha ha.

Not really.

I went and saw the Harry Potter movie with the werewolf, and while it did fall short of expectations, I didn’t hate it as much as a lot of people.

I don’t know what expectations I still had by the time I saw it, but I think the 1985 Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox is really embarrassing. It’s not his fault, either. He does the best he can with the crummy material. But it’s a lame eighties movie where the werewolf part is almost incidental. And also falls under the earlier umbrella of being a flat-faced apeman.

I hated the show Bitten. Is that close enough to cinematic?

I’ve never seen werewolf transformations so banal and boring.

I also hated the Canadian adaptation of Being Human, whereas the BBC one is pure love.

I’m trying to think of many strictly werewolf movies that weren’t more about vampires, this century.

I guess I hardly ever have very high expectations for movies.

Scooby Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf is nearly tied for worst movie I have ever seen, period. It’s not cute. It’s not funny. It’s not clever. It’s not a guilty pleasure. It’s like people not even familiar with the characters came in and wrote it for minimum wage for especially stupid children they didn’t respect at all. Parents who love their children shouldn’t show them that movie.

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

Gosh. I don’t know that I have one? I really enjoyed Bitten when I was reading it online before I think there even was a hard copy.

Part of what motivated me to write about werewolves was what I felt was a lack of much good werewolf writing, at least available to me at that time.

There are some short stories about werewolves I adore, but a lot less in full-length book form.

I tend to give away werewolf books I buy after I finish them, since I’m excited I have friends interested in them these days.

I got a couple in recent years that I thought at first were misogynist, but I think the author actually just didn’t develop good characters. Either way, they weren’t good books.

They were novel-length, though.
I don’t think there’s any equivalent of Bram Stoker’s 1897 Dracula for werewolves. Arguably The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore, but if I remember right, it’s just some phantom wolf stalking France, not much of a developed character with a personality. Lycanthropy wasn’t even recognized as something communicable back then, generally. It was seen more as part of a pact with the devil.

Yeah, I’m just not thinking of very many powerful werewolf full-length novels, so I salute anybody actively trying to change that today.

There’s a title on Amazon: Peter and the Werewolves. I think the working title was Peter and the Frat Boys, but someone was convinced that had unsavoury connotations. I thought it was good not to give away werewolves in the title, but then werewolf fans might not know to seek it out. Anyway, Peter and the Werewolves is a nice werewolf novel, even if it won’t satisfy gorehounds. It’s pretty dark for a story about kids.

So that would be my favourite certainly this century, the author is Darren Pillsbury.

I bought it. I’d also throw in a plug for an anthology titled simply werewolves which was edited by Jane Yolen and Martin H. Greenberg. It’s still probably my favourite werewolf book, with some great authors in there.

www.amazon.com/Werewolves-A-Collection-Original-Stories/dp/B000OEQPYM

Back to cinema, what is your favourite werewolf film?

Oh, gosh. I’m still inclined to say the pilot for the series Werewolf, even if it was a TV movie without an actual conclusion. Part of that may be sentimentality, and part may be lack of any clear favourite since. Most of the movies I’ve seen have been turkeys.
As I said, I don’t think I’d have been motivated to write about werewolves if I’d felt movies and stories sufficiently represented them in the first place. Whether it’s Van Helsing or Fright Night, I think part of the problem with werewolf media is this:

Everybody’s heard of werewolves, and werewolves are integral to any conversation about monsters and Halloween, but they’re almost always shoehorned in as sideshow: the werewolf in Van Helsing; the vampire who can turn into a wolf in Fright Night; the baby-fixated second banana in Twilight; even the lame vampire-werewolf hybrid in Underworld.It’s so rare a movie with a werewolf in it is actually about the werewolf, and the werewolf isn’t just comic relief or a lackey.

So even if the werewolf gets good treatment, it’s still side stage, opening band at a concert half the audience isn’t even there for. Even then when there is a movie strictly about werewolves, it’s still often something like the recently re-released Never Cry Werewolf, which was just a vampire movie remade about werewolves instead. Or that unfortunate werebeaver one which is best left undiscussed.

With Howling II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and American Werewolf in Paris, when was the last time there was a truly new standalone movie specifically about a werewolf, that also was good?
Werewolves are supporting actors. Always the best man, never the groom. Seems like.

And the dumb teenager picks the vampire anyway. Heh.

Do you have any werewolf related songs to recommend?

I think the all-time greatest werewolf song that everyone should know is “Where the Wolf Bane Blooms” by The Nomads from Sweden. I’m gonna put it on right now. It’s spooky and werewolfy, and it rocks. It reminds me the subject of werewolves is supposed to be exciting.

And frankly, if you lose sight of that, you’re doing something wrong.

Local H does a mean cover of “Wolf like Me” I recommend to pretty much anyone.

A busker named Jody Cooper from over there has a cool original song called “Werewolves.” I wish he did more originals and fewer covers, but he knows what his audience wants better than some werewolf-obsessed Yank.

I’m not sure “You’re a Wolf” by Sea Wolf is strictly about werewolves, but it’s proven very popular among my own little pack. And there’s a fun one from 1959 called “Wolf Call” by the fictitious Lord Dent and his Invaders, but it’s more Scooby Doo than hardcore lycanthropy.

I could go on all day about favourite werewolf songs. I wish people wouldn’t cite the same two or three over and over.

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

Well, if you go back far enough, early portrayals of werewolves were just people under spells, and aligned with the devil, becoming quadruped wolves. No full moons, no silver bullets, no double lives.

I think the biggest change owes to something that’s always bothered me about The Wolf Man.

The werewolf who bites Larry Talbot is a wolf. A regular old wolf. So Larry Talbot turns into an apeman with genuine yak hair, and nobody in the movie ever can tell the difference between the actual wolf and the hairy guy running around barefoot and killing ladies. This suggests to me everyone in the movie is stupid, or at least under a stupidity curse.

But it did give rise to the bipedal werewolf, which isn’t altogether bad.

Most people seem to think of werewolves now as running around on their hind legs, and that frankly opens up the werewolf as more than just dog-guy. If a werewolf is stuck as nothing but a regular wolf running around all night on all fours, it can be only so expressive.

It makes sense to me a werewolf with enough practice can transform to a midpoint where he’s clearly a werewolf but not indistinguishable from a regular wolf on all fours, as werewolves most often have come to be represented. But this assumes the werewolf has enough control of his faculties. He’s therefore a less sympathetic figure than the werewolf who can’t control what he does under cover of night, except to go away and warn everybody not to follow.

But he can have a werewolf wife and werewolf kids and a werewolf job, etc. And still commit atrocities if he likes. And as I said earlier, there’s the newer, even less lupine modern werewolf that’s essentially a vampire with big seventies sideburns. I reject that as any sort of werewolf, but it’s certainly a new variant in werewolf television, if not also cinema.

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

Well, I didn’t set out to do this consciously, but it’s come to my attention my werewolves are neurotic. They’re less consumed with bloodlust than worried about being found out, as well as what people think of them.

“Does this leash make me look fat?”

Not quite as bad as that, but close.
They’re practically apologetic about being werewolves, even if they enjoy it.

“Do you mind if I smoke in here?”
“Not at all.”

“Do you mind if I violently transform into a wolf-beast in here?”
“There’s a separate room for that.”
“Very well then.”

I think the thing is this, and it did originate from a conscious origin:

I’m less interested in depicting werewolves going on a people bender and destroying everything than I am depicting how werewolves get back to their rest-of-the-month lives the morning after.

Characters who are not interesting do not magically become interesting just by becoming werewolves. So if they don’t have developed, consistent, believable lives when they aren’t terrorizing the countryside or suburbs, there’s not much plot other than “werewolf.”

And I maintain “werewolf” is not a plot, any more than “Chinese” or “lawyer.” And I wish more people would treat “werewolf” as a character element, even an opportunity, and not the entire plot, or even partial plot. “Chinese lawyer werewolf” is not three mutually exclusive plots, but a Chinese lawyer werewolf could be a rich and unique character given the right plot.

Hell, I’d consider his services if I had to go to court. But the story would be having to go to court, not his basic descriptor.

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

Well, for starters, I don’t even know what “body horror” is, which may be a good thing.

I think I already said I’m not specifically anti-vampires, but I’m not passionate about other monsters the way I am my wolves. Or ‘wolves, more appropriately.

I feel very strongly about music, mostly because I grew up at a time of very bad music and thought I hated music, rather than just bad music.

I’m very proud of my CD collection, even though I know most people don’t care about CDs any more. I have a number that aren’t necessarily valuable but are irreplaceable.

I also feel very strongly about language, which I suppose makes sense for a writer. I wish people valued and explored language more, and I wish foreign language were more widely appreciated beyond business purposes.

This last one is a little weird, but I love Spanish wine, especially fortified wine. You know The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe? Spanish sherry is criminally underappreciated. Not everybody can handle alcohol, but there isn’t much better than a good fino. There’s one that’s been made the same way since 1347, I think. When you open it, it smells like a fresh ream of office paper.

Tell us about your most recent werewolf related work.

My most recent werewolf-related work is the only one I can’t link to at the moment! It’s available, but for a small price. It’s in the first issue of a quarterly magazine, Werewolves Versus. All the art is ’90s-themed, and my story concerns the Chicago heat wave of 1995, when many people actually died.

You know not to leave dogs in hot cars? Werewolves can stand it only so hot, too.

I should add the first issue of Werewolves Versus is actually pay what you want, so that can be as little as zero. I don’t want people unable to read it just because they have bills to pay and family to feed.

Also, a second issue is supposed to be out in time for Valentine’s Day. I won’t be in it, but I plan to buy it!

http://werewolvesversus.tumblr.com/

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

Oh, boy. Hmm.

Who is my favourite child?

Let’s see: there’s Chad; there’s Frank; there’s Trevor…

Either Frank or Trevor. Frank is a somewhat insecure struggling artist and new werewolf, and I like exploring his best-of-times, worst-of-times situation. Trevor on the other hand is this impossible perfect alpha wolf who hides all sorts of danger and ick from his family.

This morning, I’d say Frank, but I’d ordinarily say Trevor; I just need to write about Trevor more. A friend of mine actually came up with Trevor; I just did all the writing with his blessing because he said Trevor was just a random doodle. Who, incidentally, never looks the same from one drawing to the next. Screwy, huh? He’s certainly my most developed character so far, and I forget he wasn’t originally mine. I don’t feel any of my characters are exclusively mine, though, any more than people I’ve met over the years are “mine.”

My friends aren’t my property, after all.

Besides, don’t ever attempt to claim or restrain a werewolf like some family dog. After much cajoling, two years ago almost exactly, I got a drawing of Trevor by day. I wanted a reference of what he looked like not as a wolf, although he has this odd habit of half-wolfing out every day after work, and nobody ever notices. His late mother was half-Greek, which you can sort of see reflected in his skin tone.

(Original artwork by SergioPricklyWolf can be found here: http://sergiopricklywolf.deviantart.com/art/Off-Duty-Werewolf-305624662?q=favby%3AMurder-Mistress%2F47538132&qo=16

Do you have any big upcoming plans relating to werewolves?

I wish I could say yes. I’ve had a Christmas story written out in my head for about four years, but today is Christmas Eve, and there’s no way I’m going to get around to it this year either.

Honestly, I’ve been more focused on, and having more fun, connecting with other werewolf artists and having conversations such as this one with you. When I was writing a lot of my stories, there was a steady stream of feedback, and it was a wonderful way to engage with people. It’s not the reason I write, but I haven’t wanted to wall myself off and write like a hermit at the expense of getting to know new friends better, especially with the same specific interest.

You can’t go on writing about werewolves effectively if you don’t get to know at least a few.

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

One thing I left out of my interests earlier is travel, and if I had the means, I’d travel a lot more than I do now. Unfortunately, I don’t expect to travel much in the immediate future, however much I’d like to. And since I don’t have stories for sale right now, I can’t exactly do a book tour. I will say this: in the unlikely event anybody wants me somewhere badly enough to talk about werewolves in literature, I’m absolutely all ears!

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

If there’s one thing both the furry movement and Twilight have in common, it’s introducing plenty more people to werewolves. Thing is, I would argue furries and the shapeshifters in Twilight are not actually werewolves, which leads to endless confusion and argument.

BUT It still starts a conversation, and it still introduces people to things they either would not have been otherwise, or would not have been to as great an extent or anywhere close.

Since you asked about just furries and not Twilight:

I think both give a lot of people the impression they’re the same as werewolves and so they know a lot about werewolves, but as hazy and arbitrary as werewolf “facts” are, there’s really no saying somebody’s wolf furry or shapeshifter absolutely can’t be or overlap a werewolf,

and some of it’s just semantics anyway.

Where it affects me is that people are always assuming I’m a furry or asking if I’m one, and I wish them the best and have friends who are, but I’ve never considered myself one because there’s nothing more key to me than the transformation back and forth, and if you’re just a permanent anthro wolf who stands around being fluffy, you’re not a werewolf by my definition, even though you may be cool and quite dangerous besides.

Furries can’t even agree on what they comprehensively and completely are, and neither can the werewolf crowd for that matter. Bipedal? Quadrupedal? Glam-rock?

I will say this: werewolves have a great deal more visibility thanks to the furry community, and an awful lot of people seem to fit comfortably within both communities, or sort of glide back and forth.

Having a “pure” movement or fandom with only narrowly defined “true” fans of something is a good way to go extinct. It’s also sorta stupid.

So if furries like werewolves and contribute as good friends and good artists, really everybody wins. And if some furries object to traditional werewolves and create controversy, that’s fine too because it means more food for us 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!)

Who says we want “that same boost”?

One of my best friends and fellow artists has a fundamental difference of opinion from me:

he thinks lycanthropy ought to go viral. I think not everybody needs to be a werewolf.

I don’t want to contradict what I just said about a broad fandom and stupid purity tests,

but lycanthropy is sort of like an atomic bomb. It’s cool, but it’s incredibly dangerous, much less in the wrong hands (or paws).

Right now, I’m content for people who are into werewolves to be this neat community without anything to prove to the outside world, so long as we’re able to pay our bills on time.

A big-budget, not-idiotic werewolf movie once in a while would be nice, and certainly more readers would be nice, but I’m not looking to force werewolves and lycanthropy on everybody. I don’t really want Grandma and Grandpa chatting up werewolves and cosmetic ear pointing or whatever.

One important point though, about all you need for vampires is fang caps. It’s no wonder vampire media are both popular and prolific. You can’t phone in werewolves, though, or do werewolves right on a shoestring budget; a full-body suit of retractable fur hasn’t happened yet and won’t for a while, much less a way to make your face push out without a nice curse to go along.

Same with zombies, really: just a lot of makeup to make you look dead, or dead and bloated.

Werewolves retain a certain magic and unreachability, and I’m fine with that. I wish it weren’t so tantalising for those of us waist- and neck-deep in the fandom, but I like that it’s some commitment with some inconvenience.

We’re in for the long, hard slog and having fun as is, right?

I know I am.