Full disclosure in that Grant Gould is a friend of mine. It may not be important to you that he’s one of the nicest dudes I know and that he constantly cracks me the hell up, but what should be important to you are that he’s talented and the following three words: Vikings vs. Werewolves. How can you not want to read that?
Grant’s career so far is mainly as a sketch card artist for every major trading card set from Revenge of the Sith to Iron Man. His first comic Wolves of Odin is coming in November from Super Real Graphics, but I wanted to know more now, so I asked him some questions and I’m sharing the answers with you. He was also recently announced as one of the artists on Lucasfilm’s Clone Wars webcomic, but I’ll save that conversation for a future column.
Michael May (MM): Tell me about your background with sketch cards. How’d you get into that?
Grant Gould (GG): In 2004, Topps was looking for new artists to tackle their Revenge of the Sith card set and one of my online pals, artist Tom Hodges, was already on the set and gave me the heads-up and put in a good word, etc. I sent Topps some samples, they got me approved through Lucasfilm, and that was that. Since then I’ve worked on several more Star Wars sets, Lord of the Rings sets, DC, Marvel, Heroes, Halo, Indiana Jones, you name it. Sketch cards have been huge for me in terms of helping to get my name out there and get my foot in the door.
MM: What’s your favorite piece that you’ve done so far?
GG: As in, which is my favorite card set so far?
MM: I’m wondering more about which drawing of yours are you most proud of? You’ve done so many sketch cards and commissions and fan prints; is there one particular piece that you still look at and think, “Yeah, that was a really good one.”
GG: Well, I tend to be my own worst critic. I have a habit of really liking a piece, then going to sleep and looking at it the next day and suddenly hating it. But there are a few things I’ve done that I’m pretty pleased with, even if I do see faults in the art that I wish I could change. For example, on the most recent Lord of the Rings: Masterpieces card set, I had the opportunity to illustrate one of the base cards and that was a huge thrill because I’m such a massive fan of Tolkien and the LOTR movies. I think I tend to be most proud of the projects that I enjoyed the most – not so much the projects that I think the drawings look the best, if that makes sense.
MM: Perfect sense. Drawing sketch cards and commissions is pretty secure work for you, right? What’s the attraction to making a comic that makes you want to spend more time on that and less time on the work that pays more regularly? In other words, at this point in your career, why comics?
GG: To be honest, sketch cards and commission work aren’t very secure, or reliable, in terms of making a living off this stuff. I knew that I would have to start branching out into other things if I wanted to keep any sort of fulltime art career going. I think there are three major factors in me getting into comic work:
1) It was a natural progression for me. I surround myself with other comic creators; I’ve always been a fan of comics. It seemed like the next step.
2) I have a strange obsession with publishing things and seeing my work published. For me, the reward is in holding a book and being able to say, “I made this.”
3) I’m one of those people that wants to try everything, you know? I was a graphic designer, a production artist, a video editor, a sketch card artist… I feel like I need to spend some time as a comic creator now.
MM: Where’d the idea for Wolves of Odin come from?
GG: I remember exactly when and where the idea popped into my head. I was in Barnes & Noble, wandering around, as I often do. I was looking at some books on Norse mythology (I’ve always been a big fan of all things Viking) and for whatever reason I started thinking about werewolves. I think I might’ve spotted an illustration of Fenrir the wolf, who knows. But I wondered, “Why has no one done a comic book about Vikings and werewolves? How freakin’ sweet would that be?” And a little light bulb blinked on over my head, and I pretty much decided right then and there that I was going to be the person to make that comic happen. It felt like some crazy, nerdy epiphany. And now it’s just been a race to the finish to get the thing on store shelves before others can swipe the idea. (Laughs)
MM: So do the werewolves in the comic really belong to Odin?
GG: Well, I took the idea of the wolves from the berserkers. Berserkers were ferocious Norse warriors that would run into battle howling and roaring, and they would cloak themselves in the fur of bears and wolves. Men and women would fear them and think that they were truly half-animal, and a lot of people believe that that’s where the whole werewolf legend originated.
In my comic, the gods and magic are very real, and Odin’s got a beef with mankind. His followers are starting to discover Christianity and turn their back on the old ways, and this pisses him off. He chooses his three most loyal berserkers and transforms them into beasts. They are his servants, sent out into the lands of men to destroy and punish. The wolves become a physical extension of Odin’s wrath.
MM: Okay, that sounds really cool. So religion is a pretty big focus in the book?
GG: Yeah, it is, but at the same time, I don’t make any statements on it. I don’t push it one way or another in terms of whether the old Norse ways are the “right path,” or whether Christianity is, etc. I treat it all sort of like magic, where the gods are entities that exist and have unbelievable power and influence – but I don’t take sides. If anything, I show the gods to be extremely petty and childish, possibly even more so than humans are. I’m very interested in the idea of deities manipulating events and people – not out of some beautiful grand design, but because they’re bored and touchy, and they bicker and fight like siblings.
MM: What’s the tone of the book? Is it a horror book? Straight adventure?
GG: I’d say it’s a fantasy adventure with moments of horror and action. I went into it not wanting to shoot for any one category, you know? I just wanted to create it and let it fall into whatever category people wanted to slap it under. I knew from the get-go that I wanted it to be PG-rated. Something that adults can enjoy, but something you don’t have to hide from children – I wanted it to have a wide appeal.
At times I was tempted to go full throttle and make it super-crazy-violent; show boobies, etc. But at the end of the day, I want to make a book that can be on store shelves and anyone can pick it up and enjoy it.
MM: You’re doing a Meet the Cast series of posts at the Super Real Graphics blog. Can you give me a quick run-down on the cast and how they got into the spot where they’ve got to fight some werewolves?
GG: Sure. First of all, I’ll let everyone know that the Wolves of Odin blog can be found at WolvesofOdin.com. I’ve been posting all sorts of stuff there: sneak peeks, pin-ups, etc. Check it out.
Originally I was going to have a massive cast of characters. Something like twenty humans and twenty wolves. But in the interest of me not having the time to draw ten characters on every panel, I narrowed it down to seven main players.
Tyr is a follower of Thor, and is set upon a path by the God of Thunder to track down the witch Bergthora (which is how the book opens), and she ends up aiding him in his quest to defeat the wolves. She’s able to channel Thor’s powers through the earth itself and help Tyr in that way. In the world of this book, the gods can only indirectly influence most humans. They can only work directly and physically through a select few, such as the witch.
Much of the focus of the book centers on Tyr and his great destiny. Fans of Norse mythology will recognize him as being one of the gods. That’s something I touch on.
The other two human characters are Gunnarson and Guthbrand. They are an unlikely pairing that sort of stumble into the story and end up being at the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time. They’re the random element that could easily screw up the plan. And I will admit, Gunnarson is also an homage to Techno Viking, because I’m a nerd, and that YouTube video is awesome.
The wolves are led by Fenrir, the largest and most powerful of Odin’s followers. Hati is the crazier, more unpredictable wolf. And finally Skoll is the silent, white-furred wolf – smallest in size, but quick and deadly. The three wolves are all different in color and appearance and personality. And there you have it – the seven major players in the book.
MM: So, I don’t want you to spoil anything, but with Thor aiding the humans and Odin sending the wolves, it sounds like everyone doesn’t see eye to eye in Asgard.
GG: Yeah, it’s definitely a Clash of the Norse Titans. And I can guarantee there won’t be many survivors.
MM: I meant to ask this earlier, but why is it important to you that this book be accessible to kids? You said you figured that out early on.
GG: I guess I just want my book to be something that my mom, for example, can pick up and enjoy and show her friends. I don’t want to shock people or prove that I’m cool – I just want it to be an entertaining read. Something that I can be proud of when I’m old and gray. That said, I don’t want people to think it’s going to be too kid-friendly. It’ll still be PG-rated. There’ll still be heads getting hacked off.
MM: How did you choose Super Real Graphics to publish with?
GG: I had known SRG’s Jason Martin from a few conventions I’d gone to, and I always thought he had a good head on his shoulders in terms of the comic industry and how things work. It was very appealing to me to be published through a smaller indie company, and I knew I wanted to keep creative control over my book. (And, I must admit, I liked that Jason was pursuing me and Wolves of Odin – I felt like we could benefit one another.) So, yeah, the pieces just seemed to fit and it felt right, and when his first Super Real Graphics Presents book hit comic shelves – Gnome – I fell in love with the format and size and page quality. I knew that was the route I wanted to take with Wolves.
MM: Let’s talk about influences. What are the Top Three Viking stories of all time?
1) Cliff’s Notes on Norse Mythology. I know it sounds stupid, but when I was in elementary school, my mom bought me a Cliff’s Notes book that talked all about the Norse gods and legends, and that was my first introduction to that world. Without that (easy to read) book, I may never have gotten into Vikings at all.
2) The movie The 13th Warrior (which is based on Michael Crichton’s book, Eaters of the Dead). It’s a severely under-appreciated movie, and I think it was the first time I’d seen a movie where it felt like I was watching north-men as they really should be. Loved that movie – it’s always been a favorite.
3) The movie Conan the Barbarian. I know Conan isn’t a Viking, but that first movie really opened my eyes to a grim, gritty world of fantasy that didn’t have knights in shining armor. I think Conan was the first Viking-like character that I really got into.
MM: And Top Three Werewolf stories?
1) Even thought there are no werewolves in it, I have to give credit to the comic ElfQuest. It kicked off my fascination with wolves. My love for wolves led to my love for werewolves. It’s all a vicious, beautiful cycle.
2) The ‘80s television show simply called Werewolf. I loved that show – it featured not one wolf, but a cast of wolves, and they looked perfect. They weren’t wolfmen with scraggly sideburns – they had giant wolf heads! Loved it. To this day, that show is my main influence on how werewolves should look. And it had a great balance of horror and adventure. Definitely an overlooked gem of the ‘80s.
3) The movie Dog Soldiers. Easily my favorite werewolf movie that exists right now. The wolves looked cool, the story was great… So far, it’s the one to beat.
Wolves of Odin will be in the September issue of Previews for pre-order and will hit shelves in November. It should also be on Amazon soon. Catch all the updates and latest news at wolvesofodin.com and grantgould.com.