Featuring witches, vampires, and (almost) a hamburger, Lisa Sterle and Matthew Erman are back with a brand-new series. Having already graced the world with Long Lost, their new comic, Witchblood, starts in March and luckily, they agreed to answer some questions about it.
Rachel Bellwoar: When did you first start tossing around the idea for Witchblood and how long did it take to develop?
Matthew Erman: Oh geez. I think that Lisa brought up wanting to do a story in the Southwest, and I was thinking about how fun it would be to do a story that doesn’t really have like a “ticking clock” or a plot that demands urgency. Just a character moving from place to place and doing things and the reader gets to be this kind of voyeuristic tag-along. Then witches got brought into the equation and then vampires. It really just blew from there with the ideas never stopping. It’s insane how far it has gotten from that original idea. I think at one point the plot revolved around Yonna finding the perfect hamburger or something. I’m happy to say that is no longer the case.
Once the idea was formed, it really took about a year and a half before we brought it to Vault. We were doing other projects and love to really sit on an idea, let it swell and grow in our minds before we jump into it. We’ve already got our “next” project in mind that we want to do and it won’t be real for maybe two or three years from now.
RB: You’ve both worked with several publishers in the past, both individually and as a team. What made Vault Comics the right fit for this series?
ME: Vault is just the perfect mix of being mind blowingly creative while also getting comic books in people’s hands. I have been working with them on my graphic novel, Bonding, for a bit now and Lisa did Submerged way back when with Vita Ayala. We knew that they would take this idea of witches and vampires and motorcycles and understand what it is and what it isn’t. Talking to Adrian Wassel, I was just so blown away by how quickly he understood what I wanted to do, which really was a legit high fantasy story and that’s what this is. It’s fantasy, it’s a world that Lisa and I have invented the rules for, top to bottom and everything about how we’ve tackled witches and vampires is new. I don’t think people have seen these ideas presented like this before and that’s really exciting. Vault also gave us the length that we wanted. We knew we couldn’t do this in five issues and the fact that Vault saw that this story had legs, that really sold it for us.
RB: Can you tell us a little about Yonna and how you came up with the character design?
ME: Yonna is a mix of everything we love about some of our favorite protagonists like Spike Spiegel, The Joestars, Guts from Berserk, Usagi from Sailor Moon. We wanted something immediately recognizable as unique, visually alluring and Lisa’s big contribution was making everyone sexy and stylish as can possibly be. Everyone is quite beautiful in this comic. It certainly has a V*I*B*E.
RB: All of the characters have very specific ways of speaking. With Yonna, for example, you’re always aware that she’s much older than she appears. How did you approach figuring out the voices for these characters?
ME: This is a hard question to answer without sounding like a pretentious goofus, but I just f-e-e-l them out, you know? They’ve existed in my head for so long that getting to write them is like having conversations with myself, I know who they all are inside me, and getting to this point takes a long time. Lots of time thinking and having them gestate. It takes a really incredible character design that Lisa consistently delivers, and then it’s about finding their personality in that design, finding who they are in their head and forming that into speech.
RB: You also get the impression from certain turns of phrases Yonna uses that she doesn’t mingle a lot with other people (and indeed she spends most of the first issue talking to her familiar, Bhu). What made you want vampires to be the ones who travel as a group in this series, while witches (who usually travel in covens) are on their own? And did you ever consider making Bhu a talking crow?
ME: I don’t think BHU was ever a talking crow, but I tossed around the idea of having the motorcycle talk, but Lisa shot that down (thankfully). I think part of the really cool things about this world is exactly what you pointed out, we specifically went into a lot of these “traditions” and “ideas” about these creatures and tried to flip them around, subvert what people think and create our own new thing. Witches have been scattered, vampires roam in packs and the world itself is a changed place because of all this new alternative history. You learn a lot about their histories throughout the story and I’m really excited for the reveals, I think each issue really tells you something big and new and major about the world itself. It’s been really fun unveiling these enormous reveals and I’m excited for the readers to experience them.
RB: Yonna may not have a broom but she does ride a bike. I really love the splash page where she’s on her motorcycle, but her posture still invokes the Wicked Witch of the West. Given it seems like Yonna will be on the road a lot in this series, what made you decide on that mode of transportation?
ME: The short answer is, we think they’re cool. The longer answer is, we think they’re cool and we’re living vicariously through the characters we created because we’re both too scared to get a motorcycle ourselves.
RB: Similarly, while witches have been persecuted throughout history, they’ve never really had slayers the way vampires have. Where did the idea for hex hunters come from, and do they always have such great fashion sense?
ME: I don’t actually know where the idea came from, I think I just liked the way it sounded better than Witch Hunter, which has been a pretty ubiquitous term. I also didn’t want any of the baggage of “Witch Hunter,” so the term was needed to separate these people from what people generally know as “witch hunters.” We go into the sect of Hex Hunters in a later issue that explores their place in the world and what they are meant to do. I’m really excited for that issue.
RB: Paxton is the leader of The Hounds of Love, Witchblood’s vampire motorcycle club. By any chance is his name a reference to Bill Paxton’s character in Near Dark and were there any films that inspired your take on vampires in this series, both visually and in terms of mythology? This isn’t a vampire film, but I definitely got some Wild at Heart energy from the first issue.
ME: Yes. Yes to everything you’ve said.
RB: What is the relationship between the supernatural and humans in this series? On the one hand, Yonna is very reluctant to rob anyone but she also doesn’t show much concern for humans either. Do humans know that vampires and witches exist?
ME: Yes, and we get into that in the later issues.
RB: Where did the idea to depict magic in potion bottles come from? It made me think of Alice and Wonderland a lot and it was fun to see how the names on the labels would correspond with the look of the spell.
ME: Magic itself, is maybe a bit hard to visualize sometimes. It’s like, what is it? A mist? A beam? A wave? For Yonna, who is specifically a witch that deals in the alchemical aspects of nature, her “brewing” potions felt both natural and new. Her “powers” are based on this idea that she has to use what she finds to harness certain things about the world. It limits her. All of the other witches that you encounter in the series also have very specific powers. I’m excited for you to meet them all.
RB: What was it like working with colorist, Gab Contreras, and letterer, Jim Campbell, on this series?
ME: I’ve worked with Jim on a few projects before, this is the closest I’ve worked with him and what is there to say other than he is incredible. He makes this series better and has made me a better writer.
Lisa Sterle: Working with Gab has really blown up the scope of colors scope. It’s so incredible the way she gets how to create an otherworldly palette. Her colors just complete my artwork perfectly and really takes the concept for what we wanted and adds this really, really bright exciting unique thing.
RB: So we’ve already seen witches and vampires in Witchblood. Will any other supernatural species make an appearance?
ME: I can neither confirm or deny the existence of future plot developments.
Thanks, Matthew Erman and Lisa Sterle, for taking the time to discuss Witchblood with us!
Witchblood #1 goes on sale March 31st from Vault Comics.