(Update: Check out the bonus interview I conducted with lead-artist, Montos, at the end of the main interview!)
This month will see the return of the iconic 90’s independent series Poison Elves, which has rested in limbo since creator Drew Hayes’ untimely death in 2007. Originally self-published as I, Lusiphur under Hayes’ own Mulehide Press, it went on to reach a wider audience and gain its cult-like status at Sirius Entertainment. Now at Ape Entertainment, under their mature readers imprint Outlaw, the newly resurrected series will be penned by Robb Horan, the head of Sirius Entertainment who was heavily involved with the original series. The art is provided by Montos that, although a departure from Hayes’ style, perfectly captures the darkness, mood, and humor that Hayes had created. Back-up vignettes will be written by Kieth Davidsen, an editor at Sirius Entertainment, and writer of several Poison Elves spin-off series during its original run, with art for the back-ups provided by up-and-comer Shannon Ritchie.I had the opportunity to get in touch with much of the creative team behind the new series and get their take on bringing this much-loved series out of back-issue oblivion. Issue #1 of Poison Elves hits the stands on 3/20/13, so make sure to tell your comic shop to order a copy, as you will not want to miss the adventure in Poison Elves!
Matt Rawson: First off, explain what Poison Elves is exactly, and why it’s such a big deal that it’s coming back.
Robb Horan: Poison Elves is an anachronistic fantasy comic for mature readers created, written and illustrated by Drew Hayes. This cult phenomenon comic ran 100 issues through the 1990s and early 2000’s. A very personal work, it had a wide appeal among indie audiences and freethinkers of all kinds. It was a very ambitious story with a unique style found nowhere else.
It is a big deal that Poison Elves is returning because of the untimely death of its creator in 2007. When Drew passed away at the young age of 38 there was still more than two-thirds of his story left tell. The new series from APE intends to pick up where Drew left off and finish what he started.
Kieth Davidsen: Poison Elves is a gritty fantasy epic in comic form, the brainchild of Drew Hayes, one of the most fiercely independent and
fearlessly creative writer/artists in the history of our favorite medium. That sounds awfully heavy-handed, I know, but I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it to be true. Poison Elves introduced a renegade elf Lusiphur, a violent anti-hero nothing at all like the cutesy or virtuous elves of other fantasy tales. Lusiphur’s story is set against a backdrop massive in scope, with an entire world marching to war, but ultimately it’s an intensely personal tale about a damaged but sympathetic person who was dealt a bad hand and fought every day just to stay alive. In that way, the characters mirrored the creator. Drew Hayes himself had a tumultuous life, one that tragically ended before its time. Poison Elves is his legacy, and its return — respectful to his original vision — is a triumph for independent voices everywhere.
MR: What are your roles on the book?
Shannon Ritchie: I am the backup artist on the series.
RH: I am writing the new Poison Elves series. As his publisher of 15 years and a close friend, I am in a position to plot and plan the new series from the extensive notes and background material that Drew left behind, as well as my personal understanding of the man himself.
KD: I’ve been very fortunate and thankful that, when David Hedgecock at Ape Entertainment planned to revive Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves, he asked me to contribute vignettes in each issue. Four pages in length, they are self-contained tales from throughout the established universe, designed to reinforce concepts from the core storyline. The first issue’s back-up story focuses on Lusiphur himself, while issue #2′s installment showcases Petunia, our hero’s diminutive… and deadly… Sprite companion. It’s been a blast revisiting the cast; it feels almost like bar-hopping and getting into trouble with old friends.
MR: How much of Drew’s style, as a writer and a visual artists, influenced your own takes on the characters?
SR: I’m really into continuity, and visual continuity is a really important issue in this field. At least I think so. I’m trying to keep the characters and atmosphere that Drew created as true as I can.
RH: The simple answer is to acknowledge that Drew’s original issues influence every aspect of my take on Poison Elves. Drew’s wit, his sarcasm, his insights and the personal experience he invested in the book are all things that inspire me. I will try to offer the same respect to the audience’s intelligence the Drew did. The level of action, the maniacal chaos and the depth of character that Drew imbued upon Poison Elves are also goals I hope to achieve. Yet I am aware that it would be a mistake to attempt to actually imitate Drew. It is a requirement for me and any other creator that works on this property in the future, to bring an honest level of personal self-expression to the new work. That is the best way to remain true to Drew’s style.
KD: Both Robb and I look to Drew’s 100-plus issues as the bible, road map, and style guide for our own work. Honestly, we know that Drew’s voice was wholly unique, and we can’t possibly duplicate it (nor would we be foolish enough to attempt to), but we are dedicated to remaining true to Drew’s vision, and true to the very believable characters he created.
MR: What relationship did you have to the original series?
SR: I had read a few of the issues when they were popular, but that is my only tie to the series when it was under the Sirius banner. I’m playing a pretty mean game of catch up. One of the best things about this is the huge PDF’s Ape is providing me with to get me up to speed.
RH: Sirius Entertainment has had exclusive publishing rights to Poison Elves since 1994. That agreement with Drew was upgraded in 2000 to a controlling interest in the property, so the license for the new series originates there. As the head of Sirius Entertainment I am caretaker to the work and to Drew’s legacy. I take this responsibility very seriously.
KD: As an editor at Sirius Entertainment, which published Poison Elves after Drew’s self-published twenty issue run, I was in a unique position to interact regularly with Drew, and that led to a variety of spin-off projects. I wrote the Poison Elves Encyclopedia; the Hyena and Dominion miniseries with artist Scott Lewis; and the Ventures and Lost Tales miniseries with artist Aaron Bordner. I also became an unofficial “historian” of the series; Drew would bounce ideas off me and rely on my constant re-readings of his work to fact-check his later issues.
MR: What is the most challenging thing you’ve encountered working to resurrect such a well-loved series? What has been some of the highlights?
RH: Clearly there are very high expectations from long time readers who we have worked very hard to win over. The response from fans that have had a chance to preview the new book have held the bar high but given us their blessing by committing to support it. Balancing that with an appeal to new readers is both challenging and rewarding.
I have spent many long months searching for and discovering what Drew intended for the story. Immersion into the world of Amrahly’nn can be mind bending. My personal involvement with Drew and the original series has sometimes led some very emotional realizations that I will try to bring out in the story.
The highlight has truly been the opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded people, like David and Keith, determined to do justice to the work. As the lead writer I am very fortunate to have so many other talented people to talk with and to cover my ass. As the new artist, Montos is the key contributor and the book would not be possible without his incredible talent. Once again, I am happy to note that I benefit directly from this association!
SR: The most challenging thing has been not telling everyone I know. I’ve known about this for almost two years and haven’t been really suppose to say anything. But that’s also one of the highlights.
KD: My biggest challenge is telling a thorough Poison Elves story in just four pages! I love these characters, and it’s a bit of a tease that just when I’ve gotten reacquainted with Luse, with Petunia, I have to wrap up the story!
Pages 2 & 3
There have been two major highlights for me. First, Robb is an old friend from the Sirius days, so once we signed onto the new series, we booked a week-long writing and planning sabbatical. We spent the time pouring over Drew’s issues, the notes he left behind, and our own recollection of conversations with Drew. It’s amazing how Drew really did seed the existing material with so many clues to where the story is going. Together, we pieced together the future of the series. Wait ’til you see!
Second, it’s been an absolute pleasure seeing Shannon’s work bring my scripts to life. I can’t rave enough about it! Such a detailed and frenetic style, perfectly giving us the action and violence we crave!
MR: For the old school fans of Poison Elves, what can they expect from the new series in terms of it continuing the legacy?
SR: For the old school fans…. My art style is pretty gritty. And I think that’s what they want from their Poison Elves.
RH: The legacy of Poison Elves is to continue the series with great art, engaging stories and believable characters, all offered with no bullshit
attached. That’s what I’m expecting and I am one old school fan!
KD: The new Poison Elves #1 picks up right after the last scene that Drew wrote and illustrated. You’ll see familiar faces, but still be surprised where the story takes them. Drew’s untimely passing left fans with a hole in their hearts and a rich epic fantasy unfinished, and while Drew may be gone, we promise to deliver his story — HIS story — in a way that both entertains his audience and pays tribute (and owes everything) to the creator of Poison Elves.
Poison Elves #2
Here is a bonus interview that I conducted with Montos, artist on the Poison Elves feature stories on his influences, process, and other projects. Enjoy!
Matt Rawson: Who have been you main influences as an artist?
Montos: My influences have basically belonged to Latin American artists (I am Cuban) like Alberto Breccia, Orestes Suárez, Victor de la Fuente, Toppi, Mandrafina, who have been great masters of the [black/white]. My fear is how North American readers will receive this way within the comic book, apparently distant to the way we make comic books here.
MR: I doubt you will find those fears surviving the release of Poison Elves. What other work of yours can readers of Poison Elves find?
M: The first project that I accomplished for Ape was Donarr the Unyielding, some months ago. Fortunately, they liked my work and, after a time, they offered me the possibility to illustrate Poison Elves, a proposal that I consider my real debut within the North American comic book industry, due to the importance of such [a] title for so many fans.
MR: Every artist has their own way for working. Can you give us a run-down of how you go about creating your pages?
M: I go into each sentence or indication in the script thoroughly, because the idioms barrier became a problem sometimes. Next, I make some careless pencilled layouts, the ones that suffer through David Hedgecock’s inspection and Robb Horan (and I am ignorant of how many people further). Next, I go to the pasteboard and I make the pencils that next I ink with a marker pen for almost all the strokes and a nib for the details of figures. Next, my assistant scans them in two parts (my scanner is letter size) and joins them in the Photoshop. Once there I touch up the imagery and I give the grays, although also I use the Corel Painter for given textures in the inking. When I believe that it might be ready, I print it and I show the page to my wife, my parents, and each friend that comes to my study that day and I take their criterium to put any detail they consider defective in order. That’s all folks!
MR: Well, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions, and to let your past and soon-to-be fans behind the curtain a bit!
M: Thanks to you all!
For even more on this great new series, check out episode 16 of Slabbed: The Podcast Without Fear for an exclusive interview with David Hedgecock, CEO of Ape Entertainment.