Western Werewolf Comic High Moon Returns
Steve Ellis and David Gallaher wax High Moon...get it?
Steve Ellis and David Gallaher first launched High Moonten years ago, back during DC Comics’ foray into webcomics with Zuda. The Harvey Award-winning series mixed supernatural horror and bright, hard westerns for a series that was fresh, kinetic, and tons of fun to read. Until Zuda shut down, depriving High Moonfans of the series’ planned ending.
Super Genius Comics and Papercutz, the studio behind Gallaher and Ellis’ newest project The Only Living Boy,announced earlier this year that High Moonwould be coming back. They are remastering and reprinting the first two volumes, and republishing the third volume with additional material and an ending, finally. And for shelf porn nerds, all three are being released in horizontal, landscape editions with a slipcase cover to hold the set. We had a chance to chat with Gallaher and Ellis about how much fun coming back to High Moonis.
What did you both draw from to make High Moon? I see a little Tombstone, a little Leone, a little Coppola’s Dracula, a little Lovecraft.
DG: As a teenager, there were three things I loved: comics, mythology, and theatre. With High Moon, I had the opportunity to blend all of those things together. There’s hint of August Wilson, a dash of Conan, and a smattering of Celtic mythology.
SE: For me, the western stuff is only a part of it so probably a lot of horror comics for the visuals. Comic creators like Sergio Toppi, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, Mathieu Lauffray, Brom, and movies like City of Lost Children and Pan’s Labyrinth.
DG: I also pulled a lot of inspiration from old-time radio shows like Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, and Have Gun — Will Travel. John Meston, the co-creator of Gunsmoke and actor William Conrad were huge influences. I particularly liked how savage and visceral they made the Old West feel. It felt important to have monsters that personified that level of brutality.
Despite the fact that this is, at its core, a story about cowboys and werewolves, there’s a through-line of realism running in the first volume – grazing rights and robber barons both play into the story. How much research went into High Moon, and how important was it to ground the story in the real Gilded Age west?
DG: I wanted the world of High Moon to feel authentic. I spent a lot of time researching the costuming, the architecture, the geography. I felt in order to have the mythic, we also needed to have a bit of the mundane. For example, before the invention of paperclips, citizens used to hold a pile of papers together with pins. The world needed to feel lived-in and I spent months putting thought into how the characters fit into and moved within the space. The Gilded Age is a fascinating era and I hope we’ve given it some level of respect, despite all of the werewolves.
The last chapter of the first volume is a series of well-sold big twists hitting one right after the other. Was it tough to weave them all together? Did you have to work backwards from the climax to make sure that everything was appropriately teased ahead of time?
DG: High Moon involves a lot of structured storytelling. I have very elaborate outlines that sketch out when each element of the story is going to be revealed, when a cliffhanger will occur, and when we might blow up a town of bring in a monster. By Page 4, for instance, we’ll set the scene. By Page 8, we’ll set up our first minor cliffhanger. By 16, when we’re about a quarter of the way through the story, we’ll set up our first major cliffhanger.
SE: We like to play with readers’ expectations, but there’s always a method to the madness.
What is it about westerns that makes them so much fun? They’re certainly a blast to read, but it seems like you both had a ball creating High Moon as well.
SE: I think that the gritty roughness of the world they are set in and the feeling that anything can happen because the world is so untamed makes them exciting. And there’s a certain unpredictability about the characters and the world that keeps the environment constantly changing. It’s certainly been a lot of fun.
Why come back to High Moon now, ten years and multiple collaborations together later? What do you focus on when you read it now that’s different from when you were putting it together? Any spots where you look at it and say “Damn, we NAILED that”?
SE: The intention was always to finish High Moon and this really felt like the right time to do it.
DG: Agreed and we had a really positive relationship with Papercutz working on The Only Living Boy, so their Super Genius imprint felt like a good home for our little werewolf western.
SE: And the new volumes look freaking fantastic!
DG: Yeah and the thing that really strikes me about re-reading High Moon now is how dialogue looks and feels on the page. When we first started making the series, I put a lot of time into making sure it had a good bit of local color and colorful anecdotes; this is embarrassing to say, but I’d forgotten good portion of that folksy charm I’d added.
SE: Yes, during the flurry of creation you kind of forget the nuances of the story. There are of these great details that had escaped me. And as for us “nailing it” there are a bunch of spaces where I’m really happy with how we handled things! In particular the end of the first chapter really works for me.
DG: There’s a scene in Chapter 2, about half way through the story that nearly brings me to tears. What it says about forgiveness, betrayal, and adversity really speaks to me. I think Steve really hit all of the right beats and way able to bring a real depth of emotion to those scenes.
This isn’t the first time High Moon’s been in print, but the last time DC did it, right? Were there any challenges in moving the work from webcomic to publication?
SE: When thought about remastering the book, we put a lot of thought into how it would look on the stands, how readers and booksellers might stack it on their shelves.
DG: We put a lot of time and effort into trying different formats, but credit to Jim Salicrup at Super Genius, who thought about making the book available in a larger format with a vertical slipcase. It looks stunning. Christy Sawyer helped us re-letter the first volume — and it really sings. We’re really proud of of this project looks and feels.
The plan is for 3 volumes – 2 volumes of remastered, rereleased material, and a third that brings the story to a close. Has the ending changed substantially from where you originally envisioned it?
DG: We’ve always had a quite specific endpoint to High Moon, one that I think brings justice to their characters and their adventures. When I first thought about this series, way back in 2004, I had a crisp, brilliant moment of how I wanted it all to end. Readers have been waiting a long time to see how the story all ends…
SE: I know I have.
DG: Yeah, I can’t wait.
High Moon: Bullet Holes and Bite Marks is in stores on October 18. For more news and updates on the upcoming volumes, stick with Den of Geek!