Werewolves in Africa: Paul Louise-Julie on ‘The Pack,’ Sci-Fi Epic ‘Yohance’ and the Blerd Community [Interview]
Comic book artist Paul Louise-Julie came up with the idea of mixing werewolves and African mythology with the help of spirits --- the liquid kind that is. But luckily, it still seemed like a good idea the next day when the effects of The Kraken's spiced rum wore off, and he already had five years of research towards the concept to boot.
Although that was nearly six years ago, the 26-year-old has constantly been working on the comic book, The Pack, which would later gain nearly 2,000 likes on Facebook and a buzz in the black nerd, or blerd, community.
The Pack follows Khenti and Nekhet, two Nubian brothers on the run who end up becoming the leaders of a werewolf pack --- hence the title. With two issues complete, Louise-Julie is set to release the third issue within the next few weeks.
ComicsAlliance spoke with Louise-Julie about the what's to come in The Pack, including some background information on the mysterious new character introduced at the end of issue two. Louise-Julie is also developing a sci-fi epic, Yohance (pronounced Yo-Han-Say), and shared some details of what fans can expect from the upcoming three-part series. He also shared some exclusive pages from issue three.
ComicsAlliance: What was the inspiration behind The Pack?
Paul Louise-Julie: Because of my research of Ancient Africa... Egypt... Nubia, I definitely knew that I wanted to do a fantasy series in Africa. I also wanted to do something on the same level of Lord of the Rings, but something like that for Africa. I didn't know how I was going to do that, yet, I just knew I wanted to do that. And a few years prior to that, like really early on, I was really into werewolves. I kind of still am. At first it started with Underworld. Somewhere between that and this time, I saw American Werewolf in London for the first time and that just... that spoiled me. That just opened a whole can of worms for me. The moment I saw the blood I was like, "Oh my God, I'm in love. I absolutely love this genre."
CA: The moment you saw the blood?
PLJ: The moment he slashed some guys throat out. I was like, "Oh, this is awesome. This is amazing. This is my kind of film." And the whole painful transformation sequence. You know, I don't like my transformations to be painful in my mythos and fantasy. At first they're painful, but one thing I did like about Underworld versus American Werewolf in London was that Underworld attributed their transformation to a genetic anomaly. So, what that allows you to do is, it's diversifying the cult. So, instead of there being a painful curse on you, you are half animal really. So, it's constantly fighting with your DNA. So, you really have the two natures that are fighting within you. So I took that concept and ran with it.
But funnily enough, that's one of the things I like about American Werewolf in London. That whole transformation sequence when he's in incredible pain, cause I thought, "Wow, this looks realistic, I really feel bad for the guy. It's awesome but I really feel bad for the guy."
CA: And how did all of that translate into The Pack?
PLJ: So, I have the idea of werewolves. I was really into werewolves and of course, I also had this separate idea of an African fantasy. And I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if I found a way to mix these two together?" I think I was drunk one night and I thought what if I just mix these two together... African werewolves. It's really stupid. That's a really dumb idea. How am I gonna make that work?
Cause here's the thing; I was drunk, alone at home. It's almost like my personality shifted. It was like I was having a conversation with myself. One side was saying, "Nah man, go ahead with it. It's a really cool idea... I don't know if it is... nah you don't understand, it's a really cool idea, it's never been done before."
CA: Was there any connection between werewolves and ancient Africa before?
PLJ: Once I was set on the idea that I was going to do Egyptian werewolves or African werewolves... at this point I sobered up. This was beyond the drunk phase and I started taking it more seriously. I did more research. I didn't just want to put the Anubis head on a human body. That's lazy. That's been done before. That's not really a werewolf to me.
And that's where the mythology came in. In Africa, they don't really have werewolves, but they do have different powerful creatures. The werewolf that you see in The Pack is not a full wolf. There's bits of other African animals in there, which is not by coincidence. In a way, that's an allusion to the African mythology and folklore --- and you find out more reasons for that later on in issue three, which is coming up.
CA: And now you have Khenti and Nekhet, the first two werewolves that readers see.
PLJ: Right, and issue three picks up about six months after issue two. During that time, they've actually grown their pack. The numbers grow to about 30 or 40 different members.
CA: What have they been doing in those six months?
PLJ: They've been stealing and robbing. They've been doing raids. Mainly on merchant caravans and storehouses of rich nobles. They've just been raiding and pillaging it and going back into the underworld and spending all of their money. They're basically just enjoying life but they're doing it in a reckless and irresponsible way.
CA: From what I've seen, issue three seems much more realistic too. Was that done on purpose?
PLJ: One of the things I wanted to do with this is, I thought, "If I was a werewolf, what would I be doing?" It's more so what would they really be doing than what do I want them to do. I may think it may be cool to have them do something, but it's not very realistic to have it happen.
For instance, if you had a werewolf party, how would a werewolf party look like? They'd be fighting a lot. When you get drunk, your emotions start going into a rollercoaster and their transformations are brought about by emotions. So of course you get fights breaking out between werewolves. They'd be breaking stuff and they'll probably be passing out. They'll be eating these large buffets of animals that they hunted because they have animal appetites. They'd be acting like complete fools. Plus, they're young too. The youngest member in The Pack is seventeen. The oldest is in his late thirties.
CA: In issue two, you leave off with Khenti meeting a mysterious woman. Are we going to see more of her again in issue three?
PLJ: Oh, yes definitely. Her name is Nephti, it's an Egyptian name. Every name you see there they belong to the culture --- Khenti and Nekhet are Nubian names. She's actually one of my favorite characters because there's so many layers to her character. This is a character whose had a lot of pain in her life. She's not used to being happy and being in the life of luxury.
Without giving too much of the character, she's interesting because she gives a unique perspective of The Pack for the viewer. A unique point of view. She's also Egyptian. Khenti and Nekhet are Nubian so there's a slight cultural difference. It's going to much more prevalent once they travel around.
CA: Can we expect a love story between Khenti and Nephti?
PLJ: I can say Nekhet teases his little brother about his "Egyptian girlfriend." Nephti... I want to establish her as a character rather than a love interest. I will say this though, there definitely is a strong link between the two.
CA: And the Crocodile King is still on the lookout for Khenti and Nekhet...
PLJ: Oh my God. Yeah, Akhenaten is doing pretty well for himself. You can definitely tell that he's not the same prince that you saw in the cameo. And in issue four, we finally see Akhenaten wife, Nefertiti.
CA: You're developing a sci-fi epic as well. What can people expect from Yohance?
PLJ: To have an African space opera that's unique within its own universe and its own style, its own story. It's not a Black Star Wars but it can at least go toe-to-toe with Star Wars.
I'm aspiring to create a story as timeless as Star Wars [and] to have production value as unique as Star Wars. All the things that made Star Wars great, I hope to have that in Yohance. But I want it to be as unique as possible too. I don't want people to think that this is the Black Star Wars. It's not. Yohance is Yohance just like Star Wars is Star Wars.
I've just been workshopping the story for months and months and months, ever since I announced it. And it's one of the hardest stories I've ever had to create. It's definitely on a lighter note than The Pack. Sometimes it can get a little darker. The thing with Yohance, it really is a little more carefree. It's more like an adventure... like a space adventure. Yohance is also a limited story. It's going to have three different acts. It's going to have a beginning, middle and end. It's going to end. The Pack is going to keep going on.
CA: How about art-wise, aesthetically? Is it going to be similar or different from The Pack?
PLJ: Oh, it's very different aesthetically. The thing with The Pack is that it's very detailed. I wanted The Pack to feel as detailed as possible, to be in the fantasy world, but I want it to feel as realistic as possible.
Yohance, I want it to feel realistic, but I want it to feel kind of psychedelic in a way. I really want to make readers feel like they're dreaming. But not in a hazy kind of way, like dreaming like anything is possible in this type of world. The colors are much more vibrant, and I really take inspiration from all over the African continent versus whatever culture I'm specifically talking about. It's a very different concept.
Also, everything is very clean cut. Everything is very futuristic. Everything is slicker. There's serious craftsmanship in everything, from the ships to the guns to the costumes to the masks. Everything is really well crafted, but it's all 100% rooted in African art.
CA: You mentioned several things you've gained inspiration from; Star Wars, African art, American Werewolf in London, etc. But what would you say is something you drew inspiration from that most people would find surprising?
PLJ: David Bowie's music, a little bit of T. Rex, they're like a glam rock '70s band and Daft Punk. A lot of music. That's the interesting thing about Yohance, it's much more influenced by music than The Pack. The Pack was really influenced by film. Yohance was really influenced by music --- by certain feelings I get when I'm listening to certain music and I was daydreaming and I'm just taken away.
Yohance is all about taking people away and going on different adventures. But at the same time, understanding that there's a much bigger world out there. That it's so much weirder and stranger beyond your imagination. So, that's why music was an inspiration, because with music there's no limit to it. You can listen to the same song for fifty years and it can take you places that you've never been. It's open to interpretation.
Many Westerns are also inspiration for it. There are more hints to African mythology in Yohance more so than The Pack too. The Pack's issue three is also much darker in tone. Certain things happen here that's going to affect the characters for the rest of the series. This is one of the most pivotal moments in the entire series of The Pack. Night of the Wolves is a very very important event for The Pack.
CA: You recently went to the Black Comic Book Festival in New York too, right? How was that?
PLJ: That was awesome. First off, it was an experience. It was really awesome. I kind of wish they had a bigger venue. I wish there was more space so I could stay there longer. But, the most overwhelming thing about being there was just seeing so many Black nerds at the same place. It was absolutely awesome. And also seeing them supporting Black creators. There were Black creators there with their stuff and they sold out.
CA: What are some comics that your fans should check out?
PLJ: Greg Wilson's Val-mar. Milton Davis is a well-known science fiction writer and he's doing some very impressive work. And my good friend Chuck for the Bounce comic strip. He's been a bouncer for ten years and he pretty much catalogues all of these stories of all these interesting nights he has in this comic strip of these two bouncers. It's absolutely hilarious.