Howlin' At The Moon: Anthony Cleveland On Universal Monsters And His Comic Silver Skin
Interview conducted by Aaron Haughton
Anthony Cleveland is writer, father, and factotum. He recently self-published his first comic book, Silver Skin, a story about two brothers and the werewolf curse that afflicts the youngest of the two, Eddie, who is developmentally challenged. Every full moon, Ricky, must go at length to keep his brother (and everyone else) safe from the primal beast lurking inside Eddie, but how long can he carry on? Silver Skin is a story of grit and heart that will suck you in panel after panel.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Anthony about issue #0 of Silver Skin, the films that inspired his story, and where it carries on from here. Check out our convo below, and be sure to pick up a copy of the best indie comic on the market today.
Aaron Haughton: How did you first become acquainted with the Universal Monsters?
Anthony Cleveland: I loved monster and horror movies, but wasn't allowed to watch most of the VHSes from the horror section in the video store as a kid. The Universal monsters were rated G or PG and they were pretty accessible from the library or the video store, and I lived within walking distance of both. These films also received a huge VHS re-release in the 90's too, which made them even more accessible. I remember coloring books and cardboard cutout figurines of all the monsters — Burger King even put out toys for them. I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure I'll be the last generation that saw these original monster movies and treated them with such high regard. When I was able to watch more restricted horror films, I strayed from the Universal Movies. Now that I feel like I've ran a full circle around the genre, I've just returned to the Universal Monsters and completely rediscovered them again.
AH: What was it about the Wolf Man that resonated with you and your story with Silver Skin?
AC: I started with Wolf Man when I was thinking of movies to get my gears turning on the Silver Skin series. After that, I collected all the core Universal Movies. I wanted to keep the feeling of those films and somehow update it. They're all tragic horror stories, and I wanted Silver Skin to be the same way. I probably took a little from each film honestly. Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man were the most influential.
AH: The werewolf story is a very familiar one to many people, what was your approach to help maintain a fresh outlook on the genre?
AC: The idea of how two brothers would cope with the werewolf curse was the main driver in this story. That's where it all started. I tried to take a realistic approach to what could possibly be done to contain a werewolf with limited resources on hand. Then, I focused on the relationship between the brothers, which made me reflect on my own brother to the point where I just incorporated that into the story. It was compelling to me to have that dynamic in a modern Universal Monster setting and the pages just poured out after that. I want people to come for a great werewolf story, but I want them to stay for the heart and sincerity of the characters.
AH: So, it wasn't always your intention to tell a story so close to your own heart?
AC: No. I wasn't planning on doing it this way. It began with a story on two brothers and one of them had a curse. It was intended to be a short film, but while rewriting the script, I wanted there to be a dynamic or weakness — something that may cause conflict between the two brothers. I thought about making the werewolf brother an alcoholic or drug addict. But I felt that was too "struggling with the beast inside,” and that didn't really interest me. I lost the drive to do it as a short film, but I still held onto the desire to explore the story. When reflecting on what to do with the brothers, it hit me all at once to just tell my experiences with my brother. Once that started the story did become personal.
AH: Earlier this year you wrote an article for us on the top 5 films that influenced your book, but were there any other influences?
AC: For the first issue? Not really many more. For the rest of the series:
- Natural Born Killers for the unexpected violence and exploration of a world that’s against the two main characters via cross country road trip.
- Race with the Devil. Like, NBK it's a crazy road movie.
- Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Yet another crazy, but overall lighthearted road movie.
- Werewolves on Wheels even though I hated it. (Maybe, just maybe, there's a werewolf cult brewing in Silver Skin...)
AH: The story of silver skin, at least thus far, has been a road story. Were there any road films or comics that you looked at as a framework?
AC: For comics: Preacher and Sweet Tooth. Preacher particularly, it jumps around a lot and this series may need to do that too. As for films...I have no idea why, but Natural Born Killers and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure keeps popping in my head. You may see some crazy stuff along the way because of those two films.
AH: You’ve described your first love as movies and even made a few films yourself. Comics and film seem to go hand in hand, but I was curious if there were any major differences between the two mediums.
AC: Largely, just the lack of music and motion in comic books. Sometimes it's great to see the motion of an action sequence rather than filling in the blanks between panels. I've heard of a lot of comic creators making playlists that say something like "On page 2-4, listen to track 4 at 2:50-3:50." Meh. It's an interesting idea, but a bit impractical. I could see in the future music connecting with comics through an app that adapts to what's on the page, changing as the reader progresses — similar to how video games have music loops during fight scenes or moments of suspense.
AH: Are you planning to, or would you ever consider making another film?
AC: I have one short or maybe feature left in me. My issue with film is I have to rely on a crew to tell the story — everyone has to be at point B from x AM to x PM. It's a lot to ask and not having one or two folks show up can foil the production. I don't like being at the mercy of others to tell a story. I have an idea for a big foot movie that can be shot with just one actor. I've sat on it for a long time and I'm really eager to tell that story some day.
AH: So, where does Silver Skin go from here?
AC: It's at the mercy of the audience or a gracious publisher. I plan on funding one more issue, but I couldn't afford to self-fund the entire series. I won't ask for money to complete it, but if there's an audience that really wants to see it happen all the way through, I will begin crowd funding. I've had some say they would support a fundraiser, but (selfish to say) I have a lot of pride in working hard to save the cash myself to fund it. In the meantime, I'm all about building a rep in the comic world. I will be putting out more shorts and maybe a one shot soon. Probably all horror based, of course!
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