INTERVIEW: Mike Keener

Mike Keener is a cartoonist, originally from Erie, PA, but now a resident of Kansas City, MO. He’s a graduate of the University of Missouri (BFA, Graphic Design, 2007), and started professionally as a web designer (something he still does from time to time). He’s married to a really good schoolteacher and is thankful to work in the comics field.

In this interview with Paper Tape editor Kristy Harding we talk about Mike’s forthcoming graphic novel White Worm.

PT: What is White Worm?

MK: White Worm takes some characters and situations from Bram Stoker’s last (and hurriedly finished) novel Lair of the White Worm, and mixes them in with the larger Cthulhu mythos. The biggest changes from the source material are the time period in which the book takes place (for my purposes, the mid-1930s), and the general background of some of the protagonists (one antagonist has changed greatly, but I don’t want to give that away).

Also, one of the original protagonists was killed off-page before the start of the book, and one of the antagonists was straight up removed due to sad character being exceedingly racist (even for the time in which the original book was written).

PT: What is its origin story?

MK: When looking for an idea, I got to thinking not of other comics creators, but of film directors whose work I respect. I realized that many of them got started working for Roger Corman, who had a tendency for getting public domain titles and loosely adapting them (lots of Edgar Allan Poe flicks, etc.). I had remembered a movie in the 80s by Ken Russell that was a very loose adaptation of Lair of the White Worm, and looking into it, I had read a review by Ebert where even he pointed out how it was reminiscent of those old Corman movies, so I thought I was onto something. If nothing else, it would at least be interesting to read, if done at least half-right!

PT: Is this your first book?

MK: Yes it is! After years of not “getting of the pot,” so to speak, I decided it was time to really get going. Once this is out in the world, I’ll start on another; it’ll be not quite a 180 degree turn, but close. That, and I have a “big idea” for a comic, that, if successful, would be a sort of “series of miniseries,” if that makes sense.

PT: What inspired you to tie Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm to the Cthulhu mythos?

MK: What inspired me to add the mythos was the simple act of reading Lair of the White Worm. Compared to his other, more famous works, it really doesn’t hold up. There are a lot of interesting concepts and ideas, but there’s a lot of stuff to hate. A lot of “tell, as opposed to “show.” I knew that I had to do this in a completely different fashion than I had initially thought I would.

It came to me when I had started to do mockup designs for the worm itself. The basis for the worm in the original book is the Lambton Worm, and as such, tends to be thought of as more snake-like than worm-like. In my mind, the creature had been around pre-Roman times, and I had an idea that it would be much less evolved. I thought of the placement of eyes on fish, and how expressionless they seem. I thought of tendrils acting as grasping arms from the mouth… I kept adding things on until I realized that I was unwittingly creating a limbless Ancient One.

As I thought more about it, I started researching. And sure enough, I came across the character of Idh-yaa, the “star bride” of Cthulhu, a being that supposedly has a white, worm-like form, and can, to an extent, shape-shift… which figured into one of the things I had come up with on my own. It just sort of made sense… As Stoker was dying, within ten years, Lovecraft was starting, and I thought it would be nice to bridge everything together.

PT: What is your process like?

MK: Crazy! A lot of trial and error. Working in pen and ink, deciding to try to go all digital, waffling back and forth, etc. Sometimes I seem to lose hand-eye coordination with my pen tablet, other times, I was chomping at the bit to go back and do pages over digitally due to shoddy paper messing up the inks. My best pages tended to be done either on my backup laptop with the pen tablet plugged in and sitting on top of the keyboard, or at my sitting drawing table with a Hunt 102 and the best of the three comic art boards I had. I think, in the future, I’m either going to do everything digitally (if it’s a color book), or get the best damned illustration board I can find and do everything with brushes and crow quills (if it’s black and white).

As far as writing goes, I wrote down my ideas in a spiral notebook, and had a loose script down with dialogue, basic plot points, and such (also in a spiral notebook, or rather, an entire spiral notebook). It got heavily revised as I laid out pages on blank index cards and arranged them in spreads. I’ve re-written only a little dialogue, but scenes have been rearranged for better pacing.

PT: Last November, you ran a successful Kickstarter campaign (congratulations!), and one of the promises you made was that you would livestream all of your work on White Worm. What has that been like?

MK: It was amazing to read that the goal had been met on Thanksgiving Day. I was supremely grateful (and still am).

I had promised to stream primarily because I wanted transparency between me and my backers (and I still do). I bought a webcam and broadcast from UStream on my first day, and throughout the next few weeks. I found two issues: one, it’s really boring to watch hands at a desk drawing, and as such, I had very few views outside me testing the feed, and two, even if I had a large audience checking it out, they would not have seen much, because the feed constantly froze, per UStream, allegedly due to limited system resources, or due to the speed of my internet connection. As I have a quad core 3GHz+ system with over 10 GB of RAM, and my ISP is Google Fiber, I sincerely doubt both of those. I asked my backers in messages if they had any suggestions on where I should go to remedy that, but no one replied. I’ve been a pretty frequent updater over the past few months, so maybe people glance at those to see where I’m at.

Then, unexpectedly, I found my then three-month old puppy had decided to munch on my webcam while I left my office temporarily to refill my iced tea. Nobody really responded after I showed the pic of the destroyed webcam in a status update, so I decided I would start including as close-to-finished artwork in each update in order to keep everyone posted. No complaints yet, so either they’re really patient, or they’ve given up hope (I’m crossing my fingers it’s the former).

White Worm will be available in digital and print editions on Amazon in early to mid June 2014, as well as on Mike’s personal site.

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