L.A. cartoonist Tom Neely is perhaps best known for his role as founding father of Igloo Tornado, the crazy comic collective who published the hilarious mini comic Henry + Glenn Forever, which reimagined the friendship between hardcore punk musicians Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig as a going-to-Pottery-Barn-on-Sundays gay romance. He also made a splash in the comic book scene with his first graphic novel, The Blot, published in 2007.
Now Neely is coming out with a new, self-published “painted novel” called The Wolf, which is equal parts violent, erotic graphic novel and surreal, dream-like narrative. The story — roughly, as the book includes no words — follows a man who turns into a wolf, roams forests and is haunted by its deathly inhabitants. He falls in love with a woman whose house he creeps into, late at night, and after a brief confrontation with some scary skeletons, whisks her away to a meadow where strange and wondrous things happen to both of them.
The Wolf comes out on Friday, July 8, with a book launch party at Secret Headquarters in Silverlake from 8 p.m. to 10 pm. L.A. Weekly talked to Neely about his new novel — read on for the interview.
How did you initially develop ideas for The Wolf?
It grew out of a series of paintings that I did for an art show in 2007 at a gallery here in town — Black Maria Gallery, which is closed now. It kept coming up in my sketchbooks, and it eventually developed into a full story.
It evolved over the course of the last three years into a full narrative. It grew organically, in a stream of consciousness way. I had the structure of the narrative figured out, but in the process of working on it over the years, it fluctuated a lot. It's a little weird getting used to seeing it in book form now!
Could you give us your own rendition or interpretation of the narrative?
I like to leave it fairly open-ended. I prefer to work in surrealism, and leave it open and dream-like. Essentially, it's kind of a love song to my wife. There are some autobiographical elements mixed into the plot, buried deep beyond the skeletons and the wolf.
What kinds of autobiographical elements?
I got married in the midst of working on that, so that's a big part of it. That's the only element I'd be willing to share.
The Wolf is very different in style and topic than your earlier work, such as The Blot. How would you say your style has evolved?
It's just that: an evolution. I've always been more interested in artists that evolve rather than crystallizing a style . My previous novel, The Blot, was more influenced by classic comic strips, but the story dealt more with that stuff anyway. I wanted this to be a more expressive, emotional story and it seemed to need a more dramatic style. I pushed away the influences of all external artists to get at the way I wanted to draw things.
How would you classify The Wolf? It can't really be called a graphic novel.
That's kind of the reason I called it a painted novel. I consciously broke away from the comic book style. I think of it as a long narrative series of paintings in book form. The storytelling style and the flow of the imagery was partially influenced by the woodcut novelists of the '30s, like Lynd Ward and Otto Nückel.
When did you begin drawing comics?
The first comic book I ever made, I made when I was 6. It was a thing about two cavemen trying to catch a goat.
When did you begin professionally producing comics?
I went to the San Francisco Art Institute to get my MFA in painting. I grew up in comics, but it was all superhero comics and stuff. When I moved to San Francisco, I was introduced to the underground comic book scene, with people making mini comics and zines, and was re-interested in doing comics of my own. All my paintings started to incorporate ideas and elements of comics. The first comic book I self-published was in conjunction with my thesis series of paintings. I came back to comics once I realized you could do more with them than superheroes.
Where do you draw?
I have a converted garage in my backyard that I converted into a studio. I work from home, and do my computer work somewhere else.
Can you give us a list of your favorite comics and most inspirational artists?
I haven't read many contemporary comics lately because I've been so focused on my own stuff, but some direct influences for The Wolf came from a lot of German Expressionists like George Grosz and Otto Dix, Egon Schiele, as well as the surrealists and the dadaists, and a lot of early pre-Renaissance art, early Christian art. Also a lot of Japanese watercolor artists, like Hiroshige. Among more contemporary artists, Philip Guston and Lucien Freud are definitely influences. In comics — lately, I've been reading some of my friends, like Zak Sally, Lorenzo Mattotti. But I'm consuming everything, all the time.
Favorite procrastination method?
Watching B-movies. Any grindhouse movie from the '70s.
Do you still do Igloo Tornado? What's your involvement with the L.A. art scene?
Yes, we're still doing Igloo Tornado. We're in the early stages of developing a second Henry + Glenn book. We're looking for galleries to do a group show.
What's your next project?
I don't know — I have so many different projects that I want to work on! I have another graphic novel written and waiting to be drawn. Right now I've been catching up with a lot of commission and illustration requests. As for my next big project, I'm kind of enjoying being in between projects.
Tom Neely's launch party for The Wolf is at Secret Headquarters, Friday July 8 from 8 p.m. to 10 pm.