Changing Ground on Gravel: Mike Wolfer Talks about Switching Roles and Japanese Combat Magic

Elizabeth Heyman write from NYCC for Bleeding Cool;

Gravel is not at all a new item among the Avatar Press catalog but it is getting a bit of a facelift in the coming year. Though the title still remains in the same creative hands it always has, those hands are shifting their grasp and their position. Mike Wolfer had drawn the comic since its first introduction in 1999. However, now with the comic's recent relaunch, he is completing his transition from artist to writer, a transition as he explains had already been long in the making:

"Gravel was created by Warren Ellis, he wrote much of it and I was originally the artist on the series before I started co-writing with Warren. The new series coming out I'm pretty much writing all myself but Warren is still approving the plots. People ask if Warren is still involved if someone else is writing it, and yes I'm writing it but it's still faithful to his vision. He's giving the thumbs up."

With the change in roles comes a change in story arc. The new series due out in January is meant to be sequel to the previous run but as Wolfer explains is connected just loosely enough that new readers will still find the material accessible.

"It is designed as a sequel to the previous series but it's designed and written to be a new start for new readers and to be totally accessible. In the back of the book there's going to be an 18-page 'story so far.' The initial illustrated pages and the story in the #0 issue will introduce everything and it'll all make sense but if people want more we've got the back up."

That's not to say that the old fans have nothing to look forward to, though Wolfer does laugh that there aren't many characters from the old series that he could bring back even if he wanted to. He chuckled as he admitted, "everyone else around him tends to get killed." Still, returning readers won't go unrecognized and in fact will be rewarded with a good number of smaller references. However, overall, the goal for Wolfer is to create a book that can be read independently and have the main character understood just as easily. "It really focuses on Gravel himself," he states, "There may be a few characters who have appeared in the past who will make appearances in the new one but it really is a fresh start."

However, 'fresh' and 'accessible' do not translate into boring or even tame. The upcoming story arc will still include the same level of intensity as we begin to see more figures similar to Gravel around the world, that is to say he is not the first to combine his magic abilities with military force.

"We all thought it was just the British that had something like Gravel but it turns out as we find out in this new series that every country has their own combat magician. In the first part for example, it takes place in Tokyo—we're going to see the Japanese combat magicians. So there will be a lot of new characters coming in."

As another combat magician is added, so will another fighting style and with that another challenge. Each country is said to have not only its own style of combat but its own magic as well, which will create more diversity in the action that will be seen in upcoming sequences.

Wolfer's enthusiasm while discussing future plans and plotlines only further proves that he is more than capable of filling the lead role in the series as the main writer, but what of this new artist? "His name is Gabriel Rearte," Wolfer told me. I asked if it was at all hard for him handing over the job and responsibilities he carried out for so many years even while he is still involved on the project. He exclaimed that he couldn't be happier, even describing his relationship with Rearte as, "fantastic."

"His work is gorgeous work and his translation of my script, putting my script into pictures, I couldn't ask for a better artist. Every time I see a page of his, it's almost as if I drew it. With every panel I'm like, 'that's exactly the angle, that's exactly how I would position everything.' It's really uncanny, it's like he's reading my mind which is great. He has a good grip on the character, on Gravel himself. [Gravel] has a very unique look, a unique nose, a unique haircut, even his stature is about 5'10. He's a shorter, stockier guy. Certain artists draw him like he's seven feet tall and like he's lean and mean. That's not Gravel. Gravel is a short ass-kicker."

Wolfer only planned to meet Rearte for the first time at the most recent New York Comic Con. "He lives in Argentina but he flew up to the show and we actually got to meet face to face," he explains and although that statement may seem odd on the surface it works perfectly fine within their professional relationship.

"There hasn't been much [back and forth] so far. If necessary if he has any questions he can ask me and obviously I see all the pages before they're inked just to make sure there's nothing that needs to be changed but so far it's just been 'Yup, yup, yup, yup…'"

The new artist may take his inspiration from Wolfer's old work but even the writer admits that the new books are no replica. "I saw him looking through the old issues but really the art is just his, it's all his."

As some of his parting words before ending the interview, Wolfer offered his own personal guarantee to any unsure fans, loyal or new to the title:

"I've been with the series from the beginning, beginning as an artist. I have been here with every single issue and have drawn almost all of it with the exception of about six issues. Readers and fans of the series know that it's in good hands. I helped to create him, visually and then I helped to create his backstory and his history, working with Warren. This isn't someone new coming in and saying 'let's get a fresh new take on this!' It's more of the same but we're going into new territory with it."

He sealed his promise with one last sincere remark, "I love it. This has been one of the best creative experiences of my career."

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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