August 5, 2010 | 9:46 pm
Daina Beth Solomon is back on Hero Complex with a look at a new book and a creative team that is hunting down a far different werewolf from the ones who howl in “Twilight” films and books.
When Paul Jessup brainstormed the story for “Werewolves,” the illustrated book that hits stores this week, he thought about what was missing in popular supernatural tales such as “The Lost Boys” or “Twilight.” What he heard in his head was the voice of a strong female character.
In “Twilight,” the female protagonist is forever reactive, and in “Lost Boys,” the women are victims or barely-there characters. “I thought it would be interesting to take it the other way,” Jessup said. He wanted a story “not just about a girl who needs to be saved, but a girl who saves herself — as well as her brother.”
The result is “Werewolves,” Jessup’s collaboration with illustrator Allyson Haller. Its central character, Alice Carr, must use wits and courage to “get out of a horrible situation with the crazy werewolves,” Jessup says, as opposed to waiting around for her brooding vampire boyfriend to rescue her again.
At the book’s beginning, Alice is a sensitive high school student who is at home in the woods and leads a normal teenage life. She’s thoughtful, expressive and artistic, using a journal to record and illustrate her experiences. She’s also a vegetarian — but don’t expect that to last. On a dark night, some “big dogs” attack her and her brother and, well, you might be able to guess what happens next. Alice is forced to adjust to a strange new life. “Even if,” she writes, “it means hunting rabbits.”
Jessup says the book is rooted in “urban fantasy,” which “puts more of a human spin on the monsters.” He adds, “people call it ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ in novel form.” The approach puts fantastical creatures and situations in true-to-life cities, and it’s gaining popularity among fans of mystical stories who appreciate the believable settings and characters.
Jessup set out to tell a contemporary story about werewolves as living creatures with afflictions rather than as simple, horrifying monsters. He wanted to endow them with true wolf behavior; Haller’s illustrations follow that tack to create a natural look for the werewolves and shape the personality and emotional authenticity of Alice.
“I hope,” Haller said, “that you can see into her imagination and the feelings that may not be written down in the journal.”
There’s certainly plenty of story meat in the images — literally and figuratively. In one illustration, Alice stands before a mirror, examining the bloody scratches she suffered in the moonlight attack. A few pages later she is alone at night, helpless before an open refrigerator as she tears into a plate of red, raw steak. In another scene, a fierce wolf clutches a bunny in its teeth, crimson drool collecting in a pool below.
This is Jessup’s first book project with an illustrator, and he says it brings a new dimension to the work. “The story wouldn’t be as compelling without the art,” he said. “The use of images with text brought me so much into the world.”
— Daina Beth Solomon