by Vincent Varvara and Bill Young
“The Howler” is a graphic novel by writer Vincent Varvara and artist Bill Young. Set in Toronto, the story follows young Chris Stevens accused of murdering his family. How could a nice boy like Chris do such a thing? It turns out he’s a werewolf—the Howler! But is he really to blame? Especially when we also have powerful warlocks, rampaging basilisks, vile Wendigos, and a scheming uncle in the wings? All these mysteries Chris must sort out—and the Howler must battle through—to discover the truth of what happened that horrible night.
It’s a good idea, evoking memories of Marvel’s Werewolf By Night and DC’s The Demon, and even the old Fox TV show, Werewolf, but as it turns out, it’s a mixed bag. While I liked much of the story and plot, I’d have to say the production is a little amateurish.
The Cons: Young’s art is scratchy, inconsistent, and not up to a professional level—the eyes don’t match, noses vanish—although I’ve seen worse in a couple pro comics. Even when the art is good, like a close up of Captain Harney on page 11, a similar close-up of Edward Stevens on the same page looks crooked and rushed. These two men, along with Detective Schell, all have the same face. Fortunately, the features of the protagonist, Chris, are more distinct, though he looks brutish and angular when he should appear youthful and sympathetic. The female faces are better, but no more distinct. Young has some great ideas in his artwork, but he could benefit by additional studies of anatomy, especially faces.
In places, Varvara’s script is a little overwritten. It’s a comic book, not a dissertation. Tipoff: if you need to reduce the dialog to 6 point type, there’s too much dialog. Break it up in smaller doses or cut it out—keeping just the highlights. In a few places, Varvara’s dialog is stilted and doesn’t sound like real people talking.
Continuity: When Chris shows the scar from being bitten, it’s on his right arm. But in the flashback, he’s bitten on the left arm!
The Pros: At 167 pages, “The Howler” is certainly an ambitious project. It’s told in five parts and the parts contain as many as 55 pages! The page and panel layout and the angles are all dramatic and well thought-out. The story is told almost exclusively in dialog, with precious few captions.
Interestingly, the afflicted hero and the werewolf are shown as two different characters. They just inhabit the same body. This does back to the old idea that a victim of lycanthropy is experiencing demonic possession. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this idea used in popular fiction. The book gets kudos for that.
Curiously, beginning with Part III, artist Bill Young begins applying ink washes to his inking and this helps his art immensely, setting an ominous mood and making the story dark and scary. The shadows obscure some of the details, but that only makes the story all the more ominous. I wish he’d used that technique right from the start. Unfortunately, by Part IV, Young goes back to line art.
“The Howler” is a great first attempt by two creative young men. Varvara and Young seem to both understand what makes a good comic story, but they both need to hone their craft. I’d like to see more from this team in the future.