INTERVIEW: PAUL BOLGER ON CREATING THE HOUND

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I recently backed The Hound Kickstarter project so I am delighted I got a chance to interview creator Paul Bolger about how the book came about. (If you didn’t back the project, you can pre-order it on the Hound website).

I want to start with the art. What and who are some of your influences?

At the risk of getting above myself my biggest artistic influence is Caravaggio. For illustration there’s a host – Frazetta, J. Allen St. John, Harry Clarke, Bernie Wrightson, Dino Battaglia, Will Eisner, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, Herge, Alex Toth, and above all Hugo Pratt. His “Corto Maltese” is comic storytelling perfection in my opinion.

The book is a retelling of a well known Irish story. Did you do a lot of research for the book?

I’ve done so much research you don’t want to be cornered by me when I start waffling about Pre-Christian Ireland. Hound is based on a myth but I wanted to root my version in a believable and heightened reality so everything the characters fight with, drink from, wear as jewelery, live in and drive around in is based on existing artifacts. The hairstyles and costumes I made up. I tried to limit stuff used to what is in the National Museum but I have used some other Celtic stuff from Britain and Europe.

Most important thing for me though was not just the material world of Hound but the culture. I had the good fortune of talking to the late Prof. Daithi O hOgain of UCD. Also Eamonn Kelly Head Of Antiquities at the museum was great and I spent a day with him in Kildare St., and things were confirmed and much more learnt. All this fed into the kind of people and place I wanted to show in my take on Cu Chulainn. As the project is also a film the level of research might seem like overkill but the layers it provides a depth I hope I can bring to the book and give readers something that they can keep coming back to.
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The story has been retold before in comics but you’re also taking some creative license with it. What are some of the things you are doing?

I have to be careful about giving too much away but the most interesting bit of creative license I’m taking is that Hound is told from the point of view of the ancient Irish war spirit Morrigan and the part she played in the story. This allows me to play with parts of the source material that is either repetitive or contradictory. I have combined some characters and streamlined the action to fit a clearer through line from start to end. Also having it told from the POV of a slighy unstable war demon who loves the sound of her own voice means if she drags the saga away from the source I can blame her when the purists come after me. Seriuosly thought the most important thing to me is that the story drives along at a pace and the themes that have kept it in Irish minds for millenia are retained.

Is it difficult to balance doing your own thing while staying true to the story?

It was and is. Huge kudos to anyone who has managed to adapt the saga successfully. I tried not to move too far from the source material so I held onto all the main beats – killing the blacksmith’s dog, the hero living up to a prophecy, going to Scotland to train, the war for the bull, killing his friend, etc

What do you think is the essence of the story.

One man’s quest to control his dark nature before it consumes him and all he holds dear.

You went the Kickstarter route. I’ve heard of creators running into trouble with the process due to all the different skills needed and unexpected costs like postage. How has the process been for you? Did you do a lot of research before deciding to finance the book via Kickstarter?

I did that with my co-producers on the film version, BreakThru Films, as they are UK based. KS hadn’t come to Ireland yet. We decided to go the KS route as it not only helped fund the drawing and printing of a limited edition of the book, the way I imagined it, but it would also help raise awareness of the project. So far so good. The cost of running the campaign was high, and not just the pitfalls like postage.

We had a small team on our Kickstarter which made all the difference. We treated it like a mini-production – like we were making a film. Call it experience. We had a PR person, an editor to shoot and make promo videos, etc. The main benefit was that BreakThru had run a previous successful Kickstarter campaign, and before that one that failed, on their Loving Vincent feature film. So we had some track record and the guys there had learned some valuable lessons like not asking for too much and being realistic in our promises to backers. Social media and getting comics blogs and fans talking about us all over the web was key in the end. Lot of work – I couldn’t have done it alone.
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You are also hoping to bring the story to the big screen. How different is the art process for film versus creating a comic book. Does it help that you started the comic first?

It does but the the two mediums sort of feed off each other – I had originally designed it as an animated movie but that did not happen. The vision and story has stayed the same since those days so instead of the project being a relay race like so many others (as in the book “baton” being handed over to film then to video games, etc.) Hound is like a marathon where all versions started around the same time but some are now moving forward faster. Long slow process making these epics so it is.

It is, hopefully, going to be a live action movie.

Live action is the target yea

Did you ever consider going the animation route?

As I was saying earlier animation was the first inception – I even pitched it to Dreamworks way back when – but the full life story of Cu Chulainn doesn’t lend itself to the kid-friendly, family and comedy demands of the animation feature market in my opinion. At least not my take on it.

Ireland has a great record for that kind of movie with the likes of Secret of Kells.

Sure does but Hound is a very different beast to Kells. I see it as a 15’s plus audience and there ain’t no 15+ market for animation produced on this side of the world.

I almost got the animated version made in 2001 but it fell apart which was a blessing in disguise looking back. I put it to sleep after that and brought it back as live action as I think that best suits the original myth.

When do you hope to have the book finished?

On the shelf by February 2015. There are only 750 hardback copies being produced. We want to find a publisher to give it a wider release. Vols 2 & 3 are already laid out and I will start carving into those in January.
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You were at the recent DICE convention. What do you think of the Irish comic scene?

Fantastic. So vibrant and diverse. And the quality of some of what I saw is world class. Great to see. When I started out there was no scene – comics or otherwise.

Before going into animation and film after college in the late 80’s I had done lots of small press stuff and screwball underground comics – heavily influenced by Last Gasp, Robert Crumb and the likes of Hunt Emerson and Knockabout. Comics were always the first love and doing Hound has got me back on that road.

The Hound hits shelves in February 2015. You can pre-order the book on the Hound website and you can keep up to date on the book’s progress on the Hound’s Facebook page.