I've never been much of a fan of the look of the Wolf Man so it came as a bit of a relief when I discovered somewhat early on in the Classic Monsters project that the Wolf Man is not public domain. It's important that I clarify that I define the Wolf Man as distinctly different than a werewolf in that I see the Wolf Man, in appearance, as more man than wolf whereas I consider a werewolf to be a somewhat evenly distributed hybrid.
It's my own definition that's left me dissatisfied with movies and shows in which the werewolf quickly shifts from man to common wolf. Where's the supernatural alarm in a common wolf stalking you through the forest?
Sure, it's terrifying in its own way, but that way isn't other-worldly. My definition of werewolf demands bipedalism. While I initially considered the legal barring to the Wolf Man a wrench in the gears of this project, I quickly felt relief that I could instead focus my attentions on a related monster for which I felt much more affinity. Still, the Wolf Man's influence was definitely felt and pondered during the course of this illustration.
There was a distinct period of childhood when I felt more of a connection to werewolves than any of the other common monsters like vampires or mummies. It's difficult to trace where this started but I vividly remember a werewolf clad in jeans and a plaid shirt (lumberjack attire) making a brief appearance in a short story I had to write for my 3rd grade class entitled The Monster-Lurking Woods.
Granted, the protagonist is plagued by all manner of monster including a ghost, a phantom, a skeleton, and a zombie, but I specifically remember the werewolf, rendered in crayon, ravenously tearing through the woods in search of our hero. Luckily, the werewolf is effortlessly dispatched with a hand grenade.
Around this time, I was tuning in every Saturday morning to a cartoon called Ghostbustersthat had no relation to the Ghostbusters movie that had come out a few years earlier. One of the recurring villains of this cartoon was a futuristic werewolf with an insane underbite bearing the unfortunate name of Fangster. While I don't remember much about Fangster, I do recall feeling he was a sort of kindred spirit.
While I was drawing the random werewolf in the margins of my notes at school, I started to believe that one day, I would actually become a werewolf. In fact, I recall pacing around my backyard, trying to figure out how to transform. It felt as though all of my problems would be solved if I could only make the shift.
I would look at my lower canines in the mirror with excitement, certain that their sharpness indicated that I'd soon have a vicious jutting underbite as I transformed into a primal creature of the night. Had I known then that I was just a human, I would have been crushed.
Just as I had years earlier dreamed of becoming best friends with Count Duckula, I now knew that everything in my life was building up to that glorious moment when I'd be neither man nor wolf but something in between. But again, this expectation was short-lived and soon my interests had drifted away from werewolves.
Every once in a while, I would touch upon my lycanthropy fixation, but it wasn't limited to werewolves. Despite damning evidence that indicated my parents were the Easter Bunny, I harbored a suspicion that a wererabbit stalked the dew-kissed yards in springtime.
Years later, as I burned through almost all of Stephen King's books, I found myself perplexed by Silver Bullet in ways that I can't quite put into words. Maybe it felt too straightforward but anything less would be anti-climactic. Perhaps this was my first indicator that I didn't really know what I wanted from the werewolf mythology: an issue that even lingered through the beginning stages of this illustration.
I'm not blaming Silver Bullet (and let me clarify that I actually enjoyed the book) but as I became a teenager, I only thought of werewolves as an interesting exploration of the Big Bad Wolf that stalked through so many fairy tales (fairy tales were often the subject of my high school art projects).
It wasn't until sometime in the mid-2000s when I revisited a lot of the classic monsters (as anyone who follows this blog already knows by now) that I gave any more attention to werewolves. The Wolf Man remains one of the most popular of the classic Universal horror films and it's well-deserved. In many ways, it's the funniest of the early horror films in my opinion but admittedly I have a strange sense of humor.
Combining the laughs with the fact that the story is actually decent makes it an easy film to fall into. While I'm partial to say that werewolf films are disappointing more often than not, I have enjoyed the creativity that went into many lycanthropy-based films.
An American Werewolf in London was far too enjoyable for me to really care about the quadruped wolf and the recent television series Hemlock Grove features a werwolf character that fits into the mythology perfectly as well as one of the best transformation scenes on celluloid. I also enjoyed The Howling but this is also where one of my greatest annoyances with the modern werewolf comes into play: the werewolf as rustic hillbilly which hits peak levels of annoyance on the once-great TV series True Blood.
Not to say that True Blood really did so much for vampires or witches, but werewolves were consistently shown to be redneck biker subservients to annoying vampires. True Blood is allowed to have its own mythology but it definitely fell short of my expectations of werewolves. And again there's that whole annoying quick shift from man to common wolf.
But where some artists degrade the werewolf mythology into something so simple, other artists take werewolves further than the confines of popularised mythology. Bret Easton Ellis briefly mentions a werewolf rampaging through Bel Air in Less Than Zero, a particularly creepy idea for those of us who have driven through the bizarrely empty-feeling Bel Air night.
I had the pleasure of attending a talk by author Trini Dalton in which she took a moment to show a photo of a severed werewolf head growing clusters of crystals; an image I found inexplicably inspiring. I've even found the phrase "electric werewolves" creeping into my own mythology; neon, hyperactive, charged and crackling teenage beasts. But this particular illustration explores my idea of the werewolf in a classic sense.
I wanted my werewolf to be a hulking, top-heavy behemoth, dragged into a hunched form by its own bulk and muscle. I initially began by drawing the central figure but I felt it didn't quite express the chaos of the werewolf. Therefore, I added the image of the howling wolf and the other profile.
While I feel the central figure expresses the stalking werewolf, watching its prey with confidence and poised before the final burst of mania, the howling profile of the werewolf is used to convey literal "lunacy" - a loss of control through a sort of hypnosis brought on by the pregnant full moon. The human aspects of the werewolf are gone from its eyes in each illustration, but it is this howling wolf that shows just how in thrall the werewolf is to its supernatural calling.
I say "supernatural" despite my belief that the werewolf myth often delves into man's repressed sexuality and animal rage; aspects of man as an animal that are actually quite natural. But in referring to this as "supernatural" in the werewolf mythology reinforces the strength of the pull, the maddening need that actually transforms the man into another physical form.
Finally, the open-mouthed profile of the werewolf was drafted spontaneously and is possibly my favorite depiction of the werewolf; betrayed by maddening senses, crazed and consuming.
The moon is vital in the werewolf mythology and is one of the defining factors in pretty much every decent werewolf story or film. That importance is highlighted in the fact that the moon nearly overtakes the entirety of the world around the werewolf in this illustration.
To this day, when I gaze up at the full moon from anywhere even remotely forested, my mind goes to the werewolf and I feel the magic in its mythology. When the full moon peers behind the clouds in The Wolf Moon, the horror is secondary to the beauty.
The flowers in the foreground are wolf's bane which is simply a reference to the poem recited in The Wolf Man: "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night/May become a wolf when the wolf's bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright." The glowing pentagram on the werewolf's hand is also a reference to a telltale sign in The Wolf Man of the survivor of a werewolf bite (and thus a carrier of the curse).
The collapsed wooden fence posts bordering the foreground were a less specific but still somehow important part of the mythology. They're indicative of faulty barriers or boundaries and indicate a rustic, maybe ill-maintained or even abandoned farm. It's in this isolation that the man loses himself and the werewolf comes to the surface. The swollen allure of the autumn moon, the sexual bloom of the venomous wolf's bane, the deteriorated boundaries all give way to the silence and remoteness that demands the most primal of howling.
The world around the werewolf makes no sense with red bullet streaks passing behind the werewolf but before the ground he stands upon. These bullets are the werewolf's death/rebirth, the conclusion and salvation only deliverable through someone who loves him, hence the hearts emblazoned on the silver.
Here, love delivers the beast away from savage confusion, sexual shame, and the guilt of animalistic urges.
BOU POSTER OF THE WEREWOLF