Comics: Neil Vokes talks Flesh and Blood

Red of Tooth and Maw

By , Columnist

Neil Vokes & Matt Webb

Neil Vokes is one of those faces you see at many east coast comics conventions. Well, perhaps it’d be more accurate to say that you’ll often see the top of his head when you visit his table in artists’ alley.

That’s because he’s an artist fans love to ask for a sketch, so he’s often got his face buried in his art board, hard at work bringing someone’s favorite character to life right before their eyes, aided by naught but paper, pencil, ink, and a fecund imagination harnessed to a lifetime of practice.

According to some, Vokes is currently doing the best work of his career at this very moment on a brand new project. They say that it was he co-created by Bobby Tinnell, one of Vokes regular collaborators. And they also say that it one real legs.

That project is called Flesh and Blood, and from what we’ve seen, it is very impressive work, indeed. And it does come with a variety of very… impressive… legs, along with the usual arms, torsos, arms, hands, throats and… teeth.

Lots and lots of very, very sharp teeth.

Neil Vokes picture with Eagle, Doc Strange and Flesh and Blood cvrs.jpg

How do you describe this new book to those who’ve not yet encountered it?

First and foremost it's a monster rally in the spirit of the old Universal horror films like House of Dracula, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, etc - not  to mention Todd Livingston, Bob's and my own Black Forest books. Flesh and Blood tries to collect various characters from the classic horror films and literature into one series and let them mix it up.

From talking with you and Bob, and what I’ve seen in the previews you folks have shared with me, it looks like it could be a little extreme for some tastes. Who do you see enjoying this series?

If you're referring to the sex and violence content, then yes, it might scare off a few sensitive souls here and there, but classic horror fans young and old should get a kick out of this. Surprisingly, the violence in these stories doesn't seem to offend people so much as the sex - [which] blows my mind actually. I'd like to think we were trying more for eroticism than straight ahead sex.

I suppose it's a matter of opinion, but I think of what we did in the book as more like the early British horror films in the '70s where you'd see a bit of nudity and titillation, but nothing approaching X rated fare.

If you stick with it, you'll find a very engaging adventure storyline-along with some romance and a little sci-fi merged in with the naughty bits & horror.

Well, how’d you get involved in this outing, why did you take it on?

Two reasons: Bob Tinnell and my love of horror movies generally, and England's Hammer Films in particular. Bob and I have now done four graphic novels together—when we finish the Flesh and Blood series that will bring the total to eight—and he is one of the very best writers I've had the pleasure to work with in my 27 years in this biz. Not only that, he's become a good friend—family, really—even if we never worked together again, we'd still be close- that means a lot to me.

Neil V and Bobby T with their monster friends from a short story drawn by NV.jpg As for Hammer Films, I fell in love with them way back in 1964 at a drive in theater-I was ten and my family and I saw four films that night - Horror of Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein, Goliath Vs. The Vampires and Godzilla Vs the Thing! I was already a huge horror geek before that night, but after seeing Peter Cushing's Van Helsing battle Christopher Lee's Dracula to the death, there was no looking back.

Well, actually, there was-as we drove away from the screen, I sat glued to the back window of our station wagon, watching Horror of Dracula start up again--I wanted to stay! 

Hammer's Gothic horrors have become my favorites since that day, although I'm still a huge Universal Films nut, also. 

When Bob and I decided to follow up our Universal-inspired Black Forest books, we thought that using Hammer as the springboard this time made sense—they never did monster rally films and we felt it was about time.

Although I have to add that we actually were inspired by many of the European horror films of the 1970s, along with our beloved Universal monsters. That, mixed with the original literary characters that many of these films are based on, helped us work out the details of the story.

A relatively new publisher, Monsterverse, is putting the book out. How’d you get hooked up with those folks?

Bob had already known the Monsterverse's Kerry Gammill, as did I through his comic book work, and when we saw their Bela Lugosi anthology book, Tales from the Grave, we got in touch with them about doing a short story for it.

We were already working on Flesh and Blood at this point, and though Bob and I haven't yet done a story for the anthology—though old buddy Jack Herman and I have—it started us talking with them. I asked one day if they'd be interested in our new book--I figured the worse they could say is no .Fortunately they said yes!

Bela Lugosi horizontal web ad.jpg

Well, what about that company made it the perfect place for Flesh and Blood?

The main reason they're the best place for our series is that they—Sam Park, Kerry and Keith Wilson—are all as huge geeks as we are when it comes to horror films. We were born to work together!

How’d you and Bobby work on the book? Did you talk a bit about the tale and brainstorm a bit together before you each went off and did your respective things, or was it more of a traditional “He writes it, I draw it,” type of working relationship?

I've never been very good at the “He writes it, I draw it,” type of collaboration - I’ve certainly done it many times during my work-for-hire days, but it always left me wanting more. I prefer to be involved in the telling of the tale.

No, Bob and I talk out the stuff we want to do in a story, and he gives me what I'd probably call a detailed "plot with dialog." Once Bob gives me that, I lay out the basic storytelling following what he wrote and then start picking away at it till it flows right - this sometimes involves changing things around or adding action to a scene, sometimes to Bob's chagrin. This seems to work for us... so far.

 What unique challenges, if any, has Flesh and Blood presented you with?

I wouldn't say that it's challenged me in any unique way. The subject matter is one I know and love, so the actual drawing of it is fun.

But the sheer amount of physical work involved certainly throws me at times. When we started the book, it was meant to be a six-ish (issue) series that would come to about 120-30 pages total. Then we decided to do one graphic novel of about 160 pages.

After some serious rethinking, based on scheduling and other issues, we then expanded the story to four 80 page volumes. So I now have 320 pages to draw! Were I still a 30 year old artist, this might be no big deal, but now in my late 50s... well... age has slowed me down a bit.

Flesh and Blood pg 60 layout-wip-tmr by Neil Vokes.jpg
It looks like you’ve changed your approach a bit on this one. Unless I’m mistaken, you’ve moved away from the ink washes towards a cleaner look. Correct, or am I way off base?

I think the actual drawing style—the ink line—is very much the same as I always do. The difference is the addition of color.

Ah, OK. But still, it does appear that you’ve not really used washes very much for Flesh and Blood, have you? What happened?

I started doing the book in my inkwash style—I fully expected to do the original series that way. But Bob made an excellent point that if we're doing early '70s Brit horror, it needs to be in color. We tried color over the wash—and some of the early pages are still presented that way in the printed book--but I didn't like the result.

Flesh and Blood pg 60 fully inked by Neil Vokes.jpg

So I decided to drop the wash and just draw it in a "cleaner" style, as you say. The greatest advantage to this was the introduction of colorist Matt Webb to the team. I think Matt is doing some of the best work in his career and he seems to be enjoying himself.

But the next project I do with Bob will be in wash. It's called The Voice and it rocks—you’ll see.

Neil Vokes Parliament of Justice Card.jpg

You’ve been at this a while now. What keeps you in comics? What does making comics provide you with that other pursuits, artistic or otherwise, might not offer?


That's hard to explain. It's not the money, for sure.

The personal gratification I get from the work itself. The response from fans and peers alike convinces me to keep at it. The chance to work with people like Bob Tinnell, Matt Webb, Jack Hermen, Tom Smith, the Monsterverse lads and many, many more certainly makes the job that much more enjoyable.

The support—both personal and financial—of my wife, Siri, counts for a lot as well. She's had my back from day one. You can't ask for more than that.

No, you really can’t.

What do you hope people get from your work on Flesh and Blood? How about your work in general?

What I hope they get from my work on Flesh and Blood is a little bit of that thrill I've gotten through the years from the films that inspired me to draw it. I certainly hope they enjoy the story and the art.

Black Forest full color piece by NV.jpg

How about your work in general?

If there's anything in particular that I try to share with my fans, it's the passion with which I come at virtually every project. I'm no amazing illustrator—(but I am) a pretty decent storyteller, in my opinion—so I think that if anything comes through in my work at all it's the utter joy I get from doing it. If no one ever bought another of my books--God forbid!--I'd still draw them... it's what I do.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Before I start shamelessly plugging my work, I'd like to thank you, Bill for a great list of questions… you know how I hate talking about myself!

You can order Flesh and Blood #1 from your retailer or online through Diamond Previews; (its Diamond order number is) JUL111158 FLESH AND BLOOD GN VOL 01. It’ll be on shelves and available online at the end of October, in time for Halloween.

After Flesh and Blood is finished, I start a graphic novel for Michael Hudson's Sequential Pulp Comics. It's based on an old pulp story by H.P. Lovecraft, Under the Pyramids. My buddy Jack Herman will be writing it. Bob Tinnell and I will be doing The Voice sooner or later. I've already laid out 22 pages. 

Mine and Jack Herman's Tales from the Grave story, "Walpurgis Knight," can be ordered from Diamond at MAY111131 F BELA LUGOSI TALES FROM GRAVE #2.You can visit the Monsterverse lads at their website.

If you have nothing else better to do you can read my blog

Thanks again, Bill!

Neil V self portrait.jpg

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