The fear of the unknown is very visceral, says Joseph Oliveira of Afterlight Comics. In their fearsomeness, the monsters created by the authors reflect our own fears of what is beyond our comprehension and control. Asian folklore, he opines, is much “freakier”. Oliveira also explains to us the symbolism behind creatures in European and American folklores such as the wendigo, Baba Yaga and the mothman.
The first three parts of Wendigo Wood were published before the pandemic. The final part was published in 2022. We’re intrigued to discover the conclusion of the final part. How much of the pandemic informs the ending of this series? Why that ending?
Due to the pandemic the final issue of the series was a little delayed in production due to the fact that where our artist was based they weren’t allowed to work on any freelance projects because their resident countries’ government wouldn’t allow it, as there was a sort of universal income scheme running during Covid. So we had to shelve it a little while, but this didn’t stop us publishing as we continued with other series during that 18-month period.
What is a wendigo? Why does it look like that? How did you and the artists come up with the character design?
A wendigo is a cannibalistic giant, a person that has been transformed into by a monster by the consumption of human flesh. There are many visualisations of wendigos but I decided that we go the traditional route with the stags head. I thought it was visually more striking. This was after a few concepts designs by the artist that I made the decision.
Why is that type of urban legend – stranded motorists beset by danger on a desolate road – so popular amongst horror fans? That setting is a constant feature in the modern horror genre.
I think because it’s truly an isolated setting. You’re stripped of all your familiarities and comforts, more than likely you’ll be getting no service on your mobile too! All your senses become heightened, are you really hearing and seeing something? Or is it your imagination? The fear of the unknown is very visceral. It’s incredibly fun as a writer to take the reader along this journey. The opening scene in Wendigo Wood #1 was actually inspired by a true story I read a story where there was a baby seat in the middle of the road and some baby things, hopefully to encourage a passerby to pull over and investigate. One person just drove on by and ignored it as they left the scene. They look in their wing mirror they seen a dozen people emerge from the tall bushes….
“The fear of the unknown is very visceral.”
Your latest work, Districts of the Yokai, takes us from Western gothic to Far Eastern horror. Like Wendigo Wood, organised crime provides the perfect cover for the supernatural in this latest story. Is there a difference, in your observation, between the Western demon and the Asian demon? Are there archetypes that jump out to you?
After research, specifically for the 40 card deck game I published Clash of the Yokai, I discovered that Asian folklore was a lot more FREAKIER! From the design of them to the stories behind them.
Your works feature demons well-known in folklores, such as the Baba Yaga (Slavic) and the mothman (American). What do you think these creatures represent in these cultures?
In Slavic folklore, the Baba Yaga represents ambiguity and contradiction, embodying both villainous and wise aspects. She symbolises the complex nature of life, humanity’s connection with untamed forces of nature
Whereas the mothman from American folklore is seen as a predecessor of doom, appearing before tragic events as a foreboding presence. It embodies fear, the unknown, and the blurring of natural and supernatural realms, evoking contemplation about the fragility of human existence and the mysteries that lie beyond our comprehension. These creatures serve as cultural symbols, reflecting mostly fears and providing cautionary tales.
What book did you last read?
I’m reading Garth Ennis’s post-apocalyptic series called Crossed at the moment and let me tell you it is not for the faint-hearted or weak stomach!
Which format do you prefer: print, PDF or e-book?
I will always adore physical but space-to-store comics is becoming an issue so unless I REALLY want it I will get the digital.
Afterlight Comics can be found at the Artist Alley, B-11, at MCM Comic Con London, May 2023.