In this hilarious and energetic story, readers will be introduced to the eponymous Ham… the latest in a long line of foolhardy monster hunters! Will Ham follow in the hoofprints of his late ancestors, or can he break the seemingly endless and completely unforgiving cycle of toxic masculinity?
The Beat accepted an invitation to catch up with Moyer over email to dig up more about the vampires of Ham Helsing, find out how crafting a graphic novel differs from the gag-a-day cartooning gig, and uncover the origin of the mouth-watering undead bacon (yes, you read that last part right)! Plus, be sure and check out the illuminating art process page, included within the interview below.
AVERY KAPLAN: Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of Ham Helsing?
RICH MOYER: Good question. I thought it would be fun to do a project where the reader had a head start. I mean, you start by kinda’ knowing the basics. At the same time, I didn’t want to lean on all the lore we’ve all heard before. It’s like making Batman movies that squeeze in Batman’s origin. Again. Okay, we get it. He needs therapy because his parents died in front of him and he’s rich enough to make a scene. Sometimes lore or mythology can hijack anything new you want to add. So, I didn’t want to be stuck with having to work in a checklist. In fact, I tried to avoid the lore as much as I could. I think that helped. Then it could be about relatable character drama and not plots based on staying inside a framework of vampire “rules.” I think it was important too for a kid’s monster story to have heart. Some monster stories are cold by construction. Bram Stoker would probably thump me on the back of my head.
KAPLAN: Ham Helsing features a great cast of (mostly) animal characters! What was it like to design so many distinct cast members, and did any of them present any particular challenge during development?
MOYER: The challenge was I just started drawing them on page one. I was a little afraid I’d get good at them on page 200. But thankfully I also wanted them to look animated and feel elastic. But it was great. And it worked out that their silhouettes are very different. I always thought that was a sign things are going in the right direction.
KAPLAN: One theme that this graphic novel tackles is toxic masculinity. Why was it important for you to cover this topic? Did you set out to write a book about this theme, or did you arrive at it along the way?
MOYER: I thought it would be funny as a device on how counterproductive toxic masculinity is to survival. I mean, how long would Rambo live in real life? About 4 minutes. Running into a burning building doesn’t always make you brave. Especially if you don’t check to see if there’s anyone inside first.
KAPLAN: Let’s talk about the undead! In Ham Helsing, we see that Malcolm’s powers include power over the undead… which in this case means living strips of bacon! Where did the inspiration for this hilarious gag come from?
MOYER: I thought it would be fun to have characters that were paper-thin. Literally, I suppose. I was careful on how pun-driven this all was while maintaining some gravity around scary and dangerous moments. But I couldn’t help but to have a few purely ridiculous things in there because … why not? It is a graphic novel. If two strips of bacon have stick legs and karate fight … that’s a Tuesday. You create your own rules for a universe you create.
KAPLAN: You’ve previously worked as a syndicated cartoonist. How does the creative process behind a graphic novel differ from this previous experience (if it does)?
MOYER: I did a single panel that was fairly undisciplined. A gag-a-day strip. I didn’t have to worry about intersecting characters, maintaining a story thread, keeping tension, having or call-backs from previous instances … any of that. I just had to be funny in an unexpected way. As fun as it was, a comic strip without consistent characters is unmarketable outside of newsprint. Well, unless you’re Gary Larson. I think I was intimidated by writing something this long back then. When Ham is in written form, it’s about screenplay length. I love this format. And now I’m no longer intimidated about creating a cast of characters. Now it’s exciting. I get to put on a writer’s hat, then a storyboard artist’s, and then a director’s. You see it out in the world longer than a syndicated cartoon. In syndication you have a crazy idea in the shower, and you get to see it in a newspaper a few weeks later. But there’s still moments of the instant gratification that I felt when I was doing a strip. Like the writing part. That often feels like magic because it’s much faster to write a page than it is to draw a page.
KAPLAN: Do you have a favorite vampire story, or a favorite vampire incarnation?
MOYER: I loved Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Gary Oldman laughing maniacally in that wig was enough to take my money. Nosferatu was great because it watches like an historical document. 30 Days of Night was cool. I’ve watched that film many times just because the setup was so perfect. It had the great idea on how to isolate the heroes with no way out.
KAPLAN: Have there been any comics (or any other kind of stories) that have been especially influential for you lately?
MOYER: This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews was awe-inspiring in the way he would frame a shot and merge the text with art in a fantastically seamless manner. It was magical. My daughter loves books from Terri Libenson and Raina Telgemeier.
A couple of my all-time favorites in the last 5 years are Paper Girls and Harrow County. Paper Girls is like Stranger Things with time travel and Harrow County is a masterclass in both storytelling and art.
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to include?
MOYER: While my book is advertised as 8-12, it’s a fun ride that’s not written exclusively for a particular age group. I didn’t want to exclude anyone from the adventure.
Ham Helsing is available beginning today at your local bookstore and public library.