BB Wolf & the Three LPs
This week, Top Shelf Month is singing the blues! Not that we’re depressed, mind you–how could we be, with such a hilarious interview with JD Arnold and Richard Koslowski, creators of BB Wolf and the Three LPs?
Here, the blues are strictly of the story and music variety, as the classic tale of The Three Little Pigs is recast in the 1920s South as a yarn about racial intolerance and oppression. BB Wolf is a family man just trying to hold onto his farm, but the greedy Littlepig clan will stop at nothing to grab BB’s land. This sets up an epic tale of revenge, as BB Wolf finds every last Littlepig who done him wrong . . . and does a heckuva lot more than blow their houses down!
TFAW.com: JD, what inspired you to create BB Wolf and the Three LPs?
JD Arnold: The inspiration actually came from my wife, Katie. I was suffering through a few days of writer’s block. Nothing was inspiring. All my ongoing series ideas had ground to a halt. I asked Katie for a writing assignment, something to loosen the blockage. She said, without missing a beat, “Why don’t you retell a classic fairy tale? How about The Three Little Pigs?” The ideas started flowing from there. By night’s end I had plotted the entire story. I think the first draft of the script was done in a week.[video:youtube:tps4IEKBEwM W:425 H:344]
TFAW.com: Why did you decide to blend a more serious topic, racial injustice in the 1920s, with folklore?
JD: My first thought upon receiving the “assignment” was to turn the story on its head. In the classic, the three little pigs are the victims of a crazed, house-destroying wolf. I decided make the wolf the victim in my tale. This line of thought lead me to the idea that it wasn’t just Big Bad who was being victimized, but it was all wolves who were being oppressed by the pigs. This naturally led me to make the comparisons to the racial prejudices so common to this time period.
TFAW.com: What was it that spoke to you specifically about the story of The Three Little Pigs?
JD: Well, once I had begun thinking about the story, it became obvious that the story was the perfect vehicle to tell a story of racial prejudice, as well as a darn good revenge story.
TFAW.com: What made the Big Bad Wolf a good allegory of a discriminated-against black man bent on revenge?
JD: I think this was more a byproduct of the story. Once I had decided to play the wolf as the victim, BB fell naturally into this role.
TFAW.com: How did you get connected to artist Richard Koslowski for this book?
JD: I met Rich at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2007. I had recently read his book, Three Fingers, and had become an instant fan of his work. After the show I began communicating with him through email, and asked if he would take a look at a story I had written. The rest is comic book history.
TFAW.com: What was it about his style that you think suited BB Wolf and the Three LPs?
JD: Again, it was Three Fingers. I had, in the meantime, read his 3 Geeks and The King, but it was the art style he employed in Three Fingers, the way he brought such human emotion to the anthropomorphic cartoon actors of the story, that made me want him to bring BB Wolf to life. And bring to life he did! I think it is easily his best work . . . but I may be a bit biased.
TFAW.com: Did he do anything that surprised you, or made you look at your story in a different way?
JD: I had always believed it to be a good story. But after seeing the first pages come in from Rich, the way he brought my words to life, and (spoiler alert) especially the scene near at the end of chapter one . . . it literally brought tears to my eyes. Not only because it was just so damn beautifully drawn, but that moment in the story is such an emotional punch to the gut. Even knowing what was coming, I did write it after all, I still cried. At that moment I knew I had found the right artist.
TFAW.com: Rich, what did you like about JD’s story?
Richard Koslowski: At first Johnnie (or JD as the world knows him) just sent me a simple email telling me he was an aspiring writer looking for an artist and would I consider reading his outline. It was nicely written so I agreed. He sent a very concise outline and it was, again, quite nice . . . very impressive actually, so I told him to go ahead and send me the entire script to read. I loved it.
I will, on occasion, receive similar requests, but Johnnie had his s**t going on. I had no trouble connecting with the story and visualizing exactly how I’d illustrate it. As some readers may know, I also like taking familiar characters and putting a new twist on them, so this was right in my wheelhouse. Johnnie was also willing to “put his money where his mouth was” and pay for my services out of his own pocket. This was impressive to me and showed he was fully committed to his story. We agreed upon a page rate and off we went!
The work was fun! I’d rattle off batches of 10 pages at a crack, send them to Johnnie for approval and so forth and so on until the book was finished. All-in-all, I think we nailed it down in about five to six months.
TFAW.com: What kind of research–into the history of racial conflict, the 1920s, or animal physicality–did you do for this book?
RK: Wikipedia. Oh wait, he already said that . . . I looked at a handful of animal pictures–wolves and pigs of course–but only a handful. I didn’t want to rely too heavily on photo reference for this book as I wanted it to be looser than say, Three Fingers, which used a lot of photo reference. That book was a “documentary” though and that made sense for that one . . . this book was a “fairy tale” so I wanted to reference my imagination only. (Wow! That was a pretty great answer, eh?)
TFAW.com: Was there anything specific you tried to avoid while creating the art for this book?
RK: Well, I had hoped that my natural style in drawing would make it such that it wouldn’t look like Disney’s Big Bad Wolf or some other studio’s interpretation. I also avoided looking at those other renditions because I specifically did not want to be influenced by them. So I just had at it and hoped it looked entirely original.
And setting it in the 1920s as Johnnie did, and the serious tone of the story certainly helped. This is a pretty gritty Big Bad Wolf we’re seeing here . . . not a children’s book by any means.
TFAW.com: Do either of you have a family history of or personal ties to racial injustice in the 1920s?
JD: I’m adopted, and I honestly don’t know much about my biological family’s history. But my adopted family, The Arnolds, hail from the south, Arkansas and Oklahoma most recently, and Alabama a couple of generations before that. I do know that the Alabama Arnolds of the 19th century were small farmer owners. Whether they owned slaves I cannot say.
RK: None that I know of. My relatives all came from Germany so I’ll be writing of my dad’s escape from Russian-controlled East Germany at some point. An entirely different tale of oppression . . .
TFAW.com: What made Top Shelf Productions a good fit for BB Wolf and the Three LPs?
JD: Rich had a prior relationship with Top Shelf, and they agreed to publish the book. As someone looking to have their first work published, this was all I needed. But seriously, I was, and still am, humbled and proud to be working with them. I have nothing but respect for everyone at Top Shelf, and for the books they have published. To my mind they consistently publish the highest quality books of any publisher in the industry. To be counted among those is an honor, indeed.
RK: Yeah, I basically asked Chris Staros if he’d take a look at Johnnie’s script and the first 10 to 12 pages we had finished and he signed it immediately. I obviously had a track record with them having had two books published (Three Fingers; The King) so it made a lot of sense to go to them again. And the book turned out beautiful! We couldn’t be happier with the quality.
TFAW.com: You’ve also written and recorded some “rediscovered” recordings related to the book: BB Wolf and the Howlers: The Lost Recordings. How did that come about?
JD: Rich loves telling this one . . . Rich?
RK: Okay, I’ll give the short version, otherwise this interview would have to be in 12 parts.
Johnnie and I were all but finished with the art and we were driving together, brainstorming on marketing ideas. The idea just popped into my head as these things tend to do! Rich: “Hey! We should cut an album of blues tunes and say they’re the lost recordings of BB Wolf & The Howlers! My brother-in-law has his own rock band and studio back in Wisconsin and I know a few other dudes who play in bands! We could write the lyrics! We could have like, three vintage tracks that sound like they were recorded in 1920 and then modern covers of those songs . . . say that these modern groups were “inspired” by BB’s music . . . really play it up! It’d be so cool!!” Johnnie: “Hell Yes!” What the heck else would he say? It was a great idea, right?!
Now, I’m famous for having all kinds of big ideas. And they are great . . . it’s the “fruition” part that tends to be somewhat . . . challenging. We told Top Shelf and they thought it was also a fantastic idea, but “How you gonna actually do it in time?” A valid question.
Well, as soon as someone (and there were a few) tells me it ain’t gonna happen, I dig in, man. With only months to go until BB the book hit the stands, I started making the phone calls. Between me and Pauly (my brother-in-law) and my old friend CJ Bettin, we had two bands lined up, Spiral Trance and Big Wish! ST is my b-i-l’s award-winning metal band and they kick absolute ass. And one of CJ’s band mates knew a couple of guys who played blues guitar, slide guitar and harmonica! Now, as I said, this is the “nutshell” version . . . this whole process took a few weeks to assemble, but assemble it did. CJ deserves most of the credit for lining up the blues players.
Pauly and I then set a recording schedule for a week in June to get everyone together to record. We had 12 musicians lined up and God bless ’em, they all showed up when they said they would and all of them hit their stride like you wouldn’t believe. From just lyric sheets and melodies Johnnie and I sang into out computer mics they were able to make some incredible music! And they’d just play through each tune a few times and be ready to record! In six days we knocked out three vintage versions and two modern tracks. Spiral Trance did their version of Freight Train the following week.
The energy in the studio was indescribable. Everyone was focused, motivated, and I kept them well-fed!
And if you haven’t heard it yet I promise you that you will not be disappointed. And the guy we found to sing BB’s part . . . the stars aligned just right on this one! I was going to sing the lead if we couldn’t find the “right voice” elsewhere . . . and I do sing pretty well (sang on the Bonus Track in fact! Yes! Rock Star fantasy fulfilled!) actually, but we really wanted a deeper, more growly voice for BB.
It was getting near our deadline and a guy popped into my head . . . a guy who actually worked at the comic shop I frequented when I lived in WI. We played cards together a few years earlier and he mentioned he sang on weekends. Fast forward to 2010 and us looking for BB, so I track him down, ask if he still sings, he says yes, sends me an mpeg, I listen, get tingles, make Sandy listen, she gets tingles, send to Johnnie to listen, he cries like a blubbering baby, we tell “Big Bad” Chad Lundgren he is BB Wolf!
It took a couple more weeks to master and reproduce the CDs and CD jackets after that, but we got them in time for Comic-Con! And the best part is that we did it all without telling the guys at Top Shelf until it was all finished! Needless to say, they were pretty blown away.
TFAW.com: What were each of your roles in this?
JD: I wrote the lyrics and melody to Freight Train and Sweet Baby Elle. I was unable to make the trip to Wisconsin for the recording, a fact that Rich will never let me forget, and something I’ll probably regret for a long, long time.
RK: Johnnie couldn’t make the trip to Wisconsin (he actually booked the flight but then canceled) to record and experience one of the most amazing weeks anyone could ever possibly hope to experience but I sure did . . . and I wrote the song Rip It Up! and then coordinated everyone. I also played the washboard on the vintage track of Rip It Up! and did a few background grunts in that song, as well as sing a duet with Chad on the Bonus Track of Rip It Up! I also helped Pauly with the engineering and mixing during the days and then was the gopher/cheerleader/adoring fanboy during the nights while we recorded . . . I also made sure they were well-fed and never went thirsty!
Oh, and I was the videographer! Except when I actually friggin’ sang and forgot to record myself! Ugh!
Oh, did I mention that Johnnie didn’t make the trip? So very sad.
TFAW.com: Do either of you plan to adapt any other classic folklore stories to comics?
JD: I have scripts completed for re-tellings of Pinocchio, Hansel & Gretel, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I’m looking for artists to bring them to life . . . or for some generous patron to pay Rich to do it. I plan on writing a sequel to BB Wolf, with Rich, being a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.
RK: I actually do have a few other fairy tales in mind, yes. My daughter is eight years old and I’d like to write a book (or two or ten) for her.
Then there are a few more “twisted” fairy tales I’d like to tackle as well geared for the less faint of heart. And, yes, we have briefly discussed a few ideas for a BB sequel.
TFAW.com: What’s next for both of you? Do you plan to work together again?
RK: After BB I need to recharge a bit as it was a massive project . . . so for me that means about two weeks away from any new projects and then right back at it! I’m currently writing two books; one a very personal “picture book” and the other is of an epic scope and possibly a trilogy. Those are but two of about two dozen ideas I’ve got percolating on the desktop. But those are the two that “speak to me” the loudest right now.
JD: As I stated above, I’d love to do the BB sequel with Rich. Rich was a joy to work with, and we’ve become great friends (he moved to Santa Cruz to be near me, so I suppose the feeling is mutual).
RK: I was told the weather was nicer here than in Wisconsin. So far we’ve experienced the rainiest January and February in Santa Cruz in the last four decades and, apparently, the coldest July on record. Sonofa!
Did I mention that Johnnie couldn’t make the trip to Wisconsin?
Thanks again to JD and Rich! Make sure to check out our exclusive video preview, featuring the music of BB Wolf and the Howlers! You can order BB Wolf and the Three LPs right here at TFAW.com and save 20% on this and every other Top Shelf title this month.
Are you intrigued by the concept behind BB Wolf and the Three LPs? Post your comments below!