A Heartfelt Tale of a Wolf and His Boy – The Windwater Pack: Spirit Brother

Ashleigh D.J. Cutler, better known online as “AshWolf Forever”, is an author and artist from Ohio in the U.S.A. She began building the Realm of Crystal at the tender age of three. Since then, she has fought to bring it to life in a fashion that can be shared with the world. She is the creator of The Windwater Pack: Spirit Brother

Synopsis: When the freshly orphaned eight-week-old wolf pup was scooped up by a twenty-something farm boy, he was terrified. Little did he know his life was about to change for the better.

Dubbed Zephyr by the human, the pup’s days are soon filled with bedtime stories, dance lessons, and learning the nonsensical rules of his new home. When his instincts clash against these rules, the resident farm dog, Rue, is quick to correct him. Zephyr pushes himself to adapt, refusing to let J.C. – the human he has come to see as an elder brother – down. Zephyr would be content to stay beside J.C. forever. However, forever is a long, long time.

And time has a way of changing things.

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
I did take some Creative Writing and art stuff in High School, but I’ve never done college.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
On Comic Fury, Drama was the closest I could come to. Spirit Brother especially is a Coming of Age story. I enjoy the chances for character growth in such stories.

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
If “A Boy and His Dog” is a genre, then I’d say that. I’ve seen plenty of “kid finds a wolf” stories, but I’ve never seen a name for the type of tale.

What was your inspiration for the story?
I’ve read enough “kid finds a wolf, takes care of it, then has to give it up / return it to the wild”. “Spirit Brother” is such a story, but from the point of view of the wolf, not the human. I wanted to tell that type of story. We rarely get what the wolf thinks of all this.

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
In the case of “The Windwater Pack”, I’d have to lean on Jean Craighead George and Elisabeth Hall. “Julie’s Wolf Pack” and “Child of the Wolves” had an impact on me growing up and I do try and capture some of the flavor of that.

How long does it take you to complete one page?
It depends. If Arsyynis (the Character Sketch Artist) isn’t busy I can do it in a week or two. If they are, it can take more than a month. This is why I’ve been building a slush pile.

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
Ryan Estrada did an article on Medium on “Speed Comicking”, and I’ve used that process ever since (as well as the page templates he offered). It boils down to using Celtx, a Script Writing Software, to write the script first. Then I board the pages and lay down the rough or completed backgrounds before passing the file to Arsyynis. They do the character sketches, send me the page back, and then I ink, color, and shade the characters. This works because on-model isn’t in my skill set 100% yet. I use Fire Alpaca and my Turcom tablet.

Is your comic a finished work? If not, how long do you think you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
The script for “Spirit Brother” is finished, and it should be around 200 pages when it’s done. However, the series as a whole has three more “books” which haven’t been scripted yet, so I can’t say how long the series as a whole will be. The other three are plotted, and I do have an “end” in mind.

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
“Spirit Brother” had a half-finished novella draft in 2002, and its sequels had finished novella drafts in 2010. “The Windwater Pack” has been a very very long road. But for the current version, I’d say the script took about six months at most.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making of your comic? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
Really, my biggest issue is my low on-model skills. I’d tell myself it’s okay to get help, you don’t have to do everything yourself.

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
I’d say a tie between boarding and coloring. Boarding is fun, I get to see a rough version of how it’ll all turn out before I get started. Coloring is great because I can zone out and just do it.

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
Backgrounds. Ugh. Keeping everything straight and looking the same is a nightmare. But just double-checking and reminding myself the story needs it helps. Sometimes you just have to power through it.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
That is easy: Zephyr, the Main Character. My boy’s such a goof, but he’s got a good heart. He thinks outside the box and this often makes others around him a bit frustrated. The funny thing is though, his logic’s sound. He works with what he knows personally. He’s always eager to help others. He’s just… such a good boy.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
Rue, the farm dog who becomes a bit of a parental figure to Zephyr. Having a wolf around is just so against everything he knows, so he’s trying to stick to his beliefs while … well, not hating the pup.

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
Zephyr, hands down. I sketch him off and on for practice. I’m trying to improve my on-model skills so Arsyynis and I can each do a page at once and speed up the process a bit.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Any and all humans. Seriously. But Cian Calaway (Zephyr’s owner’s dad) is a bit more work than I’d like since he’s on the older side.

Where can we find you?
I tend to just link to the Contact Page: on my website because it’s got almost everywhere I am. I’m on Facebook and Twitter as well. DeviantART, it’s a long list. I also do a gag strip / writer humor strip called “Life’s a Crepshoot”. It features my OCs and personifies a lot of my struggles with writing. Zephyr’s got a cameo planned one of these days.

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
I just want to say yes, a LOT of wolf research went into this. It’s anthropomorphic, and very “PLEASE don’t try this at home!”

Have you read The Windwater Pack: Spirit Brother yet? Let us know what you think in the comments!