Terry LaBan often wonders why he has never been interested in doing anything besides draw cartoons. Might he not have been equally determined to master the vagaries financial markets or the intricacies of computer coding, preferably pre-Meltdown and Dotcom Boom? But no–it had to be cartooning. Nothing else would do.
It’s not that he doesn’t have other interests. In fact, he’s not that interested in cartooning, at least as an ongoing topic of study and discussion. Cartooning’s how he synthesizes information, but the information he seeks usually concerns other topics entirely. LaBan reads incessantly, mostly non-fiction. He likes history, anthropology, religion–the package they call “social studies” in primary school. He’s always been into this stuff–as a kid, he enjoyed reading encyclopedias and National Geographics and looked forward to trips to museums, when he could happily spend weekend afternoons losing himself in the exhibit halls. He’s still that way, which makes him a less-than-desirable addition to tour groups and a source of frustration to his wife and family.
It was on one such excursion, to Chicago’s Field Museum somewhere around 1992, that LaBan conceived of Muktuk Wolfsbreath. The Field had just revamped a large section of their Native American exhibit, a part dealing mostly with Northwest Coast cultures, with an emphasis on that region’s version of shamanism. A remarkable collection of artifacts–masks, carved totems, the contents of sacred bundles–were displayed in a darkened room, where the exhibit cases only lit up as you approached them, an effect that both helped preserve the objects and dramatize them. Accompanied by grainy black and white video loops of turn-of-the-century rituals and a soundtrack of chants and drumming, the whole thing was quite evocative. Somewhere in there the realization that shamans were kind of like detectives, in that they brought about change by discovering the source of problems, clicked with that classic hard boiled voice, and, suddenly, there was an idea for a character. At the time, LaBan, who’d recently bailed on his first “alternative” comic book series, Unsupervised Existence, was working on the first book of a second series, Cud. The first Muktuk Wolfsbreath story–set in Siberia, home of the classic shamans– appeared in there, and the positive response was immediate. LaBan eventually wrote and drew two more Muktuk stories himself and wrote a 3-issue Muktuk miniseries for DC, which was drawn by Steve Parkhouse, and appeared in 1998.
The DC series sold only moderately and unsure what else to do with the character, LaBan shelved him and moved on. Over the years, though, he continued to hear every so often from Muktuk fans, looking for art and asking him if he’d ever write more. The answer was always “no’, but when, one day, when considering his options for a thesis project that would allow him to complete his Masters in Interactive Design, he decided a web comic would fit the bill and that Muktuk Wolfsbreath would be the perfect concept to build it around. And here we are.
By the way, as noted above, Muktuk Wolfsbreath is Siberian, not Native American or Eskimo. Also, this comic is not intended to be an accurate depiction of either Siberian tribal culture(not that there’s just one) or of shamanic practices( which no longer exist, at least as they did before 1918). LaBan is a cartoonist, not a scholar, and has neither the time nor the patience to do serious research. That being said, there is a spirit he hopes to capture–dark night, arctic cold, skin tents lit by smoldering fires and echoing with the deep, hollow beat of the drum.
When not writing and drawing comics and cartoons, Terry LaBan is looking for work. You can see a much larger portfolio of his stuff on his personal website, link on the right. If you have a project you think he’d enhance, do not hesitate to drop him a line.