Animals of War: An Interview with Freeman and Romesburg on HOUND, Their Graphic Novel

Written By Rachael Conrad

Rachael Conrad is an award-winning indie bookseller with over a decade of experience in the industry. When she's not reading or writing Rachael can often be found exploring the woods and tide pools of Maine and discussing who the best Chris is (it's Pine, obviously). Her writing can be found in Tor/Reactor, Polygon, and Kirkus Reviews."

If you’re in the mood to read a story that pairs the horrors of war with a bloodthirsty cult patrolling the western front during its darkest days, then you’ll want to pick up a copy of Hound by Sam Freeman and Sam Romesburg as soon as possible. 

Set primarily during World War I and told via a long lost diary that is found by chance, Hound follows Private Barrow, a young soldier in Britain’s royal army, who is thrown to the wolves when he is sent to the “gas quarter,” a stretch of land that has been devastated by chemical warfare. Once there, Barrow is introduced to a group of men who call themselves “The Hounds.” The name stems from the gas masks that they wear—terrifying in and of themselves—but Barrow swiftly learns that there’s something much more sinister than their appearance afoot. What begins as an attempt at indoctrination into their ranks soon becomes a blood-soaked evening of terror as Barrow faces the truth. 

I was lucky enough to chat with Sam and Sam about this comic, what inspired them, and what some of their favorite horror works are. 

Read on to find out more. 

I like to start interviews by pulling back the curtain a bit so that we can learn a little more about you. What does a day in the life of a comic creator look like? 

SAM R: Oh man—so I work a full time job and my wife and I have a three year old son. Most of my free time is spent with them. Once everyone goes to bed, however, that’s usually comic time. By then I had probably been mulling over an idea for hours at work and am pretty ready to get it down on the page. I keep an open note on my phone where I can jot down little ideas I have during the day. I pray that the note never gets opened by someone out of context. I’d probably end up on a watch list. 

SAM F: I wake up at about 6:03 AM with a cat screaming in my ear for food (his auto feeder went off at 6), then get ready for work where I commute in silence, then I clock in, have a quick cry in the bathroom, stare at empty spreadsheets for about 7 hours, then drive back home in silence. Somewhere in all of that I also jot down ideas in a note on my phone. 

How did you two come to work together?

SAM R: Sam F and I met years ago playing in bands around Maryland and West Virginia. I had been writing comics for a while when Sam reached out about wanting to give it a shot. We talked about ideas a lot and ended up landing on a few we wanted to try together—one of them being Hound!

SAM F: Like Sam R said, we both met playing shows together in our respective bands. I knew I wanted to jump into comics and Sam had just released his first. I abused his inbox for probably a year straight asking questions and eventually started talking ideas, we pitched a handful and eventually made our way to Hound. 

Is this your first time working on a project with a co-author? What is that process like? 

SAM R: For me, no—co-writing is the only way I’ve written so far. My first venture into comics was writing a western series with one of my best friends Adam Meadors who I was also in a band with. Then after that, I started writing with my other longer-term partner Ben Roberts (we’ve done a few things together so far—check out Children of the Grave from Scout and Rock & Roll Hell from Sumerian.) Personally, I really view the creation of anything as a collaborative effort—I think that stems from our background in music. We treat writing comics pretty similarly. Rather than coming together saying “I have this whole song written” we really just pitch “riffs” to each other—little ideas for story beats, a character idea we like, even just a title and build from there. I’m working on a few things as a solo writer for the first time right now and it’s pretty fun, but I much prefer bouncing ideas off of my friends to create something together. 

SAM F: I started scripting comics with another friend of mine so from the jump I was working with a collaborator. My first published book, Basic Instinct from Sumerian Comics, was a written solo and it’s absolutely two different experiences. Writing in tandem I think offers a clearer runway to flesh out ideas and allow for baton passes. I struggle often with latching onto an idea and falling in love with it and trying to place it into a story where it doesn’t work. Sam is so great at the mechanics of a story and being able to determine flow or why an idea doesn’t work.

Similarly, what was pitching the idea for Hound to your publisher, Mad Cave, like?

SAM F: First, I just want to say Mad Cave has been incredible. Personally, it’s been such a 180 from other publishers I’ve worked with and I’m so honored to have anything I’ve worked on be in their already stellar catalog. 

With Hound, we had been talking with them about another idea that we ended up going a different direction with. They left the door open for us to send projects their way and were extremely accommodating. We initially pitched Hound as a series and Mad Cave suggested a graphic novel instead which was 100% the right call. 

SAM R: I’ll echo Sam F on this one—every step of the process for creating Hound was an absolutely incredible experience, even just pitching. We really felt like everyone believed in the book and wanted to bring it to life in its fullest potential. It’s far and away the best experience I’ve had in comics to date. Mad Cave forever. 

Hound is a horror comic, so I’d love to know what some of your favorite horror content (books, movies, video games, etc.) is. Was there anything in particular you drew inspiration from for this book? 

SAM F: This is like when someone asks you what music you like and you forget everything you’ve ever listened to. For some reason at this moment I want to shout out a movie called Possum. That movie rules.

I don’t know if there was any specific inspiration for Hound to be honest. There were a lot of personal things revolving around death that I wanted to touch on mostly. 

SAM R: For me, my favorite writer in comics is Garth Ennis. I’d like to think I’ve read the majority of his work, and because of it I’ve always wanted to take a crack at a war story of my own. I don’t think we set out to tell a horror story with this, I just think that the idea of war (World War I especially) is intrinsically horrifying, and we really wanted to lean into that and take it to an extreme. The horror aspect of this book sort of took on its own form. The series of events in the story really feel like a natural progression to me, regardless of how unnatural the circumstances are. 

Hound is set during the course of WWI. I’m someone who is equally fascinated and horrified by this period of time, and I’m wondering what drew you to it as well. 

SAM F: I think WWI is definitely an underutilized setting for a lot of fiction given how horrifying it all was.

SAM R: The idea for the story was all built up from this foundation we had laid around how terrifying almost every aspect of that war was—trench warfare and mustard gas disfigurement were the big two that influenced this idea the most. The mechanisms in which the war was fought almost sound tailor-made for a story like this—they’re so horrific they already seem like they would be fictional. The leap we took to get from reality to fiction was not that large, which felt like a really cool place to tell this story in. 

Was there any specific media set during WWI or about WWI that you turned to for research? Did you take inspiration from any real life accounts from the frontlines? 

SAM R: No real life accounts. Not consciously, anyway. I really hope no one experienced anything like this…

It’s funny you bring that up though—I did start to read a journal entry from a soldier while researching the time period in order to figure out the style in which these soldiers wrote in (a lot of the text in this book being journal entries) and I got so into what he was saying that I had to stop. For one, it was so profoundly horrific and upsetting that I couldn’t really look away, and two—I didn’t want to pull too much from anyone’s actual trauma and sort of appropriate it for my comic book. I will say though, if any readers enjoy this book and feel inclined to further look into actual journal recounts of the war, I would say do it. You wouldn’t believe how horrifying the real thing was. 

SAM F: When I was 18, I lived in Hagerstown, Maryland. I feel like that was similar to Barrow’s experience. 

I grew up around people who went hunting, so when I think of hounds I often picture this or, alternatively, gaudy oil paintings of English fox hunts. I also know that hounds won’t really stop until they’ve caught what they’re hunting and will tear their prey apart if left unchecked. Was this some of the inspiration behind the name for the cult in this book? 

SAM R: Hey, same! To be honest I don’t think I thought about it like that at all until reading this question, but that’s such a good point and interesting layer to the name. Let’s just say that was intentional from here on out…I like that. 

The name was mostly just centered around the long-snouted appearance of the WW1 era gas masks while also being a nod to how animalistic this cult was trying to be. We love a double entendre.

SAM F: Sam and I both grew up in Western Maryland and I think it’s this weird pocket that feels like the Deep South erupted there. People I went to school with all hunted and fished but more importantly were burdened so heavily by this need to be hardened. Time and time again, I think it’s proven why that need for men to be hardened and cold benefits no one. 

The “good guys” in Hound turn out to be… well… pretty awful in the end. Barrow is off put by what they’ve been up to (and I have a feeling other readers might be too). Can you tell us about this decision? What led you to this particular narrative beat instead of just relying on the Central Powers as the sole villains of the story. 

SAM R: This was definitely a conscious decision. I think the larger political circumstances for why a war is being waged to that scale is often lost on those fighting on the front line. A lot of the time for them, the mentality they adapt is only in the name of personal survival. We definitely set out to not mention the larger issues surrounding the war in this—we thought that they would be the last thing on Barrow’s mind when facing what he faces during the events of the book. 

SAM F: I think a lot of that lies in what war asks its soldiers to become as a means to win. I think it’s important that this story exists in a bubble like Sam was saying. It is purely Barrow’s experience.

There’s a particularly unsettling moment in Hound when the soldiers that Barrow finds himself with take their gas masks off—which are terrifying in and of themselves—to finally reveal their faces. It’s extremely effective, and one of my favorite moments in the story. Would you say that their monstrousness is a product of the cult that they have formed, the horrors of war, or a little bit of both? And can you speak to why you decided to keep them looking so human?

SAM F: I think there’s something to be said that the Hounds are just more bodies thrown atop the pile. I think there is a pack mentality and of course shared trauma between them all. I feel it’s a situation where if one dog barks it causes the others to as well.

SAM R: I agree with Sam F. Definitely both. I think they also represent the other side of Barrow’s coin. I think one of the core themes of the story is not losing yourself to the circumstances of the world around you. The Hounds represent absolutely that. 

What was the inspiration behind the wolves that appear throughout the book? Are you fans of them as a whole, or is there a deeper meaning here?

SAM R: To me, the presence of the wolves is pretty integral to what we’re trying to say with the story as a whole. This cult we meet in the book (the Hounds) believe that the role humanity plays in the world is incorrect—that humans should give into their animalistic and primal desires to reach a fuller potential. We see the actual animals in the story (the wolves) sort of latching onto our main character Barrow, as even they see the actions of The Hounds as unnatural. At the end of the book (spoiler), it’s the wolves that show Barrow compassion instead of violence by licking his wounds. This is a reference to what we believe our inherent nature to actually be.

SAM F: Definitely echoing what Sam said—I like to think they represent the true cyclical nature of the world and a power balance being restored. A kind of final, cosmic indication that Barrow is a good person despite the things he has done. 

Speaking of the wolves…the monster design paired with the large wolves that appear in this book make me think you might both be werewolf guys when it comes to classic horror creatures. Are you? If not, is there a preexisting monster design that you love?

SAM F: I don’t know if I liked werewolves as a kid and that’s why I watched Van Helsing or if I watched Van Helsing and that’s why I like werewolves but I love werewolves. I love that entire Universal monster universe, especially the Wolf Man. Beyond werewolves, I would say my favorite creature design has to be the aliens from Attack the Block. 

SAM R: As far as the design for anything within this book, all credit goes to our artist Rodrigo Vazquez. Obviously werewolves are badass, but all design in this book started with us giving Rodrigo a one sentence description of our very unfleshed idea and then him returning with something better than literally anything we could have imagined. If I can use this as the opportunity to get on the Rodrigo soap box—if you don’t feel inclined to check out the book for the story, please just pick it up at a shop and flip through it to look at Rodrigo’s art. I’m a firm believer that the comics I write are 25% mine and 75% our artists, and Rodrigo deserves every ounce of praise that anyone feels inclined to give our book. If you don’t like the book, you can direct the hate at us. It’ll for sure be because of something we did, not him. He’s incredible. 

Now that Hound is out in the world, what are you two working on? Can we expect another collaboration sometime in the future? 

SAM F: We have some stuff cooking! I’m really excited about a few of the things we have bumping around. 

SAM R: The Sam and Sam kitchen is always cooking, baby. I think we’ve got a pretty cool vision for what our next things will be. There will be more to tell soon!