Oakville native Mike Rooth has always been an art mercenary. His pencils and inks are his arsenal, waiting to be hired for work. Paper has fallen victim to his creativity for countless years while creating a multitude of masterpieces. He is responsible for numerous educational graphic novels, Marvel and DC sketch card sets, and a vast amount of various other drawings. He most recently illustrated a variant cover for the new Captain Canuck series, written and illustrated by Kalman Andrasofszky. In addition to this, he constantly travels to comic conventions across the country showcasing his work to fans.
Mike’s passion towards every aspect of Viking society has led him on a life long journey resulting in WidowsWake, a self-published Viking horror story by Mike and his wife Erika, scheduled to be released towards the end of the summer. It has been in the works for several years and little information has surfaced pertaining to its story, and so it was extremely exciting to get the opportunity to talk to him about its upcoming release.
A Viking’s thirst for battle is hard to quench. WidowsWake will feature several characters, including shield maidens, on their quest for achieving glory in the eyes of the gods. It is this idea of receiving a glorious death where trouble stems and awakens the Valkyries to take the chosen to the halls of Valhalla.
You can preview and order some of Mike’s work here. Most notable is the sketchbook for WidowsWake that features a finely detailed Viking cast. His Twitter and Instagram accounts are also worth a look as they showcase his Viking, Marvel, DC, and other works of art.
See what else Mike has to say about WidowsWake:
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up becoming an illustrator?
My earliest childhood memories are of my mom drawing super heroes and monsters and stuff for me. She was immensely talented. I’d make requests for my favourite characters, and she would draw them flawlessly. (She hated drawing The Thing, but she knew he was my favourite and she drew an amazing Ben Grimm). When my younger brother was born, she didn’t really have time to draw my requests anymore, so she suggested I try it out myself. I did, and it woke something up in me, and I’ve been drawing ever since. I think having the support of your family, friends and loved ones can be critical in one’s journey as an artist, and I have always felt very lucky to have that. I know not everyone does. All through my childhood and teenage years I wanted to go to art school, but it was not a part of my financial reality when the time came. I finished high school and applied to Sheridan College’s Interpretive Illustration program. I was accepted, but had no money and didn’t qualify for a student loan for some strange reason. So I applied again next year, and got accepted again, but my financial situation remained the same, as did my status for a student loan. It was frustrating that I couldn’t get any government support.
In the end, I had to move out of my parent’s home and prove to the powers that be that I was a responsible adult who had a job and paid the bills. Then, the 3rd year I applied, was accepted again, and was given a student loan. I finished the 3-year program at Sheridan. It was a great experience and I learned quite a bit, but mostly I gained the thick skin and work ethic that is needed to meet deadlines and survive in what is surely one of the most competitive creative fields.
Nothing teaches you faster than actually doing it for a living – hungry cats and student loan payments and general survival on the line, you get good at what you do, or you starve to death. It’s very satisfying work and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it can be very tough to survive and/or build a future when you’re just a hired art mercenary like myself. I may never become a wealthy man working in this field, but I consider myself a very rich man indeed, because I love what I do.
What inspired you to create a story about Vikings?
I love Viking stuff. I always have. My dad looks like a Viking, and he’s a big hero of mine. I would always leap at opportunities to do history school projects about Vikings, or would steer my assignments in that direction all through school and college, whenever I could or was allowed. (Ha! My Profs and teachers used to encourage me to STOP drawing Vikings because, “I’d never get any work doing Viking stuff.”
I’ll show them!) My grandmother used to send me clippings from newspapers and National Geographic that was Viking based when I was a kid. I don’t know, that stuff has always called to me, like ancient songs in my head. I’ve worn a silver hammer of Thor pendant around my neck since I was 17 years old. I loved Conan, Red Sonja comics, Dungeons & Dragons, Heavy Metal, and Tolkien as a teen, and that great sword and sorcery stuff has a lot of roots in the Viking sagas, and always inspired and fuelled me to make art. As a kid I dreamed of visiting L’Anse aux Meadows, the World Heritage Viking site on the northern tip of Newfoundland, and in 2007 my wife Erika and I honeymooned there! It ripped my mind open. I can’t wait to visit it again one day.
Can you briefly talk about the plot and what we can expect to see from WidowsWake?
Viking warriors were hungry for battle, eager to earn a glorious death! To die a hero, to be then chosen by the Valkyries and taken to Valhalla to feast and fight for eternity until they are summoned by Odin to prepare for the Last Battle of Ragnarok was the highest honour. In WidowsWake, this idea gets turned on its head a little bit; perhaps these glory-seeking warriors are mistaken about what awaits them in the afterlife? The Valkyries do come for them when they fall, but perhaps they come for wholly different reasons. It originally was designed as a one shot horror story, but because there were unavoidable delays in production (my wife and I each have full time jobs outside of our art careers) we started to wander down other paths, and the story gave birth to a few dozen other stories, and gave us the time to flesh the world out a bit, and see how far we could take it. I’d describe WidowsWake as a horror story, due to the grim nature and touches of supernatural content, but it is also a story about relationships and love, and what really gets left behind on the field of battle.
Can you tell us a little about the shield maiden and why you decided to make her the protagonist?
Our main shield maiden, Eyfura, is a total badass. She gets hurt, and betrayed, and makes a decision that alters her life in ways she couldn’t possibly imagine. But! We don’t actually meet her in the first story! The opening chapter/book is designed a teaser/trailer for what is to come, and it focuses on different characters. There will actually be quite a few prominent shield maidens in our story over all, each with a different tale to tell. Powerful feminine forces have always surrounded me in my life, and so the idea of a strong female lead in the story just felt natural to me.
How will WidowsWake differ from other comics in terms of artistic design and colour palette selection? Will it showcase the brutality that Vikings are normally attributed to?
There are so many great comics out there! So much storytelling innovation and so many unique visions. WidowsWake will mostly be drawn in black and white ink on toned paper, but there will some fully painted frames and some loose pencils here and there. The book will be pretty brutal in places. I don’t want to give too much away!
Your wife (Erika) is the co creator of WidowsWake. How have you two helped one another throughout the entire process?
I couldn’t do this without Erika, really. It started out as my story, but the many long road trips to Comic Conventions all over North America has led to many long discussions about WidowsWake over the past couple years, and she has made so many mind blowing connections and incredible additions to the story that it really has become our story. I’m a bit obsessive about how I finish my pieces (which is part of why the book has been delayed) and I was pretty sure that I wanted each page/panel to be rendered in a certain way – but Erika has been very instrumental in keeping the focus on telling the story, and not letting the medium or stylistic treatment imprison me. So I’ll be doing the bulk of the story art, but Erika is doing the physical writing (based on my ramblings), and as a graphic designer she will be doing the lettering/typesetting and look of the book. She created the WidowsWake masthead logo as well. She is also a silver smith, and has been creating amazing pieces of Viking themed stuff, some of which will actually be worn by characters in the book! So it will give the really interested/devoted fans a chance to physically engage in the story as well by owning and wearing some sweet WidowsWake silver jewellery!
Will the Norse gods interact with the characters in WidowsWake?
Ha! That’s tough to answer. The Norse mythology is so rich and wonderful, with amazing gods and creatures. It would be a crime to not have some of those colourful elements and characters appear in, or at least influence, the characters in our story.
Your Instagram account showcases an abundant amount of spectacular artwork that is definitely worth a look, but it?s the #WidowsWakeWednesday that has been receiving the most attention. How does it make you feel to see this amount of excitement considering WidowsWake is still yet to be released?
I can’t even describe it. (It also puts a lot of pressure on! But it’s good pressure. The best kind!) I am truly humbled by the love and support we?ve received from this story. It’s easy to sell or get a good response from a strong Batman or Harley Quinn or Spiderman piece of fan art online (and I draw a lot of that kind of stuff at comic cons), but the kind of response we receive on #WidowsWakeWednesday lights me on fire. At Ottawa Comiccon last year, we had a young woman from Montreal show up DRESSED as a character from our as-of-yet-non-existent comic. I don’t even have words for how that felt.
Do you have an expected release date for the first issue of WidowsWake?
I hesitate to say a specific date because I have done that before and I have let others and myself down when the date was not met. WidowsWake is a labour of love, and I don’t like to rush that kind of stuff whether it?s for me or someone else. It has seen a few delays due to other factors: my day job as a building superintendent is essentially 24/7 and often loaded with dark, daily surprises. Other comic industry work and assignments show up randomly and can put WW on the shelf for days or even weeks at a time (I do a fair number of covers and pinups for other creator’s books, and am actually working on interiors for another Viking themed short story comic project for FUBAR with KILL SHAKESPEARE’S (IDW) Conor McCreery, which has been really enjoyable, even while it causes delays on WidowsWake). Erika is very deadline oriented, and pushing us hard for a late summer 2015 release, so that’s the current target.
Will you be attending Toronto?s Fan Expo in September?
Yes! We’ll be there and I’m excited because we’re pushing to launch the book there this year!