The GeeksverseTalking With The Alabastar: Wolves Team

Talking With The Alabastar: Wolves Team
Published on Monday, April 9, 2012 by

Dancy Flammarion makes the jump from novels to comics thanks to Dark Horse Comics. We got a chance to speak with creator Caitlin R. Kiernan and artist Steve Lieber.

The ‘Verse: Starting out I have to admit that I was unfamiliar with your work prior to reading the pages from Dark Horse Presents. The DHP pages were my first exposure to Alabaster and Dancy Flammarion. For someone new to the character, how would you describe her and the tone of the book?

Caitlin R. Kiernan: Probably, a lot of the readers who come to Alabaster: Wolves will be unfamiliar with my work. I’ve always been, pri-marily a prose author. Dancy Flammarion first appears in my second novel, Threshold (1998), and then I sort of recreated her, and kept writing short stories about her, all of which were finally collected in Alabaster (2006). In the comic, to a degree, I’ve recreated her again. The word “reboot” is popular, so maybe I can say I sort of rebooted her for the comic. How would I describe her to someone who hasn’t read Threshold or the short stories? She’s an albino teenager wandering the landscape of the Deep South, walking highways and back roads, driven by the belief that an angel, a seraph, has set her on a path to destroy evil. She’s driven. And she might well be insane. Maybe there’s no angel at all. For all her strength, she’s constantly plagued by self doubt, and the suspicion that maybe she’s not so different from the beings she kills. There’s always been a sort of quiet desperation to the Dancy stories. She’s not quite a hero or an anti-hero. Something in between, maybe. And there’s always the smothering heat, the sun, the often oppressive and hostile environment of the landscape, with is a big part of the mood of these stories.

I was surprised to learn that you had worked on The Dreaming for Vertigo. As someone that has worked in both novels and comic books, what do you find different about the two mediums and how do you approach a story in each?

I never actually set out to work in comics. I love comics, but I never saw myself writing them. Then Neil Gaiman asked me if I wanted to do The Dreaming and…well, that’s a long story and I’m not getting into it here. But after The Dreaming and DC, I never thought I’d work in comics again, or wanted to, for a variety of reasons. In my novels and short fiction, I have control and very little editorial interference. Plus, those are my stories and I own them. That my work with Dark Horse would be mine, creator owned, that was a huge part of my willingness to return to the medium. As to the differences, I think the main thing that has always struck me has to do with an economy of language. When I’m writing a novel, I have the luxury to take however long I want or need to describe a thing or draw out a conversation. But in comics, I have to pare it down without losing any of the meaning, the power, the punch. And I have to create something that can easily be understood and readily translated into visuals by the artists I’m working with. I have to constantly keep a balance in mind, between the text and visuals, a challenge that never enters into my prose work.

In translating Alabaster to comics, what changes (if any) did you make to the character and her story?

The main thing – and really the only thing – is that I aged her a little, a couple of years, from a fifteen year old to a girl in her later teens. And I set aside the things that had happened to her Threshold, and even a lot of the things that happened to her the short stories. I wanted to start fresh, but, at the same time with this sense that we’re coming into a story that’s been going on for quite some time. But, in answering this question, we come back to the whole “reboot” thing. I wanted a Dancy that would still be recognizable to the readers who’ve followed her all these years, in the novels and short stories, but I also wanted a Dancy who would be more suited to what I hope to do with the comics. She’s older, wiser. There was always a very creepy innocence about Dancy, and a lot of that’s gone. In Alabaster: Wolves, she’s a world-weary character who’s reached the end of her rope, as for as being jerked around by an angel in concerned. She’s lost everything, and she wants a little of it back.

What prompted the decision to bring Dancy to comics now? Why Dark Horse?

Well, I’ve been a big fan of several Dark Horse books for a long time. I was Guest of Honor at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland in 2010, and was approached by my now editor, Rachel Edidin, and we talked about my doing something for Dark Horse. It was a good meeting, and we kept talking. As the months went by, we went through several possible projects before settling on Dancy. Beyond my longstanding respect for Dark Horse, as I’ve said, a lot of it was knowing she would remain my character, that these stories and characters would be my stories, forever. No more work for hire. No more handing over my work and all rights to my work to a publisher for a one-time paycheck. And I’ve enjoying far more freedom and far less editorial interference from Dark Horse than I did with DC. I could never – would never – have gone back to the way things were with DC. From the beginning, I saw from Dark Horse a great respect for their writers and artists, and now that we’re working together, I see it even more.

With this series being a reboot, of sorts, will you revisit any of the events/ideas from the prose stories and look at them in this new light?

Yes. In Issue No. # 2, for example, we get most of the original short story “Alabaster.” Bits of Dancy’s earlier encounters are scattered throughout the text, as a means of providing character background and looking at how she’s reacting to current situations. Sometimes, there’s a slightly different spin on those older stories, but usually they’re pretty much true to the original texts, just translated into a visual medium.

Wolves is the first series. How much more of Dancy’s life to you have plotted out? Will the character remain in comics or return to prose?

Nothing’s certain, but there are some big plans.

The ‘Verse: You’ve had a long career in comics. How did you come to be involved with Alabaster? What drew you to this project?

Steve Lieber: I was contacted by Rachel Edidin, the editor of the book. She was familiar with my work on books like Whiteout and Underground, and approached me about working on a Dancy Flammarion miniseries. (Dancy is the central character of Alabaster.) I had heard of Caitlin, but hadn’t read any of her work yet. Rachel sent me the collection of prose stories about Dancy, and I picked up a print copy of The Red Tree, and the audiobook of Threshhold. After this crash course in Kiernanology, I knew that I definitely wanted to work with her on a comic.

What did you draw on as inspiration for Dancy and her world?

First and foremost, Caitlin’s words and her lush, potent imagery. Beyond that, I’ve got a file of creepy and intriguing photos and paintings that I look at and just try to capture some of their spirit and mystery. I’m very lucky to be aided by Rachelle Rosenberg’s gorgeous colors.

How much did the written descriptions in the novels influence your designs?

Some, but even more than the books, it’s been emails from Caitlin that’ve been my guide. I send a sketch. “More like…this?” She replies:” No, less like that, more like this.” It can take a bit of triangulation, but eventually she gets my pencil where it needs to be.

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