Moore & Reppion on Adapting Alice in Wonderland
Dynamite Does Alice in Wonderland
We spoke with the writers for more on the process and the story.
Newsarama: The first question is a little more for Leah, but certainly applies to you both, and it tackles the elephant in the room. Is it strange to revisit the original text of Alice in Wonderland after Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, with whom we know you’re sort of acquainted, spent years putting together what is possibly the most striking reimagining of Alice ever in Lost Girls?
John Reppion: Not really. We also know Bryan Talbot pretty well (obviously neither of us are actually related to him…) who wrote and drew Alice in Sunderland and Lost Girls is no more of an elephant in the room to us than that to be honest. Alan has used characters from the worlds of Dracula and Holmes in his stories too but then so have people like Neil Gaiman, Kim Newman, Paul Cornell and of course the late great Phillip Jose Farmer. These stories and characters are revisited and re-interpreted time and time again because they are true classics; we’re just having our turn with them now. If we were worried about going near characters that Alan had written about in the past then we’d have a hard time being comic writers at all really.
Leah Moore: I think the only point where it might get strange is when we get to key scenes in the story, the corresponding panels of Lost Girls might spring alarmingly to mind…aside from that I don’t think it will really affect us much. We get to be quite academic about it, and really stick to all the Alice trivia and facts, knowing that all the really out there outré stuff has been covered!NRAMA: How did the two of you first come to appreciate Alice? Was it through the books, or were you exposed to the Disney film at a young age? LM: The text we are working from for the Alice In Wonderland half of the book is actually my copy from when I was really small. I got it for a birthday, I forget even from who, but I kept it all this time, and when we found out we were doing Alice I sat and read it all again. It’s a great book, weirder than I remember and with almost no plot to speak of, but lots of fun and really visually interesting. I think I have seen the Disney version a couple of times, and some bits of the live action ones, but they’ve all kind of melded together into Alice in Wonderland soup in my head. Hopefully our version will be a condensed version of that soup! JR: I think the Disney’s Alice would almost certainly have been my first exposure to the story but I also remember Mickey Mouse – Thru the Mirror very well. It’s a cartoon from the 30s where Mickey falls asleep reading Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There and has a dream which sort of includes elements of the Alice stories (well, animated playing cards anyway). NRAMA: How do those impressions play with, or against, your vision of how the adaptation should proceed? JR: The project is still in its infancy at the moment but what we’re going to be concentrating on first and foremost is being as faithful to the original text as possible. The Disney film has elements of both Alice stories mixed in together so it’s not completely faithful but it does really nail some parts quite wonderfully. The general look and feel of the book is probably not going to be so smooth as Alice in Wonderland but I don’t anticipate trying to deliberately veer away from anything because “it’s too Disney-ish”; if they did it well and accurately in terms of adaptation then chances are there will be similarities. It’s the same source after all. NRAMA: With the first issue of The Complete Dracula, I thought that you did a fine job of integrating Dracula’s Guest into the larger story. Will there be any other material from Carroll that you pull in? LM: Thank you very much. We are going to include a missing chapter called "The Wasp in a Wig" which was omitted thanks to a suggestion from John Tenniel, the illustrator, who couldn’t think of what to draw for it. I think it’ll be fun to see the whole story, both books and the missing chapter all together for the first time and in comic book form. The chapter features an entire poem which the readers will be unfamiliar with, so it’ll be a challenge to make that work in the same way as the things that everyone knows about, and are very familiar with. NRAMA: What’s your particular process for breaking down the beats of a novel into a comic script? I’ve done in myself, and I find that one of the frustrations is finding the balance between what you want to include and what is possible to include. Does that accurately reflect your experience, and how do you begin your approach? JR: Definitely. With a novel you can digress for a couple of hundred words if you want to but with a comic you’re bound to all sorts of things like turnovers, panel numbers, word count, etc so there are inevitably going to be things that you have to lose. That especially applies to books like the Alices which are much more prose (and poetry) led rather than action. There are a lot of words to get in there! NRAMA: Related to that, how do you make that process work in collaboration? Do you each revisit Alice and explore outlines that you merged, or did you have another way? LM: We go through the whole thing together, usually with me reading the book aloud and John making notes of anything we spot. This time I made the notes and then went through them with him afterwards. We usually have so much work on, one of us will take a pass over something while the other person is finishing some typing, or answering an interview or whatever. We trust each other’s instincts and if we have anything we aren’t sure of, we can talk it all through. The main order of business is to make each issue as exciting as the last, and for the end of the issues to have some kind of pull to them, not exactly a cliff-hanger, but just an iconic scene that makes you want to read on.
NRAMA: You mentioned him earlier, and I think that the cultural standard for Alice imagery prior to Disney may be the John Tenniel pieces. Did you have difficulty, in your mind, escaping those images for your take, or did their omnipresence in pop culture strengthen your vision?JR: John Tenniel’s illustrations and those done by Carroll himself in his original manuscripts are really our touchstones for the project. They are the earliest visual representations of the characters and the world of Wonderland and so are extremely important to the series. It’s pretty much impossible to escape all the other versions of the characters you’ve seen and read over the years so elements of other versions are bound to creep in here or there whether we intend it or not. I suppose the most obvious things we’re trying to avoid are the whole dark/gothic angle which American McGee used in their computerized re-imaginings as well as the whole “wow, look how trippy Wonderland is” approach.
NRAMA: With so many versions of Alice in the culture, from the aforementioned approaches to the 1988 Jan Švankmajer film to Zenescope’s comics, is it hard to focus on the actual bones of the original work? Did you have to fight the urge to wring your own twists on the narrative?LM: Not really, we recently finished adapting Dracula, which is a book with possibly more cultural baggage than Alice has. We stuck to the text and the chronology of Dracula really tightly, and that was lots of fun, so I don’t foresee us having the urge to re-imagine Alice at all. It’s an amazing story as it is, so why would we be able to improve it? I want to just go to town with the material he already gives us, and I think that will be exciting enough and will be a really fun thing to see in comic form. Comics give you time to really absorb the images, where films whizz them by you really fast, so I hope our story will be a treat to read.
NRAMA: That said, compared to Dracula, has this been an easier adaptation to produce, or more difficult?JR: There’s very little fat on Alice compared to Dracula – Carroll was a poet and put pretty much every word in there for a reason and that’s really the challenge of this adaptation. Normally you’d work in terms of narrative and plot development but there is very little plot (in the conventional sense) in either book – they move along dreamily and at their own peculiar pace but they’re also pretty dense in their own way. It’s certainly a new experience for us and presents a lot of fresh challenges. I think it’s going to be difficult in a different way to Dracula but having worked on such detailed adaptation previously I’m confident we can tackle any problems that arise.
NRAMA: Finally, who do you hope to reach with the work, and why should your typical jaded mainstream comics fan give it a look?LM: I really hope we get some academics reading it; I’d love for our adaptation to be compared with the original in an educational setting that would be great. I’d also love it if people got it for their kids to encourage them to read more literature. classic children’s books don’t seem that up to date next to all the novels out there today for kids, but I think they often stand up just as well, the ideas in them are kind of timeless. I think jaded comic fans should give it a look just because we are going to try and do something really beautiful with the story, and really show off the assets of the medium with the project. I think people might be surprised by some of the material in Alice, especially if they are only familiar with the Disney version, and I think it will be such a charming little series. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it comes out!