Victorian novels never had steampunk – but then again, they never had Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam.
Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam is a new series which debuted earlier this year profiling two agents of the British Crown hunting down a mathematical murderer. Writer David Hedges and artist Jefferson Costa are currently taking pre-orders via Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dragabok/arcane-sally-and-mr-steam-2) for the already-complete Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam #2, as well as offering copies of the first issue for those just catching up to the novel series.
Newsarama spoke with Hedges and Costa about this series they call a “Victorian gothic steampunk adventure,” how it switched gears from being a potential movie to an actual comic book, and how they overlap the various elements in this genre mash-up.
Newsarama: David, Jefferson, how would you describe Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam?
David Hedges: It’s a Victorian gothic steampunk adventure. I don’t think I set out to write a mystery but it definitely has those elements in it, which feel really organic to the setting. A lot of people tell me the story is actually a love story masquerading as other things until it finally admits to being a love story at the end. I was sort of stunned when I first heard that, because there’s so much adventure in it, but then I realized that the thing that ties the whole story together is the relationship between Mr. Steam and Miss Sally.
Jefferson Costa: It’s an historical adventure full of mysteries, ambitions and desires… desires of overcoming, acceptance, affirmation, recognition and self-recognition, the desire to know and the desire for the impossible.
Nrama: Who is Arcane Sally?
Hedges: Miss Sally is an agent who is working for the Prime Minister but her actual origins and purpose are pretty murky at the outset. I intended to write a script with a female co-lead that I liked as much as my favorites - Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark comes immediately to mind - because I think a lot of female characters are tragically underdeveloped. Somehow, Sally became a larger part of the story and I got really fascinated with her particular situation and how she managed to get things done despite it. I think a lot of male writers try to make their female characters important by arming them with weapons and giving them physical abilities to match the men. Sally’s greatest strength is her quick mind and her attitude - she’s not afraid of anyone or anything.
I don’t want to give away her big secret because I think half the fun of the story is discovering it with Percy. The greatest compliment I ever got was from a guy who read the script and said, “I think I’m a little bit in love with Miss Sally.”
By issue three the truth about Miss Sally will be out. I hope people will be dying to know how her story is resolved. There’s a clue in there, by the way.
Nrama: And just who is Lord Percival Cawthorne, a.k.a. Mr. Steam?
Hedges: Lord Percival Cawthorne is an English lord but he spent the majority of his life in the United States - San Francisco, to be specific - so when he returned to England he didn’t recognize it. And England barely recognizes him because he speaks and acts like an American. He’s not exactly a spy, but he does lead something of a double life.
Costa: He’s an English lord, raised in America, with virtues and defects just like everybody else, with the desire to prove his worth and to assume his place and responsibilities in the world.
Nrama: And lastly, Runnymeade?
Hedges: Runnymeade is Percy’s valet, but he’s much more than that. He keeps Percy on track, advises him on etiquette, manages his affairs, and generally tries to make Percy behave more like an English gentleman, often with little success. He’s also Percy’s closest friend, something neither of them has realized until the events of the story.
Costa: He’s very English, underestimated perhaps due to his physique, but whose dedication and intelligence cannot be overestimated.
Nrama: How would you describe them as a duo/unit?
Hedges: Runnymeade is a very well-mannered fellow but he has a lot of admiration for Percy’s devil-may-care attitude. They’re the perfect pair because Percy is always ready to jump and Runnymeade always thinks things out. If the two were separated, Percy would probably get killed immediately and Runnymeade would die a slow death of analysis paralysis.
Costa: Yes, complementary opposites - but who sometimes want to play each other’s parts!
Nrama: And just what is this secret agency they’re working for? And what do they investigate?
Hedges: Her Majesty’s Inquiry Into Peculiar Circumstances (HMIPC) has been around for a long time, and exists solely to investigate and eliminate any supernatural threat to England, large or small. The men in Percy’s family have served the Crown in this capacity since the agency’s inception, something that Percy doesn’t learn until they find him in America and tell him that his father has died. Percy could have easily turned his back on that, but he returned to England and assumed his father’s responsibilities. He answers directly to the Prime Minister, who isn’t his biggest fan.
Most of the cases that the HMIPC investigates are bogus, but the one in this story ends up being real. This case also connects to one Percy’s father investigated years ago.
Costa: It’s a secret!
Nrama: I’ve read that Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam was originally written as a screenplay, so how did it end up coming to comic books?
Hedges: Shane Amaya and Jefferson Costa and I had already talked about turning another script of mine into a comic, and we did some preliminary artwork for that. But at the time I was finishing Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam and I really wanted them to read it because I thought it would look amazing with Jeff’s particular style - he was just so cinematic. There’s a well-documented love-hate relationship between comics and movies and as a screenwriter I don’t believe every comic should be made into a movie. I feel like most comics get completely ruined once they’re turned into moves and I hate that.
I flew to São Paulo to meet Jeff and talk about the project. Bruno D’Angelo, a friend of Shane’s, met with Jeff and I and translated (Jeff speaks Portuguese), and Jeff immediately understood what I was trying to do. I didn’t want him to see it as a pure steampunk story and Jeff got that right away. I even played him music to explain the mood of the comic and I swear that music comes across in his artwork.
So now we are setting out to prove that you can take a screenplay and turn it into a comic. Comics writers can learn a lot from good screenwriters and screenwriters can learn a lot from good comics writers. It would be nice if sometimes we just said “no” when it came to a movie adaptation of a comic but there’s also a lot to be learned from projects that fail.
One of the greatest things about comics is the involvement of the writer in all the aspects of the final product. No producer ever has or ever will ask me what a character should wear or if a particular color palette captures the feel of the story or what the poster should look like. You write the script, you get paid, and no one wants to hear your opinion on these things. That’s just the business. But when you’re making a comic your creative hand helps guide it all the way to the end. And that is amazing.
Nrama: So for the comic book itself, what are your big goals for this series?
Hedges: Honestly, as a writer I just want people to love it. The series is already written so I don’t have to fret about where it’s going - it’s done. So now I watch Jeff’s artwork roll in and laugh out loud sometimes because it’s so intuitive and perfect.
Maybe Arcane Sally & Mr. Steam will be a movie someday. That would be cool - a screenplay turned into a comic book and “adapted” into a movie.
Nrama: Wouldn’t be the first time!
Hedges: I think Jeff should direct it. He would kick ass.
Costa: My goal is always to finish telling this story as faithfully and beautifully as I can, and to touch as many people as possible. The desire of all books is to be read.