Fairy tales aren’t the whimsical little fancies they used to be; well, at least, not for comic book readers. Zenescope Entertainment has made it their business to twist the lighter fancies of our collective childhood into nightmarish visions and chaotic parables. This week, Zenescope releases Tales from Wonderland: The White Knight, which takes a twisted look at the once faceless character/concept of heroism that thrived in older fairy tales. The White Knight also marks the first published comic work of Newsarama columnist and Best Shots front man, Troy Brownfield.
Newsarama spoke with Tales From Wonderland: The White Knight writer, Troy Brownfield, and Zenescope Entertainment Executive Editor, Raven Gregory about their collaborative efforts.
Newsarama: Troy, Raven, give us a little set-up for Tales From Wonderland: The White Knight. Who is the White Knight exactly?
Troy Brownfield: That's borderline cruel, Steve. You know that I've been interviewing people for years and have always bemoaned the "buy the book" answer. I'll say this much: the identity of the White Knight is a twist based on the extrapolation of a completely different body of myth. When I came up with using the White Knight, whom Raven hadn't yet used in Wonderland, I wanted to find a hook that made him compelling in a different way. When this notion occured to me, I thought, "They'll never go for this", but they did.
Raven Gregory: I thought the same thing. I didn't think Ralph and Joe would go for it at all. And they did. Go figure.
Nrama: How closely does Zenescope's version of Alice in Wonderland draw from Lewis Carroll's work? How have you worked themes from Arthurian legend into the tapestry of this unique vision?
Gregory: Pretty closely aside from the more horrific elements and even those stay pretty close to the original material.
Brownfield: Raven's in the position of having to hew closer than I do, mainly because he has ongoing concerns and I'm doing a one-shot. I wanted to use the White Knight because it was basically a character that Raven hadn't gotten to yet. The Arthurian themes here are familiar throughout literature: temptation, redemption, and making the same mistakes that your forebearers did. Then again, maybe I was just watching "Lost".
Gregory: The joys of the one shot. Get in. Get out. Watch Lost.
Nrama: Raven, how long have you known Troy? How did the two of you get hooked up for The White Knight?
Gregory: I've known Troy for some time and we've talked a lot over the years. More so when he became involved in Fangoria's short lived comic imprint. So knowing his fondness for horror, he was one of a few writers I approached about doing a short story for the upcoming wonderland annual. He did a few pitches for the story and one in particular caught the eye of Joe Brusha, president of Zenescope entertainment, that he thought would make a great one shot on its own which lead to us using it as the first of the third volume of the Tales From Wonderland series.
Brownfield: I totally thought he'd say, "We met in prison."
Gregory: Hence the real reason why he's writing Wonderland.
Nrama: Troy, let's talking about your methods; how does your scripting process develop? Do you have a particularly unique style or do you stay within the confines of "tried and true" scripting methods?
Brownfield: It depends on the project. This was a little different, as the first vision of it was as a much smaller piece for an anthology-type annual. When they asked me to expand it, other angles presented themselves, like the inclusion of the new Queen of Spades. I did one draft that had some pretty significant differences, but we pulled the middle in a different direction that made a better fit with Raven's "Wonderland" overall. The second draft came pretty quickly, and after that it was minor shaping.
Typically, I'm a full-script guy, but I like the idea of giving the artist some freedom. Fortunately, I had Tommy Patterson here, and he's on fire in this book.
Nrama: Raven, how much involvement did you have in Troy's efforts? When working with new creators, is there a proper way of being "hands on" without disturbing a creator's intentions?
Gregory: I try to be as hands off as possible so that their writing voice comes through loud and clear. Mostly I offer a suggestion or two, maybe some cool elements that could be played up more and then leave it in their talent hands to bring to fruition.
Brownfield: Agreed. Raven and the guys had some notes, but they were notes, not ORDERS. For a project like this, you're serving someone else's world. And while you want to do the best job possible and give it your stamp, you're answering to previous creators in addition to the established readers. Raven helped me get there.
Nrama: What sort of creative rapport did the two of you have in conjunction with your artist, colorist and letterer? Is putting together a quality comic a team sport or is it an assembly line process? What sorts of challenges do creative teams have when the book is in a pre-press state?
Gregory: When it comes to the wonderland books I always work very closely with the creative team. It's my baby so I'm very selective about who gets put on the series as I think we've set the bar pretty high with it and I'd like it to stay high. Tommy Patterson, who handled the pencils, just blew away every single page and the coloring team, Jeff Balke, Alex Owens, and the always incredible Jason Embury (Neverland, Inferno) just did an amazing job on the colors. And Crank is probably one of my favorite letterers in the business today. Letter guys get so little credit but his stuff always raises the level of whoever he's working with. When this book was going to production we had less than a week to get it out on time, and even with set-backs, hard drives crashing, each member of the team really stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park.
Brownfield: This book looks great. I mentioned Tommy before, but man, the entire team did an outstanding job. Raven told me up front that I got lucky with this team, and he was right.
Nrama: Troy, who are some of your influences? What sorts of genres or stories appeal t you?
Brownfield: Ah, The Commitments question . . . Dean's influences are Clarence Clemons and the guy from Madness. And frankly, it's not easy to answer. We're all the product of our influences and favorites in some way, aren't we? I'm pretty much a life-long fan of comics, science fiction, horror, noir . . . you name it. I didn't know that I was a cinephile as a kid; I just thought I liked old movies. I had a dad that was into science fiction, let me watch horror and martial arts movies, got me Kiss and Stones records and read me comics when I couldn't read all the words myself. My maternal grandmother introduced me to mythology and classic movies and Stephen King, and I was pretty much done for. There was Star Wars, Super Friends, X-Men (my first issue was #125 of the first series). As a teen in the '80s, I got into David Lynch, Kurosawa, John Woo, Lovecraft, George Carlin, Moore, Miller . . . later it was Gaiman, Ennis, Ellis, Tarantino, y'know, the checklist. I don't think that you come away from that kind of immersion without absorbing bits and pieces along the way. These days, I'm just as given to checking out what John Krakauer and Bill Simmons are doing, but I also have sons that have developed interests in all this stuff that dad has around the house. And the adventure continues.
Nrama: Raven, being an experienced industry vet, how challenging is it to find new voices in the medium? Can anyone write a comic book?
Gregory: It's funny cause even after seven years I still feel like a baby in this biz. But yeah, I think anyone can write a comic, but not just anyone can write one well. It's just one of those things that people are born with, whether they know it or not. Some people just have this burning desire to be a storyteller and have the talent and drive to do so and those people usually rise to the top of the pile and get discovered given enough time and effort. Finding those people though is tough. Even if I like someone, there's still a process and chain that those creators have to go through. I have friends in this business whose work I love but, when it comes to pitching, for whatever reason, nothing clicks and that's totally fine. There are plenty of people out there, who are incredibly talented, who aren't meant to write books for other people; folks who shine when they write their own stories. And there's some who just come in and knock a pitch out the park even if they don't have a huge resume of previously published work. There's some who can do both. It's the coin flip of the biz. No rhyme or reason.
Nrama: What sorts of projects are the two of you working on in the near future?
Gregory: I love how well White Knight came out I could easily see a spin off title in the future. Troy found a side niche of wonderland that I don't think any of us thought of before that really opens up the possibilities story wise.
Brownfield: We were just talking about this, and it's probably fair to say that we'll do something soon. I really enjoyed working with Raven, Tommy and the gang, so I'd like to keep that rolling. I have some other things going, but they're way too early to mention.
Nrama: To wrap things up, for readers who aren't familiar with Zenescope's Wonderland books, what sorts of things can they expect to find? Do these books aim for a specific group of genre readers?
Gregory: Anyone can pick up a title and enjoy the stories. It's not just comic readers who get hooked on the various series but people who have never picked up a comic before. The action, the drama, the horror, there's a little bit of something for everyone.
Brownfield: This one doesn't require any previous knowledge of "Wonderland" at all. You see some familiar characters, but a brand-new reader could grab this and hopefully enjoy it. I totally realize that there are a couple of bloggers out there that are probably waiting with the long knives for a guy from Newsarama writing a book for Zenescope, but hey, even those guys need a hobby. I think that we made an entertaining, great-looking book, and I couldn't ask for anything more from it.
Be sure to keep eyes peeled for this one-shot; it hits shelves Thursday! Click here for a preview of the book.