This year’s Free Comic Book Day features a wide variety of books for your no-cost perusal, and companies are pulling out all the stops to rope in new readers and keep existing fans excited. One of these is the new flip book from Archaia, Mouse Guard/The Dark Crystal, which features an all-new story from David Petersen’s hit warrior mice series, an all-new sequel to the hit Return of the Dapper Men and previews of Archaia’s new Jim Henson books, including their prequel to The Dark Crystal, the anthology The Storyteller and A Tale of Sand, based on a long-lost unproduced screenplay by Henson. To get the scoop on these, we talked turkey (and Henson) with anthology editor Stephen Christy.
Newsarama: Stephen, what’s interesting to me about your book is that you have new material in there, and a lot of it.
Stephen Christy: (laughs) Yeah! I remember Free Comic Book Days of the past – back when it was first starting, you would often see publishers reprinting or repurposing material, and as a fan, I wasn’t excited about it at all. It wasn’t an event, it wasn’t special.
But what you see now – especially from Marvel and DC – the trend is to do setups for their upcoming events. And that’s something I feel is maybe not the best approach for FCBD, because a lot of new fans might not be into that. Marvel’s doing more done-in-ones now, but long story short, Archaia wants to make sure what we have is something new, something you’ve never seen before, and something that won’t be reprinted for a while.
The big goal is to give readers an easy, accessible entrance point to some of our biggest creator-owned series and some of our big tentpoles for the year. Last year, we had a Mouse Guard/Fraggle Rock flipbook, and that wound up being one of the top ten biggest sellers for that FCBD. People loved it, and what we wanted to do this year was replicate that, so we did Mouse Guard with The Dark Crystal, but we also wanted to tease some of our other releases this year.
Two of these are Time of the Dapper Men, a sequel to our acclaimed and recently Eisner-nominated Return of the Dapper Men, and a sneak peak at A Tale of Sand, which is our forthcoming graphic novel based on the original lost screenplay by Jim Henson himself that’s sat in the vaults of the Henson Company for the last 40 years or so.
So we hope we have something that will appeal to both Archaia fans and people who haven’t picked up our books before. We hope it’ll get them into the graphic novels themselves, and if not, at least it’s something fun to pick up and flip through on FCBD.
Nrama: And you’ve literally got the sequel to Return of the Dapper Men here…
Christy: Yeah, we wanted to give the fans something special, so we thought this four-page story taking place in between Return of the Dapper Men and Time of the Dapper Men would create something really cool and collectible for Dapper Men fans.
You’re not going to get this story in Time of the Dapper Men. This only exists here in our FCBD issue. Janet Lee is not only an incredibly detailed artist, she’s an incredibly quick artist as well, and she just knocked these out – and I honestly think they’re some of the best pages I’ve ever seen from her. They’re just spectacular. It’s a great way for people to get a sense of what the aesthetic of the world of the Dapper Men is like.
Nrama: And you’ve got another new Mouse Guard story – how are things planned out for that series over the next few years?
Christy: Mouse Guard is our flagship title – it really helped build Archaia, and it remains our most popular series. What’s happening right now is David Petersen is working on issue 3 of Black Axe, and once that wraps up after issue #6, we’re going to do Legends of the Guard Vol.2. Once that wraps, David will be back with a fourth volume of Mouse Guard.
We wanted to do what we did last year – give readers a really short stand-alone Mouse Guard story that you can’t find anywhere else, and won’t be reprinted for a while.
Nrama: With Legends, Fraggle Rock, and The Storyteller, you’ve put a spotlight on a number of up-and-coming artists who have a more illustrative, offbeat style from what you’d expect from, say, Marvel or DC – creators like, say, Katie Cook or Jeremy Bastian. I’m curious about your process for finding people in that talent pool.
Christy: Well, we love anthologies here at Archaia. We think there’s a lot of validity to that format if done right – I think the problem with a lot of anthologies we’ve seen in the past ist hat they’re inconsistent, and that’s hard for readers to overcome.
The reason we’re able to work with these great creators is that you have these talented people who are hard to get to commit to a full-length graphic novel, or even a single issue’s worth of material.
The great thing about anthologies is they let us approach these incredible artists and go, “Hey, here’s a 4-8-page story and here’s the timeline for doing it.” And when you have a well-defined world like Mouse Guard or Fraggle Rock, you can step out of the way and let them do what they do. We’re hoping to help revive the anthology format with these books.
We’re trying to get artists with a unique look, a unique voice, and a unique talent. I feel really blessed that we’ve been able to work with talents ranging from established talents to up-and-comers looking for wider exposure.
Nrama: Let’s talk about the Jim Henson material – there was the manga a few years ago, but in this format, it looks like you can hew a little closer to the original Brian Froud designs.
Christy: Well, the great thing is we actually got Brian Froud involved with the Dark Crystal project, and Brian did the cover for the FCBD book – the first time he returned to The Dark Crystal since the movie or the book The World of the Dark Crystal. We all grew up loving Henson, so we wanted this to come from a very authentic place.
Brian has been doing covers and plots and art direction – the amazing thing is that this is the origin of the Dark Crystal. It’s a prelude to our three-part graphic novel series that serves as a prequel to the film. It’s so epic, and the scope is so huge, that we wanted to give FCBD readers a preview, and a taste of the look of the new book.
Nrama: The film came out when I was about four years old, and I saw it on cable a few years later, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. And it’s become one of those movies that…local film series in my area program it repeatedly, and it plays to packed houses. People are very hardcore about this film – why do you feel it had that affect on people?
Christy: I think there was something very special about Jim. Those two movies, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, hit home on a lot of proto-mythological stories, the classic Joseph Campbell archetype. The creativity Jim had, and the uniqueness of his vision, was truly something no one else was doing. The risk he took with those movies – The Dark Crystal is all puppets, with no human characters! – was incredible, and we want to take a similar risk with these comic books.
Nrama: Very curious about A Tale of Sand – if there’s any secrets you can reveal…
Christy: We wanted to give people a taste of the story in the book without giving too much away. I hate to play favorites, but I’m more excited about this than any book Archaia’s ever undertaken. It’s the only feature-length screenplay we have left from Jim – it’s like finding a Michael Jackson album from before he did Thriller.
Nrama: So this is like his early, pre-puppet films, like Time Piece or The Cube.Christy: Exactly like those. It’s important that people seek those out on YouTube, as they’re similar in tone to what A Tale of Sand will be. We wanted to get this project together in a way that was done with love for Jim and love for the project, with “What Would Jim Do?” the question on minds as we move forward – a sketch, as it were, in what this film could have been.
Nrama: Do you hope to spark interest in a feature-film version?
Christy: The script, as it exists, could never be filmed today – it’s very much a product of its time. The focus right now is on making a book. Lisa Henson’s working with us on this, and the goal is to make this the best book we can, and as close to what Jim would have done as we can.
We actually have a rejection letter from a studio in the archives that says, “This is almost too creative for us! It’s too fantastical! It’s not grounded enough!” It’s an example of Jim being very much ahead of his time, and you can see such a glimpse into what he was thinking as a young man, and what was on his mind, and what he wanted to create.
We felt it was important to bring this to life because it is something Jim wrote himself, and it’s from earlier in his career, a period with which few people are very familiar, when the Muppets hadn’t taken off. Jim worked on this for seven years with his writing partner Jerry Juhl, and this could set in the vault and gather dust, or it could serve as a tribute to the man who created it, and the vision he never got to execute for it.
I’m not sure how fans are going to react to it, but at the end of the day, you can see it’s being done with love, and with the utmost respect for Jim as a creator. He was a complicated artist who tapped into a lot of the human experience and what it meant to be human, and we wanted to show that. There’s other things in the vault that are there, but nothing as fully-formed as this project.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Christy: We mentioned this briefly earlier, but there’s The Storyteller anthology – some incredible people are working on that. We have Roger Langridge, who won the Eisner for The Muppet Show comic, which is a big deal for us.
We’re always trying to do something different, and unique, and we hope people get a sense of that from this FCBD book. We know they’re going to see something special, and I’m very excited about A Tale of Sand – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to work on a book like this, and I think it’s going to blow people away.Check out Archaia’s FCBD book this Saturday at comic shops around the world.