When former editor Nate Cosby was approached about overseeing a graphic novel version of Jim Henson's The StoryTeller, the idea was a little intimidating.
"I've always been a huge fan of everything Jim Henson did," Cosby told Newsarama. "I grew up in Mississippi, and so did Jim Henson, and I just ate up everything he did. And he did so much. But other than the Muppets, StoryTeller was my favorite."
Cosby's not the only one. Henson's 1988 TV series, The StoryTeller, won both an Emmy Award and the British television equivalent, the BAFTA. The all-ages TV series, which featured an old storyteller sitting by a fire and talking to his dog, featured new takes on obscure folk tales.
"The old man storyteller was played in the original series by John Hurt, and there's something just world-weary and wonderful about him, and we tried to capture that in the book," Cosby said of the project.
The graphic novel, which is being released by Archaia on December 7th, will include nine stories, including an adaptation of an unproduced screenplay from the original TV series. Cosby is writing the "framework" scenes of the old storyteller, but he tapped eight different creative teams to create the stories for the graphic novel, although he saved the unproduced screenplay for himself.
"I decided to adapt the screenplay myself, which was very stressful, actually. The screenplay was written by Anthony Minghella, who won the Oscar for The English Patient, and did The Talented Mr. Ripley," Cosby said. "He's an unbelievable writer, so that was the most stressful part of this whole project. Oscar winner Anthony Minghella wrote a 40-page screenplay and you must turn it into a 22-page book? That was an intimidating challenge, but it was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had."
The adapted screenplay is called The Witch Baby, and it's one of two screenplays by Minghella for The Storyteller series that didn't get produced. Cosby said he hopes the other one can see print someday, but that will depend on whether The StoryTeller sells well enough to justify future volumes from Archaia.
"We're hoping that, if sales hit a certain number, The StoryTeller graphic novel could be a yearly thing, with future volumes," Cosby said.
The other eight stories are by creators like Roger Langridge, Marjorie Liu, Ron Marz, Jeff Parker, Jennifer Meyer, Craig Rousseau, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, Jim McCann, Mike Maihack, Francesco Francavilla, Janet Lee and Chris Eliopoulos.
"I opened this up to all these great creators and I said, 'Whatever old story you want to do, it has to be in his voice, and it's your interpretation of it," Cosby said. "As an editor, that's one of the best thing you can do, is to get out of their way."
Eliopoulos said he was also intimidated by the chance to work on something created by Jim Henson, but mostly because the Henson family had to approve the process.
"We had to go through an approval process with Henson, and if they weren't happy with what you were doing, you weren't in. That was a big thing," he said. "When I heard that Mr. Henson's daughter really liked what I was doing, that was a huge confidence boost to me."
Cosby and Eliopoulos are working together again next year on another project for Archaia, the highly anticipated graphic novel Cow Boy, which tells the story of a 10-year-old bounty hunter named Boyd who is determined to round up his entire outlaw family.
"He's the only good member of his family," Cosby explained. "His mom, his dad, his brother, his sister, his grandparents, his cousins -- they're all criminals. And it's up to him."
Set in the Old West, Cow Boy mimicks the story style of '60s pulp Westerns. And despite its all-ages tone, the comic has an edge to it as the boy deals with extremely serious themes.
"I was a huge Western reader growing up," Cosby said. "I compare it somewhat to fairy tales and old dime novels about the West. I used to read a lot of old dime novels. I'd look at my grandfather's stuff from the 1950s and '60s. And they were violent. And I'm a huge Mark Twain fan. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer -- they're violent. And kids have a tendency to be more violent than I think they're usually portrayed in entertainment. They're impulsive. They make rash decisions. They may say the wrong thing to the wrong person and not understand what they're doing.
"What we try to examine is that there's a moral ambiguity to what Boyd's doing," Cosby explained. "Yes, it is a good thing that you capture criminals, but at the same time, it's his family. So it's a very emotional journey going all the way across the West as he tries to figure out if he's doing the right thing, and should he just move on with his life. He's not a sheriff, after all. He's a 10-year-old kid, all on his own.
"It's an all-ages book, but at the same time, we try to give it a layer of sophistication towards his personality and what he's doing and why he's doing it," he said.
Eliopoulos said that he added a little grittiness to his cartoony style for Cow Boy to match the more sophisticated theme.
"This is a great experience for me, and a challenge," the artist said. "I'm drawing horses, and Old West towns, and cactuses and everything else. And then even the art, I've made it gritty, like an old 10-cent novel look. So it's got that ancient feel to it, like a Wanted poster or something like that. It's still my style, with an all-ages, cartoony feel, but I've made more gritty so it fits the time period. It's probably so different from all my other artwork that people won't believe it's me doing it."
Readers can expect to see five issues of Cow Boy released digitally in January as a weekly series. The series will also have short, accompanying stories by creators like Colleen Coover, Mike Maihack and Roger Landridge. A hardcover collection of all the Cow Boy stories is planned for a spring 2012 release.
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