Created by the Italian team of Barbara Canepa and Alessandro Barbucci in 1997, Sky Doll is a timely socio-political thriller in which a young android must decide her destiny by challenging the very government—and faith—that has controlled her life. Canepa and Barbucci, the team behind the international bestselling series W.I.T.C.H. and Monster Allergy, have seen Sky Doll translated into French, Italian, German and Spanish.
To date, Soleil has published three volumes in Europe, namely Volume 1: The Yellow City, Volume 2: Aqua and Volume 3: The White City, with a fourth one entitled Sudra currently in development. There was also Volume 0: Doll’s Factory, which was a “making of” sketchbook published by Carlsen Comics.
In January, Marvel Comics and French publisher Soleil announced a joint publishing venture that will see Sky Doll and some of Europe’s most popular comics originally produced by Soleil such as Denis Bajam’s Universal War One, Jean-Francois Di Giorgio and Frédéric Genêt’s Samurai and Valérie Mangin and Aleksa Gajic’s Le Fleau Des Dieux, now re-titled Scourge Of The Gods, published in new editions in English for the first time. For the record, Heavy Metal first translated and presented an English edition of Sky Doll in the Heavy Metal Magazine Summer 2006 – Sky Doll Special. Heavy Metal has also translated and partially reprinted Le Fleau Des Dieux as well as other Soleil titles.
The Marvel version of the hit series debuted in May and it was an instant sell out. With the release of the third issue this week, we spoke with the creators about the creation of Sky Doll, their influences, bringing Sky Doll to North American and English-speaking readers, upcoming volumes, and the possibility of a Marvel Comics super-heroes project?
Newsarama: Hi, guys. You'd worked on W.I.T.C.H. and Monster Allergy. How did Sky Doll come about?
Alessandro Barbucci: Sky Doll was created around the same time W.I.T.C.H. was, in 1997. In fact, after years of collaboration with Disney, we wanted to create something we could call our own. We wanted to test ourselves, both technically and artistically. In terms of contents, we felt the need to express ourselves a bit more by doing something more adult, content-wise. After all, Monster Allergy already signaled a return to light-hearted comics for kids.
Barbara Canepa: I only want to add that for me, Sky Doll allowed me to express my passion for the world of fantasy. And even more, it has given me the chance to speak of my complete dislike for all kinds of mediatical and seedy imposition of religious sects (large or small, it makes no difference to me) that to this day, can influence the life of millions of people all over the world. I despise these dictatorships. I am a proud atheist. Monster Allergy, I believe, was "homecoming" -- after a long and difficult project as Sky Doll has been -- toward the W.I.T.C.H. side of my work. A project that was simpler and without too much technical issues. Simple, honest and accessible for everyone.
NRAMA: Can you explain the world of Sky Doll to our readers?
AB: Sky Doll is a sci-fi saga inspired by fantasy operas from the 1970s. It uses an imaginary and futuristic world in order to create of the satire of our contemporary world. The main theme is religion, omnipresent under various forms. Planet Papathea, where everything happens at first, was inspired by the Roman Catholic Church, blended with some aspects taken from Islam and Muslim religion. In a climate of great hypocrisy, where women are considered inferior and marked by sin, the Sky Dolls are created. They are androids, sentient dolls conceived in order to carry out all tasks - above all, sexual ones prohibited to real women. Noa, our main character, is one of them. But it's a flawed doll, since she has the ability to dream and has developed her own personality. After fleeing from her owner, her path will cross the passing of Popess Agape.
BC: Sky Doll is nothing more than the mirror of our own society, in truth… With all its pros and cons, really.
NRAMA: Was it influenced by works by Jean Giraud/Moebius, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Enki Bilal, etc? What about Japanese manga-ka (like, for instance, Katsuhiro Otomo, Masamune Shirow, etc) and their respective manga?
AB: All the creators you mentioned have had an influence on the creation of Sky Doll, especially the Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Enki Bilal's works which are an example of perfect harmony between spirituality, adventure and humor.
BC: Other influences include such sci-fi films as Blade Runner and Barbarella. The creative process of Sky Doll was touched also by the 1960s/70s designs by Eero Aarnio and Verner Panton, and works by contemporary artists like David Linch and Chris Cunningham, best known for Bjork's multi award winning video "All is Full of Love" and Hans Bellmer (an incredible German artist of the mid-1930s) down to an obvious baroque iconography.
Allessandro and I both went to Arts High Schools, after which I spent 8 years at the University of Architecture in Rome.
That's just to say that a lot of our cultural formation ended up in Sky Doll.
NRAMA: As you'd mentioned, religion and politics are important themes in Sky Doll. What are your own views on these, and why do you think they're crucial for a science fiction creation like Sky Doll?
AB & BC: I think our interest in religion comes from the fact that we are Italian. In our country, religion is, unfortunately, still much present in the daily and political life of everyone, unlike what happens in the rest of Europe. The Italian politicians, no matter right- or left-winged, do not have the courage to assert the importance of the laïcité of the state for fear of losing votes. We wrote Sky Doll as an answer to this absurd situation. Science Fiction is a perfect vehicle to speak of these things. The portrayal of a symbolic, irony-ridden world can make the reader think and consider aspects of reality without a brutal, all-out frontal assault.
However, even if we find the politics of the Vatican despicable, at times, we are also true lovers of religious iconography, the Christian one above all. The "insanity" of Mexican baroque churches is always a great inspiration, same as sculptures with a heavy "sexual content" seen in many churches that date back to the Renaissance. The mix of eroticism and spirituality found inside Italian churches is the true Sci-Fi!
NRAMA: Who or what was your inspiration for the series' main character, Noa?
AB & BC: Aesthetically, the series draws a lot of inspiration from science fiction works from the 1970s. For Noa, the inspiration was exactly the models of that age. Tall, slender and truly ironic. A pinch of Jane Fonda (even if she wasn't that tall) in Barbarella and Audrey Hepburn from the 1950s.
An over-the-top femininity that expresses sensuality -- but never gross.
NRAMA: What about other characters like Roy and Jahu, Popess Lodovica, etc? How does each of them factor into the overall story that you've created and developed?
AB & BC: Lodovica and Agape represent two opposite visions of the religion: the former is sensual and aggressive, the latter is more unseizable and spiritual. It's the clash of the temporal side (read: politics) and the spiritual side (read: faith) of religion. In reality, in the course of the history, these respective roles will be overturned. Even Roy and Jahu are opposites: Roy is apparently a bigoted soldier - and a perfect believer who acts without ever questioning his orders. On the other hand, Jahu is sensitive and intellectually curious. This game of contrasts serves us to give different points of view. Our intent is not to assert an absolute truth, on the contrary, we want to suggest different perspectives.
NRAMA: In the past, several European publishers like Humanoids and Rebellion have tried making an impact in US but the results have been less than fulfilling. What are your hopes and aspirations for Sky Doll?
AB & BC: The first week of sales was surely a pleasant and surprising experience for us. We sold out the first print and the book is going back to print! We certainly did not expect such a success. Apparently we managed to create something that goes beyond cultural differences. And that makes us extremely happy. And to think that the first Sky Doll already is 11 years old! That's the true surprise: that we managed to write a story that can be still perceived as actual to this day… something we can be really happy about!
NRAMA: The both of you are currently working on Sudra, the fourth volume of the French edition. Can you give us a peek at what's coming up?
AB: The idea of Sky Doll is to speak about various religions, but having the same type of social and humanistic critic for each one, with no preference whatsoever.
BC: It is obvious that for us, it is much easier to "criticize" our cultural roots, namely the Roman Catholic religion, but that's because we were born in Italy and have both been baptized as Christians - without being able to agree it!! [laughs] If we only could have spoken, then, damn! I would never have taken that dip in the water…!
But to tell you more about next book, which is still at its planning stage, the main characters will be once again on the run, but they will find shelter on a planet whose religion is inspired by Hinduism. Unlike the first three volumes, this will be a more self-contained story that will develop over two books, the fourth and the fifth. The series total will count six books total.
NRAMA: Are you guys associated with Red Whale Studio, the guys who're working on an X-Men and Young Dr. Strange series for Marvel and Panini?
AB & BC: Katja Centomo and Francesco Artibani, founders of Red Whale Studio, have been friends of us from a long time ago! When they founded their agency, they approached us to collaborate with them on the creation of Monster Allergy. They are currently taking care of managing of the rights of that project. Other than that, since we're now living in three different countries (Italy, France and Spain), we don't have a chance to meet and collaborate often. They have nothing to do with Sky Doll, though…
NRAMA: Do you even follow/read Marvel Comics these days (or in the past)? What do you think of super-heroes?
AB: It will be weird for you to hear this… but I never read super-hero comics! Not having had the chance to discover them in my childhood days, today I just can't get into. The American production that interests me and gets me passionate is mostly underground/indy comics and graphic novels. One of my favorite creators is Daniel Clowes.
BC: Same thing for me. As a kid, I read Peanuts, J. Hart and Disney titles. But my true readings were Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovercraft, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick… well, all that was science fiction and fantasy, but mostly novels -the more catastrophic, the better! [laughs]
I was fully into manga in the 1980s. I fell in love when anime series hit Italy in the early 80s -those cartoons made a true addict out o me because of the graphic and cultural innovations they brought to our imagination… it took me a long time to "rehab".
Treading the same grounds was almost mandatory. When I grew up, I could no longer dream of Superman or Spiderman. They were too far away from my culture… different values and visions of the societies in which the stories took place…
Today I have some favorite American artists, though, such as Matt Groening or Dave Cooper.
NRAMA: In saying that, do you have, say, a Spider-Man or X-Men or any other Marvel Universe story you'd been itching to tell?
AB: This thought has never crossed my mind. I think that if I were to write a story about super-heroes, the outcome would be grotesque! I don't think I would be able in taking these characters seriously. Irony to me is vital and always fundamental!
BC: I believe that, in order to draw or write a story, one should in the first place know the main theme and how it should be approached. And we would lack this knowledge about American comics.
To Alessandro and me both, it would therefore be indeed very hard to try such an experiment. It wouldn't be honest to the readers. Illustrations and cover artworks are a totally different matter, though. And they would certainly be "different" from everything that has been seen in US! [laughs]