It’s time for a different take on Young Adult werewolves with Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, a new graphic novel from Candlewick Press that shows a YA favorite from a different point of view. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith retells her own novel from an all-new perspective, teamed with artist Ming Doyle, who’s making her graphic novel debut after earning a loyal following from cons and online illustrations showcasing her lush, character-heavy work. We spoke with both creators to find out just why this new GN will Tantalize comic readers and YA fans alike.
Nrama: Cynthia, tell us a little about the story for the book.Cynthia Leitich Smith: When the beloved chef at a vampire-themed Italian restaurant is murdered, the crime scene suggests that killer was a werewolf. Unfortunately for our hero Kieren Morales—a teenage human-Wolf hybrid, he happens to be the person who discovers the body and calls the police. That makes Kieren a prime suspect.
But in an underworld where vampires can take wolf form and other shifters (the werecat, werebear, werevulture…) stroll Austin’s streets, who’s to say the killer was a Wolf at all? While Kieren tries to solve the murder, his best friend Quincie is courted by a new, too-charming chef who baits the young Wolfman at every turn.
This romantic-suspense horromedy is a graphic-format adaptation of a prose novel called simply Tantalize, which is told from Quincie’s point of view. The biggest influences on the novel were Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Nrama: Ming, how did you come on board for this script? Were you familiar with Cynthia's work before?
Ming Doyle: I was a stranger to Cynthia's work before Candlewick approached me about this project, but as soon as I heard the pitch along with enthralling key words such as "vampires," "werewolves," "werearmadillos," "multiculturalism," and "Texas," I was more than ready to sign on.
Nrama: Cynthia, what made Ming the right artist for the project?
Smith: While the final decision was made by Candlewick Press, my editor did give me the opportunity to offer feedback on various prospective illustrators’ online portfolios.
Ming’s work really resonated with me. Although my story has its horrific moments, they’re balanced by humorous ones, and I wanted someone with tonal range. In addition, I was wowed by Ming’s strength in conveying emotion in character faces and body language. Her art draws you in.Nrama: Ming, what did you most enjoy drawing in the book?
Doyle: I had the most fun visualizing Cynthia's unique supernatural creations, such as the aforementioned werearmadillos, as well as the werecats and werepossums. But in general it was just a treat to create an entire cast of characters based on her compelling descriptions.
I was also very aware that these were characters that people were already familiar with via the written word, so it was a neat challenge to try doing them justice over the course of such a prolonged sequential piece.
Nrama: So what makes this different from them other tales 'bout vampires and werewolves an' all that?
Smith: First, as a creature feature, it’s more than vamps and Wolves. The universe includes a myriad of shifters, two kinds of vampires, two kinds of angels, faeries, ghosts, ascended souls, demons, etc.
That said, the Tantalize series is a tribute to Stoker’s Dracula. When I started working on the first book, back in 2000, I was interested in talking back to the Gothic master. So many of his themes—alienation, plague gender and power, the “dark” other (which used to mean Eastern European)—still resonate with readers today.
However, the series in general (and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story in particular) differ from much of what’s published today in the sense that it’s grounded Gothic fantasy. There are strong romantic elements (in much the same way Dracula had romantic elements) and readers who cherish them, but these aren’t paranormal romance stories per se.
The central question isn’t how with the leads get together. Instead, the plots are driven by the mystery/suspense elements. This has given the series a solid dual-gender appeal.
Beyond that, we offer up a diverse (defined broadly) cast, and, though subsequent stories travel a bit, they’re all firmly launched by the funky, eclectic southwestern setting that is Austin. Inspired by Stoker’s Texan hero, Quincey Morris, I brought the tradition home, so to speak, and that history/sensibility greatly influences the larger whole.
Or put another way: Not a lot of writers go straight to werearmadillo.
Doyle: Everything that Cynthia said, of course! Though I'll also add that the genre elements really distinguish this work from a lot of other pieces on the market. It's not primarily a romance.
In fact, one of the things I liked most of Tantalize on my first read through was how much it reminded me of a Holmesian adventure, with a healthy and intriguing dose of the mythical and bizarre thrown in for good measure.
Additionally, significant relationships permeate every plot point, but they don't define the plot. The story's much more than a rote matchmaking quest, and typical romance is almost the last thing any of the characters have on their minds, considering everything else they have to contend with.
Nrama: Cynthia, what made you want to do the story from a different POV, as opposed to a straight-up adaptation?
Smith: I wanted to give something new to the existing reader—new scenes, a new perspective. I also strongly felt that Kieren had a story to tell. In fact, he was the original protagonist in the earliest drafts of the prose novel.
Nrama: Could you two tell us about how your collaborative process worked on this book?
Smith: First, I translated the story into a script form and created art notes on the characters, setting, etc. From there, I compiled some visual images of Austin for Ming’s reference.
In terms of the editing process, I offered notes (AKA gushing) on the initial character sketches as well as the various renderings of the novel in graphic form.
Big picture, once I saw the art, my main goal was to get my words out of Ming’s way. Some of what I’d written was no longer necessary once we had images to do the talking, and beyond that, there were illustrations I asked to be enlarged for impact.
We did all of this communicating through the editor and art director.
Doyle: While Cynthia and I only ever communicated through editors, she was incredibly supportive, always offering bolstering feedback and invaluable reference material. It was also a unique and incredibly interesting opportunity working from Cynthia's screenplay-style script, which is something most artists working in the comics industry never get to do.
I really enjoyed reading the whole story through, envisioning it like a movie, and then breaking it down storyboard style!Nrama: Cynthia, what was the biggest thing you learned from working in a graphic novel format? What are some things you can do that you couldn't do in a prose novel, and vice-versa?
Smith: What helped me most was already being a published picture book writer—another form of visually-oriented writing—and having a real appreciation for the importance of showcasing the illustrator’s work.
What I learned was to pare down my text even more. To go leaner while maintaining layers, depth. Much of that happened during the editing process, but in turning to my next graphic novel script, I found myself doing it automatically.
In terms of graphic versus prose, I could probably do a lecture on that topic. But what stood out most was the difference in pacing the language and resulting scenes. One illustration can do so much for the reader.
The biggest challenge was in conveying the fantasy world, its rules and mythology constructs. Consistency becomes even more important because you can’t offer much exposition. Readers must fill in those blanks via the images in front of them.
Nrama: Ming, this is your first extended published work! What did you learn from this experience?
Doyle: A more concise answer would encapsulate the things I didn't learn, since I was granted such an amazing opportunity to explore, grow, and challenge myself on this project. I brought the best I could to every page as I was working on it, but looking back I mainly feel excited to get cracking on the next volume so I can bring those 190 pages of experience to bear on a new volume.
But probably more than anything, I learned how important a strong, supportive, and involved editorial staff can be, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been able to rely on the people at Candlewick. I received a lot of helpful guidance that I'm positive helped showcase the best aspects of my work on this project.
Nrama: Okay, would you rather be a vampire or a werewolf, or some other type of classic monster/mythological figure? Explain your choice.
Smith: I’m fond of my werecats, if only because I have four real-world felines staring at me as I type. (I think they want to be fed.) But I should mention that in my fictional world, shape-shifters aren’t magical. They’re natural creatures like human beings, off-shoots from another evolutionary path that traces its origins to the Ice Age.
Doyle: As much as I'm a dog person, I'd have to say vampire! I just can't pass up that opportunity to have perfect hair.
Nrama: Cynthia, do you see yourself doing more graphic novels in the future, either set in this universe, or from all-new premises?
Smith: Right now, Ming and I are hard at work on Eternal: Zachary’s Story, which is a graphic adaptation of the second book, Eternal, from the Tantalize series. It’s told from the point of view of the most popular character in the series. The GN includes new scenes as well as those previously framed from another character’s perspective.
I just sent notes on the initial sketches to my editor, and I’m completely blown away by what Ming has already done. The action and emotion spring from the page.
Nrama: What characters in comics would you like to write/draw a story with?
Smith: I’ve always been fond of Tim Drake/Robin. I suppose it’s the YA writer in me. I enjoy the intensity of young, smart heroes. I’d love to write him in either graphic or prose form.
Doyle: Tim Drake's actually a character I have a lot of interest in as well! In general, I've always been drawn to the Bat family and its associates. Though of course I would never turn down a chance to work on anything featuring Storm or Jubilee either, since they were favorite characters and incredible heroes of mine as a child.
Also, Namor. Did I mention him? Haughty and imperious king of the deep, he of the risque clothing choices and scathing tongue? What I wouldn't give to draw that widow's peak on the regular.Nrama: And what's cool about getting to do a self-contained graphic novel in a genre other than superheroes?
Smith: Big picture, it’s amazing to create characters and see them brought to life in the art. And to love that art. But I especially enjoy writing a character with heightened powers that aren’t especially useful to him. For Kieren in this story, being a Wolf is mostly a liability.
Doyle: I'm a huge fan of the superheroes, of course, but there are so many different kinds of stories that shine in the sequential format. There aren't a ton of chances to tell fun, dark, intelligent tales in other genres these days, but that's something I see changing more and more.
And that can only be for the better, as far as I'm concerned. Spending so much time around Sanguini's has only taught me that variety is the spice of life... and death! It's spicy, either way. Keeps things interesting.
Nrama: What's next for both of you?
Smith: As I mentioned, we’re working on Eternal: Zachary’s Story.
More personally, I look forward to the release of Diabolical in January 2012. It’s the fourth story in the Tantalize series, and it brings together all four previous protagonists in the “biggest” story to date.
From there, the next book will be Smolder, and it’s a response to readers asking that I tackle a particular character/question introduced back in Book 1.
On the realistic writing front, I’m honored that my essay “Isolation” will be published in Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones. Look for it this August from HarperTeen.
In addition, my short story, “Mooning Over Broken Stars,” will appear in Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls. My contribution is a companion to a short by Joseph Bruchac. The anthology will be out next January from Chronicle.
Doyle: I finished thumbnailing Eternal: Zachary's Story last month, and I'll be spending the next year refining and inking the over 150 pages in the next installment of Cynthia's sumptuous and twisty story arc!
I'm also writing and drawing a two page story for the Womanthology project, organized by Renae de Liz and to be published by IDW [Newsarama Note: Which ended its Kickstarter with over 4 times its goal, totaling over $100,000!], which I'm quite excited about. Aside from that, I'll just be trying to pick up shorter standalone stories and one shots whenever I can!
Tantalize: Kieren’s Story is in bookstores August 23, 2011.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!