The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary, the new graphic novel released by Image next week, is one of those unique artistic endeavors that can only happen in comic books.
The 144-page painted novel is actually a flipbook, telling two different stories, but with the same art.
That's right. It's one set of artwork. But two totally different reading experiences.
The unique creation was the result of a conversation between writer Steven T. Seagle and artist Teddy Kristiansen of it's a Bird fame, who had been collaborating on their graphic novel, Genius.
Kristiansen had published a graphic novel of his own in Europe, titled The Red Diary, but when Seagle was admiring the book's artwork, he was unable to read the French words. So he told Kristiansen that he'd like to challenge himself by writing his own version of the story to go with the art.
What resulted is two stories: The Red Diary, Kristiansen's original story about a man tracing the history of a forged painting, and The Re[a]d Diary , which Seagle wrote about a man creating a new history for himself through someone else's diary.
The art is exactly the same in both stories, but the writing is completely different.
It's one of several projects on which Seagle is working, including an all ages graphic novel called Batula from Image next month. He's also part of the Man of Action team behind the Ben 10 and Ultimate Spider-Man cartoons.
And recently, Man of Action announced that Seagle's Eisner-nominated graphic novel Kafka is being prepped for television with the Kenneth Branagh Co. Originally published in the '80s, the noir thriller tells the story of a former government agent on the run who has enhanced abilities.
Newsarama talked to Seagle about the upcoming release of The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary, as well as asking for an update on Kafka.
Newsarama: Steven, this is such a strange yet creative project. How did it come about? Was it just a kind of artistic exercise you were doing with Teddy's work, and it turned out good enough to publish?
Steven T. Seagle: Well, you know, I had worked with Teddy Kristiansen for probably 20 years now. He's somebody I just want to keep working with until I'm dead. And he went off and did a project by himself, which was Le Carnet Rouge, or "The Red Diary," which was published in France. And at first I was really jealous. I was like, "Ah, Teddy did this book without me." And then he sent me a copy, and I was just taken by it. I really loved the art. And it seemed to be a really interesting story. And I started telling him, "I'd like to put this out in America."
And only after I started talking to him about that did it cross my mind that I had no idea what it was about, because all I was doing was looking at the pictures, and I couldn't read the words.
It was Teddy who said he'd like me to do the translation. But I don't speak either of the languages that the book had been published in.
But I thought I had an idea of what the story was from looking at the pictures. So I pitched him the idea, "What if I do a translation before I know what it's about, and just write what I think is happening?" Which Teddy, bless his heart, was willing to let me do.
So that's what did. I kept all the captions in the same place, and wrote kind of as many words that he had in each caption. If I recognized a word like Paris or somebody's name, I would use that word or name. I made up a whole story using his art and his balloons.
Then he sent me the translation in its rough form, and I read what the book was about for the first time, after I'd already written my script for it. And they were totally different books.
So we had this idea to publish both of them together, and just show, you know, it's something you can only do in comics, really. There was a film, What's Up, Tiger Lilly?, where Woody Allen took a Japanese film and put a new soundtrack on it. But comics are kind of different because they're an interrelation between picture and word.
And I think the end result is really striking because they're both interesting, serious, war/love/art stories. But they're totally different.
Nrama: I find this fascinating, because it's hard to imagine that the story could come out so differently when the same art is used. Can you describe how they came out differently?
Seagle: Just looking at the pictures, what I got out of it was that it was a story about a man who'd assumed another man's identity during World War I and was living a fraudulent life.In Teddy's book, what it actually is about, and the way that he constructed it, is that it's about a man investigating a World War I soldier's life as an art fraud, a forger basically, of Cézanne paintings.
So there are similarities. There's World War I in both of them. But my present day part takes place in the '70s. Teddy's takes place in the present day.
There are obviously diaries in both stories. But in mine, somebody is reading them to perpetrate a life that's not his, and in Teddy's, somebody is researching the guy who died.
And the most interesting thing that happened is, Teddy's lead character is a supporting character in my book. And the supporting character ended up being the lead character in my book.
Nrama: It feels like it's an exercise you could do in a writing class.
Seagle: Yeah, and I've taught writing classes before where I give people two pages of a story that I did, minus the word balloons, and made them create with no other information about what the story is. So I do feel like I had experience with this before.
But it was very tricky to keep the same amount of word balloons in the same location. Teddy has two different narrative voices, which you could tell by the fonts. So I switched narrative voice when he switched narrative voice. And I'd keep the words that were English in the same place.
It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, because I put a lot more constraints on what I wanted to use and what was in Teddy's book. But it made it really interesting to work on.
Nrama: Is it similar to the work that you and Teddy have done in the past?
Seagle: It absolutely does. We did the book It's a Bird together. That was our last book, in 2004, and we have been working on a book called Genius in the intervening years, which we just finished.
So this book interestingly sits in the same kind of tonal universe as both of those books, but I'm not even sure how that happened. Because Teddy did one by himself, and the other one was just me doing this bizarre process over his art. But there is something about working with people over many, many years together. You learn what the other person is interested in, and you learn what their instincts are.
And I do think that my book still fits in the world of Teddy's work, even though it's not a story he created out of that art.
Nrama: As long as we're talking, can you share anything about the development of Kafka as a TV show?
Seagle: Yeah, I'm working on it with the Kenneth Branagh company as a TV series, which is strange to me because the original comic book that came out in the '80s is a limited series that definitely concludes. So the idea of having it be an ongoing thing took me by surprise when Ken suggested that. But that's the way we've gone.
It's a very interesting process. We're still developing and doing some writing on it. And I can't really talk about it much.
But it's an espionage thriller story. People who have read the comic book, it's very true to that, but it takes off in a very different direction.
It's so funny though, that's the first comic I ever did. And it was nominated for an Eisner, which was exciting, but it was nominated against Watchmen. So it obviously did not win. I didn't even vote for it. I voted for Watchmen myself.
To have it now have this new life after all that time has been really interesting, to go back and revisit it and think about those characters again.
Nrama: Are you seeing things that you consider mistakes now? Or are there things you admire and didn't realize you had that sensibility at the time?
Seagle: Yeah, you know, I wrote it when I was in college, and I was coming up against finals. And it had to be done very quickly. It had to be drawn very quickly. Stefano Gaudiano has gone on to become a big artist for Marvel in the intervening years. But we didn't have time to think about it at the time. And I think there was something about it that worked really well. It's very concise and didn't have very many words. And part of me wishes I could get back to that. I think I think about stuff like that too much now, maybe.
Nrama: Is Kafka currently in print?
Seagle: The last volume that came out was a remastered book that Richard Starkings put out from Comicraft through Active Images, and I pulled that off the market because I'm going to do that in a better volume, which I imagine will come out from Image.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!