The latest unlikely Marvel team-up debuted at Comic-Con International in San Diego earlier this month, between Marvel Comics and Cirque du Soleil. The performing arts company, who has multiple touring and standing shows across the world, debuted a comic book adaptation of their show KÀ — which has been running since 2004 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas — through Marvel's Custom division. The comic was available for free at the Marvel booth during the show, and is currently available to be read digitally. Newsarama talked with the team beyond the KÀ comic book — writer Bryan J.L. Glass, artist Wellinton Alves, editor Bill Rosemann and KÀ stage show artistic director Marie-Hélène Gagnon about how the unique project came together. Newsarama: Bryan, how do you begin the seemingly unlikely task of adapting a Cirque du Soleil stage show into a comic book? What kind of prep work was involved? And did it include a trip to Las Vegas to see the show?
Bryan J.L. Glass: I believe it was the "hero's journey" aspect of my Mice Templar work that made me a prime candidate to tackle that same theme that resonates throughout KÀ. Underneath all the pageantry and spectacle, it is such a narrative-driven performance. And while I wasn't flown out to Las Vegas, Marvel allowed me unprecedented access to the creative process of the production. My preparation was to understand the journey of each character, and select which moments of acrobatic wonder from the show best represented the various choices, and unique relationships, that illustrate those journeys.
Nrama: Wellinton, obviously adapting a Cirque du Soleil show doesn't seem like a simple task for an artist. How did you approach bringing something so firmly established as a stage production into the comic book medium?Wellinton Alves: It wasn't an easy job at all. I watched the DVD countless times to get the idea of the story and make sure the pencils were very close to the details of the show. Also, I used many photo references. I needed to tell a realistic story, but at the same time, the background had to match the spectacular stage.
Nrama: Bill, what can you say about the inception of the project, and what made Marvel and Cirque du Soleil an intriguing partnership to you?
Bill Rosemann: When our friends at Cirque du Soleil approached Marvel Custom Solutions with their idea to translate the breath taking visuals of KÀ to the printed page in the patented Mighty Marvel Manner, we couldn’t agree more in the potential for an astounding reading experience. An exotic locale, sympathetic protagonists, dastardly villains, jaw-dropping action, a daring heroic quest… sure sounds like a Marvel comic, right?
With colorfully costumed, athletic characters starring in fantastical stories that translate around the world, both Marvel and Cirque du Soleil seek to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of our audiences.
Nrama: Marie-Hélène, what made comic books a natural medium to extend the story of KÀ, and Marvel in particular the right company to partner with?
Marie-Hélène Gagnon: We wanted to expand our show awareness and brand to the Comic-Con fans and that respective demographic. The epic story of KÀ is close to their major points of interest.
After the success we saw in 2011 when KÀ performed on the side of Petco Park during Comic-Con, we wished to broaden our reach, further engaging the fans within the actual event. We approached Marvel regarding a partnership related to a custom comic book for the show as we knew the story lends to an adventurous tale of good vs. evil which we felt would translate very well within this medium. There was not a better place to launch something as unique as this than at Comic-Con. The Marvel brand speaks for itself and an alignment like we have with them is indicative of the partners Cirque du Soleil wants to be more involved with.
Nrama: Bryan, KÀ has a more straightforward plot than most Cirque du Soleil productions. How helpful was this in structuring the comic? Was it mostly working within what had already been established, or did it take a lot of expanding on the story?
Glass: Cirque du Soleil was very specific that liberties not be taken with their story, so it was not my place to explore the characters outside of the established narrative as presented. Therefore, the creative challenge I set for myself was in how I could script layouts and perspectives for Wellington to consider, that would translate the many gravity-defying sequences of the show that a Cirque du Soleil performance is famous for; how often could I upend the "camera" and portray the characters from above and below, while still preserving the narrative.
The production was also very specific in not wanting dialogue, as the production itself unfolds as a "show-don't-tell." So much can be determined about a character via their dialogued voice. I believe they prefer their audience identify or empathize with characters via their choices, and not how each speaks. So my job was to both pace the action and narrate on both a surface level (who characters are as they appear) while also exploring the very specific theme of KÀ: the fire that both destroys and illuminates — quite similar to what Marvel's current cross-over event is also wrestling with.
Nrama: Wellinton, visually, how much of the comic is directly inspired from the visuals of the actual show, and how much of it is your own interpretation?
Alves: Basically, most is taken directly from the show, but I had to change the narrative to vary the angles. Then I had to do scrutinize everything, making sure we made clear to the reader all the emotions we wanted to unleash in the images.
Nrama: Bryan, what is it about the story of KÀ that was appealing to you as a writer? Do you see similarities between it and any of your past work?
Glass: There is something instantly engaging about characters forced by outside circumstances to flee their comfort zone and discover something they'd have never learned about themselves otherwise. That is the allure of all adventure fiction, I believe. Typically, the only ones sitting back and enjoying their plan unfold are the villains. The protagonist simply getting what they planned for, what they set out to do, has nothing to engage us. The audience, the reader, vicariously experiences the highs and lows of the adventure; and one can only hope they emerge at the conclusion not merely complacent and satisfied, yet challenged to seek such an illuminating adventure themselves.
Nrama: Wellinton, as someone known mostly for superhero comics, what was it like working on KÀ? Was it essentially the same type of challenge, or a different way of illustrating for you? Alves: It was a really good experience, but at the same time a challenging one, because it is not like a superhero comic, so it needed to show more emotion and a nice visual. Also, the characters have no superpowers and this is often harder than drawing superheroes battling each other. Nrama: How familiar were you, if at all, with KÀ before starting work on the series? And from your perspective as an artist, what is it about the show that has lent itself well to the comic book medium? Alves: Before watching the DVD of the performance, I knew the story only through my research on the Internet. In my opinion, this story is so cool and it can translate into comics, showing the rivalry of the Royal clan and the Archer tribe. It would be a great ongoing comic, because there is so much emotion between the brothers and his friends and there is hate in the enemy's heart. I think people will like how different it is from mainstream comics. Nrama: Bryan, along with your own series like Mice Templar, you've written various unique licensed properties, from video games to the Thor tie-in comics for Burger King last year. Clearly, it seems that you have an aptitude for this kind of work — what do you think it is about your strengths as a writer that has drawn you to such a wide array of projects?
Glass: I'm easy for editorial to work with, brimming with inspirations of my own, while also heeding guidance, and usually delivering in a timely fashion. While in the world of "Special Projects," it is also important to deliver what the client has asked for, and I've developed a reputation for both meeting and exceeding client expectations.
There is often a temptation to approach projects like this with a casual or dismissive attitude, to produce with the least amount of effort, yet I strive to deliver my best whenever my name is going to be on the finished project, whether it be toy company tie-ins, novel adaptations, or bringing classic Marvel stories from the '60s into the current age. Thus far, nearly all of my work for Marvel has required I work within specific, often narrow, parameters… and yet I'm so anxious to show everyone what I'm truly capable of!Nrama: Marie-Hélène, how unique is doing something like the KÀ comic book for Cirque du Soleil? Have there been any similar multimedia efforts in the past?
Gagnon: This was the first comic book and really the first time we took one of our shows and put it within this medium of storytelling. The strongest way we sell our shows is through getting the content out to people to see. The visuals are so impactful that initiatives like a comic book, or social media outreach, and interactive events really bring it to life in a way that gets the fan engaged right away.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!