Old Dog, New Tricks
From the desk of Jane Yolen
I was a lover of comics as a child, though my parents — while big encouragers of reading and writing — wouldn’t let me give them house room. So I borrowed them from friends. Not for me the Archies or the Marvel heroes. I went for the dark side: "Tales from the Crypt" was my favorite. (This gives you an idea of how old I am!)
However, ballet, boys, horses, fencing, college, work as an editor after college, then marriage and children somehow weaned me from about thirty years of reading comics. The good stuff (and the not-so-good stuff) got away from me.
Three things brought me back: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I got to write introductions to two of the three, and that ain’t bad!
What was it about those three that drew me? They were adult pieces of work, with gorgeous writing and a sense of history and cosmology. They told stories with metaphoric and psychological underpinnings. I can always be seduced by good writing and subtext. These were not just comix, but graphic literature. I was hooked.
So for the last ten years, I've wanted to try my hand at writing a graphic novel. After all, a graphic novel would combine those things I knew and wrote best — picture books and novels, plus an occasional movie script.
I kept asking and asking, writing proposals and having lunch conferences, but no one — and I mean NO ONE — wanted me to do a graphic novel. My various editors, even those dabbling in graphic novels, all looked at me as if I’d gone crazy. Basically I was told: leave comics to the comics people. They seemed to be saying, why bother, since you’re already well known in the children’s and adult lit biz. My answer sounded like a child with a tantrum: "Because I want to."
Then, through Terri Windling, I was lucky enough to get to know Charles Vess . He asked me to write one of the ballad stories for his graphic anthology. (Neil Gaiman lent me a script so I could see the format, though I ended up making up my own!) Being an overachiever, I wrote two. And I was hooked again.
You see, with children’s picture books, the writer isn't allowed to talk about the pictures at all. That's considered the artist’s province. With novels, words have to substitute for artwork. You want a castle, describe a castle; you want a medieval house, explain wattle and daub. And with scripts for movies, though there is a bit more leeway suggesting the look of the thing, in the end it’s the director who makes the final decisions. But writing those graphic short stories, I got to combine all three. Surely — I thought, after writing the two ballads for Charles — I can get someone to take me seriously about a graphic novel.
No, and no, and no some more. My own editors continued to turn me down. I wondered if I was going to find an alternative universe before anyone would let me write one.
Then manga happened. A comics explosion happened. Graphic novels went Big Business. And I almost literally fell into First Second’s Mark Siegel’s arms — though I am old enough to be his grandmother, and heavy enough to flatten him if that had actually happened. But we met, had much in common, he plied me with his first list, and I sent him the start of a short story about my granddaughter who is a fencer, a story called FOILED over which the plot gods and I had previously had a falling out.
He said, "Send me a couple of pages as a comic and. . . ."
Old dog. New trick.
FOILED (after seven hefty revisions for Mark’s freelance Editor Tanya McKinnon) will be out sometime in the next year or so. And I so want to write: CURSES, FOILED AGAIN. Maybe I will have to go into New York and fall on Mark all over again.
[UP NEXT WEEK: DEREK KIRK KIM]