Monday, September 15, 2008

Shannon and Dean Hale on Rapunzel's Revenge

A couple weeks back I read a knock-out graphic novel by a bunch of people all named Hale whose work I was unfamiliar with, Rapunzel's Revenge, which I reviewed here. I've since learned quite a bit about all of these Hales, and their work, and interviewed them for You can read the piece here.

Now, all three of the creators—writers Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, and artist Nathan Hale—are actually writers, which makes them the easiest people in the world to interview, especially when they're talking about something they want to talk about, and especially-especially for these sorts of "Q and A"-style interviews.

So I ended up with around 4,000 words total, and, even trimming what little fat was there, that was still a lot of words to have to cut out to fit in a 1,200-word space or so. Since the magic of the Internet gives us infinite space to fill with infinite words, I thought I'd post the transrcipts here on EDILW. If you've already read the Newsarama interview, you might want to just skim this, but here is far greater detail about the process of creating Rapunzel's Revenge. I'll post the transcript from writers Shannon and Dean Hale here, and then post that from artist Nathan Hale later this evening.

While Dean and Shannon Hale's names might sound new to a lot of us in the comics world, Shannon Hale is a pretty well-known name the world of young adult literature. She's written Newbery award winner The Princess Academy (juvenile fiction's version of the Eisner), The Book of a Thousand Days, and the "Books of Bayern" series, which began with The Goose Girl (which I'm told by a youth librarian of my acquaintance is the best book ever). She recently wrote her first book for adults, Austenland and then teamed up with her husband and life-time comics reader Dean on the script for Rapunzel's Revenge, and its already in progresss sequel Calamity Jack.

Here are Shannon and Dean Hale on comics, collaborating, their Marvel and DC pitches and why Rapunzel's a red-head...

Caleb: I was wondering if you guys could tell us a little about your interest in and relationship with comics prior to writing a graphic novel: Did you guys grow up with them, or get turned on to graphic novels later? How avid are you as readers or fans?

Shannon: I grew up unaware of comics except as a boy thing. As a teenager, I stumbled across a friend's brother's collection of X-Men and devoured them, but didn't know how to get anymore. Eventually I became a comics fan by marriage and now read about 3-4 graphic novels or trades a month.

Dean: I'm a longtime addict—I think comics were like 35-cents when I started. I distinctly remember convincing myself the switch to 50 cents was okay because the math involved in figuring out how much three to six books would cost was easier. I mostly buy trades now, though.

Caleb: Shannon, you’ve certainly had quite a bit of success with prose fiction. Why did you decide to do a graphic novel at this point in your career?

Shannon: A few reasons—First, I wanted to collaborate with my husband Dean, who has always been a part of my writing behind the scenes (acting as an in-house editor, brainstorming with me during outlining phases, et cetera). As he's a life long comics fan, doing a book in this medium seemed the obvious choice.

Second, as I traveled around doing book events, I kept meeting those kids who weren't readers. Their sister would eat books for breakfast, but a 300-page tome of words was too intimidating or uninteresting to capture their interest. I longed to have a book I could give those readers, one they could get hooked into quickly, feel their confidence as a reader swell, and go on to keep reading. Graphic novels are so good at that. We've ignored the needs of visual learners too long. It makes me very happy to see more graphic novels for young readers out there.

Third, I get bored easily. I like to challenge myself as a writer to try new genres and storytelling styles. I was intimidated and terrified of writing a graphic novel, and that was the only reason I allowed myself to try.

Caleb: Dean, what’s been your personal experience with writing before? This is the first book you’ve published, isn’t it?

Dean: It is my first book, unless you count the short story I contributed to the Young Adult romance anthology, First Kiss, Then Tell. Seriously. I've always wanted to tell existential horror stories, and that was my first published work. that I think about it, I may actually have been on track with the existential horror....

Caleb: Can you guys tell us a little about the genesis of the project? Where did the idea for a story about Rapunzel set in an Old West kind of environment come from?

Dean: Really, it started with "hair-as-weapon," I think. That idea may have even briefly predated the identification with Rapunzel specifically.

Shannon: I don't think so. That's funny, the true origin may be lost in the perling gray mists of time...

Dean: So it was Rapunzel first, hair second. I can believe that.

Shannon: I think it started with us wanting to collaborate, combining our passions and strengths—mine, fairy tales, yours, superhero comic books.

Dean: Right. I always wanted to write comics, but never had any excuse to believe anyone would let me.

Shannon: And it turned out, I would let you!

Dean: Woohoo!

Shannon: I'm such an indulgent wife. Really, Dean is so smart and talented, I knew if we collaborated we'd come up with something fun and different. We started to brainstorm fairy tale characters we could turn into comic book superheroes.

Dean: Right. And my instinct, first, was to go dark. Do something about the woodsman in little red riding hood. Something bloody and disturbing.

Shannon: Of course it was. You should go read his blog at to get a peek into his wonderfully, absurdly morbid little mind. But I'd been writing for young readers and loved the fans and wanted to stay here. There are lots of great comics writers for adults—but I wasn't seeing a lot of great comics for kids.

Dean: And I thought that writing something that was kid-friendly didn't have to be adult-unfriendly. A lot of the comics I read as a kid were that way.

Shannon: True! Really, my goal was the same as it is with my young adult prose novels—write a book that would please me now and please my younger self as well. My internal reader feels 12 half the time anyway. Hmm...we could really go on forever, couldn't we?

Dean: Yes...let's West! Right. I don't think we originally set out to do a western, but it seemed like a fitting place for someone with whip/lasso

Shannon: I love the archetypes of the Old West, the real Hollywood-style storytelling. I didn't want to write a story that could be a prose novel—I wanted to write a story that could only be a graphic novel, otherwise why use this medium? The majestic landscapes, the big-as-life scenarios, the people from all different lands, the journeying, the action, it all feels so visual, so colorful. This was the place I wanted to set our new Rapunzel loose, this was a place worthy of a graphic novel.

Caleb: Shannon, you just sort of addressed this, but I was wondering if there was something that lent this character or this story toward the comics medium versus prose in your mind; could this have been another novel, or did it need to be a comic?

Shannon: I never want to write a comic that could have been a novel (or vice versa). It's so much more fun to see Rapunzel whip those braids and lasso those bad guys than to describe it. And I think the setting deserved to be visual.

Caleb: Also, I was curious if collaborating with another writer is somewhat easier with a graphic novel, where you’re dealing with fewer words, than a prose novel?

Shannon: I've never collaborated with a prose novel. The paucity of words probably makes it easier, just because there's less to have to rewrite. Because I would say it's always more work to collaborate than to work alone. It takes longer, the going back and forth. The payoff is the fun of working with someone you love and how the synchronicity creates a story that wouldn't have been born otherwise.

Caleb: How was it working not only with another writer, but with another writer you happen to be married to? Does knowing each other so well make it very easy to write together, or does it actually present challenges?

Shannon: We're still happily married. That's the true test. I don't think I could collaborate with someone I don't know well. I'd be cautious and anxious about stepping on their toes, afraid to say I didn't like the direction they were going. With my husband, we've already gone through the polite stages and moved on to reckless honesty. That's one reason why I like to be with him more than anyone else in the world.

Dean: Though really this question is more of a Shannon one, I do have to say that if I had tried to do this all by myself, it never would have happened. Not because of Shannon's "connections," but simply because I would never have gotten off my butt to do any work.

Caleb: This was also sort of addressed already, but why the Old West setting? Was it a matter of Rapunzel’s weapon-ized hair suggesting the environment, or did your hometown/home state lend some inspiration?

Shannon: It definitely started with the hair. I think originally I was set on Rapunzel and Dean wasn't so sure. I said, "She'd be in a fairy tale version of the Old West—a vigilante hero!" And that's what swayed him to my side. I think living in the west definitely helped. We know the landscape, the sagebrush and tumbleweeds, the spectacular red rock country of southern Utah. It was home turf for us and for the artist, and so easy to channel.

Dean: It's odd—I've never really been a western fan, in comics or otherwise, but it certainly felt right for this story. I think we wanted to do that Stranger-Comes-Into-Town-And-Helps-The-Oppressed thing from the beginning, and westerns seem to do that best. Which is to say, Shannon didn't go for my after-the-bomb Rapunzel as The Road Warrior pitch.

Caleb: How involved were you guys in the visual look of the characters and the character design? Did you guys give Nathan very specific details on each character, or just broad strokes?

Shannon: We gave broad strokes, I think. Nate's a true team player, and we talked often, but the visuals were all up to him. We only interfered or requested changes in the pencilling stage if the direction he was going seemed to compromise the story, which was rare. Nate caught our vision of the story from the beginning and amped it up, making it better.

Dean: I remember we had a pretty specific idea about the kind of world this was taking place in, even through we don't really see much of it beyond the western area the story takes place in. It was important to us that the landscape of characters not be overly homogenous.

Caleb: This Rapunzel’s a redhead. I never much gave thought to Rapunzel’s hair color until I saw this comic, and realized that every cartoon or coloring book I’ve seen with her before had a blonde Rapunzel. Given how important hair is to the historical character and your version of her, was the color of the hair important too?

Shannon: Well, I'm a redhead... I always feel a little sheepish about having redheaded characters, so I called her "strawberry blonde" just to give her a little more spice than the traditional blonde Rapunzel. But then talking with Nate, we all realized, why hold back? Why not go deep red? With that much hair in all those panels, the red was so beautiful.

Caleb: How did you guys choose Nathan Hale as the artist? I understand you started by compiling a list of comics artists you really liked, and trying to find someone with similar qualities. Who are some of those artists?…And did Nathan Hale being named “Hale” as well factor in?

Shannon: We intended to write up a list of artists to propose to our editor, because the selection was her call. But once Nate sent us some sample drawings, we didn't want anyone else. And neither did our editor. He was dead-on from go.

Caleb:I noticed on your website that you guys had originally thought about doing a graphic novel with either DC or Marvel, and had even selected a young DC heroine to work up and submit a proposal for. I don’t suppose you’d let us know which character if we asked? Is it someone your average person on the street might recognize, or a more obscure character?

Shannon: When we first wanted to collaborate, traditional childrens book publishers weren't doing graphic novels, so we looked to Marvel or DC. This was where Dean's massive knowledge of comics came in handy. Tell it, baby.

Dean: First I wanted to reboot Power Pack, making that horsey guy that gives them their powers turn out to be a skrull. And then, yes, they were going to turn out to be skrulls. Or half-skrull. It never went that far. It all seemed too complicated in terms of continuity (as we can see now in Secret Invasion), so we went with Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. It seemed more clearly to piggy-back on Shannon's rep with girly stuff, anyway. I had most of the original 12 issues from the 80s in my boxes, so we re-read them, wrote a pitch for a new six issue series and a script for the first. We had an artist we knew sketch the first couple pages, and then sent it all into Oblivion at 1700 Broadway. Needless to say, nothing came of it.

Caleb: What can you tell us about the sequel you’ve mentioned, Calamity Jack? Is this the same Jack? Will it pick up where Rapunzel’s Revenge left off, or deal with his colorful-sounding background as glimpsed in this book?

Shannon: Yes, he is the same Jack. The story is split into four parts: Part 1 tells Jack's story from childhood to when he left the big city to go Out West. Part 2 starts after the end of Rapunzel and tells...well, I hate to spoil it. But it's an urban story, and more caper than Western. And it just might be bigger, badder, and more fun than Rapunzel. We've seen a few scans of Nate's art and it's AMAZING. I'm so excited about it.

Caleb: Shannon, I take it the fact that you’re doing another one means you enjoyed doing a graphic novel. In the future, where do you see your writing going? Are you going to split your time between prose and comics? Do you plan to do more books for an adult audience, like Austenland, or focus on young adult readers?

Shannon: I loved writing these graphic novels and would definitely do another, if we thought of the right story. I don't want to force it. And I don't think I want to do it alone. I have a lot of respect for this medium and I don't feel well read enough to jump in solo. Dean keeps me honest. Right now I'm writing a young adult fantasy (the fourth in my Bayern series) and another book for adults ala Austenland. Next up is a science fiction trilogy. There's that whole easily-bored thing I battle...


Mr. Fob said...

I've been lucky enough to meet Shannon in person a few times and she's just as delightful a person in real life as she comes across in this excellent interview. Thanks for sharing, Caleb.

Anthony Strand said...

Yes. Thanks for sharing indeed. I don't really have much to add. Just that I read and enjoyed the interview.