We interviewed Holly Black, the author of the popular Spiderwick Chronicles.
After writing the popular YA novels Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, as well as the bestselling The Spiderwick Chronicles series, why did you decide to create a graphic novel?
I’ve always loved comics and in college I actually hung around with a bunch of comic artists. I was still trying to learn how to create a coherent plot, so although I tried to write some comic pages back then, they were very bad. Then, when I started writing novels, I felt like I’d headed off in another direction. When I had this idea for The Good Neighbors and it was suggested to me that it could be a graphic novel, I had this moment where I thought “am I really allowed to do that?” and then got incredibly excited when I realized that I was. It was a challenge to try and write for a different medium, but it was a good challenge. I think it really let me stretch and was also a lot of fun. Not to mention that it gave me a chance to work with an artist that I really admire.
Did you read comics as a kid? If so, what were some of your favorites? What comics do you read now?
College was when I did the most comic reading. Before that, I’d read some Batman (The Dark Knight Returns, Arkham Asylum, The Killing Joke), Watchmen, and the like, but college was when I started reading The Sandman series, then The Books of Magic series, the Hellblazer series, and The Crow series — all of which remain formative reading experiences. Some of my favorite comics right now are Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, Bill Willingham’s Fables series, the Lucifer series that was written by Mike Carey, and, of course, Ted Naifeh’s fantastic and fantastical, Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things. I’ve been really enjoying Cecil Castellucci’s The Plain Janes and Shannon and Dean Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge. I also really love several online comics, like Elizabeth Genco’s Scheherazade and Jeph Jacques’s Questionable Content.
Where do you find inspiration?
For this particular book, my inspiration was the real life story of Bridget Cleary. Bridget Cleary was murdered by her husband, Michael Cleary, in 1895, as members of her family and neighbors watched. They were all so convinced that she was a faerie changeling and that her suffering would bring back the “real” Bridget that no one stopped her from burning to death. The trial was sensational in its day and there was even a nursery rhyme coined from it: “Are you a witch? Are you a fairy? Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?” In The Good Neighbors, Rue’s mother has gone missing and suspicion falls on her father, Thaddeus. I wanted to play with the ambiguity of whether or not Thaddeus murdered his wife or whether there is something more supernatural going on. I also wanted to write about betrayal. In Kin, I specifically wanted to write about the ways that families betray one another, but all three books (Kin, Kith, and Kind) will be concerned with betrayal in some form.
How did you come to work with Ted Naifeh?
I had read his book, How Loathsome, after it was recommended to me by Charles de Lint and I really loved the book, the art, absolutely everything about it. When I went out and read his other books, I loved his work even more. Ted does the most elegant, cruel, and beautiful faeries. I went into a meeting with my editor and the art director at Scholastic and we basically spent the whole time talking about how great it would be if Ted would agree to illustrate The Good Neighbors. So a friend of mine had a connection and through that friend, I did a lot of begging and somehow, Ted agreed.
What is the difference between writing prose and writing in panels?
There are several challenges to writing in a graphic novel format. For one thing, I am used to being able to use description to control mood and in this case, I have to rely entirely on Ted’s art for that. Secondarily, panels can’t be overburdened with text. I had to chop a lot of what I wrote and try to say what’s necessary in as few words as possible. And also, to leave places where the art speaks for itself.
At what stage did you first see sketches of the artwork?
I saw different character sketches for each one of the characters. That was so much fun because although I had certain ideas for the characters, actually seeing them made them both more real and also somewhat changed in my head. Also, seeing Aubrey as so ridiculously attractive really made me reconsider his story line and come up with some new twists. After finalizing what everyone looked like, the next art I saw were the pencils. At that stage, I was able to cut a lot of text that was really conveyed through the pictures. I printed out all the (gorgeous) panels and all the text and bound it up into one massive manuscript that I could edit. Then the step after that was the inks and finally the inks with the text dropped in so that I could see where I needed to cut or change or tweak any last bits.