Caitlin R. Kiernan on Dancy Flammarion and her Return to ComicsA comics interview article by: David Fairbanks
Caitlin R. Kiernan is an author of weird fiction and recipient of multiple International Horror Guild Awards, the Barnes and Noble Maiden Voyage Award and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award for her novels and short stories. She wrote The Dreaming, a spinoff of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, from 1996-2001 and has returned to comics this year to join 2012's amazing line-up of creator-owned material with Alabaster: Wolves, published by Dark Horse.
We're very grateful that Caitlin was able to take some time out from her busy schedule to talk with us a bit.
David Fairbanks for Comics Bulletin: What caused you to return to the character of Dancy Flammarion after releasing Alabaster and declaring that you were done with her? What was it that pushed Alabaster: Wolves into the medium of comics instead of continuing in prose?
Caitlin R. Kiernan: When I said I would write no more Dancy stories, that was, I guess, 2006. The very last one was “Highway 97.” So, by then, I’d been writing about her since 1998, fourteen years. Not constantly, but on and off, as the stories occurred to me. I think, mostly, I felt I’d said everything I had to say about her, and I sort of wrapped it up in a tale called “Bainbridge.”
Anyway, then it’s Spring 2011, and Dark Horse gets interested in Dancy. Six years have passed since I wrote “Highway 97,” and I find I wanted to go back to her. And it occurs to me, I’d be even more interested if I pulled a sort of reboot with the character, making her older, more world weary, more morally ambiguous. Keep the heart of her, what makes her Dancy Flammarion, but reshape her in such a way I’d have an opportunity to do different things with her than I’d previously done.
CB: From the contrast of her appearance with the darkness of the world around her on the page to the history of horror/monster stories, Dancy almost feels like she was destined to end up in comics at some point. The styles of Lieber and Rosenberg seem to mesh beautifully with the world you've crafted; was it just serendipity that brought them to the story?
CRK: Essentially, yeah. Rachel Edidin, my editor came to me with a number of possible artists, and it was a process of elimination. Parrying the selections down to those people we felt would be ideal for the project. When I saw Steve’s first sketches of Dancy, I knew we had our guy to introduce her to comics. There are panels where he captures, makes visual, the image of her in my mind’s eye. Which is an amazing thing. Steve is especially brilliant when it comes to expressing emotion. I’ll think, this will never come across, what I’ve written, this subtle thing with the eyes or the mouth, but then he hits it. And I cannot stress enough how Rachelle has made the book what it is. This is especially evident on those pages where the seraph makes its appearance, and the gloom is shattered by that maelstrom of fire. And in #3, well, wow. There are panels I look at and think, Rachelle is what made this issue work.
CB: We're only three issues into Alabaster: Wolves and the issues carry a depth to them, as if we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg of Dancy and her world. I assume that you've got plans to plumb those depths, and Wolves won't be the last we see of Dancy at Dark Horse? Are you interested in working with the same creative team and/or are there other artists you'd like to work with?
CRK: Most of this, I can’t talk about yet. There will be news. What I can saw is that yes, in that part of my brain that weaves stories, Wolves indeed is only the tip of an iceberg, a sort of introductory arc. A place where all the rules of her existence will change. And that leaves the possibilities wide open.
And yes, I most certainly want to continue working with Steve and Rachelle. There are always other artists you want to work with, someday, but right now we’ve clearly got a winning team, and I’m not about to risk blowing that.
CB: The fusion of your dialog with Lieber and Rosenberg's art manages to present an incredibly believable depiction of the southern states, to the point that it feels like it would only take a few minutes of meandering after getting off at the wrong exit to stumble into Dancy. How much of the world in Wolves comes from your childhood in the South?
CRK: A great deal of it. Especially time I spent in the southern parts of Georgia and Alabama. Sure, I created a ghost town in South Carolina, and added the werewolves and other monsters. But the essential landscape, the “sense of place” so critical to good writing, and which was instilled in me early on, that’s authentic. I’ve been those shitty little rural gas stations with a mountain lion or black bear in a cage that you can see for a few dollars. I’ve been to those bus stops in the middle of nowhere, and walked those back roads laughingly called “highways.” Some of the South is beautiful, and some of it’s terrible, just like any part of the world. But I’m not making up the character of that world, and, yes, much of it came from my past.
CB: You've taken a pretty interesting path to get to where you are now: studying paleontology, teaching and working in museums before trying your hand at fiction. Was being a professional writer always the end goal, there, or is there some other universe where you're spending your time at dig sites instead of in front of a computer?
CRK: I almost decided not to answer this question. Answering it truthfully, that would take hours. And hours. The truth is amazingly complicated. It’s not like I woke up one day and said, “I’m tired of paleontology. I’m going to be a writer, instead.” Yes, there is another universe, if only in my mind, where I spend my days at dig sites and museums. And, damn, I loved teaching. I dream about these things almost every night. No kidding. No exaggeration. That unrealized reality haunts me. But that’s not how things went. Now, I always wrote stories. I just never imagined I'd ever see any of them published, and I certainly never imagined I’d make a living, even if it’s a meager living, as a writer. Writing is, you could say, my Plan B, and I consider myself lucky as hell that I’m good at it. And I’m not too modest to say I think I am good at it. Everyone out there needs a good, practical, functional Plan B. Because there’s a good chance your Plan A won’t pan out. Hell, you need a Plan C.
CB: Many creators and fans, especially those who start with other storytelling media, have some stories or creators that showed them that comics could be something a bit bigger than four-color, cape and tights stories. Typically these include Watchmen, Sandman, The Doom Patrol, R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar, later Jack Kirby works and, well, loads more. Where'd your interest in comics start? Is there anything you're reading now that you're particularly excited about?
CRK: I was never much of a comics reader until high school, when I discovered Gerber and Mayrik’s Howard the Duck and Dave Sim’s Cerebus. Those two books blew me away. But then I sort of forgot about comics until 1989. I was in college, and I friend kept nagging me to read The Sandman. Finally, I relented, and issue number 8, when we first meet Death, see, I had no ideas comics could do that. I may have actually cried. And then I was hooked on Gaiman – oh, and to think he went on to become a friend who helped get my career of the ground, I never, ever would have believed that – and went off, yeah, to read Watchmen and The Dark Knight, Moonshadow – brilliant, brilliant book, Moonshadow – and Rōnin.
The only thing wrong was that, short of The Sandman, there were so few female characters. Virtually no gay or transgender characters, which is something I set out to change with The Dreaming, and now with Alabaster.
CB: How do you felt about how Marvel/DC are approaching the idea of diversifying their characters, seemingly patting themselves on the back for being so inclusive by having a couple of gay characters?
CRK: Well, I don’t actually read Marvel and DC titles. I haven’t since in about a decade. But I am aware of the recent developments. Actually, I recall, way back in the 1990s, some special issue, drawn by Sarah Dyer, that pretty much implied Harley Quinn was involved in a lesbian relationship with Poison Ivy, then you have her involved with Bianca Steeplechase. You had the Corinthian in The Sandman, who was clearly homosexual, and I expanded on that in The Dreaming. And included a transgender character, Echo. Plus, Neil had already written a transgender character in The Sandman. Batwoman came out back in 2006, right? Point being, this isn’t necessarily a new development. We have a lot of hoopla over an element that’s been present for a while. Of course, that was all DC. Now we have Northstar and Kyle Jinadu marrying, so Marvel’s getting in on the act, a bit late, and at a time when gay marriage is such a hot issue. I have to be pleased with this, of course. These are all steps ina the right direction. I’d just like to see these two publishers walk a little faster, please.
CB: While it may fall into the realm of “things you're unable to talk about,” are there any other, non-Dancy comic ideas brewing?
CRK: Yep. A few. I’d love to rework and expand the short-story collection I did of Dancy stories back in 2006 (Alabaster; Subterranean Press). But I doubt I’ll have the time needed for that, not anytime soon. There are too many other irons in the fire.
CB: One of the downsides of a serialized work is that if a reader discovers that they love it, it's only a matter of time before they are caught up and left waiting a month for their next piece of story; for those of us enjoying Wolves, where would you point us next?
CRK: Well, the hardback collection is out of print, and is the trade paperback version of it – except as an ebook. Those were always planned as limited editions. Dancy first appeared in my novel Threshold (1998; Penguin), which is still in print, but that’s a very different Dancy. It’s not the rebooted Dancy of the short-story collection, or the re-rebooted Dancy of the comic. I fear that the wait for more of this Dancy is unavoidable.
Alabaster:Wolves #4 is in comic shops today!