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On Literature and Comic Books

Friday, 23 November 2012

South Africa’s literary darling, Lauren Beukes, has fan-boys and –girls across the globe enraptured in her new endeavor: a story arc for Rapunzel in the off-shoot of Vertigo’s comic book series, Fables. Fairest, which features art by Inaki Miranda, follows Rapunzel as she absconds to Tokyo after receiving a sinister message from an origami bird…


If the mention of comics only conjures up images of 10-year-old boys in dungarees reading Superman in their treehouses, then the raunch, grit and social subtext of Fairest might take you by surprise. 

Lauren landed the opportunity after meeting Fables creator Bill Willingham at Worldcon where she was doing a reading of her first novel, Moxyland. Bill was so impressed by her book he called her up to meet with his author in New York. She eventually got the chance to show her aptitude in what she calls her ‘audition comic’ (‘All the Pretty Ponies in Strange Adventures’) and her success at this lead to her pitch for Fairest.


How is Fairest different than other work you’ve done?

First of all I’m playing in someone else’s universe. Which is also amazing as it’s a work I admire hugely. I think Bill Willingham writes this incredible, epic fairytale. He has so many characters, especially strong female, and the storylines are so dense and complicated and twisty, and they all kind of interlink. What’s also really nice is that I’m playing with a character who hasn’t really been explored before. She’s basically had some very short cameos. On the one hand I’m playing in someone else’s universe, and on the other hand I have complete freedom to go wherever I want to go.


How is writing a comic different than writing a novel?


I really love dialogue. It’s the same as working with kids’ animation. You can’t have more than two lines – that’s really tough for me. You have to make that line of dialogue so meaningful and it has to convey absolutely everything and it has to have subtext; it has to have richness and depth and be absolutely perfect. So it’s honing that one line of dialogue absolutely perfectly.


Is there a contradiction between novelist and comic book writer?


No. There are a lot of people who do it. Warren Ellis does it, Greg Rucka does it, Joe Hill has done it. There are a lot of comic writer-novelists. China Mieville’s new comic is fantastic.

You have to learn to adapt. If you’re a storyteller, it’s just a matter of learning the rules of the medium. I’m not saying everyone can do it, or everyone would want to do it. If you put a gun to my head and said I could only choose one format for the rest of my life, it would be novels. But it’s amazing to be able to play in other areas. 


What do you think the perception of comic books is these days?


I think both comic books and science fiction both have a bad rap. They’re still seen as being for kids, or just really dumb and hokey… and they’re really not. They contain some of the most exciting literature … I think people should be more open-minded about what they read. Labels help anyone, except for people who pack bookshelves. 


Tell me about Shining Girls, the new novel you have coming out next year.


Time-travelling serial killer. That’s usually all I have to tell people. But it’s also about how society has changed. It’s set between the 1930s and now. There’s a depression-era violent drifter called Harper, who stumbles upon a house with doors that open up onto other times. And he uses it to find these girls that he has visions about, and kill them. He hunts them through time. One of his victims survives. Her name’s Kirby, and she’s a punk in ‘90s Chicago. First of all she’s had a major trauma in her life; she barely survived an attack, and now she’s got to live with it, and find out who it is that did this to her. And of course, it’s an impossible crime and an impossible killer. My whole point is to look at what violence is, and what violence does to people, and that it’s not the sexy glamorous girls with long blonde hair and the pool of blood and the one stiletto on the side, legs akimbo. Violence is horrific. And the ripples through society are horrific. 


I saw on your blog you’re adapting Zoo City as a screenplay. Tell me about that.


It’s been optioned by Helena Spring, who is the Oscar-nominated producer of Yesterday. She’s a really savvy filmmaker, and has been involved in a ton of projects. Zoo City is her passion project, and she’s been the most amazing producer. She’s committed to making it in South Africa. It would be great to have an all-South African cast – maybe it will happen, I don’t know – but I think we’ll probably need some big-name actors on board.


What’s next?

Broken Monsters. It’s a novel set in Detroit. Strange corpses start turning up. The first one that turns up is a young boy, and he’s been cut in half, and the top half of his body has been meat glued to the bottom half of a deer. It’s like this horrible chimera. It’s got to be finished by May. After that, an Apartheid thriller. I want to write a Western. I kind of have the next three novels planned out, but something else may come along. 

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"I think both comic books and science fiction both have a bad rap. They’re still seen as being for kids, or just really dumb and hokey… and they’re really not."
Daniel Blazquez

Meg de Jong

Meg de Jong is the combined spirit of a 6-year-old boy and '50s housewife, currently leading a nomadic existence wandering across the globe.
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