Recently, Troy Stith and I got the chance to pick the brains of Raven Gregory, Ralph Tedesco, and Joe Brusha, the creative team behind the Alice franchise. This insightful interview gives you a good look into the work behind Wonderland and how each member views the Alice realm.
Along with great insight, we also have exclusive pages from The Red Queen.
As always, enjoy!
-Alex Rodrik, Features & Interviews Editor
Comics Bulletin: What about the story of Alice drew you all to form your own take on the classic tale? And, what from the original did you want to keep “as is” and what did you want to change overall?
Raven Gregory: For me, I think a big part of it was the underlining horror of the story. That behind the children’s story there was something incredibly terrifying lying beneath the surface. Reading the book, and watching the films and other adaptations of the novel I always thought how scary this would actually be if it happened to a real person and how that person would react and it all comes across as almost a decent into madness with this disguise on, so that duality really drew me to the story. We also tried to keep as much of the original scenes as was possible but giving it a slightly different twist or following the scene through to it’s logical although twisted conclusion.
Ralph Tedesco: Well as you can see from some our Grimm Fairy Tales title that we are fans of taking classics and putting that twisted horror spin on them. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a no-brainer because it’s such a classic and it does have some controversial undertones already in place. We just thought that if we could do it right and make it feel original then people would respond well to it.
Joe Brusha: I really like building up the new mythologies behind theses characters that already exist and have been around forever. Re-inventing these classic fairy tales as horror stories with fantasy elements is a lot of fun.
RG: I have read comics for years and there have always been “cheesecake” comics in the market and I thought wouldn’t it be cool to do a cheesecake book that isn’t really cheesecake. That actually has a deeper story and message beyond the fluff of pretty girls.
Ralph: So many writers have borrowed from Alice but we really wanted to add a fresh take to the mythology. If we did what was already done, nobody would have cared. So our idea was to start with a story about a dysfunctional family and make that the main focus and then use this twisted version of Wonderland to further exacerbate that dysfunction. I always compare Return To Wonderland to the movie American Beauty done as horror.
CB: What part do each of you play in the writing and direction of the books and the overall concept?
RG: I handle all the scripting and Joe and Ralph and myself come up with the plot and direction of the story.
Ralph: Then Joe and I handle cutting down Raven’s famous monologues as he tries to convince us not to. [Laughs]
JB: Our books would easily be twice as long if we didn’t work so hard to keep Raven in check.
CB: What was the process when choosing artists for the series?
RG: Originally, Rich Bonk handled the art for the first issue, but had to bow out part way through the second. I had remembered Dan Leister’s work from another indie book called The Sire and gave him a call.
Ralph: Yeah, Rich is an awesome artist and still does a lot of work for us but he had a conflict at the time and we needed to find a replacement. Luckily Dan was discovered by Raven and we were thrilled with what he has brought to the series.
RG: Each story is really its own thing. Each one gets a little different treatment. But unlike the other stories, I had a lot of things I had learned through the years that I could bring to this story unlike anything I had done before. And because of the context of the story I could really experiment with different styles of conveying the story and not have it seem out of place.
JB: I don’t think it’s changed my approach at all. The most important thing I always try to do is tell a compelling story. Something that readers will indentify with and respond to.
CB: What can we expect to see in Tales from Wonderland that we haven’t seen in the previous Wonderland titles?
RG: Some neat surprises from where you’d least expect it.
Ralph: [Laughs] Don’t give too much away Raven.
With Tales we like to fill in the blanks a bit, it also allows us to expand on the mythology we created because it is very in-depth but you can’t get it all out there in a mini-series so this gives us a little room to have more fun with these characters. I think the new Hatter and the Cheshire Cat stories will give some people the creeps. Our Hatter reveal is really cool.
JB: We don’t really know anything about the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum characters of our Wonderland universe. This story will shed some light on those characters and where they came from as well as how extensively the madness from Wonderland is invading and affecting our world.
CB: How was the idea for a psychotic rapist version of the Mad Hatter brought about? Who threw out that idea?
RG: Him and the Cheshire Cat and the Queen were the easy ones. Twisted versions that just made sense…and there was something I never quite trusted about the way the Mad Hatter looked.
Ralph: Yeah, that’s Raven’s twisted mind for you.
RG: There is some stuff that’s off limits. Not sure what, but I know they are out there.
Ralph: Yeah, we have to monitor Raven pretty closely because he likes to try and push those limits when he can.
JB: I think we’ll go as dark as we can as long as there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We killed an innocent little girl in Grimm Fairy Tales #29 and we got some negative feedback for that. But we did it for a reason that we haven’t revealed yet that will ultimately lead to happy ending. As long as we’re not doing things for shock value (Raven) I really don’t have a problem with how dark we go.
CB: Do you have an ultimate end for the series? Or will you continue to do the series in installments?
Escape From Wonderland is the final part of the trilogy after the end of Beyond Wonderland #6. We have Tales as the intermission before the final send off. So yes, there is a definite end in mind.
Ralph: We came into this knowing it was a 3 part trilogy, it was just never announced as such early on.
JB: But we are also already thinking about a prequel. If we can keep coming up with interesting stories that fans respond to, and at the same time continue to build our Wonderland and Grimm universe then we’ll keep publishing new books.
CB: They say that every writer speaks through one of their characters, which character do you find yourselves most closely attached to?
RG: The easy and safest answer would be Calie. But that would be lying…I’d say it’d be a toss up between Johnny or Charles. I have an affinity for villains that walk that thin line of not being evil yet being evil.
Ralph: Raven likes to think he’s like Charles but he’s more like the bunny. [Laughs] No, actually I can see a piece of Raven in pretty much every character, that’s what’s so great about it. I know he’s like Calie in some ways and like Johnny in others and it goes on and on… It’s just Raven’s multiple personalities coming out through this series at once.
JB: Raven is always trying to get me to do stories that are from a father’s point of view or involve children because I have like ten kids. That’s why he wanted me to write the Queen of Hearts story. But I’m a horrible judge of my own writing so I really can’t say.
CB: Out of the three currents chapters of the Wonderland series, which would you consider your personal favorite, and what about that chapter made you choose that specific one?
RG: Beyond came together great. I really love the pacing on that series. And Calie really came to life as a character for me. Watching her go through the paces of her characters development has been a wonderful thing to see.
Ralph: I agree with Raven that Beyond definitely took the series to another level in some ways. I loved the idea of Wonderland crossing over into the real world. However, I’m so juiced for Escape to come out. We’re coming full circle with the story and I just love how Calie has grown up throughout the series.
JB: I’ll say Beyond since it was just completed and I think it really built on what Raven did in Return. I’m excited for the new Escape series but I can’t judge it until it’s completed.
CB: Are there any other stories that that you’re putting your spin on that our readers should look out for? Are there any you’re dying to get your hands on?
Ralph: Dante’s Inferno anyone?
JB: We’ve got some big things planned for the end of 2009 and for next year. For some big hints on some of the things were going to do fans should check out Grimm Fairy Tales #37…On sale now! I had to throw a plug for our flagship series in here some how!
CB: It seems like you’ve had a lot of success with Con releases, do you have future plans with this marketing route? Do you tap any other outlets to get Wonderland out to the masses?
Ralph: Comic Cons are great. We love going to different cities and we get so much fan support it’s amazing. This year we cut back on some conventions because it’s so time consuming and can get expensive but in 2010 we might put a few back on the circuit. In terms of getting Wonderland out to the masses, that’s something we try to do all the time. We feel like it’s one of those books that a mainstream audience can get behind because of the theme so the more press we get the better of course.
CB: On your website you said you were donating the proceeds from Beyond Wonderland to U.S. Troop care packages. Other than the obvious, what instigated this gesture? How did Zenescope get involved with the care package program?
Ralph: Yeah, that was from a little while back. We want to do something like that again soon. It was brought to our attention through our art director, David Seidman. His wife was involved in some care package stuff and we just thought it would make sense to do at the time.
CB: What’s next for Zenescope?
Ralph: A lot actually but we’re always trying to pace ourselves. We have more Grimm Fairy Tales spinoff mini-series planned and we also have a couple projects we’re announcing either a little before Comic Con International or at Comic Con.
JB: Besides comics we’ve expanded our product line through some licensing deals. The CS Moore Studios has a Statue of Calie coming out this fall. We’re working on some Wonderland plush toys and we’ve got a full line of t-shirts out. You can check them out at www.zenescope.com.