The following is an interview with author Debbie Lynne Smith Daughetee and Nancy Holder regarding their currently running Kickstarter campaign for the trade paperback edition of Mary Shelley Presents from Kymera Press. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Daughetee and Holder about the inspiration behind the series, the creative process in adapting the short stories, the impact that the stories may have with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent launch of your Kickstarter campaign for the Mary Shelley Presents trade paperback from Kymera Press. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the series?
Debbie Lynn Smith Daughetee: Nancy and I wanted to do something to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but we didn’t want to redo the story as it’s been done to death. We had the idea to have the ghost of Mary Shelley and her creature introduce the horror stories of Victorian women. Mary Shelley describes the series best in Issue #1:
“That night I dreamed of The Creature, pieced together from corpses, revived … and unloved. His tragedy has granted me immortality. Other women writers of my time have not been as lucky. Famous once, their ghostly stories now gather dust.”
We have resurrected the voices of Elizabeth Gaskell (“The Old Nurses Story”), Edit Nesbit (“Man-Size in Marble”) Margaret Strickland (“The Case of Sir Alister Moeran”), and Amelia B. Edwards (“Monsieur Maurice”).
BD: Nancy, what can you tell us about your creative process and approach to adapting all of the short stories for this series? Likewise, how would you describe the selection and creative processes of working with the artists involved with Mary Shelley Presents?
Nancy Holder: The first creative decision we have to make as a team is what story to adapt. Debbie and I try to find stories that we can “see” visually in order to make sure that they will work as a comic book. But in addition to that, we have to make sure that the original story will “read” visually, as well. We were very excited about a story by the Russian writer Zinaida Gippius—I even commissioned a new translation by a Russian editor of mine—but we realized it would be too difficult to conceptualize it. I was really disappointed. I had done a ton of research, and we had plans to alter the art style from what I call “Russian music box” to the exciting, bombastic art style of the Silver Age of Russian art. But we couldn’t make it work.
We also want to present stories that are more than a one-note, surprise ending type of story. For the stories in this trade paperback, all of the stories could have depended on the dum-dum-DUM! reveal that a ghost (or ghosts) is involved. So, I looked beyond the creepiness to the subtext of each story. In “Monsieur Maurice,” the story is about a deep friendship that lives beyond the grave. In “Man-Size in Marble,” a loving husband keeps vital information away from his wife, because he wants to protect her. So, each story is about more than (hopefully) giving our readers the creeps!
Because we are working in the world of sequential art, I try to give the artists visual motifs they can use to convey both the creeps and the subtext. I like close-ups that can be repeated elsewhere in the story—what are termed “callbacks” in scriptwriting. I have sent the artists video clips and stills from some of my favorite movies, including the 1963 version of The Haunting, as well as The Cat People, produced by Val Lewton. Val Lewton is The Guy! We all look at visuals from noir films for heightened shadow and light effects. The artists do sketches, and we go back and forth until we get the look and cement the story in those lovely panels. Debbie is awesome at suggesting revisions. She sees the big picture in all senses of that word!
I also make sure that all our surprises and one-shot pages are arranged appropriately. But sometimes, my artist knows better! For example, in “The Old Nurse’s Story,” I tried to show the characters walking up and up and up numerous twisty flights of stairs. Amelia Woo pointed out that the reader’s eye wouldn’t track the way I had suggested and instead created a series of panels in the shape of a pipe organ that features prominently in the story. Other Kymera Press contributing artists include Laurie Foster, Dearbhla Kelly, Saida Temofonte, and Sandra Molina, all working with our art director Kata Kane to deliver stories that deliver the essence of our original material while adapting to keep up pacing and sustain tension.
The original story is always in the back of the book, so we try not to depart too far from our source material. We are trying to honor the original writers for their achievements and give them back some of the recognition all of them so justly deserve.
It really is a labor of love for all of us. It is the work of my heart, that’s for sure. This, to me, is the highlight of my life as a working writer.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Mary Shelley Presents’ stories will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that the stories contained within were important for you to bring to life?
NH: The first, most obvious answer to this question is that we hope to educate people that women do write horror. These women were as famous as Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, and Bram Stoker. Amelia B. Davis was more famous than all of them. But her voice, as well as the voices of the others, have been forgotten. We want to bring them back.
Secondly, there are a lot of people who don’t believe that women can write horror. I had a man stop at our table and look at Mary Shelley Presents and promptly say, “I didn’t know a woman wrote Frankenstein.” I think it’s important, especially for younger women, to know that, in a time where a woman’s place was in the home, as domesticity and motherhood, there were women forming the first vestiges of feminism and women who were writing not only horror but other classics that have disappeared from the bookshelves. We hope, once we have our trade paperback, librarians and teachers will be interested in re-introducing these stories to readers everywhere.
BD: Given your choice to work with Kickstarter, what makes this crowdfunding platform such a valuable tool for independent creators?
DLSD: Publishing comics is a labor of love, not a money-making proposition. Kickstarter has given independent comics new life. In the past, writers and artists were asked to do work without being paid. They would then be co-owners. Unless a comic gets picked up for a movie or television series, there’s no real money to be made. When I started Kymera Press, I swore I would pay all of my artists, and I have. We have 5 titles with varying numbers of issues, and we’ve paid everyone except ourselves. Graphic novels and trade paperbacks are more in demand than single issues, so we are taking this time to gather all of our titles into that form, and we need a little help doing it. Kickstarter is vital to keep indie comics alive. Without it, only the big companies will be putting out comics and our industry would be the lesser for it.
BD: Are there any specific backer rewards in the campaign that you would like to highlight for readers?
DLSD: We have a variety of great backer rewards ranging from $5 to $500. I think my favorites are the critiques offered by bestselling author Nancy Holder and the offer of Amelia, the Mary Shelley Presents artist, to add the backer’s image to the original cover of Mary Shelley Presents #1 and then printing the poster. We also have a reward where the backer will receive a first printing and high-resolution PDF of everything Kymera Press has published to date. Of course, I’m offering critiques, as well.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are each working that you’re able to share with our readers?
NH: Kymera Press has 5 different titles. Pet Noir features Leon, a genetically-engineered cat, who is an undercover cop on a space station. The trade paperback is offered in a couple of the reward tiers in our Kickstarter. Gates of Midnight, the title that Debbie, the owner of Kymera Press, writes, is about Raven, a combat medic just returned from Afghanistan with PTSD, who discovers she has to fight monsters on the streets of New York. Again, the trade paperbacks and some of the original art extras are available as rewards. Ivory Ghosts, a murder mystery set against the illegal ivory trade is currently being sold in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History gift shop. And Dragons by the Yard—sewing, magical fabrics, dragons, strong female protagonist. The first copy is a milestone reward still waiting to be unlocked.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find out more about Mary Shelley Presents and to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign?
DLSD: The campaign can be viewed here. Nancy Holder is our narrator on our video, and she explains the high points of Mary Shelley Presents, what it represents to us and why we are working so hard to resurrect these women’s voices. Our campaign write-up is a bit different than most Kickstarters, and you can learn even more about Mary Shelley Presents and Kymera Press there. If you visit our website, you can find out more about us, our mission, and see the covers of all our titles. We also have a newsletter that goes out around twice a month. It talks about anything from the changes in the comic book industry to behind the scenes of a comic book publisher.
Twitter: @KymeraPress @DlynnSmith_GoM, @NancyHolder
Facebook: Kymera Press, D Lynn Smith, Nancy Holder