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Fanboy Comics Interviews Jeff Stokely of ‘Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches’

The following is an interview with Harvey Award-nominated artist Jeff Stokely (Six-Gun Gorilla), the creator behind the final standalone issue of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches, released today by Archaia. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Stokely about what initially drew him to the mini-series, his fascination with the Baba Yaga folklore, the process of adapting the original Storyteller teleplay to the sequential art medium, and more!

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Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Archaia’s The Storyteller: Witches mini-series has come to a conclusion with the release of the fourth issue that you adapted and illustrated.  Given that this issue was based on the unproduced Storyteller teleplay written by Anthony Minghella, Susan Kodicek, and Anne Mountfield, what initially inspired you to take on this project?

Jeff Stokely: When ARCHAIA approached me to adapt an unproduced Storyteller script, I was excited, but my excitement became overwhelming when they told me it would be about Baba Yaga. She is hands down, my all-time favorite of any witch from any folklore. Not to diminish Minghella or the rest of the crew, but for me Baba was the star attraction. When I read the script, I was beyond impressed. It’s an absolutely wonderful incarnation of her story, as well as Vasilissa’s. The only sad thing I found was that this gem was never produced. It would’ve been incredible!

BD: What do you hope that readers will find most intriguing about the legend of the Russian witch, Baba Yaga?

JS: I’ve always loved the mystery behind Baba Yaga, and really all folklore. Good stories don’t spell everything out for you. This has always been an integral part of Henson’s work that he never shied away from; he never pandered to children, and it’s a quality I really wanted to show through in the finished book. A lot of times, these tales are meant to scare children or teach them valuable lessons. I think Baba Yaga’s is equal parts terrifying and valuable. If the reader knows anything about the witch, they know that she eats children who disappoint her, and she then uses their bones to build her fence. That is absolutely terrifying! But, the way it’s constructed in the script is quite wonderful. Without spoiling too much, it’s nice to see the vagueness of execution, especially when Baba refers to children as her “little chickens.” Which at the very least is an indicator of her wanton disregard for life, but it almost makes you wonder if Baba has chickens and children mixed up in her mind. To me that is even more horrifying.
However, through all of this, Vasilissa’s story is about persistence, staying true to your values, and finding courage, even in the face of such horrible times.

BD: Were you a fan of the original Storyteller television series, and did you feel a desire to capture the essence of the series or did you strive to make the story your own?

JS: I was definitely a fan, though admittedly not as big a fan as I probably should have been. Not because I chose to be, but because I didn’t have that much exposure to the original Storyteller series until a bit later in life.

I’m not sure if I strived to make it my own as much as I wanted to portray this world as rich as it was in my mind. It’s only a one-shot, so it’s hard to make something so engrossing and encompassing, but, hopefully, through osmosis, there is a bit of me in there, because after all I am influenced by Baba Yaga and all of Henson’s properties. I certainly wanted to retain some classic Henson and Froud-esque qualities in the designs, especially with Baba, but there were times I wanted the environment and atmosphere to feel much scarier and real. Usually, the parts with the Storyteller himself or the three Riders in the end, I wanted them to be very true to classic Slavic knights. Same goes for the dresses the female characters wear; sometimes, I wanted them to almost feel as if they were Russian stacking dolls. Not to relate them to dolls, but just because the design of those is so iconic and beautiful, and there is a seemingly similar ancestry between dolls and puppets, which the original show never shied away from.

BD: Did you have an idea in mind for the art style when you first read the teleplay, and did the previous issues impact your artistic process?

JS: I had a lot of shadows and heavy brushwork in mind, to make the world more dense and dark. When Baba enters the story, the shadows tend to skew a bit and she plays with them. The previous issues had no impact on my artistic process. Each of the books really stands on its own merits and talent, and I wanted this book to do the same. That’s not to say the others aren’t absolutely wonderful books, because they are in every way. I even got a chance to look at some of Shane Vidaurri’s originals, and they are sincerely breathtaking! But, I think each of us just wanted to tell the story we wanted to tell, and I think we all did exactly that.

BD: Having both adapted the teleplay for the sequential art medium and illustrated the comic, which aspect of the creative process did you find most challenging and why?

JS: Most definitely cutting down on the narration and dialogue. If I had left all of it in, it would literally just be words without pictures, which is great, but you don’t really think about how many words a narrator is saying when you hear them. When you read them on top of artwork, it can be a bit of an overload. So, I had to chop a lot of beautifully written work out, which saddened me, but I also got to show a lot of what was happening instead. For instance, the opening page was originally just the Storyteller talking to the dog, and I decided to immediately immerse the reader with the village and Baba peeking through the woods. Rather than have the Storyteller be our main focus, I wanted his story of Vasilissa and this horrid place to be our anchor.

BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?

JS: I am currently working on a new creator-owned series with Simon Spurrier, writer and creator of Six-Gun Gorilla, which we worked on together. The new book has been incredible to work on so far, lots of wonderful world building and insanity. I’m having a blast. I’m afraid I can’t say much more than that at the moment!

BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about the comics and graphic novels that you are currently reading?

JS: I’m currently reading the complete Nausicaa series by Miyazaki, and every page is unbelievable. There’s like over a thousand pages! Also, I just finished reading the first issue of John Arcudi and James Harren’s RUMBLE which is so insane and beautiful. I’m certainly geeking out about it!

BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Storyteller: Witches and your other comic book work?

JS: To learn more about The Storyteller: Witches, I say pick it up! Hah! But, seriously, the best way to find out if you like a book is by reading it. Hopefully, if you’re a fan of anything Henson, then you’ll enjoy this!

For more of my comic book work, you can pick up Six-Gun Gorilla from BOOM! Studios by Simon Spurrier and myself, which is out in trade now. And, of course, you can visit my various sites for more of my updates and illustrations: (It’s also a tumblr. Neat, huh?)

Twitter: @jeffstokely

Instagram: @jeffstokely

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief




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