Further Down the Rabbit Hole of The Looking Glass Wars
“Interview: Frank Beddor: Further Down the Rabbit Hole of The Looking Glass Wars”
by R.J. Carter
Once upon a time, a certain creative individual found himself possessed of the idea to write an alternative take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Several years later and a number of prose books and graphic novels under his belt, Frank Beddor still finds himself lost in the wonder, as Princess Alyss and Hatter Madigan continue to weave their personas into new adventures, in new forms.
Perhaps there really is a stream of imagination coming from the Wonderland dimension. If so, Beddor seems to have tapped into it’s mainline, and is drinking from it deeply.
Since our last talk, the world of The Looking Glass Wars, things have expanded so much further — three novels, a series of graphic novels, a scrapbook — how has this little idea of doing an Alice in Wonderland story met your goals and expectations so far?
Well, it way exceeds, and shocked to get published and completely in fantasyland — went dressed up as one of my characters for Halloween — and then raising money on Kickstarter… It’s remarkable. It’s just been a remarkable experience. It far exceeded any expectations.
When people write about my work, and they seem to understand and get into my head a little bit, it makes me feel really good — like I actually succeeded in putting the words on the page with the ideas I was contemplating, and they’re getting transferred over to the reader… I think that’s probably the most important element of the success of the books is that they translate the ideas and themes, and people are able to tell me things about them, where I’m, “Oh, I remember thinking that, that’s what I wanted to communicate! Wow!”
It’s a fun thing when both sides of the literary equation balance out between writer and reader.
That’s a good point — it’s not really a book unless somebody is reading it, which I like to point out at comic conventions when I’m signing a book and someone’s thanking me, and I’m like, “No, I don’t think you understand. I really have to thank you. You’re the one who made this a book. You’re the one taking the words and having an experience with it.”
Having read the different books that have come out — the novels and the graphic novels — I found myself wondering: Has this been Alyss’s story, or Hatter Madigan’s?
I think it’s been both. It definitely started as Alyss’s story — she had the biggest arc from the first novel throughout the trilogy. However, Hatter Madigan seems to be the most popular character. When I was promoting The Looking Glass Wars in Britain, a young boy suggested I write another novel filling in the thirteen years that Hatter Madigan went on his journey. He was very upset because it was his favorite character. On the plane ride home, it dawned on me that because the novels were told from Alyss’s point of view, then maybe a graphic novel could be told from Hatter Madigan’s point of view, and give him the same scope and character revelation that people seem to discover in The Looking Glass Wars.
So, that’s a long way of saying, “It’s both.”
Did you have anybody in mind as an inspiration for some of the characers and in the way you present them — some sort of visual representation of Hatter Madigan or Alyss?
I did when Alyss was young. Where I grew up in Minnesota, I had these two neighbor girls who — I don’t think it would be fair to say that they were tomboys, but they were adventuresome and incredibly outgoing, daring, “come along, follow us, we’re doing Something Special!” And there was a spirit that I loved about these two girls. They were a couple years older than I was at the time, and their energies and characteristics were things that informed the way that I imagined Alyss when she was very young at seven years old — what she would have been when she was their age, how she would have evolved into a woman. And then in the story, when that’s all taken away from her, I imagined these two girls who were so full of life being drained, and how tragic that would be — these shells of the most magnificent two girls I had ever known at that point in my life. So they were the inspirations for the way that I constructed Alyss. And then when she got adopted and all was lost, she had to come to terms with her new life in England as an orphan, and being adopted by the Liddell family and “fitting in” and being like everybody else and being “proper” — that would be the antithesis of what these girls were. They were free-spirited, and they didn’t seem to be restricted by society’s expectations. And I was. I felt “in a box,” and they weren’t, and I used to look up to them and go, “How did they do that?”
For Hatter, I just imagined all of the coolest stuff I would have liked to have read about when I first read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I said, “That’s not enough for the Mad Hatter. He has to be more like James Bond.” So that’s what I went about trying to do.
In the graphic novels, looking at Ben Templesmith’s work, I keep seeing Hugh Jackman — and I’m sure that’s just because of all the sharp blade coming out, doing the sort of Wolverine thing.
Hugh Jackman, I think he’s terrific. If I were thinking of a younger actor these days, I’d think about Tom Hardy. When I first started, I had a really amazing photograph of Daniel Day Lewis where his head was shaved. It was a profile, and he looked the spitting image of what Ben had drawn for Hatter. So I really thought about that guy. And then, lastly, Clive Owen was somebody that I thought about quite a bit.
Well since we’re throwing out actors’ names in relation to the characters in the books, you recently tweeted some humorous Alyss-twists for television shows. Is there an opportunity on the horizon to see Alyss and Hatter Madigan in other media, specifically film and television?
The honest answer on the film side… the success of Tim Burton’s movie, with Tim Burton — an A-list director — and Johnny Depp — an A-list actor — and then a film that made a billion dollars… it’s difficult to come in on the heels of that and suggest to a director that this would be a good idea, because they’re very competitive, and anything shy of the success — not the artistic, but the financial success — might not be such a positive for them. Having said that, a lot of time has passed, the new Oz movie came out and made a lot of money, and I’m working with Chuck Roven — we set up a movie over at Sony called “The Juliet” and we just hired Rupert Sanders to direct. These things, this is all good work and will help me to move The Looking Glass Wars forward.
But I think the strongest medium might be television. Hatter’s story — his graphic novel story — is so different from the Johnny Depp movie. It’s very episodic, which is great for television. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how I might tell the story in television, and I’m starting to get a little bit of traction on the business side. So I am working on that.
And then, lastly, the other medium that I’m working on is The Looking Glass Wars as a musical, much like Gregory Maguire did with Wicked. I’m working with a couple of different composer/lyricists in the hopes of finding the tone of the music, and then really pushing to make that happen. If that happens, and I have success, then that opens up another door. So I am trying on all fronts.
I could definitely see Hatter M as a multi-season animated series finding a home on Adult Swim.
Exactly. Actually, that’s a really good idea! Adult Swim. Because then you could deal with some of his weaponry in a kind of exciting way.
You’re currently putting out Zen of Wonder — the final chapter of Hatter’s saga?
No, no, it’s the fourth. The fifth and final is called The Love of Wonder, and that will wrap up the thirteen years that Hatter searched for Alyss. They’re all graphic novels — but I did announce on Kickstarter that if I could reach one of the stretch goals I would write a prose novel from a different point of view, and certainly with a much different structure.
Can you describe the Kickstarter experience — the choice for using it and the response you got from it? And just to pile on a little bit more to the question, given the Internet phenomenon that just happened with the Veronica Mars movie project, is Kickstarter something you’d look at again as a potential source of funding for some of these other media projects we discussed?
Well, let me start with Veronica Mars, because I think it’s an unusual film-funding situation. There was a big following a few years ago — for the couple of seasons it was on, there really was a cult following. So when you come out and you say you’re going to do a movie with the original actress, whose career has only gotten better, I think it just caught that zeitgeist — the perfect project, the right time, and we’ve never seen anything like it on Kickstarter. It really happened quickly.
But it sort of speaks to the bigger question about Kickstarter, and the whole Internet community building. The Internet allows you to reach out and connect with people. And so Kickstarter comes along and offers this fantastic platform that, from a creative standpoint, cuts out the middleman. So I can go to the people who have been part of the community and have a chat with them, and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this,” or “I’m at this point and I need your help getting it into bookstores, or get it printed.”
But what that leads to is not just the technical part of finishing a book, it’s the conversation about “What else could we do? What else do you want?” And people give me suggestions all the time, like this whole idea of the prose for the Hatter series. There’s a lot of people who have said they’re not a huge reader of graphic novels but were dying to read what happened to Hatter during those thirteen years, and would I ever write a book about it.
This comes through the feedback of Kickstarter. So I decided to do it because I have my own publishing imprint — I use Diamond, and I take care of all the costs myself. I run no ads, because I can’t stand ads in comics. And I got to the point where I ran out of money for the printing, and I thought I would have to wait six months and publish it in the fall. And then I thought I would try Kickstarter — maybe the fans will help me out and they’ll have the book in May. And that’s what happened. So I quickly put it together, researched it, called Paul Jenkins, I called Ben Templesmith, and they all had used Kickstarter. I got as much advice as possible, put it up, started tweeting about it, did the social media thing — and now it’s funded!
I was a little bit nervous in the beginning. I would have been a very public failure if I didn’t reach my goal. But I got lucky and people stepped up. So from my point of view, Kickstarter is a direct contact to the ebb and flow between the community and myself. They listen to me, I listen to them, and hopefully everybody will be happy when I deliver the books in April — which I will be doing. I’ve already sent them off to the printer, the printer says I will have all the books in a couple of weeks, and it’s all good.
With Love of Wonder being the last story, what are you going to do next? And “I’m going to Disneyland!” is not an acceptable answer.
I wrote a murder mystery that takes place in high school, and I’m excited about polishing that. But this is not the end of Hatter Madigan, my friend. I have, like Mike Mignola, a lot of different stories that pop up when I’m driving around L.A. And I’m starting to think about some sequel stories — and maybe even Hatter in our contemporary life. It’s kind of exciting! I’ve also been working with a few friends of mine, who I told I was a little burned out and trying to come up with some new ideas, so I’ve been collaborating with people. And that’s been really interesting because that brings such fresh perspective. So I’m finishing up these collaborations, and hiring a new artist, introducing some new timelines and some new ideas with The Looking Glass Wars and Hatter M universe.