In January, Archaia returns to Jim Henson’s world of “The Dark Crystal” with a second volume of “The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths” featuring the art of Alex Sheikman and Lizzy John with a plot by original “The Dark Crystal” designer Brian Froud. Picking up from where the first volume left off is fan-favorite writer Joshua Dysart, who focuses the original graphic novel series on Raunip’s participation in the next great Conjunction of the world of Thra and two Gelfling characters as they travel to the Conjunction.
Dysart spoke with CBR News about his experience adapting “The Dark Crystal,” taking the reins from the first graphic novel, what it was like to work on a beloved property from his childhood and the challenges and rewards of crafting a new installment in the Henson mythology.
CBR News: Josh, tell us about the second volume of “The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths.” Where does it pick up following the first installment?
Joshua Dysart: It picks up a few years after the first volume, which I thought they did a great job on. We pick up a few years after that and the Urskek are in the Crystal Palace, which was created in the first volume and it’s about Raunip, the character introduced in the first volume, leading a group of various races from across Thra to the Crystal Palace for the next great Conjunction. That’s basically the premise. As Raunip shows in the first volume, he has a lot of animosity and questions for the Urskek. Why are they here, what is their intention? He learned there’s been some idea in the past that they were renegades from their own species, so why is Thra being used as this alien prison planet? He’s very much a nationalist in this regard.
He also wants to know why they have the crystal in the Crystal Palace. Why is the greatest treasure of Thra being sequestered inside this Crystal Palace? That’s basically the premise of the book.
Were you a big fan of “The Dark Crystal” growing up?
Unquestionably. It’s surprisingly one of the easiest things I’ve ever written. Editorial conflicts aside — conflict is a strong word, but Henson and stuff was the most difficult aspect because when it came time to just sit down and write, I felt like my inner 12-year-old just nailed this shit. It’s been inside me forever. I’ve seen the movie literally almost 100 times probably. It just wrote itself.
What was that experience like for you as a fan of the movie to go in and play with Jim Henson’s toys?
You know, I thought it was going to be daunting. I’ve worked on a lot of stuff — I’ve been what seems to be lucky enough to work on a lot of properties that were really, really impactful on me when I was a young man, like “Swamp Thing,” like “Conan the Barbarian” — so, when they first came to me with the idea of “Dark Crystal,” I thought, “Oh man, once again I’m going to have to struggle with this legacy of my youth.” But it wasn’t like that at all. It just came really, really flawlessly. I was nervous at first, but I was really surprised at how easy it was to write.
“The Dark Crystal” has a very rich mythology. While this project does seem a little different than some of your other work, all of your work has a big world-building aspect to it. That seems like it would come in handy for something like “The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths.”
That’s really interesting that you say that. If that is the case, if my work does have that in it, I think you could really go back to “Dark Crystal” as being one of the sources for that inspiration. Not the only one, but still I was a certain age when that movie came along where I was primed to be profoundly and permanently affected by it, just being of this generation. I wouldn’t be surprised if I look back on it and I think about the context of your question, if “The Dark Crystal” could have been directly related to a lot of my work and my obsession with sort of world building. Mostly because “The Dark Crystal” isn’t as escapist as it seems on the surface. It is world-building and it is a fantasy, but it’s very much concerned with very real themes that are very pertinent to humanity. That was Jim Henson’s gift. Jim Henson wanted to say something about the interconnectivity of things and about how we wrestle with spirituality and he did this with puppets, man! With awesome, awesome puppets! I think there’s a little bit of “The Dark Crystal” probably in everything I’ve written, even the most non fantastical.
That’s really cool, then, that you got to work on something that’s canon for the actual property.
Yeah! You know, it’s crazy. I’ve never pursued any of this stuff, but again and again throughout my career, depending on how new-agey you want to be about this, I’ve either manifested this stuff — working on “Swamp Thing,” working on “Conan,” working on “Dark Crystal” — or it’s just pure randomness. All these things invested me with an aesthetic when I was young that later spoke to an audience that drove these properties to me. But it is pretty incredible when you look back at what impressed me as a youth and then look at my adult output and see how closely related they are. It was never a conscious decision. If it were up to me, I’d probably run from those properties and never work on them.
In the first volume, Aughra was one of the central characters. Where is she when the second book opens and what other characters have you added for this book?
When the book opens, Aughra has retreated to her lair on the mountaintop. She does emerge, so those people who are Aughra fans, she’s definitely a big part of the book. That’s where we star. We also follow two Gelflings in the tradition of the movie. One of the things we really wanted to do with our volume is lock into a narrative in a way the first volume doesn’t. The first volume is this culmination of short stories about the creation of the world, which is actually really beautiful and pretty poetic. We follow two Gelflings and a pod person as they go to the Crystal Palace to witness the great Conjunction and these two Gelflings, one is — not really a princess, that’s not how power structure in the Gelfling culture works — but a very highly placed female named Kel and the sailor that we saw in the first volume as the reluctant adventurer. Here he goes, following this pretty girl, which is the story of the world. He follows this pretty girl to the great Conjunction and what happens during the Conjunction changes the entire fate of Thra and sets up everything that Jim Henson built on.
What was the challenge in developing all these diverse cultures on the world of Thra?
I don’t mean to keep harping on how effortless it felt writing the book, but they’re so well invented that they really do write themselves. If you watch the film — I don’t even know how to answer that, it wasn’t much of a challenge. The characters present themselves as they are, you give what you can and it just comes out of itself. You can really see how the cultures are supposed to live. The only culture that needed to be defined exactly were the Gelflings because at the time, the Gelflings weren’t that far along in their civilization at all. But even that seemed pretty basically easy. You want to keep it simple, you want to keep it down to Earth and just stay in that mindset and don’t make too much of an epic. What’s epic about “Dark Crystal” is that the mission is epic, the fate of all these people intertwined. It’s not the culture that’s epic.
The crew from volume one, Brian Froud, Alex Sheikman and Lizzy John, all returned for this volume — what was the collaborative process like between all of you?
Brian Froud basically designed the brand new UrRu and Skeksis and that was a major, major contribution. I’m glad we went to him for that because that’s such a big part of referencing the world. Without Brian doing that, I don’t know how true or loving we’re being to the property if we don’t have him design that stuff.
Alex and Lizzy are phenomenal artists, especially teamed up together. It’s just kind of the normal way we make comics. I wrote a script and they worked off my script. Alex occasionally changed some layouts, always for the better, and we just made comics the way people have been making comics for sixty years.
As a writer, why do you think something like “The Dark Crystal” lends itself well to comics?
This is a really interesting question because this is a question that I asked myself quite a bit when the property first came up, because I had to stop and think about what is interesting about “The Dark Crystal” other than that they’re puppets. There’s some beautiful, beautiful design work. The narrative and story that’s there is really, really interesting — it’s a good, strong fantasy story. It’s got the tropes of a fantasy story, but what you really have is these beautiful, beautiful designs. And you have Jim Henson’s philosophy about nature and the cycle of life and all that jazz that Jim Henson was very much interested in that very much has a role inside of “The Dark Crystal.”
At first, that was a legitimate question that I had to wrestle with — is this interesting if they’re not puppets? Is it really interesting? “The Dark Crystal” is an extraordinary achievement in a pre-CGI age to create an entire world from scratch like Henson and his team did. But what I eventually began to realize was that first of all, the designs by themselves are gorgeous and that it was really, really an interesting exercise to create a world with so few human characteristics — or so few human characteristics that called back to our world. Secondly, it was Henson’s philosophy. There’s a beautiful, beautiful natural spirituality about Henson’s philosophy especially as applied in “The Dark Crystal” that applies itself very well to comics.
When you take the designs of the world and the Henson philosophy, I think you have something that’s really primed for comics maybe even more than a lot of the other Henson properties are.
What has been the most rewarding part of writing this project?
Two things: regardless of what anybody says, the most rewarding part of doing comics is getting pages back. When the artist starts turning in pages and you’re like, “This is awesome!” Because if we’re working in comics and we’re taking it seriously and we’re not using it as a stepping stone to something else, all we are is fans of art. All we ever want to do is tell great artists what to draw. Obviously, that was extremely rewarding, getting pages back from Alex and having them be beautiful. But also, just sitting around and thinking about Thra and different cultures, having those strong, powerful images in your head. You’re like a remixer. You have the original images from the original film — and they affected me deeply as a kid — they’re so dark and they’re so interesting and so brave, really, for a fantasy child’s film if you think about it, the way those designs are. To sit down like a DJ and remix those images into your own narrative is really exciting. To write a scene with the Landstriders? Come on, that’s awesome. All your life you wanted to write a Landstrider and now you’re writing scenes where people are riding Landstriders, and you’re desperately waiting for the art to come back to see what it’ll look like. It’s nice.
“The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths” Volume 2 graphic novel goes on sale in January. Digital single issues are currently available via comiXology.