Aline Brosh McKenna has had major successes as a writer and producer in both film — as the screenwriter of The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, the 2014 Annie remake and more — and television, as the co-creator of The CW’s acclaimed musical dramedy series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, alongside co-creator and star Rachel Bloom.
But now, Brosh McKenna has moved into the world of comic books with the hardcover graphic novel Jane, illustrated by Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand and All-New Hawkeye artist Ramón K. Pérez and based on the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. The story re-casts Jane as an art student and recent New York City transplant making her way in the big city and working part-time as a nanny.
If the book — published by BOOM! Studios’ Archaia imprint — sounds a little bit familiar, it’s been in the works for a while. It was first announced back in 2013 under the title Rochester, and was previously being developed simultaneously as a feature film at Fox 2000, with Simon Kinberg attached as a producer.
While a movie hasn’t happened — yet, at least — the Jane graphic novel is now complete and in comic book stores. With Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season three set to premiere on Oct. 13, Brosh McKenna talked to CBR all about Jane, including bringing the story from 1847 England to 2017 NYC, collaborating with Pérez and colorist Irma Kniivila, writing her first graphic novel, an update on the film’s status and what might be next for her in the comics industry.
CBR: Aline, let’s start with the inevitable first question — people know your work from movies and TV, but what made you want to venture out into the wild world of comic books and graphic novels?
Aline Brosh McKenna: I adapted a book called Rust for Archaia a bunch of years ago, and in doing so, I really discovered and fell in love with graphic novels. Jane was an idea that I had for a while, and I really wasn’t sure what form it could take, and then it hit me that it could be a wonderful graphic novel.
I had become a big fan of Ramón from Tale of Sand, so I then went into the process of trying to find an open slot in Ramón’s life so he could do the book — and I waited for him, and waited for him, as I have not waited for another man in a very long time. [Laughs] I waited and waited. Finally, he was available to do it. It’s just been really fun, really rewarding.
Also curious to hear about how you took to the process of comic book writing — I’ve talked to a lot of people who come into comics writing from different forms of media, and there is definitely a difference, especially in working closely with an artist as a much smaller team. What was it like for you in transitioning disciplines?
Our process was a little unusual because we right away sold it to be a movie, and then I was working on screenplays. The script for the book came out of a bunch of screenplay drafts that we then kind of sat down with and went through, and put together the story from that. I didn’t write a traditional comic book treatment for it — we put it together from the script moments from various drafts, and then from various conversations and discussions. Then Ramón did a very rough pass, and we refined it further from there. So my process of writing it was a little bit different from what most people go through.
Definitely different, but maybe made for a little more natural of a transition?
It was good that we had worked on it thinking of it as a screenplay for a while, because we got a chance to test out some of the elements and figure out what was going to work well for us. In a lot of ways, I think this was something that really wanted to be a book in a different way. The movie had bigger genre elements to it — it sort of dictated bigger, bombastic elements, endings in particular — so when we were looking at it more from the book angle, it has a more emotional, intimate feel to it. It became more of a Hitchcock-y thriller when we were working on the book. We found the tone and the scope of the storytelling, having chased down a few blind alleys.
Jane Eyre is one of the most celebrated pieces of English literature, and no easy thing to take on, I’d imagine.
What is it about that original text that you find so inspirational, and perfectly ripe for a modern retelling like this?
Every writer has their foundational texts. For me, the Brontë sisters were a huge part of my development as a writer, but I had despaired ever doing anything like that, because I knew at a certain point I probably wasn’t going to be a novelist. What I think has been liberating is taking this Jane story and putting it into a different form. I felt like we had more freedom with the material and the inspiration, and we kind of approached it like you might a modern-day Shakespeare adaptation.
I selected the things that had really resonated with me the most as a kid, when I had first read the book. For me, it was the Rochester relationship and the relationship with a man who is sort of dark and difficult, and all the other things that had become very compelling to me, and in the years after I read it as a child. It was an opportunity to select those most strife-ridden, romantic moments, and bring those to life.
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