Dame Darcy on "The Illustrated Jane Eyre"

The novel "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë remains one of the most famous and influential novels of all time, continuously adapted over the years to a variety of mediums whether it be the 1996 film starring Anna Paquin or the upcoming BBC mini-series. It's the story of one woman and the adventure life takes her on from her youth as a poor orphan haunted by visions, to the woman she grows into and the challenges she faces during that journey. It's a story filled with tragedy, love and strength that has inspired artists and writers for over a century and a half.

Dame Darcy is just one of many who've been influenced by "Jane Eyre." Her gothic/neo-Victorian artistic style has been hailed by many, including the New York Times who said, "Darcy's comics are aesthetic manifestos… Darcy is a star." The creator of Fantagraphics' "Meat Cake" as well as a member of the band Death By Doll will shortly bring her unique artistic style to the pages of "The Illustrated Jane Erye," an illustrated novel from Viking Studio, an imprint of Penguin Books. The book is the perfect pairing of words and art as it reprints Brontë's original story accompanied by hundreds of Darcy's illustrations. The book sees publication September 21st. CBR News spoke with Darcy by phone last week about the book and why she was attracted to this project.

Darcy discovered she had fans at Penguin through her work on "Meat Cake." In 2003, Darcy completed her graphic novel "Gasoline" and asked her literary agents to shop it around. As they pitched it around town, they discovered that Penguin was doing a classics series and were interested in having Darcy illustrate "Jane Eyre." "I was so elated by that news - it's one of the best things that's ever happened to me in my life," Darcy told CBR News. "I really love 'Jane Eyre' as a classic feminist novel, but also I'd like to do other ones in the future, like 'Wuthering Heights.' I hope this one goes well so that I can do that one.

"It's weird because Jane's psychology is really interesting," continued Darcy. "She approaches feminism in a really different way than I do, but I'm really glad that someone in the 1840s was feminist and was writing stuff like this and that it's lived on to today. It can still apply to today's world. It's a classic for a reason."

While "Gasoline" still doesn't have a publisher, Darcy went ahead and began pre-production on a feature film version of the graphic novel. "It's an environmental movie about technology working with nature and it stars a family of witches in a rock band that live after the apocalypse," explained Darcy. "It's kind of a guide to show people how they can live after the apocalypse so they can be inspired to live in congruity with nature today, so that the apocalypse doesn't happen."

Illustrating "Jane Eyre" took Darcy almost two years, beginning work on it in 2004 and finishing in 2005. She explained she was left to choose which elements of the story she felt were worth bringing to life with her illustrations. "When I was reading the book I'd choose those scenes that felt the most visual to me," said Darcy. "That's usually how it works with all my freelance work. Someone will hire me to illustrate a book or an article for a magazine or paper, I'll read it and then whatever scene comes to my mind is what I'll sketch out and send to the client. Once they approve it, I'll finish it up. People usually don't ask me to change that much or have a problem with what I pick. I'd say 90% of the time people are pretty chill with my choices."

Darcy was first exposed to "Jane Eyre" while in art school where it had an immediate impact on her. "It's just so gothic and awesome. I really like how all this surreal weird stuff goes down, while the rest of the time is spent drinking tea and staring out the window - which I think is actually kind of cool. I enjoy doing that, too! [laughs]"

Penguin gave Darcy a lot of room to play with in working on "The Illustrated Jane Eyre" and every illustration she created for the book will see print. "What's really great is they asked me to do the cover and it could have been any image from the entire book, but I thought the way to make it really kind of punk rock for the new generation of goth girls that it'll appeal to was to take the scene where Jane Eyre is freaking out while the giant mansion is burning behind and Jane Eyre is written in bloody red letters. That's how hard core Jane Eyre gets! People think it's this classic about a governess, but it's not necessarily about that - I mean, she gets called a witch about 7000 times and everything demented and tragic goes down during the book. I thought that should be portrayed. Plus, she's seriously Catholic-damaged, which is probably true for most of my fan base. [laughs]"

Darcy described the process she went through to illustrate the novel. "I draw everything in pencil and once I get the pencils approved I'll go and ink them," said Darcy. "After that I'll paint over top. Lately I've been doing this thing where I paint with acrylics, but I water them down to use them as water colors because I want them opaque or translucent depending on the need. When they dry, I put this kind of sepia tone wash over the top to make them look a little older. Now, you can't do that and still have a water color effect with water colors, but you can with the acrylics."

While hundreds of illustrations accompany the book, there is one scene in particular that Darcy enjoyed illustrating the most. "There's one piece where Jane has had a dream, and in the dream she saw the burnt down mansion and the full moon rising over the top and bats were living in the burnt down mansion and she's holding a crying baby and is just staring at it. That's my favorite one, I think. I think it captured what dreams are like."

In addition to her work on "The Illustrated Jane Eyre" and "Meat Cake" (issue #15 of which came out just a few months ago), Darcy also has a book coming out from Press Pop in Tokyo called "Dollerium" along with a DVD that's part of the package. To promote the release of these books, as well as a new album from the band Death by Doll, the band is touring the United States starting on the East Coast on October 22nd and finishing mid-November on the West Coast. "Right now we're in the initial stages of setting it up, but it'll all be out in time for Rocktober - which is always a great month for me," said Darcy.

For more on Darcy and those tour dates, visit her Web site at damedarcy.com and look for "The Illustrated Dame Darcy" in comic shops and book stores next month.

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