Mash-ups are everywhere these days; it’s virtually impossible to go onto the Internet without seeing a T-shirt design or a fanmade trailer that takes two or more elements from beloved pop culture properties and combines them into one, new thing. Artists like Girl Talk and Quentin Tarantino have taken the idea of the mash-up to new levels in the realms of music and film, while Camilla d’Errico continues to synthesize sequential storytelling and literature in the pages of “Tanpopo.”
Originally published as a webcomic, d’Errico’s comic tells the story of Tanpopo, a young woman who disconnects from a kind of sensory deprivation helmet after meeting a shape-changing devil known as Kuro. As she makes her way through a surreal world with roots in numerous classic literary works, Tanpopo finds herself experiencing a variety of emotions for the very first time.
The first volume, published by BOOM! Studios, took its cues — including dialog and settings — from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, while the current volume borrows from William Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” the collection of Arabic folk lore known as “One Thousand and One Nights” and a pair of Edgar Allan Poe tales.
CBR News spoke with d’Errico about her process when creating the world of “Tanpopo,” working with her sister AdaPia d’Errico to find the perfect literary influences and how her publishing plans changed after the release of the first volume.
CBR News: “Tanpopo” is all about the exploration of emotions. Which ones take center stage in the new volume?
Camilla d’Errico: We dig into anger and fear in this volume. The two emotions are very intense, so this issue takes Tanpopo into some really explosive expressions and terrifying imagery. There’s actually one part of the book that I was drawing and getting really upset while working on it, I was like “Ah! Leave Tanpopo alone!.” It’s pretty horrible what she goes through in this book.
The second volume draws from William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and Arabian Nights. What made these authors and their work so appropriate for this volume?
There are so many stories to choose from, it was difficult to decide which ones would fit appropriately. I worked with my sister AdaPia on this book as a co-author, so we worked together to find the right literary pieces that would capture these two emotions. One of the first challenges was to get the right story to explore anger. AdaPia found that Shakespeare was the perfect fit. Shakespeare, of course, masters many emotions, but when it came to explosive anger, “Richard III” fit perfectly. There is so much in that play that I could draw from and there are really great devilish references that made it easy to create a dialogue between Tanpopo and Kuro.
I went through a lot of stories to find the references for fear, and I landed on who I think is an obvious choice, Edgar Allan Poe. Everyone knows that when it comes to scary stories, Edgar Allan Poe is the grand daddy of them all. I used “The Mask of the Red Death” and “The Pit and The Pendulum.” At first I explored using one singular story but I really wanted Tanpopo to be overwhelmed by fear and tormented by a creature that would inspire fear in any person. This was also great because it introduced a new character, The Red Death, a character that will play a larger role in the series.
We needed to find a good transition between anger and fear, so the second chapter is taken from “The City of Brass,” one of the stories from “Arabian Nights.” This particular story was great for exploring another side of Tanpopo, her isolation and intelligence but also to explore more of the actual world in which we base the series in. I want the world of Tanpopo to be very mysterious and “The City Of Brass” really helped to show that she is in a very surreal world. But more than just that, the chapter also shows a side of humanity that both AdaPia and I feel very strongly about, human nature and greed. So even though this chapter doesn’t focus on her exploration of one specific emotion, it helps to show more of her personality and how she reacts to information in the real world as opposed to the knowledge the Machine of Knowledge gave her.
When you spoke with CBR in 2012, before the launch of the first volume from BOOM!, you mentioned the sense of discovery you had going out and trying to find new pieces of literature that worked with the themes presented. What were some of your favorite new works found during that process and which ones wound up influencing the story the most?
It’s really amazing just how much literature I’ve read now and how much more I have yet to read! I would say that Goethe’s “Faust” and Mark Twain’s “The Mysterious Stranger” have been the two more pivotal stories that have formed the core of “Tanpopo.” I won’t give away too much, because if I tell you which authors or classics are my favorites, I might giveaway Tanpopo’s future.
Emotions are tricky, because while they’re undeniably personal and private, they’re also universal. Is it difficult balancing those two elements when working on this book?
When it comes to exploring emotions, I have to tap into my own emotional experiences and pull from them to sometimes push the themes. It is private, but any creator will tell you that they put a portion of themselves into their work. It will always be personal. I’m a very open person, I’m Italian Canadian, and anyone that is Italian, or knows an Italian, knows that we live on a roller coaster of emotions, and the Canadian part of me balances those out. So “Tanpopo” is as much a story of a girl who experiences her humanity from experiencing each emotion for the first time, as it is myself trying to understand the origins of why we feel the way we do and expressing those emotional outbursts.
Feelings aren’t one-dimensional, either; they are multi-faceted. For example, when it came to fear, there is the obvious idea of fear, I suppose what I would consider the initial reaction, fear of being hurt, but then I think about what I’m afraid of, and for me, I’m afraid for my loved ones, and that is a different kind of fear. I draw from that when telling the story. Tanpopo will experience fear in many ways — it begins in volume two and continues in volume three.
Does this second volume come with extra material in the back, or new story material?
The second chapter is what I would consider an extra story. That chapter isn’t about Tanpopo experiencing feelings; it’s about seeing her in an environment that challenges her intelligence with her new emotions. She’s a being of knowledge, but there is a difference between reading something and seeing it in person. So when she comes to the ruins of the city, she sees them in an entirely different light. We could have cut this chapter out entirely, but there is something very profound about this, seeing Tanpopo connecting logic and emotions and standing her ground and the choices that have led her there.
How did you come to the idea of doing this mash-up or synthesis technique where you combine aspects of all these existing works and distill them into one new thing with your own artwork?
The core of when this all started was when I was in high school, I had a project in my English Lit class and I created a comic book about Hamlet but rather than Hamlet as a prince he was the heir of a crime syndicate. I made “Hamlet” a mafia crime drama. It was an exciting project that gave me a creative kick in the butt. Afterwards I did the same thing with Mark Twain’s story “The Mysterious Stranger,” and modified it to tell the poetic fall of a female angel to earth. The book was my grad project and was called “The Fallen.” Ever since I made that book I saw literature differently, I started to see a way to tell my own stories with the beautiful passages from the classics and create collaborations between these literary masters and myself.
Creating “Tanpopo” this way isn’t easy, since each chapter involves using a new literary piece, one that has to move the story forward while exploring emotional themes and lending itself to the character’s personalities. But I’m very happy that BOOM! allows me the time to work on “Tanpopo” and never rushes me to deliver. This way the story develops the way it should and it isn’t rushed so that when you read the book. Each chapter fits in perfectly because there is nothing worse to me then a story with plot holes or forced storylines.
Your style really integrates the words with the artwork in a way that’s different from a lot of other comics. How did that style develop and was it influenced by anyone?
The first time I saw Ashley Wood’s book “Popbot,” it was like my entire view on comics changed. He created a book that was a comic but didn’t follow the rules. Being a person who likes to bend the rules, I loved this breach of comic etiquette. Afterwards, I decided to do my own rule-breaking and create a book that ebbed and flowed as the story dictated and allowed the poetry to breathe on page rather than be confined and boxed in. It’s really refreshing to draw “Tanpopo” in this way. I’m always challenging myself to do new layouts, and I’m honestly never bored with designing the pages.
Once you’ve got the source material and the story figured out for an issue, what’s the next step? How do you go about integrating the art with the story?
I start out with a general plot, I know where I want to take Tanpopo’s story, and I begin to research stories that might fit that. This is very challenging and that’s when my sister became involved, since she is a lit genius. We started to work together to find the right literature to fit the story. We tend to go through a few before finding the right one. AdaPia and I have a different system — mine happens as I read the lit. While I read the play, epic, opera etc., I read it as if it were Tanpopo and Kuro speaking, and when I find passages that seem to work, I copy and paste them in a separate document. I have many documents of failed attempts, because even though some of the writing fits, the dialogue may be lacking or it doesn’t fit the story I want to tell. It’s a slow process. I usually know when I’ve found the right lit, because as I pull the passages and dialogue, I see the story develop, and then I focus entirely on that story and move forward.
Once I’ve pulled enough, I re-read the passages and begin to rearrange them in a different order. A lot of times, the beginning of the story was taken from midway or even the ending of the literature. There is a lot of editing involved, back-and-forths between myself and AdaPia, because what makes sense to me may not to her, and its never good to have tunnel vision when writing. You can’t write assuming the audience knows what you know, because they only know what I give them. It’s a great process, and as exhausting as it may sound, it’s extremely inspiring!
Previously, you mentioned that the idea was to make “Tanpopo” a 10-issue story that would run on MTV Geek and then be collected by BOOM! Did plans change when MTV Geek shut down?
MTV Geek was a great way to introduce “Tanpopo” to a wider audience, but it also required me to upload free content on a regular basis. Since “Tanpopo” is a very complex story that requires multiple levels of editing, it was impossible for me to provide the necessary updates they needed. I also don’t agree that all content should be free. Creators like me work diligently on our projects without being paid for it, and if we don’t have an income from our projects, there is no way to continue them because sadly I’m not a millionaire that can live off of my savings.
The plan, initially, was for me to publish the individual chapters of “Tanpopo” and then collect them in hardcover books with BOOM! However, I ended up really loving the graphic novel format, and so did the fans. It’s really nice to have a collection that encompasses the emotional themes altogether and add in fun chapter breaks and character bios. I plan to release five graphic novels in total; I’m already hard at work on the third GN, and I’ve even written the series finale already, which will complete the series in book 5.
You had a strong fanbase before bringing “Tanpopo” to BOOM! What has the reaction from new and old fans been since then?
The fans are unbelievably supportive of “Tanpopo,” and many of them have grown very attached to the characters. I even have fans that cosplay as Tanpopo and even Kuro! I know the series has taken me a while to release, and throughout all these years they’ve waited with bated breath for the book’s continuations. Each time I go to a convention, I sell out of “Tanpopo Volume 1” and I make new fans of the series. When I explain the series to new fans, they are intrigued. I’ve even had them return the next day after they’ve read the book, excited for more. It’s always fun to talk to fans that bought the series originally and introduce the series to new ones; I feel that each of them really connects with either the characters, or the literary content or the artwork.
When you last talked with CBR, you hinted that there might be an animated version of “Tanpopo” in the works. Can you say anything else about that project?
Sadly, this fell through. I’ve been trying really hard to have Tanpopo come to life in an animated format, but it’s proven to be rather difficult. I still have my fingers crossed that [“My Neighbor Totoro” director Hayao] Miyazaki will swoop in and collaborate with me. A girl can dream, can’t she?
Camilla d’Errico’s second volume of “Tanpopo” hits stores this week from BOOM! Studios.
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