EXCLUSIVE: Caitlín R. Kiernan Returns to Comics with "Alabaster: Wolves"

Dark fantasy writer Caitlín R. Kiernan returns to comics next year, bringing one of her most enigmatic creations with her. Kiernan, who has previously written for "The Dreaming" and other spinoff series from Neil Gaiman's "Sandman," launches "Alabaster: Wolves" at Dark Horse Comics in April. The series stars Dancy Flammarion, a young albino woman who is -- or believes she is -- accompanied by a seraph that helps her navigate danger as she hunts monsters in the Southern United States. Dancy first appeared as a side character in Kiernan's 2001 novel "Threshold" before starring in several short stories, which were later collected into the book-length "Alabaster" featuring spot illustrations by "Courtney Crumrin" creator Ted Naifeh.

"Alabaster: Wolves" is a five-issue miniseries illustrated by Steve Lieber with covers by Greg Ruth. CBR News spoke with Kiernan about the series, her reasons for returning to comics and heroine Dancy's new life.

CBR News: Dark Horse released a teaser image of the Greg Ruth "Alabaster: Wolves" cover last week. How have your fans reacted so far?

Caitlín R. Kiernan: The response has been amazing, so much more than I ever expected. The response took me entirely off guard. But, then, this is a secret I've been sitting on since June, when I found out the book was definitely going to happen. After all that time, well, you sort of have to put something at the back of your mind. Still, to see the reaction across LiveJournal, Twitter, Facebook, and all those websites, it was surprising and very encouraging. There are not a lot of things more encouraging to me, to my writing, than to see this caliber of enthusiasm over a project I'm beginning.

It's been some time since your last comic book project. What made you want to jump back in now?

Most of the time I was working for DC/Vertigo, it was a very unpleasant experience. Sometimes, pretty much a creative nightmare. And when I was finally free of it, I publicly stated that I'd never do comics again unless certain criteria were met. One of those was that the book be a completely creator-owned endeavor. Dark Horse gave me that, and a lot more, and, for years, I've wanted to return to comics. I just never thought the opportunity would arise. The stars were right. I don't know. Things come together, and things have come together to allow me to work with Dark Horse on what I think is going to be an amazing book.

As you've said, unlike with "The Dreaming," this time you're working with your own characters, in a world you've established in your novels. What do you look forward to most about revisiting Dancy Flammarion in this way?

When I finished the collection of Dancy Flammarion short stories, "Alabaster," for Subterranean Press back in 2006, I told the publisher, William Schafer, "That's it, I'm done with Dancy. There will be no more Dancy Flammarion stories." His reply was something like, "Oh, you'll be coming back to her, sooner or later." I honestly thought I never would. I thought I'd tied up all the loose ends and there was nothing left to say, but over the years I began to regret some of the ways I'd tied up those loose threads, and Dark Horse is, in part, giving me a chance to fix those missteps, [or] what I perceive as missteps.

For readers who may be new to your work, how would you describe Dancy Flammarion and the world she inhabits?

That's a very, very hard question to answer. Dancy came into existence a long time ago, in September of 1998, and I wove her into a Southern Gothic mythos. From the start, I was never sure which parts of Dancy's world are reality and which parts of her existence are the result of a somewhat unhinged mind. From the beginning, she was a character driven by visions presumably imparted to her by an angel, specifically a seraph. Honestly, I've never known if the seraph was real, or only some part of her imagination. Regardless, the visions unerringly led her from encounter to encounter with terrible beings, and she became this albino avenging Joan of Arc sort of figure, walking the back roads of Georgia, Florida, Alabama. Though, as the stories unfolded, it became less and less clear whether or not Dancy wasn't herself a sort monster, and whether or not monstrousness equates to evil. For that matter, whether or not "good" and "evil" have any objective existence. In the comic, I'm going to continue the exploration of these themes, from the very beginning. To me, they are the heart of Dancy's world.

According to Dark Horse, the series will be "part continuation, part reimagining." What can you tell us about this?

I think Dark Horse has hit the nail on the head, as it were. Yes, I'm continuing the story I began with Dancy long ago, and revisiting some of her earlier misadventures. But I'm also deviating, to varying degrees, from those original stories. This isn't a genuine "reboot." Or maybe it is. I think of it as if Dancy's life took a different path from the one she took in the prose stories. For example, she doesn't go to Birmingham, as she did in my novel "Threshold." This is a universe where Dancy has made different decisions, so her path has lead her somewhere else, and will lead to her becoming someone else. Her view of right and wrong becomes less cut and dried, ever less certain. Oh, this is still Dancy Flammarion, the one my readers have come to know, but this is also a new Dancy Flammarion. It's like I'm getting this wonderful "do over" on one of the characters who has always been most precious to me.

As to the story itself, how would you describe Dancy's journey over these five issues? What is she up against, and where does her path lead?

I don't want to risk spoilers. Too much of what's going to be good about "Wolves" is the new path Dancy is set upon, and how that messes her up, the consequences of her actions, the characters she encounters. For me, it's a prelude to the Dark Horse stories that will follow "Wolves." But, I can say, she's up against a South Carolina swamp haunted by a pack of werewolves, and, ultimately, far worse things than werewolves. And she learns her weaknesses in a way she never has before. She's becoming less that avenging hand of god. And, quite against her wishes, she ends up with two strange and unlikely traveling companions.

It looks like this series begins with Dancy being separated from her seraph companion. What does this mean for her, both in practical terms and for her personally?

Well, I've already touched on that. In the short stories, Dancy was usually warned by the seraph of the monsters she'd encounter. Sometimes, she just happened upon them. Which is how this story opens, and this monster happens to have something very dear to her she lost in one of the stories, and she wants it back very much. Dancy's someone who's lost everyone and almost everything she cares about, and this object -- which I will not here name -- it suddenly becomes a symbol of all that loss. All along, she's had these moments where she resented the road the seraph set her on, and here that sort of comes to a boiling point. But, once she loses the guidance and the strength of the seraph -- whether it was real, or something she only imagined -- it weakens her substantially. From here on, she won't always win the battles. She's on her own. And the world becomes a much more terrifying place for her, because the monsters are still there, and she's spent a lot of time pissing them off. Now, they want revenge, and mean to have it.

You're working with artist Steve Lieber on "Alabaster: Wolves." What does his style bring to the story you're telling here?

For a long time, I never really had any image of Dancy, not beyond the image I carried in my mind. Not an image the rest of the world could see. And then when we did the short-story collection, I asked Ted Naifeh to work on it with me, to illustrate it, and he created an image of Dancy, and she gelled. She became a concrete person. At least to me, and I think to my readers, as well. Anyway, now Steve's following in Ted's footsteps, but from the beginning I said, "This isn't Ted's Dancy. This is an older, wearier, more ragged Dancy." And that's what Steve's giving me. This isn't a few illustrations. This is Dancy reinterpreted in panel after panel after panel. And I love seeing how Steve's making that happen, making the words into images. I love seeing a panel and being able to say, "Yes! That's her, exactly! Thank you!"

"Alabaster: Wolves" launches in April from Dark Horse.

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