IMAGE EXPO '12: Re[a]ding Seagle and Kristiansen's "Diary"

It's two, two, two books in one! That's the novelty behind Image Comics' "The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary" by Teddy Kristiansen and Steven T. Seagle just announced at the inaugural Image Expo. The Denmark-native Kristiansen originally wrote and drew the book in Danish but passed it to Seagle who came up with his own story based on the artwork before helping to translate the actual story for English-speaking audiences. Both stories are combined in one 144-page hardcover flipbook hitting stores June 6.

"'The Red Diary' is Teddy's story of a man retracing the sordid history of a famous forged painting via a set of long-lost dairies from the hand of the artist," Seagle explained. "'The Re[a]d Diary' is my story of a sordid man creating a new history for himself forged from the life of a painter via long-lost diaries. Teddy's is the original, mine is a re-mix of that original. One set of art pages, two totally different reading experiences." With such an interesting experiment in the form of comics, CBR News spoke with Seagle about the genesis of this project, what it's like working with frequent collaborator Kristiansen and how different two stories based on the same art can be.

CBR News: Steven, how did the idea to do not only a translation but also a remix of "The Red Diary" come about?

Steven T. Seagle: Teddy and I have worked together on many, many projects over the years -- "House of Secrets," "Facade," "SOLO" and "it's a bird..." to name a few -- and I was a little jealous that his book "Le Carnet Rousse" had shown up in France and Denmark without me! What did I do wrong?! But as soon as I let my rational brain displace my petty jealous brain and I decided that I wanted to make sure Teddy's work got out to the widest audience possible.

Man of Action Studios had just begun publishing our creator-owned material through Image Comics but our "deal" was that one of us had to be directly involved in the creative construction of each of our projects. So I started looking for a way to collaborate on Teddy's already-completed book! I decided I'd translate it but then I realized that I speak neither French nor Danish. I wondered what would happen if I didn't let that stop me. I "translated" the book using clues other than language -- the art, the mood, the panel composition. I wrote a script that became this re-mix kind of translation -- a parallel script that worked with his images and captions in the same order but without any foreknowledge of what the book was about.

After you wrote your version of the script, were you surprised at some of the original plot points when you did finally read the translation?

I was very surprised -- as was Teddy -- that my version basically touched on the same subject areas but with an almost completely opposite consideration of character and theme. His heroes were my villains and visa-versa. It was really interesting to me that the rigid structure of so many panels in a set sequence could still result in such a stylistic and thematic departure. This is despite the fact that I kept the character names that I could recognize and used them in the balloons where Teddy used them. I also kept one or two other words -- like if Teddy mentioned The Louvre in a caption, I'd mention The Louvre in the same caption in my script

I've only just this week worked on my polish of Teddy's version of the script -- a light translation/grammar kind of pass -- and the most interesting thing I found was a page where I -- for no real reason visually -- opted to script a sequence as a dream. I thought I was being inventive. Then I read Teddy's version and that page was a dream sequence in his version too! The universe just demanded it, I guess.

What aspects of Kristiansen's art really spoke to you when you were developing your version of the story?

It was extremely clear that the story took place in two distinct time periods: a war era in drab grays and a more current era in brighter primary hues. I didn't want to do any research for my script; I just wanted the impressions I gleaned to be in full control of my written response to the art, even if that turned out to be completely wrong. So I just guessed what the time periods were. I guessed right on World War I but my more-current period is set in the early 1970s, whereas Teddy's more-current period is present day. I had tied my lead character -- who, by the way, is more Teddy's supporting character -- to the past period directly. Teddy made only an indirect link. Just like that, three decades fall out of the story!

Also, Teddy's work gets starker as time goes by. I think he's becoming more and more rooted in the palette of those Copenhagen winters where he lives! Those muted colors definitely suggested things about the mood and tone of the prose to me and I ran with those feelings.

You've worked with Kristiansen frequently in the past, do you have any more traditional collaborations coming up?

Teddy and I were quite a long time working on our next original collaboration, "Genius," forthcoming from First Second, and it was taking so long that I just wished we could get something into the hands of the many, many people who'd contacted us saying how much they enjoyed "it's a bird...". And this strange idea of a freestyle translation seemed like a cool way to bridge that long gap.

Physically speaking, how is the book set up? How will readers be able to experience both your and Kristiansen's story in one graphic novel?

This is a flip-cover hardcover graphic novel: 144 pages. Teddy's version reads start to finish from the front cover to the half-way point. You flip it over and my version with his same art but completely different text reads to the center that direction. In the middle is an essay giving a detailed explanation of the "rules" I created to do the remix and more on the process of the process of doing the re-mix.

What do you think this project says about the fluidity and interpretability of comics?

Fluidity is one of the greatly underappreciated and underused formal aspects of comics. That gap between words and panels, that space between the end of one panel and the start of another, that fluidity of meaning is always at play in the reading of comics. This book just runs further with those gaps and spaces from a creative standpoint to some really interesting conclusions. I think the way the art is "seen" changes based on which version of this book you're reading and I think that's pretty cool.

The experiment that is "The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary Flip-Book Hardcover" bows from Teddy Kristiansen, Steven T. Seagle and Image Comics on June 6.

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