Joseph Linsner On "Dawn: Not to Touch the Earth"

Dawn, the fiery-haired goddess of writer-artist Joseph Michael Linsner's invention, will be returning to comic books with June's "Dawn: Not to Touch the Earth" one-shot from Image Comics. The single issue comes at a momentous occasion for the iconic character and her creator, as 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of Dawn's creation. Originally introduced in 1989's "Cry For Dawn" mini-series, the character has since appeared in a number of limited series as well as outside of comic books, namely through trading cards, art pieces and Dragon*Con's Annual Dawn Look-Alike contest. Despite Dawn's successes both inside and outside of the comic book industry, Linsner himself admitted to CBR News that he never imagined the teary-eyed heroine would last this long when he first created her.

"In my youthful naïvete, I honestly thought that I'd be able to get work at Marvel or DC right after the first issue of 'Cry For Dawn,' and when that didn't happen, it only made sense to keep going with it," Linsner told CBR News. "I have no idea [what's made her so iconic]. I have been trying to figure out the nature of her appeal for 20 years! All I know is that Dawn attracts both men and women. This year's Dragon*Con will host the 12th annual Dawn Look-Alike contest, and that says something right there. What I was after with Dawn was an attempt at defining the feminine mystery. Dawn is present, in fact often very exposed, and yet deeply mysterious. There is always something more to discover just around the corner. I am still always learning new things about her. I feel certain that I could work on Dawn for another 20 years."

But you won't have to wait that long for the next entry into the "Dawn" mythology, as Linsner himself is drawing from literal mythology for her latest adventure in "Dawn: Not to Touch the Earth." According to the writer-artist, he's had his heart set on this particular one-off tale for quite some time, focusing on Dawn and her cast of characters as interpreted through a Celtic fairy tale.

"'Not to Touch the Earth' is a story that I have wanted to get to for years," said Linsner. "It is an adaptation of an ancient Celtic myth. Something I have wanted to do with Dawn and her supporting cast is punch them into certain old tales and put my own spin on them. There is the standard Dawn continuity which started with the first Dawn graphic novel, 'Lucifer's Halo,' and then there are going to be stories like 'Not to Touch the Earth' which will sort of walk side by side with that continuity. This is a good story for the 20th anniversary because I get to play with all of the core elements of Dawn's mythology in a new and fun way."

"Not to Touch the Earth" is designed to work with established Dawn continuity, as Linsner himself put it, and there is certainly room for these unique tales to be told without disrupting the overarching mythology. "In the opening, Dawn explains how their story has played out many times over the millennia, and that 'Not to Touch the Earth' is simply another facet of their story," explained the writer-artist. "The book opens with a three page introduction where Dawn lays everything out. That serves a two-fold purpose: it'll reacquaint old readers with the facts and it will also fill in new readers. If they read this and like it, they should check out the other three Dawn graphic novels - they might like them, too!"

The story of "Not to Touch the Earth" follows several fan-favorite "Dawn" characters reinvented as members of a fantasy faerie world. Dawn assumes the role of a Faerie Queen, while her eternal lover Darrian Ashoka portrays a knight that rescues Dawn from a demon. Upon saving Dawn, Darrian is taken into her faerie realm and is welcomed with unearthly delights - but despite the pleasures of this strange new world, Darrian eventually feels that he must return to his own home. Dawn permits him to leave under one condition: he must journey homeward upon his horse, and he is not to touch the earth.

"All of my Dawn work is flavored by my lifelong interest in world mythology. As soon as I read this one certain myth, I knew that I could turn it into a cool Dawn story," Linsner said. "In many ways, I hate the rigid rules of continuity that almost all comics live by. Imagine how cool it would be if you thought that the Joker might actually have a chance of killing Batman? But no, we all know how it is going to play out. The good guy always gets the bad guy in the end. I wish more comics would treat their characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. They are eternal icons. Daffy Duck can blow himself up at the end of a cartoon, and no one ever wonders how he came back to life in the next cartoon. In 'Not to Touch the Earth,' one could say that I am getting the chance to blow up all of my characters."

Linsner's words might be a bit of an overstatement, but not by much. While you may not see genocidal explosions within the story, you can expect to see a whole lot of death. "This is truly a one-off," he said. "In fact, everyone dies at the end, just like in 'Hamlet.' But Dawn, being the Goddess of Birth and Rebirth, means that they will all get to ride again someday."

In addition to Dawn and Darrian, there are several other familiar characters that will go the way of the Prince of Denmark - namely Darrian's old friend Jaynis and his ex-girlfriend Adelle. "I get to draw Darrian's buddy Jaynis Goldbaum from the first Dawn series again," Linsner revealed. "He's the scruffy New York barbarian who basically taught Darrian how to fight. I have a world of fun drawing him. And Darrian's old girlfriend Adelle is back as well."

Perhaps more interestingly is the inclusion of Cernunnos, the Horned God that has always played a central role in the Dawn mythology. The Horned God is not only the god of death, but he's also Dawn's lover - and, in the proper Dawn continuity, has found mortal flesh in the form of Darrian Ashoka. But for "Not to Touch the Earth," things will be less than pleasant between Darrian and Cernunnos.

"Cernunnos plays a key role in the story," Linsner said. "For the first time, Darrian and the Horned God will face off. And I am going to be rendering Cernunnos in a more classical manner, with the head and horns of a stag. I usually give him ram horns simply because I find them more visually interesting, but in this I get to play and mix things up, so he'll have stag horns this time."

Two characters that fans won't have to worry about - at least for now - are Ahura Mazda and Lucifer, the divine and demonic creatures at the crux of one of Linsner's earlier Dawn series, "Lucifer's Halo." While they will not appear in "Not to Touch the Earth," Linsner promised that the two characters will play a very strong role in the next Dawn mini-series, which he is currently writing. While he couldn't say too much about the project yet, Linsner did offer that the Dawn and Darrian love story might get wrapped up in that impending series. One thing Linsner could reveal is that there's a whole lot of Dawn goodness to come in addition to "Not to Touch The Earth."

"Between now and the next Dawn mini-series, I hope to do a few one shots - stand-alone stories just like 'Not to Touch the Earth,'" he said. "I have ideas for a good three or four of them, all based on ancient tales. One of them is 'The Widow of Ephesus' from the Satyricon, by Petronius. Then the next big project for 2009 is the Dawn Tarot deck. That is another one fans have been asking about for years, and this year it will finally happen. There is also a 20th anniversary sketchbook, which features some really old and rare stuff and a 20th card set as well. This is a big year."

Die-hard Dawn fans can also look towards the 12th annual Dawn Look-Alike Contest at September's Dragon*Con, which will be a treat for both the competitors and for Linsner himself. "I have received a well of inspiration from the Dawn contest," said Linsner. "It is the coolest thing in the world getting to see all of these gorgeous girls bring Dawn and her many looks to life. If Dawn only had one look, like Wonder Woman, I would have stopped drawing her years ago. With each new look I am trying to do something I haven't done before. And in the back of my mind I am always wondering, 'is anyone going to try and do this for the contest this year?' Dawn has her iconic symbols - the tears, the covered right eye, the chains and the rose - I find that I can pour those elements into almost any look."

Indeed, it looks like a good time to be a Dawn fan - but the question remains, if the character so continually inspires Linsner, why has she been largely absent in comic books over the past few years? Has Linsner grown bored with Dawn, or are there just not enough stories to tell? According to the writer-artist, the problem is certainly not boredom or a lack of story potential - it's purely a matter of careful respect.

"Right out of the gate, the public wanted stories with Dawn in them -- in 'Cry For Dawn' she pretty much only appeared on the covers. I knew at the time that I still had to learn more about her, and that anything I did then would have been wrong and probably very bad," explained Linsner. "Through exploring her and her world on the covers of 'Cry For Dawn' I was able to let her story grow organically, and that is still how I work - it'll come out when it is ready. I did force a Dawn story once, the second graphic novel 'The Return Of The Goddess,' and was rather unhappy with the initial run. When it was collected as a book, I added over a whole issues worth of material to bring that book up to where it needed to be, and I am now very proud of it. So Dawn shows up when she is good and ready. I can't argue with her. I'm lucky that she shows up at all. But Dawn is such a huge part of my life that I can't ever see myself not wanting to draw her and tell stories with her. Because I let her come and go as she pleases, I feel certain that she will always come back."

"Dawn: Not to Touch the Earth" hits comic stores on June 17, 2009.

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