Next year, Dynamite Entertainment will release "The Legendary TaleSpinners" by writer James Kuhoric. Kuhoric, best known for his work on Dynamite's "Army of Darkness" and "Dead Irons," is taking a new approach to his newest all-ages appropriate project. "I've really tried to build it similar to the model that Jeff Smith did with 'Bone,' in that it's accessible to a wide audience. At the same time, it's got facets that appeal to adults and comic book readers and different demographics that'll be picking it up," he said.
Set in the tradition of fables and fairy tales, "TaleSpinners" follows the exploits of Abby, a girl who's childhood was cut off from imagination and fantasy. "She grew up without having the outlet that most kids have in play and being able to exercise that rich fertile environment that the mind can bring as far as that developmental stage; being able to pretend and act out fantasy; engage in the whole essence of fairy tales and storytelling," said Kuhoric of his leading lady. "It's about her being dragged into it - finding out that, because she's had this void in her life, this very rich imagination that's been stifled for so long, she actually is one of the legendary storytellers; the people whose imaginations are so powerful they create and build the fabric of the fairy tales and the fantasy."
As a father of two, Kuhoric hoped to craft a story that would not only appease comic book fans, but that his own children could read. "It's funn,y because I'm fairly conservative as a parent," he said. "I have two boys that are in middle school and elementary school. They asked me at one point why they couldn't read any of my books. They're not going to read 'Dead Irons' with the language and the violence. That really stuck with me, and I [realized that I] had stories to tell that were appropriate."
According to the writer, the seeds for "TaleSpinners" have been burgeoning for over five years. "It really started with my own interpretation of how technology is changing the way children interact with toys and imagination; kind of spoon-feeding stuff to them," Kuhoric told CBR News. "That's one of the central premises of the story: there's not as much expression of imagination anymore as kids get more and more things hand-delivered to them. They don't have to make up their own things. Other elements started to come together with it, like the fairy tale world itself and what's happening to it and how it's changed from the creative storytelling and stories being passed mouth to mouth over years and years, to a new world where those things have been pushed aside."
Along with Abby, the central character who grew up untouched by imagination, Kuhoric included a number of existing characters and beloved TaleSpinners, including Baron Munchausen. "The other supporting characters are ones I've always wanted to play with; certain different archetypes from fairy tales and fantasy," he explained. "Baron Munchausen being one of the most notorious storytellers seemed like the perfect fit to help drag her into the possibilities. There's almost a 'Wizard of Oz' or 'Alice in Wonderland' vibe as you see the two different worlds - the world that Abby's grown up in and the world that she's repressed with all these fantastic tales. There are a lot of similarities, and I went out of my way to make sure things were linked so that real world personalities mingled with fairy tale personalities."
These dual personalities are seen in some of the folks Abby interacts with in our world, such as Roarke McGeen, an intern at the college hospital whose fantasy world counterpart is one of the surviving seven dwarves, and Abby's best friend Tina Bean. "She's a very alpha female type who really likes playing video games and gamer girl," says Kuhoric of Tina. "On the other side of the mirror, she's Tinkerbelle, who actually encompasses a lot of Tina's central characteristics, but at the same time shows Abby a side of her that she would never be exposed to [otherwise] - the imaginative creative fantasy world side."
Although "The Legendary TaleSpinners" is intended for all-ages, Kuhoric couldn't help but include a few horror elements. "Horror elements are in everyday life. It's not something that's exclusive to the extreme horror that I've done in other books," he said. "In this, you take what starts out as a very innocent thing - most fairy tales that modern people know of are very positive, very kid friendly. But if you go back and take a look at what the original stories were, they're very dark. Many of them had themes that were akin to child molestation and murder. These were pretty grim tales, and we tend to forget that when we look at modernized versions of these stories."
"In this story, I'm telling not only Abby's story about becoming a talespinner and embracing her destiny of opening up her imagination, but I'm showing what once was a very vibrant and living world of fantasy and imagination that kids believed in and kids told stories about. As interest has shifted away from these traditional stories, the world has decayed around them. You find out that the character that protected all the fairy tales that was the most representative of them recognizes that their power is declining and recognizes that their world is decaying and has turned from a protector to feeding on them. We end up with zombified characters from this world, and the whole nature of what used to be very vibrant and glowing has turned into a rotted heap."
Despite the elements of horror inherent in traditional fairy tales and fables, Kuhoric is still incredibly enthused about the change of pace and opportunity that working on "TaleSpinners" has offered him. "I'm really excited that I'm going to have a book out that's not straight-up horror," he said. "I love horror, I've done a great deal of work in that field, and a lot of work in science fiction as well. I wanted to do something that I felt really good about other audiences opening up to and possibly giving a chance to. I'd love to get in with librarians and talk about whether or not this is a book that could go into libraries. Libraries have been such a big influence in my life; being able to get books and read more than I would have if I hadn't been introduced to it at an early age. I'd like to give back to that."
At the end of the day, Kuhoric is hopeful for the broad appeal that "TaleSpinners" has to offer to the title's potential audience. "I'm not trying to sell a Scholastic book or anything like that, but it's something that I think can engage readers of all ages and give kids a chance to enjoy it, open up their imaginations and get the message that I'm sending out," he said. "At the same time, I hope comic book readers will enjoy it for what it is and see the elements that I've put in it that are specifically catered to them and to adults, and enjoy something a little more lighthearted and positive, but at the same time poignant...I hope."
As far as Kuhoric's personal favorite fairy tale, CBR News got full disclosure. "I've always liked the old stories, and I've found interesting pieces of each of them," Kuhoric said. "I've thought there were interesting things you could do with them, and I think there are different times to tell those stories; different ways you can get expression to children through telling them. As far as my own personal favorite, I guess it would be Little Red Riding Hood. I like that there's strength inside what you wouldn't think there would be - a little girl having to face up to a monster certainly is a tale of inner strength."