Dealing with the witches of legend can be tricky business. Some want to con you out of something, others look to test your moral integrity, and nearly all of them are looking to cause you trouble. And then there are the ones in Matthew Dow Smith‘s “Jim Henson‘s The Storyteller: Witches” #3; they want something very different: Stories. Lots and lots of stories. And it’s the question of who they want the tales from and at what cost that drives Smith’s tale.
Like the creators of the previous installments in Archaia‘s Henson-inspired “Witches” anthology series, Smith looked around the world for inspiration, eventually landing on an Irish myth as the jumping off point for his tale about a storyteller landing on an island run by witches who are actually glad to see him. Through these existing elements, Smith looks at the importance of stories in both the real world and the one in his comic.
The issue marks Smith’s first work for Archaia, having most recently penciled books like IDW’s “Doctor Who,” “Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time” and “The X-Files: Season 10.” In speaking with Smith about his contribution to the series, we spoke about his story’s focus on stories, the continuing legacy of Jim Henson and how he got involved with the series.
CBR News: Matthew, you’re mainly known as an artist, so how did you get involved with “Storyteller: Witches” as a writer as well?
Matthew Dow Smith: The head of Archaia, Stephen Christy, has always been a huge supporter of my work as an artist, and a surprisingly big fan of the handful of things I’ve written in my career, and we’ve been talking about me doing something for him for years. So when this came along, I leapt at the chance. Not only was I dying to finally work with Stephen, but Jim Henson has been a huge influence on me as a creator.
Do you remember your introduction to Jim Henson’s creations? What do you think he tapped into that has led to his work having such a long life with fans old and new?
I’m old enough to remember watching “The Muppet Show” on television, and if I’m not mistaken, I even saw “The Muppet Movie” in the theater when it first came out. Henson’s creations have been a part of my life as far back as I can remember, which as you can guess is becoming increasingly difficult. Okay — I’m only 43. No need to break out the cane just yet.
Like most people, I was just entranced by those characters and the seemingly effortless way Henson and his team gave them life. As an adult, I’ve come to admire his skill and creative confidence, but if there’s any one thing I learned from the stories Henson told that stuck with me more than any other, it was that monsters aren’t always what they seem. It’s an idea that has informed everything I’ve ever written, including this story. Witches don’t have to be scary, and they don’t have to be mean, and maybe, just maybe, they all live on an island off the Irish coast and are waiting for a storyteller to come help them.
Were there any parameters placed on where you could draw your story from?
Witches. There had to be witches in it. Other than that, they pretty much left me alone to make anything I wanted.
When you were first presented with the idea, did a story pop right into your head?
I actually struggled with this one for a while. I’ve been fascinated with mythology ever since I was a little kid and grew up with a copy of “Bullfinch’s Mythology” never far away, but when they asked me to do one, I kind of got overwhelmed by possibilities. It was the creative version of being a deer caught in the highlights. Too many things I wanted to do, and a lot of personal pressure to live up to the gigantic figure Henson is in my mind. In the end, I really had to rely on two fantastic editors, Cameron Chittock and Rebecca Taylor, to find the idea that would work best in the format.
Your tale follows a young man who winds up in a strange place run by witches. What can you tell us about the story’s locale?
Every culture seems to have their own myth of a lost continent or island, and this is the Irish version of that particular story. It’s a place where magic reigns and anything is possible. Since in some versions of the story there were witches, I knew I had to go with it as the setting for my story. I mean, I need witches, and there they were. The conceit of the story is that everything on this island is created from the power of stories, so who should end up getting washed up on the shore? A storyteller, of course.
When you think of this kind of tale, you might assume the women are not happy about the young man’s presence, but how does this story flip that presumption?
I knew that if I was going to do a story about witches, I didn’t want to do something where they were the usual idea of an old crone with warts and a pointy hat. I wanted my witches to be old, but good, and the witches on this island have their own reasons for being glad that a storyteller has been shipwrecked there, which opened up the chance for me to say some things I’ve come to believe about stories and life and where ideas come from. Luckily, Cam and Tay loved it and let me just run with it.
It’s built on the skeleton of Irish myths, from the location to what our hero goes through, which is based on the legend of OisÃ®n, who was a hero in the traditional mold. For my story, I cast a weaver of tall tales in the hero role, but he faces the same choices OisÃ®n does in the original myth. And there’s a winged horse in the OisÃ®n myth, too.
The issue is all about stories, their importance and the people who tell them. Why was that a story you wanted to tell and what is the thematic connection there to witches?
Whenever I get the chance to write something myself, instead of just drawing, I really try to make it about something more than just the “Point A to Point B” of the plot, and if you’re going to do a story for “The Storyteller,” I knew it had to be about stories. I’ve spent my entire adult life telling stories in comics and prose and I’ve spent an awful lot of time at the art table or the computer wondering why I do what I do and where the ideas come from. This was the perfect opportunity to explore that, and since witches and lost islands are such universal ideas, it seemed fitting to have them be such key elements in the story.
“Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches” #3 from Matthew Dow Smith and Archaia hits stores on Nov. 19.
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