Kyla Vanderklugt hopes to chill you to the bone with “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches” #2. On sale today, the second issue of the Archaia anthology series not only flips the story on its side by printing in a horizontal format, but also draws inspiration from an entirely different part of the world than the first issue.
Focusing on a woodcutter and his young apprentice Minokichi, Vanderklugt puts them in contact with the White Witch — or the White Woman — during a blizzard. The mysterious woman dispatches the master and makes Minokichi swear to never speak of the encounter. The deal works for Minokichi until his life grows to include a wife and child who might need the information.
“Witches” marks the second time Vanderklugt has worked on a Henson property. The first was a “Labyrinth” story in Archaia’s 2014 Free Comic Book Day offering. A longtime fan of the Jim Henson’s work, Vanderklugt jumped at the chance to bring her style into The Storyteller framework.
CBR News spoke with Vanderklugt about adapting the Snow Woman’s story into an issue of “Witches,” working in the horizontal format and the importance of storytelling.
CBR News: When you were presented with the concept behind “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches,” did a story spring to mind right away or did it take a while to develop?
Kyla Vanderklugt: Since there were already two stories being developed in the “Witches” series that originated from European fairy tales, Henson requested that I think about adapting a story from somewhere else, like Asia or Africa, and since The Snow Witch was one of the few Asian folk tales I knew, it did come to mind early on. I came up with ideas for others, but we settled on The Snow Witch in the end.
You were obviously familiar with this tale before basing your story on it. What else can you tell us about the legend?
It’s the legend of the Snow Witch, or Yuki Onna, which actually translates to “Snow Woman.” She’s a figure who appears in various different folk tales in Japan, but the one that’s become most popular was recorded by Lafcadio Hearn — supposedly related to him by a farmer — and published in his bookÂ “Kwaidan.” My comic’s somewhat loosely inspired by that version.
Things don’t play out so well for the woodcutter and his apprentice as they not only get stuck in a blizzard, but also got accosted by a witch. What brings her into contact with them?
A lot of the myths about Yuki Onna say that she appears during blizzards, particularly to people lead astray by the snow. I guess our woodcutters were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What can you tell us about the deal the witch makes with the apprentice?
Something I love about monsters and malevolent characters in old myths and legends is how capricious they can be. They seem to just invent their own twisted logic and we’re expected to roll with it. So, why does the evil witch not want Minokichi to tell anyone about their encounter? It might be that she’s not so much evil as she is neutral — a creature who happens to feed on human souls, and who’s maybe tired of being thought of with fear and revulsion — so she’d rather not be thought of at all. But then, I may have romanticized her a bit. Even more so than Hearn.
The story is printed sideways, which gives everything a cinematic feel. How did you come to that decision? Was it part of your initial idea for the story?
I can’t take credit for that idea. My editor, Cameron Chittock, suggested it. I’m glad he did; designing the layouts and double-page spreads was a lot of fun. Turning things sideways does give you a new perspective on things.
Was there a particular aspect of the story that the sideways format helped give you a new perspective on?
Well, sometimes I get a bit settled into how I break down comic pages into panels. Flipping the pages sideways helped me to think of the two page spread as a single canvas, and explore different ways the story could unfold across that spread. There’s a strong focus in the story on the Snow Witch’s mercurial nature, and how she’s interpreted by both the other characters and the readers at different points, so I tried to use some repetition in the layout on certain spreads to bring home the changes she goes though.
At its heart, this tales seems to be about how important stories can be. Was that an intention going in?
It’s not something I was consciously thinking of, to be honest, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s an impression the comic gives. I love stories about stories, and about the importance of stories and about storytelling itself. That love probably creeps into a lot of my work.
What’s your process like when it comes to plotting and drawing the book? Do you start with thumbnails or get the script down first?
Oh, I always get the script down first. I write, revise, and write again before I even think about page layouts and panels. Once the script was approved, I broke up the scenes into pages and started thumbnailing. Lately I’ve been trying to incorporate the thumbnailing stage into the writing stage, to see if that can improve my scripting, but if I need to have a script approved first I still usually hold off on thumbnailing, because I’m lazy and don’t want to redo them if I have to rewrite things. [Laughs]
What has your personal relationship with Jim Henson’s material been like over the years? What did it mean to you to get involved with one of his legacy projects?
I’ve been a fan of Henson’s work since watching both “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.” They were already cult classics by the time I saw them; I was a bit young to catch most of his television work when it first aired, I guess. Getting to illustrate a comic set in “Labyrinth’s” world for FCBD 2014 was amazing and a privilege. I didn’t know about “The Storyteller” until being approached for this comic, but discovering more of Henson’s work is always a treat.
Check out “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches” #2 by Kyla Vanderklugt, on sale now from Archaia/BOOM! Studios.
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