Zenescope Entertainment remains best known for its "Grimm Fairy Tales" series, but over the past few years they've steadily been expanding their line and their recently announced ongoing series "Charmed," which picks up where the long-running television show left off, should raise the company's profile. Writing the series are Zenescope Executive Editor Raven Gregory and novelist and nonfiction writer Paul Ruditis.
In addition to his editing duties, Raven Gregory is the writer of "The Gift," "The Waking" and Zenescope's Wonderland trilogy which just wrapped up the third miniseries, "Beyond Wonderland." Paul Ruditis is the author of dozens of fiction and nonfiction books, including three "Charmed" novels and three nonfiction books about the show.
The two spoke with CBR about the upcoming series and gave us an exclusive look at what fans can look forward to.
CBR News: Raven, most people know you from your work on "The Gift," the Wonderland trilogy and "The Waking." Was working on licensed material something you were interested in or looking for?
Raven Gregory: I've worked a some things in the past. My first gig for Zenescope was actually the "Seven" prequel series. I also did work on the "Max Payne" animated feature on the DVD which was loads of fun. My plate is actually pretty full this year, so I wasn't planning on working on the series. Also, with a property like this, there is a massive fan base to consider, and that can be a bit intimidating when deciding whether to jump aboard a project like this. But when Ralph Tedesco (Vice president/Editor in Chief of Zenescope Entertainment) sent me the plot Paul Ruditis came up with, I just had to come aboard. The story is just wonderful.
Paul Ruditis: Stop it. You're making me blush.
How did this whole thing come together? Did you seek out the producers, or were they on the lookout to do comics and Zenscope stepped up to the plate or what happened?
Gregory: From my understanding, the guys at Zenescope are huge fans of the series and had been pursuing it for the last year or so, under the radar. Seeing how some other comic adaptations have been doing so well, "Charmed" felt like the perfect fit to bring over to the company.
Were you a fan of the show?
Gregory: For many years, yes. Not as big of a fan as my wife, who absolutely adores the show. Speaking of wives, I'm pretty sure everyone at the company has a wife who is watching intently at what we have planned for the series. It's a lot of fun as ideas are thrown about and hearing all the intense reactions (good and bad) for where we plan to take things.
Paul, how did you become involved in this project?
Ruditis: Back when the guys at Zenescope started talking with CBS about the series, I guess my name came up as someone familiar with the "Charmed" universe. Since I'd written books based on the series, I not only knew the show, but I also knew the rules for playing in that universe. Ralph and I got in touch, and he eventually asked me to write up some ideas for continuing the series as comic books, which I did. I guess they liked what I wrote, because they invited me in on the project and put me together with Raven to start fleshing out the story.
People might know you from the books you've written, the Drama series, "Rainbow Party," plus a number of licensed titles, including some for "Charmed," but you've never written comics. What made you eager to take the plunge and what has the experience been like for you?
Ruditis: I really enjoyed working on the "Charmed" books, so the idea of getting back into that world and expanding the story was very exciting. I've always been a fan of comic books, so delving into that medium on a project I was already so familiar with was a great opportunity. Working with Raven and everyone at Zenescope has been a wonderful learning experience. Writing for comic books really forces you to be so concise with your dialogue. You really get to the core of the words. At the same time, you're totally unlimited in terms of the scope of the story that can be told through the visuals. Raven's been a spectacular partner in this because he's able to help take my ideas and open up the story in new and exciting ways, moving me in directions I never would have considered on my own.
As someone who wrote novels based on the series, has the experience of dealing with the studio and that aspect of it been similar to what you experienced before, or has it been different because the show isn't running anymore?
Ruditis: We're still very early into working on the comic books, but in many ways the response from the studio has been the same as it was on the novels. CBS (and Paramount, which had the license before the Viacom split) has always been open to letting their authors be creative with the books. The big difference now, as you noted, is that with original episodes no longer airing, we have a lot more freedom than we did on the novels. The book line was always set in the earlier seasons of the show so that we never contradicted what was happening in the new episodes. I think the books froze around the fourth and fifth seasons for the longest time. While the authors were always free to play with the story within the pages of the book, we had to put all the characters back where we found them by the end. We couldn't go and rewrite history, killing off established characters or suddenly creating romantic pairings that we'd never see on the show. Paige was never going to suddenly have an affair with Leo, because that never happened in the episodes. Now we're free to evolve the story more. The studio still has to approve the direction we take, but now everything doesn't have to reset by the end. That alone means that nothing is entirely safe. (Although, to be clear, there are no current plans for Paige and Leo to have an affair.)
The studio has been pretty open to letting us explore all facets of the "Charmed" universe. The main goal of writing any project based on a TV show is for it to reflect the show. As long as we're doing that, I don't think there should be any concern about a lack of freedom. That's not to say that Raven and I don't intend to push the envelope. We both want the series to grow and evolve. But the lines of communication are definitely open between Zenescope and CBS. That gives us a tremendous amount of freedom to do what we want, so long as we can justify our intentions.
Have you had any contact with Brad Kern, the former showrunner and Executive Producer, or any of the creative team from the show?
Ruditis: Not regarding this project. I did co-author the two official episode guides for the show and had the chance to interview Brad Kern at length while "Charmed" was in production. Obviously, that was long before the idea of a comic book series came up, so we didn't discuss that. But I did get great insight into how he and the writing staff approached the show. Working on those books also gave me the chance to speak with the actresses to get their thoughts on their characters, and pretty much the entire production staff about their contributions to the show. We're going to stay true to their original vision while bringing our own voices into the mix as well.
So when does the story take place. Does it pick up where the "present day" part of the series finale ended?
Gregory: The story picks up about a year after the end of the final season.
Ruditis: Well, more like a year and a half. Have to give Piper, Phoebe, and Paige time to have some of those kids we all saw in the flash-forwards during the series finale. As I'm sure you recall, the audience was given a glimpse into the serene, relatively demon-free future The Charmed Ones were going to live with their husbands and children. It was a nice ending to the show, but not a great set up for continuing their story. We address that on page one of issue one and then shake things up a bit.
I know people are wondering and will want to know, will Prue, Cole or Billie be making an appearance in the series?
Gregory: We'll see.
Ruditis: Allow me to expand on Raven's lack of response. And let me expand on your question, too, while I'm at it. I'm sure that a lot of people also want to know about Grams, Patty, Victor, adult Chris and Wyatt, Darryl, Zankou and any number of other great characters from the series. I will say that some familiar names do pop up in the first few issues. We've made sure to include story elements for people who were fans of the first season, fans of the final season and readers who may not have been fans at all, but might pick up the comic book because it comes from Zenescope.
What do you think was the key to the series, and how have you managed to translate it into comics?
Gregory: The biggest thing, I think, is you have to stay truthful to the show, but at the same time, expand upon what worked and what didn't work. With a comic, there's a format you try to adhere to. As a very visual medium, you want to make sure that you walk that fine line between the drama, the comedy and the action, otherwise you can very easily lose the reader. So, with the comic, all the good stuff you loved from the show is going to be there, but in a much bigger kind of way.
Recently we've seen a lot of television shows move into comics, both those that have ended ("Buffy," "Angel," the upcoming "Pushing Daisies") as well as those that are still running. What do you think makes "Charmed" stand out, and makes what you're doing with the series stand out?
Ruditis: "Charmed" was a family drama, first and foremost. Well, a comedy/drama. The series opened with three sisters that had lost their mom at a young age and were effectively abandoned by their father. You could have removed the witchcraft and you'd still have the basis for a strong TV show. Then, to make things interesting, they added literal demons to their personal ones. While our stories may often focus on the magic and the demons, those family elements will always be at the core.
Gregory: The fact that the main characters of the series are all sisters is what really makes this come to life for me. Growing up in a big family, I can relate to that kind of dynamic. You get along with some siblings, and others you don't, but at the end of the day, you are a family and that essential truth is what I think is such a huge appeal of the story in general. Plus, they're witches. You can't top beautiful witches!
What makes "Charmed" fit into Zenescope's lineup of books, beyond the fact that, as you just pointed out, they are beautiful witches?
Gregory: Zenescope has been known for it's strong female lead stories, and I think this just fits in perfectly with all of that.
[And then there's] Dave Hoover. He's a veteran artist who has worked for Marvel, Zenescope, and even on Fire and Ice with Franzetta, as well as countless of animated shows. He brings such a dynamic yet personal style to these characters and the universe they inhabit. I think people are going to be knocked on their asses by what he brings to the table. Especially in the first issue.
Ruditis: I know I was knocked back the first time I saw his work. The pages look like Dave reached into my head and pulled out exactly what I'd imagined. They are seriously spot on. And the likeness work is amazing. He really captures the essence of the actresses.
Are there any cover artists lined up yet that you can announce?
Gregory: We have a big surprise artist doing the cover for issue two. I'd tell you, but then I'd have to stick you in the Book of Shadows and throw away the key.
Ruditis: Just to be clear for all the fans out there, Raven and I are both aware that the Book of Shadows does not have a lock and key. He's making a joke. Nothing to worry about here.
How often will "Charmed" be coming out, and when can people buy the first issue?
Gregory: Ongoing, monthly, and the first issue will be debuting at San Diego Comic Con!
Finally, what small details can you spoil for us about the story?
Gregory: The only thing I can spoil is that the nice thing about comics versus television is that we have no budget in imagination wise. Whereas the demons had to be human size in the series, and the magic had to be kept down to a certain degree, ours are not limited to costs concerns and only to the limit of what the artist can draw...and he can draw anything:)
Ruditis: Two words: Demon rats. (What? You said small details.)