Sheikman and Holguin Discover "The Dark Crystal: The Creation Myths"

Wed, December 28th, 2011 at 5:30am PST | Updated: December 28th, 2011 at 6:27am

Comic Books
Steve Sunu, Staff Writer/Reviews Editor
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Artist Alex Sheikman draws the first of a planned "Dark Crystal" prequel trilogy

In 1982, fans experienced Jim Henson's groundbreaking film, "The Dark Crystal," for the first time. It told the saga of Jen, the last of the Gelflings, as he embarks on a quest with his companions Kira and Fizzgig to heal the Crystal of Truth one thousand years after the UrSkeks shattered it. Now, nearly 30 years after the release of the original film, Archaia reveals the origin of "The Dark Crystal's" world with "The Creation Myths," the first of a trilogy of graphic novels, on December 28. Plotted and featuring a cover by original "Dark Crystal" concept artist Brian Froud and written by Brian Holguin with art by Alex Sheikman, "The Dark Crystal: The Creation Myths" tells the story of the creation of the world of Thra, detailing the history of the world leading up to the events of "The Dark Crystal."

Writer Brian Holguin and artist Alex Sheikman spoke with CBR News about the upcoming prequel, the design inspiration and creative process involved in fleshing out the legend of Thra and their care to pay proper homage to the original film.

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CBR News: Brian, when you started scripting "The Creation Myths," how challenging did you find filling in the background story of the film to be?

Brian Holguin: Well, there was a general blueprint laid out by Brian Froud and the "World of the Dark Crystal" book. But there was a lot of stuff to fill in. But that was really the fun stuff. With a movie like "The Dark Crystal," you fall in the love with the world and you want to see what exists beyond the edges of the screen. Alex and I got to imagine new creatures and environments that would fit into the existing mythology.

Holguin fleshes out the world of the movie in "The Dark Crystal: The Creation Myths"

Were there any special resources you were able to tap for your research into this world?

Holguin: Well, I watched the movie for the umpteenth time and really pored over the reference material in the World of the Dark Crystal. Brian Froud was available to give us some insights. And there’s Joe La Favi who played sort of the liaison/curator role with Henson Co. So between all them, I got most of my questions and answered. Much of the time, the answer was "It's up to you. Make it up."

The first "Dark Crystal: The Creation Myths" is the start of a three-volume series of graphic novels. Where does the origin for the world of Thra begin and which races are involved?

Holguin: It absolutely starts at the beginning. Not just the beginning of Thra, but of the entire universe. It begins at that universe's equivalent of the Big Bang. In the first volume, we have Aughra and the Gelflings and the Urkeks, or Star Beings. The Skeksis and the Mystics don't arrive till Volume Two.

What is the time span that each volume will cover? How much will be revealed about the extinction of the Gelflings?

Holguin: The first volume will be from the dawn of creation to several centuries before the darkening of the Crystal. Volume Two will be from that point the several centuries after the darkening. And Volume Three will fill in everything from that point to just before the events of the film.

Alex mentioned that Aughra shows up in the book. What is Aughra's role in the first "The Creation Myths" volume and how will her role continue to develop as the story continues?

Holguin: We really get to see Aughra as a nurturer, an earth goddess. But we see she has her flaws and is definitely blind to certain things going on around her.

Considering that Jen, Kira and Fizzgig haven't been born as of the creation of Thra, who are the new players in "The Creation Myths?"

Holguin: Well, the main new player is a character called Raunip, who is Aughra's son and whose parentage is somewhat in question. He was conceived and designed by Brian Froud and is basically the trickster character in this myth cycle. We also meet a number of Gelflings and we get to see the breadth and range of Gelfling civilization at its height.

What is the format like for telling the actual myth? Will it all be in one sequence or will it jump around and follow different characters as the story unravels?

Holguin: There's a storyteller who is relating several different myths or stories, some set centuries apart. But there is a through-line tying it all together, although you may not see it until the very end.

Holguin hopes his and Alex Sheikman's graphic novels help make the movie itself more meaningful to fans

To bring this story to life, you're working with original "Dark Crystal" designer Brian Froud and artist Alex Sheikman -- take us through the creative process. How much interaction have you had with Brian and Alex?

Holguin: There was a lot of info early on from Brian Froud. It was a basic guide to the history and nature of the Dark Crystal universe and a primer on new characters like Raunip. It was my job to kind of take that information, fill in spots, and bang it into story shape. As for Alex, it was a real treat and he made things easy for me. When working with a new artist, it’s hard to know how tightly you need to script or how much free rein you can let them have in the storytelling. Alex and I did the "Dark Crystal" Free Comic Book Day comic together and I scripted it all rather tight, but I saw he knew what he was doing in terms of storytelling and character design. So with Volume One, I let him run with things. I'd give a few suggestions as far as layout or creature design, but told him that if he had a better way, to go for it. He made me look good.

How well do you think "The Dark Crystal" lends itself to comic book storytelling?

Holguin: It's a great fit. Because of the nature of the story, not all the chapters are the same length and there interstitial pieces, so it would be rather hard to fit a monthly, 22-page count for a regular comic book. And I think it will read much better all in one go, rather than having to wait for individual issues.

Is there anything that you hope readers and fans of the original film will get from "The Creation Myths?"

Holguin: Hopefully the same thing I got writing it: The chance to revisit the world of Thra and its inhabitants and to see all the wild, fantastic things you knew must be there. In the end, I think it will make the events of the film more meaningful. We're showing you how much was lost when the Crystal was broken. Not just in terms of life and freedom, but an entire civilization, its culture and arts and stories. I think it makes what you see in the movie even sadder, but it also gives up hope for what may be rebuilt again.


CBR News: Alex, when you were first approached to help work on the origin for Thra, was it difficult getting into the swing of the world of "The Dark Crystal?"

Alex Sheikman: It was a very gradual thing really. At first [Archaia Editor-in-Chief] Stephen Christy just talked to me about a possibility of working on "Dark Crystal." So I watched the movie a couple of times and I did a few one-page illustrations of the characters. I heard back from Stephen that the drawings were nice, but he wanted to make sure I could draw the characters "on-model." So I picked two characters and did model sheets for them to show how I would graphically represent them on paper. That was approved by Archaia and by Henson folks and at that point I was approved to work on "The Dark Crystal" material, but it still took a few months before the script for the 8-page Free Comic Book Day story was approved and I kept practicing, drawing in my sketchbook -- just doodling really trying to capture the essence of the personages in the story. All of this was going on while I was also working on other assignments, so it seemed like a gradual and natural progression from an idea to work on something to finally putting pencil to paper to visualize a script.

Sheikman did several illustrations and model sheets of "The Dark Crystal" characters before landing the gig

How much research did you have to go through in order to become familiar with this universe?

The important thing for me was to stay true to what made "The Dark Crystal" unique (and loved by many) in the first place. So I spent a bit of time reading and watching interviews with Jim Henson talking about the story that he tried to tell in his movie. The story of good and evil and the ground in-between is pretty complex and there is a multilayered approach to the storytelling that brings something new with every new viewing of the film. I am not a writer, so I was not involved with the plot or the outline as proposed for this project (so I can't take any credit there), but I wanted to bring the artwork to the same level of storytelling as would be expected from a Henson project. I tried to work with the timing, layout, rendering and composition to make the project look a certain way, and I invite the readers to look through the book a few times -- I hope they will discover something new with each successive reading.

Tell us about your designs for "The Creation Myths." What was the feel you were trying to elicit from the art for this volume?

I know that Brian Froud gave "The Dark Crystal" a very unique look with his fantastic designs and the 19th century illustrative rendering. I spent a lot of time looking through the work of the last turn of the century illustrators like Dulac, Pogany, and Arthur Rackham. It was fun, but also very educational. I also looked at the work of John Bauer, who illustrated lots of Swedish Fairy Tales and I though captured the same fascinating elements of nature that Froud did so well.

So my hope is that the style will fit the environment as originally conceived by Henson and Froud and will match their vision of what a prequel should look like.

Although this is an origin story, will you be getting the chance to illustrate some of the characters from the original "Dark Crystal" movie? If not in this volume, what about future volumes?

The artist followed original concept designer Brian Froud's lead in figuring out a style for the book

In this volume I got to drawn Aughra, both before and after the UrSkeks arrive (and believe me, there is a difference!). As far as what else I get to draw -- I think that part you will have to find out when the book comes out.

Why do you feel the graphic novel format is a good fit for "The Dark Crystal?"

I think that a good story can be told well in any format (prose, film, stage, comics). Having said that, I think "The Dark Crystal" is a very rich visual world, where certain aspects of characters are displayed in their designs as well as through their speech and actions. "The Dark Crystal" is also unique in that Henson and Froud have designed a whole different world and showing something like that has much more impact than trying to describe it. The phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" is appropriate in this case.

"The Dark Crystal" has a long history with comics. When the movie came out, Marvel adapted it in one of their magazines and later on TokyoPop came out with manga-style graphic novels. Hopefully this third comic book incarnation will fire up reader's imaginations enough to demand a second "Dark Crystal" film.

What do you hope long time fans of the original film are able to take away from this series of graphic novels?

To the long time fans I want to say this is the prequel movie that you have been waiting for! We did not slap this together just to make a buck from the fans. I took care with the art out of respect to the original movie and I hope it shows. To the new fans, take a look inside and if you enjoy what you see, please go and see the original movie. Not only is it awesome, but it will make the comic book so much more fun!

"The Dark Crystal: The Creation Myths" is in stores now.

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TAGS:  archaia, jim henson, the dark crystal, brian froud, brian holguin, alex sheikman

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