Eric Shanower Sends Nemo Back to Dreamland
Jun 19, 2014
Long beloved by fans of classic comics for its innovative and imaginative fantasy storytelling, Little Nemo in Slumberland will soon stir for a new generation of readers when IDW Publishing presents Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1, the start of a new, ongoing series by award-winning master storytellers Eric Shanower (Adventures in Oz) and Gabriel Rodriguez (Locke & Key)! Writer Shanower paused in his conjuring of Nemo's modern dreams to share his insights on this new series.
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PREVIEWSworld: Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland isn’t your first adaptation and expansion of an existing property as you’ve had great success working with L. Frank Baum’s Land Of Oz universe. What are some of the challenges of creating work with iconic, pre-existing worlds and characters—especially a strip like Little Nemo that has had such an impact on comic history and a tremendous influence on generations of creators?
Eric Shanower: My most high-profile projects deal with preexisting literary properties — the Land of Oz and the Trojan War. Both of those and Little Nemo are concepts that I liked before I created my own versions of them. I think that’s at least part of the key to a satisfying result — to already have an emotional connection. If IDW had asked me to write a new version of a concept I didn’t have a strong connection to, I don’t think it would have worked. When editor Scott Dunbier asked whether I’d be interested in writing a new Little Nemo series, neither of us knew what it would turn out to be. I was confident that I wouldn’t be able to recreate a satisfactory version of Winsor McCay’s classic comic strip. It wasn’t until I thought of introducing a brand new character, a child from today, that I saw how it might work. Once I thought of that new angle, I knew I could write it.
PREVIEWSworld: Winsor McCay was a prolific artist as he created over 500 Little Nemo strips during its newspaper run. With such an extensive library of work to pore through, how did you go about researching and preparing for Return to Slumberland?
Eric Shanower: I’ve loved McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland since I was a kid, so I was familiar with it before IDW asked about my interest. I’d toyed with ideas for Nemo projects in the past. One of those ideas, a psychologically darker approach, I brought up with editor Scott Dunbier, but ultimately we decided to go with the current take, which is a lot closer to the spirit of the original strip. Then I just immersed myself in the material, re-reading and concentrating on details of the characters’ personalities.
PREVIEWSworld: Will you be utilizing stories and concepts from the original strip as a jumping off point or will Nemo be getting into entirely new adventures in Return to Slumberland?
Eric Shanower: The nature of our project mandated a new perspective on the original material. Return to Slumberland is not a rehash of the original comic strip. The major new element — a modern child going to Slumberland — gave me the freedom to use the preexisting material in whatever way seemed best. I had no illusions that we’d be able to successfully reproduce the style and tone of the original, so when I started writing I planned to depart from the source material pretty widely. But the story ended up being much closer to the original comic strip in sensibility and plot elements than I’d thought it would. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but everyone who’s read the script so far seems really excited about it. The story is new, all the adventures are new, but fans of the original comic strip will certainly recognize many parallels.
PREVIEWSworld: How do you strike a balance between capturing and conveying the nature (such as its tone, style, or presentation) of the original strips and introducing new ideas to the work to make something that’s distinctly “new”?
Eric Shanower: I figured that trying to reproduce the nature of the original strip was a no-win situation. As an exercise or a parody it’s relatively easy to capture a sense of the original for a page or two. But for Return to Slumberland there were too many stumbling blocks for that. This is a full-length story with character growth and plot development. McCay’s original strip is not celebrated for either of those aspects. To make Slumberland work for a general audience of today, I had to take into account modern sensibilities — and remember that many readers aren’t familiar with the original.
Return to Slumberland stands on its own legs. It’s not the original Little Nemo in Slumberland, but time after time while writing it I found that aspects of the original strip kept ending up in it. Of course, many of the original characters are there and rightly so — the Princess, Flip, Dr. Pill, King Morpheus. But the atmosphere of the original kept creeping in, too, even when I wasn’t trying to capture it. I considered trimming those aspects, since I’m concerned about unfavorable comparisons with the original. But mostly I just went with it. I figured if I wasn’t trying to force aspects of the original into this one, if they just ended up there naturally, it was okay.
So I don’t know whether there’s a balance between the old and the new in Return to Slumberland. It is what it is. As long as it was working while I was writing it, I didn’t try to poke and prod it too much.
PREVIEWSworld: In addition to writing, you’re also an accomplished visual artist, having tackled both book illustrations and your own ongoing Eisner Award-winning comic series, Age of Bronze. How has this facet of your creativity impacted or influenced your writing process?
Eric Shanower: I’ve been a cartoonist for thirty years. Writing and drawing comics is what I do. I don’t write that much differently when, instead of me, another cartoonist will be drawing from my scripts.
PREVIEWSworld: Little Nemo is renowned for McCay’s experimental and playful use of panel border, page layouts, and coloring. How have you approached creating an atmosphere of magic and wonder in Return to Slumberland with artist Gabriel Rodríguez and colorist Nelson Dániel?
Eric Shanower: I didn't try to create an atmosphere of magic and wonder. I just wrote a script about a kid in a surprising place and tried to have him react to it naturally. I wrote in a few visual surprises using the comics form, but I tried to stay away from repeating anything that McCay did in the original. What the artists do with my scripts is pretty much up to them. Gabe is dedicated to making this project stand out, and so far I think he’s done a terrific job. He’s not Winsor McCay and I hope no reader is expecting him to be. Anyone who wants to see McCay’s art should look at the original strip. Gabe has successfully incorporated aspects of the original — particularly in the staging of scenes — into his view of Slumberland. But he’s not slavishly trying to recreate McCay’s style. It’s sort of like Gabe’s style and imagination are in the driver’s seat and every once in a while they stop at the McCay drive-up window.
PREVIEWSworld: What has been your favorite aspect of the collaboration thus far? What has been the most challenging?
Eric Shanower: My favorite aspect of this collaboration has been seeing Gabriel Rodriguez’s artwork as he finishes pages. They are wonderful. The story is basically a light fantasy adventure, so there’s nothing earth-shattering going on in the scripts — my writing does what it needs to do and that’s about it. The artwork, however, is a cornucopia of abundance shedding delightful gifts on the world. Nothing about the collaboration has been particularly challenging. Gabe is a breeze to work with. Most of the time his art is great, but if I point out a legitimate reason something he's drawn isn't working, he'll revise. The most challenging aspect has been getting the variant covers I'm drawing for each issue done on time among all my other projects.
PREVIEWSworld: What can fans of McCay’s original strip expect when they pick up Return to Slumberland? Will new readers unfamiliar with the original comics be able to dive right into Nemo’s world with Return to Slumberland? If a fan likes, _____ (fill in the blank), they will also love Nemo.
Eric Shanower: If you love the original Little Nemo in Slumberland, you’ll like Return to Slumberland. It’s the same Slumberland, only a century later — so the basics are there but the attitude is new. If you like the animated Little Nemo movie from the 1990s, you’ll like Return to Slumberland — it’s just more Slumberland goodness. And if you never experienced Slumberland before, you’ll be discovering it along with our new main character. If you like down-to-earth, honest American fantasy adventure, you’ll love Return to Slumberland. It’s about a real kid thrust into an amazing fantasy world and just trying to deal with what gets tossed at him on a personal basis. No fancy-shmancy epic power struggles — just stuff you can relate to and feel part of. Well, Gabe’s art is kind of fancy. But that’s a good thing.
See what Shanower & Rodriguez have dreamed up for Little Nemo!
Click on each panel for a larger view!