Posted February 27, 2013 by Chris Romero in Comics

Interview: Author Lauren Beukes of Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

Lauren Beukes has showcased her writing talent within novels, screenplays, popular magazine publications and TV shows. What other medium can she add to her impressive resume? How about comics. Having made her comics debut with Vertigo’s All The Pretty Ponies, Beukes has most recently embarked on a journey to the mystical land of The Hidden Kingdom by penning the story arc for Fairest issues #8-13. The writer shares some fresh insight with Geeks Unleashed:

Lauren Beukes

© Lauren Beukes

Geeks Unleashed: Your first non-fiction book, Maverick: Extraordinary Women for South Africa’s Past, received much critical acclaim, along with your 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning thriller novel, Zoo City. Can you explain to GU readers how you became a published author?

Zoo City Lauren Beukes

© Jacana Media

LB: Luck, guts, determination, hard work, practice, talent, probably in that order. I was a journalist for a long time, which is the best possible day job for would-be novelist. You get exposed to the world and people, you learn to tell a story and different kinds of stories in the most interesting ways possible, you develop an ear for dialogue.

My first publisher knew my journalism work and commissioned me to do a pop history on fascinating South African women, but I was also working on my novel, Moxyland, at the same time. Despite Maverick’s good press, it still took me a year to sell Moxyland and another to get an international deal. It’s your average ten year overnight success story.

GU: As a South African author, can you shed some light on some of the challenges of tapping into the American and European publishing industry? How do they differ?

LB: That’s a really big question I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer. If you’re trying to break in, do your research on finding an agent and a publisher that’s a match for your work. Ultimately, I think, I hope, it comes down to a great story well told. I think I was lucky that I happened to write science fiction, that those readers are possibly more open-minded to stories from other cultures?

Certainly, I’ve had readers tell me one of the reasons they loved Zoo City was because it was so strange and familiar at the same time. A totally different city but with resonances with the rest of the world.

GU: You’ve taken helm of creator Bill Willingham’s Fables spin-off, Fairest, through issue #8-13, with the magical Hidden Kingdom story arc. How did your relationship with Vertigo Comics begin; paving the way for your run on Fairest? What motivated you to explore the comic medium?

Fairest The Hidden Kingdom - Vertigo Comics

© Vertigo

LB: I’ve always wanted to write comics. I grew up reading comics like Bunty and Archie and moving on to Amethyst, Misty (a British girl’s horror comic), Elf Quest and 2000AD. It was easier to get British comics in South Africa in the 80s than American ones, especially monthlies, where the stories were complete. My mom introduced me to comics, including, probably way too early, Barbarella.

I got to write through Vertigo through being in the right place at the right time. There’s that luck factor. Bill Willingham came along to the launch party for my publisher Angry Robot at WorldCon and we later started chatting at the bar and he came to one of my readings. We got on brilliantly and he basically forced me to go see his editor, Shelly Bond when I was in New York.

I felt totally out of my league, unprepared and with nothing to show or even pitch on. It was a canny bit of matchmaking on his part because we hit it off and a few months later Shelly and Bill asked me to pitch an arc on Rapunzel – whatever I wanted. And they loved it.

I still had to prove myself, of course, and Shelly had me to do an “audition” piece for Strange Adventures, a original eight pager about voyeuristic reality TV slumming called All The Pretty Ponies.

GU: Why did you choose to focus on Japanese ancient folklore to drive Rapunzel’s story?

LB: It was the hair. It’s so much a part of a Japanese ghost stories. It was a natural fit and the universe hasn’t explored Asian fairytales much, so it was a perfect opportunity to play.

GU: After having her mouth slashed by the deceitful Shogun Ryogan, Mayumi becomes a cursed ghost hellbent on taking down Rapunzel. What’s her motive? Does she secretly want to be Tomoko’s only lover?

LB: She doesn’t know the whole story. She sees Rapunzel flirting with Ryogan and assumes she was in on this plot all along.

Mayumi is dead and she was killed horribly and she’s gone a bit mad and not thinking clearly and of course, she’ll have to justify her actions to herself later. Denial is a vicious cycle.

Fairest #10 - Vertigo Comics

© Vertigo Comics

GU: When creating the script for The Hidden Kingdom, why did you focus on a love relationship between two women–Rapunzel and Tomoko? At any point, did you have doubts that this same-sex love affair wouldn’t be received well by an American audience, or any other audience for that matter?

LB: It felt right for the characters and the story. I hope readers will feel the same way.

GU: Inaki Miranda’s artwork has been consistently fantastic throughout his run on Fairest. He can draw riveting panels depicting emotional uproar, war, lightheartedness and love. How did you connect with Miranda to pencil Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom?

LB: Shelly Bond, who is also a matchmaker par excellence and brilliant editor paired us up for All The Pretty Ponies and we worked so well together (with colorist Eva de la Cruz) that it was an obvious fit. Inaki and I riff off each other. He brings depth and emotion to the story and interprets the words in ways that are even better than I imagined when I was writing them, like the nest of hair in the forest or the invasion plans on the plate or the scene with the midwife and the poison apple.

I love how he can do subtlety, of emotion, or horror, as well as epic battle scenes – and the way he and Shelly push the artwork and the panel layout in service to the story is amazeballs. Which is not to say that we don’t have our creative differences, like my lack of understanding on how perspective actually works, or that time I misinterpreted a line sketch of a very beautiful, erotic but not gratuitous sex scene as “scissoring.” I mistook Tomoko’s tail for her leg and we had a long conversation about depicting sex and nudity (and violence) in comics and I think Inaki does it with finesse and care. It became a running joke after that. “I like this panel, but is ZOMG, is that panda scissoring Jack?”

GU: Artist Adam Hughes’ work on the Hidden Kingdom’s covers have been absolutely astonishing. His cover art for this arc has been sensual, compelling and tragic. How did the both of you join creative forces?

LB: Again: It’s all Shelly. And probably Bill. Adam’s covers have been awe-inspiringly beautiful and perfectly pitched for the story.

GU: In Fairest #12, chapter 5 of The Hidden Kingdom, we see Rapunzel’s “bezoars” swarm the Celestial Palace in attempt to rid of the city’s invaders. Any plans for a Hidden Kingdom spin-off? Maybe an account of what happened during this raid?

LB: I’d love to do a follow-up story, but it wouldn’t be of the raid. I’m afraid the bezoars killed absolutely everybody.

GU: Will we see more of Lauren Beukes writing story arcs for other comic titles, be it Fairest or other titles?

LB: I’m pitching, I’m pitching!

GU: What are some of the major challenges writers face today in the evolving digital age of the Internet? How do you adapt to these challengers as a professional writer?

LB: Piracy is a huge problem in comics especially, more so than books or movies, because the effect is immediate. If sales aren’t high enough, series get cancelled. If you love a comic, please buy it if you can.

GU: According to your website, your upcoming novel, The Shining Girls (to be released this June in the U.S.), is described as The Time Traveler’s Wife meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. What can readers expect from your upcoming novel, The Shining Girls?

The Shinging GIrls Lauren Beukes

© Mulholland Books

LB: It’s a high concept thriller about a time-travelling serial killer who is unstoppable and untraceable until one of his victims survives and turns the hunt around. It’s set in Chicago between the Great Depression and the early 90s.

GU: What other projects are you currently working on that you’d like to share with GU readers?

LB: I’m adapting Zoo City as a screenplay for Oscar-nominated South African producer Helena Spring and working on my new novel, Broken Monsters, set in Detroit. And pitching on screenplays and new comics in-between.

GU: Thank you so much for sharing some insight regarding your work with Geeks Unleashed.

LB: Thank you for reading. It’s been amazing to see the response to Fairest and every comment from readers is hugely appreciated and makes me more excited to do more.

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Teacher by day, hero by night, Chris’ superpowers include holding his breath under water for ten solid seconds and unjamming a photocopier machine at work. You can find him at the comic shop every Wednesday afternoon, looking for what Geeks Unleashed readers should be adding to their list. Check out Chris’ weekly comic review column, ComicBurst, for the latest reviews of today’s hottest titles.