Artists and writers Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt are an unstoppable team in the indie comics world. And from their Act-i-Vate webcomic, Backstage, to their graphic novel, Scarlett Takes Manhattan (Fugu Press), it is obvious that they share a fascination with debauchery in a historical, highly sexualized context. Burlesque performers, prostitutes, and courtesans dominate their work, and their latest offering, The Puppet Makers, is no exception. However, this comic, starting on Zuda.com today, has a decidedly SFF/steampunk bent.
Dangerous Liaisons meets Blade Runner. The Puppet Makers is a mystery set in an alternate historical Versailles. Versailles is run by clockwork and aristocrats wear robotic suits, or Dollies, to go through the elaborate rituals that proscribe daily life. When the king’s Dolly explodes, it is revealed that he’s long since vanished. A young monk’s investigations into the king’s disappearance draw him into the dark secrets of the court.
Here, John Leavitt talks about the virtues of webcomics, his longtime collaborator, and gold filigree…
The Doctor Who episode “The Girl in the Fireplace” is set in Versailles, features clockwork androids, and has a steampunk/17th Century vibe to it. Did Puppet Makers take any inspiration from that?
Ah, but Madame de Pompadour is a generation after when the story takes place. I have been watching the new Who but—and this will get me hate letters from fangirls the world over—I wasn’t a huge fan of David Tennant so I missed the episode when it came out. I’ve seen it since and there was a bit of a “Oh, hey I’ve got baroque robots, too” grar, I think once the comic starts people will see that it’s a very different kind of story. No one’s brain is powering a spaceship, for one thing.
Why Versailles, as opposed to any other culture in which courtesans were used? What is it about this court that so fascinating to you?
I find France under the Sun King to be a completely fascinating and alien place. Some of the best skilled minds in the world put in the service of art and refinement and gossip. Everything about the era is so distinct and visually assaulting, along with the idea that they where trying to preserve a very medieval outlook in the midst of a very rapidly changing and technologically active world. The Divine Right Of Kings being pushed just as the seeds of “Secular Democracy” were being sown. Add to that the insane robotic nature of the Court, so regimented and surreal—it just seemed like science fiction already and a time peroid I knew a lot about via art history…and Dangerous Liaisons was one of my favorite movies growing up.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to see all the gears and vents of steampunk covered in gold filigree?
After Scarlett Takes Manhattan, why go back to the web? What is it about webcomics that keeps you coming back?
Webcomics allow you an amazing amount of freedom and feedback—both very important things when you’re doing something long-form like this. Speaking for every struggling comics guy out there, I don’t think I could have said no to DC anyway.
Why do you continue to collaborate with Molly Crabapple? What’s special about her as a collaborator?
Cause we’re good together! We were instant friends in college and wave been on the same wavelength for over a decade now. It’s an amazing thing to have someone that both understands completely what you want to do to completely understand what they want to do and can do. If it was up to me, Scarlett Takes Manhattan would have been all slapstick, but Molly insisted that it needed an emotional core to make sense. You can’t put a price on that kind of advice and perspective. We also know how each other works, so it’s a very smooth relationship and ends up producing stuff we couldn’t do alone. Plus, being able to write in a script “…she should look sickly and lost, like that Illustration 101 teacher..” is a big plus.
What do you think Scarlett would make of Dollies? Do you think there’s something particularly European about them, or would they fly among the well-to-do of New York’s Gilded Age?
I think Scarlett would like the idea of never aging, but would hate not being able to dance. I don’t think they’re inheritly European. People shoot posion into thier faces now to look pretty. As for the Gilded Age, Lady Astor once dressed as “The Spirit Of Electricity.” Sounds very Dolly…or maybe Lady Gaga.
The Puppet Makers debuts at Zuda.com today!
Teresa Jusino was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. She is a contributor to PinkRaygun.com, a webzine examining geekery from a feminine perspective. Her work has also been seen on PopMatters.com, on the sadly-defunct literary site CentralBooking.com, edited by Kevin Smokler, and in the Elmont Life community newspaper. She is currently writing a web series for Pareidolia Films called The Pack, which is set to debut Fall 2010! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, Follow The Pack or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.