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Interview: November 2009

November 2009

Frank Beddor's latest book, MAD WITH WONDER, is the second installment in his graphic novel companion series to The Looking Glass Wars trilogy, a prose re-imagining of Lewis Carroll's ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND.
In this interview with's Benjamin Boche, Beddor discusses how a London exhibit on playing cards prompted his search for the "true" story behind this classic tale, and explains why he chose to tell the story of the Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan in this visual format. He also describes his experiences working with a co-writer and an illustrator, muses on the enduring appeal of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and shares details about what's in store for his main characters in Volume Three of the Hatter M series, THE NATURE OF WONDER. What inspired you to write The Looking Glass Wars?
Frank Beddor: A number of years ago, I was in London for the European premiere of There’s Something About Mary. I went to the British Museum and saw an exhibit of ancient cards. For instance, Napoleon hired artists to hand-paint depictions of his many victories in battle. But what caught my attention, at the very end of the exhibit, was an incomplete deck of cards illuminated by an unusual glow, almost as though they were alive. I was intrigued by the exhibit and captivated by the images on the cards. This was a very, very different version of Wonderland.
For the remainder of my trip, I was preoccupied with the images and told several friends, one of whom suggested I meet with an antiquities dealer he knew who specialized in collecting all sorts of ancient playing cards.
The next morning, on the way to the airport, I stopped at the dealer’s shop. When I told him about the unusual exhibit, he revealed that he in fact owned the cards missing from the deck. I was stunned. He brought out this old, worn leather box filled with cards and told me the story as he flipped one card over at a time, revealing the saga of The Looking Glass Wars. It was a darker Alyss from a darker world, and I knew I was meant to tell the story. Once I discovered the truth behind the deck of playing cards, it soon became clear that Lewis Carroll had changed everything.
I began putting all the pieces together and weaving the revelations of just how different the real Wonderland and its inhabitants were compared to the children’s-lit version the world had known and accepted for nearly 150 years. Carroll’s choices in how he changed Alyss’s story were so fascinating (he even changed her name!) --- the monsters and heroes of her lost world became these cheery reinventions. It was such a betrayal on Carroll’s part and was, in fact, the reason for the rift that eventually occurred between the writer and his muse. For instance, the characters we know as the White Rabbit, the Red Queen, the Cheshire Cat and, of course, the Mad Hatter all appear in The Looking Glass Wars as they were intended to by Alyss when she told Carroll her harrowing tale.
The White Rabbit was in fact Bibwit Harte, the six-foot-tall albino royal tutor for all Wonderland Queens (Carroll had anagrammed his name to create the White Rabbit), while the Red Queen was in truth Alyss’s Aunt Redd, the revenge-maddened usurper to the throne ably assisted by her top assassin, The Cat, a man-size feline who morphs from adorable kitten to giant mutant feline when called upon to kill.
So you see, there was a lot of truth to be uncovered, and, you might say, I felt the calling!
TRC: When did you first read ALICE IN WONDERLAND?
FB: My grandmother (whose name is actually Alice) insisted on reading it to me when I was about 10. It was a hot summer day, and all the other kids were at the pool. Needless to probably say, it wasn’t a treasured memory, and I sort of despised the book until much later in life, when I read it for myself.
TRC: When you originally wrote The Looking Glass Wars, did you know that someday you would be creating a graphic novel series? Where did the idea for the graphic novel adaptation come from?
FB: No. I was totally focused on getting through the prose trilogy. The idea for the stand-alone Hatter M graphic series evolved from readers in the UK wanting to read more about Alyss’s Royal Bodyguard with the amazing hat. This led me to try Hatter M out as a limited series of comic books illustrated by Ben Templesmith, and from there, the series proved popular enough to evolve into the graphic novels.
TRC: What was the process you used to adapt the original written story into a graphic-novel series?
FB: The graphic novels are not an adaptation of the Looking Glass Wars trilogy. What they are is an extension of the prose series --- much like a parallel story --- that unfolds through Hatter Madigan’s point of view as he searches our world for 13 years looking for Wonderland’s lost princess. While The Looking Glass Wars is told primarily from Alyss’s point of view, Hatter M lets us experience his adventure as he searches for Alyss.
TRC: Why did you choose to make Hatter Madigan the focus of the graphic-novel series?
FB: Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan is a top-ranked bladesman with a unique signature weapon --- a hat that goes airborne and contains razor-sharp swirling blades. Despite the fact he was first introduced in the prose series, the character is so visual and dynamic it fast became obvious to me that if I were to follow his solo adventures, graphic novels would be the ideal way to go.
TRC: How did you decide which parts of the world Hatter Madigan would travel to?
FB: I’m not sure if you are familiar with the Hatter M Institute for Paranormal Travel, but even as we speak, this devout assemblage of radical cartographers, geographic theorists and astral historians are working nonstop to piece together the map, the arc and the historical veracity of Hatter’s travels. Working from their research, I determine which “map” to follow with story and illustrations. While there are myriad choices, I select the routes that I feel have the most dramatic arc and storytelling resonance for Hatter’s overall search and resolution. But through the course of our ongoing research, we have discovered many other stops, stories and locations around the world where Hatter Madigan searched for Alyss. These “short stops” are being written and illustrated as webisodes, which I plan to collect into a published book that will fill in the geographic and time gaps not covered in the main five-book series.
TRC: The hat seems to have a life of its own. How important is it to the overall storyline?
FB: Well, as Hatter’s signature weapon and the most evolved weapon issued by the Millinery Academy in Wonderland, the hat occupies quite a hallowed place in the series. While we have not yet proven the hat to actually contain AI capabilities, it is suspected that Hatter and his hat share some sort of conscious link. The analogy I like to make for the hat’s relationship to Hatter is that of a hunter and his trained falcon. Overall for the storyline, the hat is definitely a leading character and integral to Hatter’s eventual success in finding Alyss.
TRC: We know that Hatter eventually finds Alyss. What are your plans when this finally happens?
FB: Anyone who has read The Looking Glass Wars or even the introduction to the first comic book knows that Hatter is eventually successful in finding Alyss and bringing her home. No mystery there. But at the heart of Hatter’s search, there is a mystery. As Volume Two of the graphic-novel series unfolds, readers should start to realize that the mystery of this planned five-volume parallel series is the path that Hatter follows both consciously and unconsciously. Before he can master the final challenge of finding the princess, he must first, like all of us, realize there is something he must learn from his ordeal. Operating from the metaphysical rule stating everything happens for a reason, we have begun to track and will eventually reveal this mystery when Hatter finds Alyss.
TRC: You worked alone for the original Looking Glass Wars series, but you have co-written the graphic-novel series with Liz Cavalier. Can you describe the writing process when you’re collaborating with another author on the same work?
FB: While I had uncovered a great deal of information regarding Hatter Madigan’s search during my ongoing investigation of the story behind the Wonderland cards, Liz Cavalier had even more. As an astral traveler and interstellar author, Cavalier’s lifelong passion of tracking the myth of a prepotent, otherworldly warrior who appeared in France in 1859 to crisscross the planet for 13 years dovetailed perfectly with my own discovery regarding the truth of Wonderland. Over time, Cavalier had collected the tattered, annotated maps and coded diaries of a truly mad traveler in search of something profound. But for her, the ultimate questions remained unanswered. Who was this man and what did he search for? With the publication and revelations of the Looking Glass Wars, the mystery was finally solved. Upon reading the book, she immediately contacted me and strongly suggested we meet to share what we knew. When we finally put all of our pieces together, we came up with a saga far beyond either of our wildest imaginations. And that’s really quite far. Overall, our writing process is combative yet symbiotic. While we both prefer to dominate, we also have a lot of fun cooperating, and this really propels and enriches the writing partnership.
TRC: What was it like working with two different artists (Ben Templesmith for HATTER M and Sami Makkonen for MAD WITH WONDER)?
FB: Well, as you know, Ben Templesmith pioneered the series with Volume One, HATTER M. Because of scheduling conflicts, there was just no way Ben would be available to work on the next four volumes that I have planned. So, I went on a search that lasted nearly two years to find the next artist for the series and was fortunate enough to find Sami Makkonen, whose artwork in Volume Two is getting extremely positive reviews. While each artist has their own unique style, there is enough of a shared aesthetic that the shift from artist to artist did not “jar” the series or the fans. This was a huge concern, of course, so in terms of working with two separate artists, the visual shift was quite seamless. Ben (who now lives in California) lived in Australia while we were doing Volume One and Sami currently lives in Finland, so with both artists, I have had the same cyber relationship of emailing scripts and downloading art while never being in the same room with them. This long-distance collaboration demands the scripts really be precise --- there is no working it out in the room. So for both artists, it was necessary to develop online working relationships where you really tune into the artist’s style so you don’t waste time or frustrate them while at the same time hopefully inspiring them to have fun and really go for it with their own unique style and imaginings.
TRC: What are some of the reactions you’ve received after reimagining Lewis Carroll’s original work?
FB: With the exception of a militant faction of the Lewis Carroll Society, who demanded the removal of my head, I have had very, very positive reactions from both fans of the original books to total Wonderland newbies.
TRC: Why do you think people like the story of Alice?
FB: There are probably as many reasons as there are fans of the books, but in general, maybe it’s because today’s world is upside down, chaotic and random. I think people relate to Alice and her journey and in their hearts hope to be as stoic and courageous as she was in exploring (and enjoying!) Wonderland.
TRC: Next year, there will be the Tim Burton movie Alice in Wonderland, and of course there have been many, many books based on Lewis Carroll’s works. Why do you think there is all this interest in Alice?
FB: The popularity of ALICE IN WONDERLAND has endured for nearly 150 years and been read by generations, so it captures a large part of our shared imaginative history. It’s not just books that riff on ALICE IN WONDERLAND, but music, clothing lines, nightclubs, games, toys, etc., etc., etc. Across the pop-culture spectrum, from artists and musicians to ad agencies and Internet moguls, they are all tapping into our shared imaginative history of the Alice iconography to simultaneously reflect the chaotic world we live in (fear) and marry it to the comfort and reassurance of a childhood fairy tale (escape and security) to capture their audience.
TRC: Have you always been a fan of graphic novels? What are some of your favorites?
FB: I think graphic novels have amazing potential. And just like every medium, some really deliver and some don’t. Two of my favorites are Art Spiegelman’s MAUS and HONOUR AMONG PUNKSby Guy Davis and Gary Redd.
TRC: What are your future plans for the Hatter M series?
FB: The Hatter M series continues with Volume Two, MAD WITH WONDER, available now. I am currently writing Volume Three, THE NATURE OF WONDER, and plan to complete a total of five Hatter M geographic novels to document his 13 years searching our world for Alyss. Additionally, I am working on the Hatter M screenplay as well as new information that has recently come to me with regard to Hatter’s school records from his boyhood days as a cadet at Wonderland’s Millinery.