Ever wonder how Pinocchio might be different if Geppetto made him in 2092? Or what Little Red Riding Hood would look like as a full-bodied alien? How about what the outcome of Tortoise v. Hare race would be if both animals also controlled towering robot warriors bristling with dangerous weaponry?
The Locust Moon Comics crew did, and it’s led to them arriving at New York Comic Con today as publishers for the very first time — Locust Moon Press’ first book, a co-release with industry titan Dark Horse, is a 432-page behemoth titled Once Upon a Time Machine, was just released yesterday. Nearly 100 creators from around the globe — Norway, the Philippines, Spain and Nigeria, among others, plus many Philadelphians — contributed words and illustrations to the book, which retells traditional fairy tales by placing them in sci-fi settings.
In August 2009, when work on the book began, Chris Stevens and Josh O’Neill were preparing to open Locust Moon Comics near 40th and Locust streets in West Philadelphia. The store closed last summer, but reopened a few blocks away, on 40th between Ludlow and Chestnut Streets, this July. Their new space is much bigger and way better, a merger of two adjacent storefronts with a gallery space for exhibitions and events on the right and a shop with shelves boasting thousands of comics on the left. And with the publication of Time Machine, it’s no longer just a place where comics are sold — it’s a place where they’re created.
The mood’s celebratory as six of Time Machine’s creators hang out on the outdoor patio behind the store — some smoking cigarettes, some sipping whiskey, all stoked about the book. “People of all ages dig fables,” says Stevens, the book’s producer and writer of Time Machine’s “The Boy Who Drew Cats.” “These stories are filled with timeless metaphors and iconic characters, and we wanted to visually interpret them through comics to give them a new spin.”
“There’s something very engaging about how many different ways you can tell a story,” says O’Neill, Time Machine’s creative advisor and the writer of “Hansel and Gretel; or, Bombus and Vespula.” “Even stories you’ve already heard a thousand times can be told in completely fresh ways.”
“These are the blue jeans and leather jackets of stories, man,” adds Dave Proch (aka “The Hatter”). “They’ll never go out of style; they’ll always be good, and you don’t have to mess with ’em too much. We just had fun with ’em.”
Like most of the contributors, Proch, who illustrated “Alice in Wonderland; or, A.L.I.C.E.,” has never been published before. This inexperience gave the project an element of risk, but that same uncertainty makes the book really come alive. Everyone involved had something to prove, and the energy smacks you in the face (in a good way) as you flip through the pages.
“We wanted to give an opportunity to some of the young, talented creators who we felt deserved a shot,” explains Andrew Carl, the book’s editor and writer of “John Henry.” “This is the first time I’ve edited anything, so it was a big challenge, and a learning experience for us all.”
The only two rules given to contributors were that they had to do something with the story that hadn’t been done before, and they had to honor the original in some way without overtly challenging or subverting it.
But James Comey, who wrote and illustrated “Kid Yimage and the Really Big Hole,” broke both rules by inventing his own fairy tale. “Everyone kept Googling it to find the original,” jokes Comey. “It’s not a fairy tale, but it’s about this sort of frustration with the creative process. It’s inspired by ‘Little Room,’ the White Stripes song, where once you get to the bigger room, it’s like, ‘Fuck, what was I doing in that little room this whole time?’ It’s a timeless theme, but my story’s probably too confusing for kids.”
“Well, your story’s too confusing for everyone,” says Carl, causing everyone to laugh, including Comey.
Rob Woods’ “The Boy Who Cried Wolf; or, The Venusian Shepherd Boy Who Cried Space Wolf,” is the most literal interpretation in the book. But it’s also one of the cleverest, as Woods employs deadpan humor and sophisticated disregard to mock the original while simultaneously respecting its moral.
“Most of my comics are really dark, so I did something my nephews and nieces could look at,” says Woods, creator of the Depressed Punx series. “I wanted it to be fun and simple, and to make something kind of corny that kids would like.”
Time Machine examines knotty, dark issues — death, loss, alienation — but, as with the original stories, there are lessons to be learned. With its wealth of humor, playfulness and gorgeous illustration, it’s completely kid-safe, but grandma will surely get a kick out of it, too.
“The target audience is really everyone,” says O’Neill. “But what we’d really like people to get out of it is that they can make their own book if they want to. We want everyone to see this book and say, ‘Oh, shit, I can do this, too!’ And then we want them to do it.”