Interview: Caitlìn R. Kiernan Gives Riveting Insight into ‘Alabaster: Wolves’

In the “comic-verse,” Caitlìn R. Kiernan is probably most notably known for her work at DC/Vertigo Comics. There, she penned The Dreaming (a spin-off of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman), The Girl Who Would Be Death, and Bast: Eternity Game, as well as contributing to various other titles and story arcs. Although she has done quite a bit of work in comics, she has received high praise for her novels and short stories from names such as Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, and Poppy Z. Brite.

Now, Kiernan is working on a new series published by Dark Horse Comics, called Alabaster: Wolves. Wolves focuses on Dancy Flammarion, who was once guided by a mystical force to fight and kill various dark creatures, and must now find her own way in the swamps of the deep south, with the cursed monsters still in hot pursuit. Kiernan sat down with us to talk about Alabaster: Wolves, and gave us a peek into what we can expect to see. Read on for the skinny…

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KtMc: You are already very seasoned in the world of comics, with your work on Neil Gaiman’s The Dreaming (DC/Vertigo Comics). How did it feel to come in this time around with a brand-new story? By what were you inspired?

CRK: The thing is, Dancy Flammarion isn’t a new character. I created her for my second novel, Threshold (2001). And then I sort of reinvented her, or at least an alternate path for her, and began writing a series of short stories about Dancy. I wasn’t finished with the character, and wanted to revisit her. She sort of became for me what Silver John was Manly Wade Wellman. And, undoubtedly, Wellman’s character was one of the inspirations for Dancy. Anyway, these stories were eventually collected in Alabaster (2006), and, at that time, I thought, Well this is all I have to say about Dancy. Hey, I’m done with her. Move on. Though, there’s a very brief allusion to her in Daughter of Hounds, a year after the collection of short stories was released. Point is, Alabaster: Wolves isn’t coming back to a new story. It’s reimagining, or even rebooting, a character who’s been with me for about fourteen years. I also want to say that though The Dreaming was inspired by, and spun off, The Sandman, I think he’d agree it was a book I made my own before it was finished.

KtMc: At the very beginning of the first issue, we seem to be immediately introduced to a possible motif of rebirth, or trading one life for another. What other themes can we expect to see in Alabaster: Wolves?

CRK: Through all her earlier misadventures, Dancy has always been guided by an angel, this seraph, unless the seraph is only an expression of insanity, or some unconscious aspect of her that, inexplicably, leads her to these creatures. In the first issue, she breaks with her guardian angel, so to speak, and is on her own for the first time. She is reborn. Her will and her wiles become her only guiding force. I don’t want to drop too many spoilers, but Alabaster: Wolves is largely about Dancy finding her own way, and it’s a much darker road than she’s ever walked. Maybe this is a book about Dancy going sane. As to other themes, I’m really trying to address the grey areas between what we call good and evil. Dancy has always struggled with the idea that maybe she’s just another sort of monsters, and possibly some of the beings aren’t necessarily evil. You’ll see a lot of that.

KtMc: The characters’ voices are very raw, and even a bit masculine. Are these simply the voices of drifters, or are they representative of androgyny?

CRK: I have to disagree, strongly, with the suggestion that there’s any sort of “masculinity” to either Dancy or Maisie’s voices. Raw, sure. You have this backwoods monster hunter whose been living on the road and this South Carolina Lowcountry werewolf girl. These are young women who’ve had nightmarish lives, and those lives have made them hard. But not masculine. Not even androgynous. Maybe this perception arises from a medium that is largely male dominated, with too few genuinely strong female characters. Maybe not. I don’t know. But I grew up in the South. I never knew an angel-driven monster hunter or a werewolf, but I’ve known these girls. Being hard, being tough, it doesn’t mean you’re masculine.

KtMc: The mythology of the story is heavily laden in Alabaster. Since this mythology is so evident, will we begin to see an accompanying spirituality in the characters? Were you inspired at all by your own spiritual path?

CRK: This is complicated. Maybe too much so to get into here. We’d have to begin by agreeing on an operative, functional definition of “spirituality.” Maisie mocks her and calls her “St. Joan,” and she’s not so far off the mark. Dancy’s been on this blind crusade. And she begins to feel used by the seraph and begins to lose faith. It’s also important that Maisie calls her “Snow White.” It might seem like Maisie’s only making fun of Dancy’s albinism, but, remember, the story of Snow White is largely concerned with a woman who’s been cursed with a preternatural sleep, and in Alabaster: Wolves, Dancy is finally waking up. The ghost of a werewolf becomes her Prince Charming, I suppose. Oh, and I do want to stress that it would be a mistake to see Dancy’s beliefs are a reflection of my own. She is of me. From me. But her path certainly isn’t my path. Not even close.

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KtMc: Although the title is Alabaster: Wolves, there seems to be more than wolves involved. Are the other creatures affiliated with the wolves, or do all of the different castes work separately, yet after the same target?

CRK: This is definitely a story about more than a ghost town infested by werewolves. Again, I don’t want to get into spoilers. But, as the story progresses, we learn there are many worse things wrong with this stretch of bayou. It’s very much a story about a powerful wrongness spreading across that bit of the world. Something has been unleashed, and here, I guess, we get back to the influence that Lovecraft has had on my work. It’s a cosmic wrongness. A warping of the world, a dawning awareness that the world might not be what Dancy always believed it to be. Hopefully, this is a thread I’ll have the chance to explore in future arcs. But I wouldn’t say these creatures work together so much as I’d say they’re bound by the same curse. And they all know this reputation that Dancy has gotten as an avenger, a “killer or killers.” Maybe what they have most in common is that they see her as a threat.

KtMc: There is a vibrant palette of blues and greens present in the first few pages, giving it a very primal feel. And yet the characters are very neutral. Was this to make the characters stand out, or were they supposed to look small in such a large natural environment?

CRK: Well, it was important for me to stress the sense of place, that part of the south. The bayous and sloughs, the pine woods and kudzu waiting to reclaim the landscape. Maybe it becomes a metaphor for the fragile nature of humanity’s illusions about its place in the universe. I don’t think it was ever about contrast. Maisie, for example, is an almost seamless extension of that landscape, someone reclaimed by this primordial tangle. And this is simply Dancy’s world. I doubt she’d ever think of the swamps, which is where that blues and greens come from, as anything but background of her life, and the place the monsters hide. Now, that’s not to say that this environment isn’t meant to dwarf them. It has to do that. But we are all dwarfed by the world we inhabit. Possibly, what you’re getting at is that, sure, I’ve placed Dancy in especially inhospitable surroundings. That’s true.

KtMc: The creative team has done an excellent job on Alabaster so far. How did you and Dark Horse cross paths? What’s it been like working with Steve, Greg, and Rachelle?

CRK: Oh, they’re fantastic. All three of them. I think we’re just starting to hit our stride, too, working together. They amaze me, bring my words to life. Also, my editor, Rachel Edidin, because none of this would be happening if not for her belief in me and the book. She and Mike Richardson, they gave me this opportunity, so I have five people, really, to thank. We’re becoming a team, each of us complementing the other. Often it astounds me how, say, Greg will know exactly what I want without me saying, “Greg, this is exactly what I want.” As to how it started, I was Guest of Honor at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland in 2010, and I met Rachel. She said she wanted to work with me, and I wanted to work with Dark Horse. So, we spent months talking about possible projects, and, finally, Alabaster grew out of those conversations. Dark Horse gave me the creative control and the freedom that comes with a creator-owned comic, which are things I’d said, after The Dreaming, I’d have to have if I was ever again going to do comics.

KtMc: Is there anything else that you want to share with us about Alabaster: Wolves?

CRK: Just that the first issue series goes on sale in April, though there’s the preview in Dark Horse Presents #9. I think it’s going to be wonderful.

We would like to give a special thank-you to Caitlìn for providing such an exciting, in-depth interview. Be sure to check out the preview for Alabaster: Wolves, in Dark Horse Presents #9. Minor spoiler: they look fantastic, so get excited (if you’re not already… you may want to fix that).

Also, if you’d like to check out more work by Caitlìn R. Kiernan, be sure to look for her latest novel, The Drowning Girl, which will be released on March 6.