Lauren Beukes takes Rapunzel to Japan in ‘Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom’

July 25, 2013 | 12:29 p.m.
faireshk sc cover copy Lauren Beukes takes Rapunzel to Japan in Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

[Warning: This gallery contains profanity.] "Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom's" six-part title story is by writer Lauren Beukes and artist Inaki Miranda. It also includes a story by "Fables" and "Fairest" creator Bill Willingham and artist Barry Kitson. The cover art is by the Eisner Award-winning Adam Hughes. (Vertigo)

faireshk  1 copy Lauren Beukes takes Rapunzel to Japan in Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

Beukes and Miranda's "The Hidden Kingdom" arc comprises Issues 8-13 of "Fairest." This is Page 1. (Inaki Miranda / Vertigo)

Rapunzel struggles through maternal heartache – and some truly horrifying hair days – in “Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom.”

The graphic novel by award-winning South African novelist Lauren Beukes (“The Shining Girls”) and Spain-based artist Inaki Miranda (“Tribes: The Dog Years”) takes the fairy-tale character into modern Tokyo and Japanese folklore on a search for her long-missing children. The strong-willed, smart heroine encounters monsters, conspiracies and a fox-y former lover, among other things, in a vividly drawn, terrifying and tender tale that’s rich in Eastern myth and cinematic horror, and dosed with humor.

“The Hidden Kingdom,” in comic shops now and in bookstores Tuesday, is the second arc of “Fairest.” But readers need not be familiar with the first volume nor with the series from which the title is spun off, “Fables,” Bill Willingham’s multiple Eisner Award-winning and long-running myths-in-modernity series on DC’s mature readers imprint Vertigo: This is a self-contained story, and Beukes and Miranda quickly bring readers up to speed on the life this Rapunzel lives.

The flaxen-haired fable resides alongside other human-looking but fantastical characters in the magically disguised Fabletown neighborhood of Manhattan, albeit under strict conditions, as her rapidly growing hair (4 inches an hour – more under stress or excitement) could raise suspicions among the denizens of the mundane world. Her closest companion is Joel Crow, who cuts her mane several times a day.

Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4  [warning: link contains profanity] | Page 5 | Page 8 | Page 13

Her quest begins, as seen in the preview pages above, when a message arrives from Japan. She must steal away – with some help from a duplicitous witch she knows all too well – to search for her children.

“Fables” fans who didn’t read this arc as it arrived in single issues will see the back story of a character who’s scarcely appeared in that series and get their first look at the Japanese fables community. Regulars Jack, Frau Totenkinder and Bigby Wolf all play roles. The story is set before “Fables” No. 1. (The volume also includes a single-issue story about Princess Alder, a dryad, as narrated by Reynard T. Fox, Esq.; it’s written by Willingham with art by Barry Kitson.)

Beukes discussed “The Hidden Kingdom’s” traditional and modern Japanese influences, Inaki Miranda and cover artist Adam Hughes’ visuals and what’s next for her in comics in an email interview with Hero Complex.

Lauren Beukes, who wrote the just-finished Rapunzel arc in "Fairest," brought snacks -- and some borderline inappropriate questions -- to share at "Fairest" editor Shelly Bond's solo panel. (Sam Fox Photography / Fabletown and Beyond)

Lauren Beukes, seen at the Fabletown and Beyond convention in Rochester, Minn., in March, won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for her 2010 novel “Zoo City.” (Sam Fox Photography / Fabletown and Beyond)

HC: You’ve said you were a “Fables” reader before becoming involved with writing a “Fairest” arc. What did you see in Rapunzel and Joel Crow that you wanted to expand on, and were Jack and Frau Totenkinder characters you’d wanted to write?

LB: Back in 2009, I pitched on that twisted psycho, Goldilocks, but Bill had plans for her in “Jack of Fables,” and specifically asked me to come up with a story line for Rapunzel. She was an intriguing cypher who had only really appeared in one four-page short about the restrictions she had to live with in Fabletown to hide her fast-growing hair from the mundies. She felt very lonely – and in limbo, as if she was waiting for something. I was curious about what that was, and what it would take to break her out of that. Her relationship with Joel, who cuts her hair every four hours, felt rich with potential. He’s the closest thing she has to a friend and sympathetic confidante, but she’s been very guarded, even with him, because she can’t confront her secret history. He’s also a character we haven’t seen a lot of, so there was room to play and still keep it in canon. Jack is just trouble, and was super-fun to write – he’s absolutely the last person Rapunzel wants along for the ride.

Totenkinder is very interesting, full of prickly moral ambiguities and working to her own agenda, but with her own messed-up history and unresolved emotions she’s buried deep. But of course it was incredibly intimidating writing in such a fully realized and beloved world. Bill was very generous and supportive the whole way.

HC: Rapunzel has not been treated well by maternal figures. How do you see that affecting her feelings about being a mother?

LB: It becomes reactive. She’s determined that she won’t be like Totenkinder. She won’t abandon her lost daughters until she’s forced to by terrible circumstances.

HC: Can you talk a little about using hair to horrific ends?

LB: Rapunzel is all about the hair. Japanese horror is all about the hair. I figured it couldn’t be a coincidence. There’s also Rapunzel syndrome, where distressed girls (typically) eat their hair as a soothing mechanism and it forms disgusting clumps called bezoars in their stomachs.

No. 9, Page 1 | No. 9, Pages 2-3 | No. 10, Page 2 | No. 10, Page 3 | No. 10, Page 4 | No. 12, Page 3

HC: In delving into Japanese folklore, was there any particular story or creature that was new to you that you were especially drawn to – and what struck you about it?

Page 3 of "Fairest" No. 10. (Inaki Miranda / Vertigo)

Page 3 of “Fairest” No. 10. (Inaki Miranda / Vertigo)

LB: So many. I loved the tanuki, who are rowdy, brawling, drunken raccoon yokai who can inflate their testicles and beat them like a drum (although obviously we couldn’t show that) and the legend of kuchisake-onna, or the split-faced girl, mutilated by a spurned lover.

[Warning: Spoilers] I obviously riffed off “Ringu,” but it was amazing to go back and find the original ghost story it was based on, “Banchō Sarayashiki,” or “Okiku and the Nine Plates,” which dates back to the 1700s at least, and the infestation of Okiku mushi in wells – worms that look like they’re bound in thread … or hair. [End spoilers]

HC: There’s a nice nod to English-language films about missing children on the first page – and that is a clue to the story – but an affection for Japanese horror and animated fantasy seems more an influence on “The Hidden Kingdom’s” style. What about elements from those genres or particular films in them has stuck with you?

LB: Yeah, Rapunzel’s a cinemaphile. It’s the one place she can sit in the dark and no one notices her hair growing. She does a lot of triple features. I’ve always loved Japanese legend, anime and manga. I’m hugely influenced by Hayao Miyazaki’s dreamy narratives with mad and wonderful creatures centered on stubborn girls, and we got some shout-out cameos into the story. Takashi Miike’s “Audition” is my favorite horror movie. I love Japanese mythology and literature, including Banana Yoshimoto, Taichi Yamada, Haruki Murakami and Ryu Murakami and of course, while we’re on Murakamis, Takashi Murakami’s brilliant, [crazy] pop art. But it’s also influenced by “Robotech,” “Tekkonkinkreet,” kaiju movies, a poem about Hiroshima that’s stayed with me since I was a kid, and “Tokyo Vice,” the memoir of crime reporter Jake Adelstein and his insights into yakuza culture.

HC: In “The Hidden Kingdom,” Inaki Miranda draws frenetic urban scenes, quieter moments and some very freaky stuff. Can you talk about what he brought to the creation of this arc? Did the two of you closely collaborate on the characters’ personal senses of style?

Page 3 of "Fairest" No. 12. (Inaki Miranda / Vertigo)

Page 3 of “Fairest” No. 12. (Inaki Miranda / Vertigo)

LB: What I love about collaborating is that you’re working with other minds that work differently to yours. It was amazing to see how Inaki interpreted the words and how much better it was than I could have imagined, like the nest of hair in the forest or the hallucinatory birth scene — which was all him — or a panda with a machine gun or Rapunzel’s startling transformation on the opening page of the last chapter. But also the subtlety and nuance, a glance between Joel and Rapunzel when he brings her the red beanie, the power and mischief in Tomoko’s eyes. He’s brilliant.

We did work closely on everything. I’d send him pachinko videos on YouTube for one scene, and we bought the same copies of the same reference books on yokai and yurei. And he must have drawn 100 different options on clothes and hairstyles for Rapunzel, which I really appreciated. The character sketches were gorgeous and also helped solidify things in my mind about where they were going.

HC: What did you think when you first saw Adam Hughes’ cover for No. 8 that’s also on the collected edition cover?

LB: I was blown away. All of Adam’s work is incredibly beautiful, but he absolutely captured Rapunzel’s sensuality and strength. There’s a sadness in her eyes, but also a spark.

HC: Do you have anything in the works comics-wise? If so, is there anything you can share with readers?

LB: I’m working on a short, “Birdie” for the upcoming “The Witching Hour” anthology with South African comics artist Gerhard Human on his debut for Vertigo. It’s about a heks or little witch who scavenges the dumps in Cape Town to find messages from the dead. It’s loosely informed by strandlopers (beach-walkers), Khoi people who lived along the coastlines before colonialism.

— Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon


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3 Responses to Lauren Beukes takes Rapunzel to Japan in ‘Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom’

  1. Gypsy Thornton says:

    Wow. I'm floored by how fantastic this sounds! (And how is this not in the news all over the place??) I'm already a fan of Ms. Beukes work but I wasn't sure how putting her together with fairy tales and folklore would turn out, though I was fairly sure it would have an interesting angle. This though? It sounds like it was some form of comic-kismet. I hope Ms. Beukes will write for Fables again or perhaps be considered for the Fables movie treatment because this is a perfect lens through which to introduce newbies to the concept of Fables (especially when all they know of modernizing fairy tale characters in the present day is OUAT) and how rich this combination can be. This is definitely on my to-get list and I'll be spreading the word via blog-and-more as well. Thank you for such a great article, interview and enticing preview.

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