‘Penny Dora’: Michael Stock, Sina Grace realize a wish at Image Comics

Aug. 15, 2014 | 9:00 a.m.
pennydora1coveragrace Penny Dora: Michael Stock, Sina Grace realize a wish at Image Comics

"Penny Dora and the Wishing Box" No. 1 features a cover by series artist Sina Grace. (Image Comics)

pennydora1coverblarson Penny Dora: Michael Stock, Sina Grace realize a wish at Image Comics

Hope Larson, who also letters the series, contributed this variant cover for "Penny Dora and the Wishing Box" No. 1. (Image Comics)

pennydora1p15 Penny Dora: Michael Stock, Sina Grace realize a wish at Image Comics

Page 15 from "Penny Dora and the Wishing Box" No. 1. The five-issue series is written by Michael Stock, with art by Sina Grace and colors by Tamra Bonvillain. (Image Comics)

“Penny Dora and the Wishing Box,” Michael Stock and Sina Grace’s new all-ages Image Comics series, has its roots in a half-page story written five years ago – by, appropriately enough, an 8-year-old.

The five-issue fantasy adventure about a young girl in suburban Southern California who finds that titular magical item at her doorstep on the day before Christmas began as a reinvention of the Pandora myth by writer Stock’s daughter, Nico.

That short story made it into her school newspaper, and Stock, founder of the longtime popular Part-Time Punks club night at the Echo in Los Angeles and host of the same-named radio show, had her read it on his KXLU-FM (88.9) program.

“I will still get calls from time to time from various people being like, ‘Whatever happened to the magic box?’” Stock told Hero Complex during a phone interview with the creative team on Tuesday.

One of those calls came at the right time to remind the writer of the tale’s possibility. After several years of teaching classes on comic book history and script-writing at CalArts, he had been let go in a round of budget cuts.

“I took that as a signal to stop teaching comics and start making comics,” he said. “I made a deal with myself that I need to get some comics made really before I can teach.”

The series’ first issue, set for a Nov. 5 release and billed as being for fans of “Coraline” and “Courtney Crumrin,” is an adaptation of Nico’s original story, and will be her father’s comics debut. It will introduce readers to Penny Dora Jefferson — a 10-year-old who artist Grace calls “a hero in the making,” the kind of kid who can do the right thing when confronted with a receptacle repeatedly beckoning, “What do you wish for?” – and her single mom, cat Iggy, friend Elizabeth (who will help things go awry), the planned community of Cuesta Verde and that mysterious box.

Hero Complex readers can get an early look at “Penny Dora and the Wishing Box” No. 1 in the gallery above or via the links below.

GRACE COVER | LARSON COVER | PAGE 15 | PAGE 16 | PAGE 17 | PAGE 18

Nico still has a say in the fantastical goings-on.

"Penny Dora and the Wishing Box" No. 1, Page 16. (Image Comics)

“Penny Dora and the Wishing Box” No. 1, Page 16. Art by Sina Grace, with colors by Tamra Bonvillain. (Image Comics)

“I would show her pages as things came together,” Stock said. “And she would read them and be like, ‘Well, what if Iggy the cat has wings? What if …’ It’s been this back-and-forth creative thing that’s now sort of filtered through her as a 13-year-old, and filtered through my eyes seeing her with other 13-year-olds and having a better idea of what middle-schoolers are drawn to and thinking about and the things that they wish for.”

Father and daughter discuss the story over dinner and in the car on the way to school and their weekly Wednesday trips to the comic book store. He makes it a point to read the titles she likes – Archie series, “Coraline,” “Courtney Crumrin” – and sees he and Grace’s project as similarly all-ages-appropriate.

The “Penny Dora” story – and its back story – proved irresistible to Grace, who had been moving away from drawing comics scripted by others to focus on being a writer-artist on titles such as “Burn the Orphanage.”

“But when you read a script that’s undeniable, you’ve just got to say yes,” he said, adding that it had “a sense of humor and joy” that he wasn’t seeing elsewhere.

“We play a lot with princesses and sort of the Disney attitude of fantasy storytelling,” Grace said.

The “Not My Bag” creator, formerly editorial director of “The Walking Dead” co-creator Robert Kirkman’s Skybound imprint at Image, first met Stock through a mutual acquaintance, and the pair bonded over comics and bands including Dum Dum Girls. As that relationship developed, Grace brought his friend Hope Larson, an Eisner Award-winning comics creator, along to Part-Time Punks shows. She too was drawn to “Wishing Box.” Larson is lettering the series and has contributed a variant cover for the debut issue.

The story’s suburban Southern California setting was inspired by Stock’s memories of driving from Los Angeles to his pre-CalArts teaching gig at UC Irvine. The Nebraska native, who moved west in the late 1990s to earn a PhD from UCLA’s film school, was taken by the “crazy architecture” of Irvine and other places “planned and plotted and presold on paper before they’re even built,” as he put it.

“I just thought that’s like a really important place for people to be able to wish,” Stock added.

Though having fun with the sunny setting – especially in a Christmastime tale – was part of the appeal to the Santa Monica born-and-raised Grace, the artist says “capturing the mundane beauty of where Penny Dora lives” has been a challenge. (More fun to draw: the girl’s “long tendrils of hair” and the fantasy elements.)

Hope Larson, who also letters the series, contributed this variant cover for "Penny Dora and the Wishing Box" No. 1. (Image Comics)

Hope Larson, who also letters the series, contributed this variant cover for “Penny Dora and the Wishing Box” No. 1. (Image Comics)

“I think we see a lot of Penny’s strength in terms of her being a really strong individual in this numbing background,” Stock added, noting that her power comes from her mom, who’s based on Nico’s mother and other single mothers he’s met as a single father.

So, while Penny Dora is becoming a hero, what would she listen to?

“I won’t answer for Michael,” Grace said with a laugh, “because that would be the most offensive thing I could do.” He mentioned the band they bonded over, Dum Dum Girls, plus Feathers and Alvvays as acts the character would fall for.

Stock said he may make online playlists to go along with the comic – and some will probably be programmed by Nico (expect Beach Boys and Best Coast there). His might be heavy on groups from the Brooklyn indie label Captured Tracks such as Craft Spells, Beach Fossils, Diiv, Wild Nothing and Blouse.

The writer plans for the ballad of Penny Dora to run longer than a five-issue miniseries. Future stories would look into the history of the Wishing Box, he said.

It’s a topic that he and Nico have discussed at length.

Blake Hennon | Google+ | @LATHeroComplex

[For the record, 11:48 a.m. Aug. 15: A previous version of this post misspelled the name of the band Diiv and Dive.]

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