11:05am PT by Graeme McMillan
'Girl in the Shadows': Inside Amazon's New Prose/Comics YA Crossover
Forget the Marvel Cinematic Universe or DC Extended Universe — the latest fictional world to be shared between media is the Cirque American, the circus setting for prose and comic book stories centering on young women with amazing abilities that go beyond what most people are capable of.
With last week's launch of prose novel Girl in the Shadows and companion comic book Girl Over Paris, the Cirque — which first appeared in the 2014 novel Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond, who writes Shadows and plotted Paris — has set up tent for an audience looking for YA stories of romance, magical realism, and just a little sleight-of-hand, too.
"I’ve always been fascinated with circuses," Bond tells The Hollywood Reporter. "There was a vaguely seedy one-ring show that came through the extremely tiny mountain town where I grew up, and set up shop outside the elementary school where my dad was principal. I remember watching the performers hanging out while I waited for him to get off work."
The fascination wasn't intended to fuel her work, however. "I never thought I’d write a circus book," she continues. "I didn’t think I had anything to add. Then I got the flu, watched the documentary series about the Big Apple Circus in a couple of fever dream days, and it hit me that there weren’t many books about circuses now where the circus itself wasn’t magic. And, boom, I had the idea for Girl on a Wire."
That book didn't just introduce the Cirque American, it also was the debut of Jules Maroni, a wire-walker whose desire to perform risks alienated her family and threatened her life. While Girl in the Shadows introduces a new lead — Moira, a stage magician who has no idea of her true potential when it comes to magic — Jules re-appears in that book and takes center stage in the comic series. Girl Over Paris. ("I jokingly call this my 'ambitious girls' series," Bond said. "I feel like so many teen girls I know have big dreams and those are their guiding compasses. I wanted to write about that, because it does feel somewhat less explored.")
The idea for a comic book spinoff to Bond's prose series came, originally, from Amazon — which owns both Girl in the Shadows publisher Skyscape and Girl Over Paris publisher Jet City Comics — but it was one that she quickly got excited about.
"I love comics and have always wanted to do one, and this gave me a chance to work with creators I really admired and see up close every stage of how it’s done," Bond says. "Obviously, then I worried about coming up with a story idea. But once I’d discussed it with my editors and we decided on using [Girl on a Wire lead] Jules as the main character again, I had the idea to do a twist on Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, which I read when I was in high school. Et voila! It all came together quickly after that."
Although the plot for Girl Over Paris came from Bond, the series is a collaboration with scripter Kate Leth and artist Ming Doyle. "I did a fairly detailed outline up front, with visual references for locations and the major plot beats for each issue [and] a guide to characters," Bond says about the series' creation, "but I was also careful to leave room for Kate to make it her own."
For Leth — a writer whose resume includes comic books based on both movies (Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands from IDW) and long-lived superheroes (Marvel's Patsy Walker: Hellcat) — the series offered a rare chance to work with the creator of the characters she was inheriting.
"I love working with other people's worlds, but having access to the person who actually created them is so much better and more interesting," she tells THR. "Being able to collaborate with Gwenda has been a delight. She's been so helpful and encouraging, and we've talked through so much of the story together to make it not just mine or hers, but really a blend of the two. It's been a blast, honestly!"
The collaboration has been, in Bond's words, "incredible. I admire both Kate and Ming's work so much; I still thank my lucky stars that we were able to get them on the project. It's been a dream experience. I trust both of them completely with these characters, who are very close to my heart."
The crossover between the comic book and Girl in the Shadows — the two reference each other, thanks to a call-out added in the last pass on the novel and a cameo appearance in the comic book — creates the kind of cross-media shared universe so in vogue currently, but Bond says that wasn't the original intent for the Cirque.
"I would love to say I had it all planned from the start, but honestly, I had no idea when I wrote Girl on a Wire that there would be further books set here," she admits. "I’ve always loved what I call 'open-ended series' — series where you come back for the world and characters, not so much for a single continuing story. These books are basically about folding all my weird performer fascinations (plus con artists and circus life) into one world."
With the series already encompassing both prose and comics, could the Cirque American move into other media? After all, Amazon does produce its own television content for Amazon Prime. "Absolutely," Bond laughs. "I think the Cirque would make a great TV show or movie basis, but of course I do."