While preparing the Electronic Press Kit for Father Gaetano's Puppet Catechism by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, Golden spoke to me at length about how this spooky tale came to be. Note: This interview is part of the EPK, and you're more than welcome to post it at your blog or website. All that we ask is that you link back to the FGPC website and to this blog, Bildungsroman, with due credit. Thank you! ~ Little Willow
How did Father Gaetano's Puppet Catechism come to be?
CG: Mike and I have been working together in some capacity for a frighteningly long time, all the way back to HELLBOY: THE LOST ARMY, my first Hellboy novel and the first one anyone had ever done. After we had written BALTIMORE, OR, THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER AND THE VAMPIRE together - and that had gone pretty well, from our point of view - he told me he had something else in mind for a follow-up. Like Baltimore, the Joe Golem character had been knocking around in his brain for a long time and he was concerned that he'd never get a chance to tell that story in comics. After Hurricane Katrina, the idea of a Manhattan that's half-submerged seemed like it might not get the best reception. So it got shelved for a while, and then eventually he asked me if I wanted to move forward with him on it...and that's where our second novel, JOE GOLEM AND THE DROWNING CITY came from.
While we were plotting Joe Golem, we were talking on the phone one day and the subject of puppets came up. Mike sometimes doesn't like to admit it, but puppets frighten him. He's fascinated by them, and that's why they show up in his work so much. We were talking about religious puppets that are part of the puppet show traditions of Mediterranean Europe, especially Italy...and especially Sicily, which I've visited twice with my wife's Sicilian family. I get excited when I'm talking so other authors and creators. Ideas arise out of the smallest things. The plot of FATHER GAETANO'S PUPPET CATECHISM just came to me as a sort of "what if?" question, and I explained it to Mike right there on the phone. He loved it, and I suggested that we do it as a novella and sell it alongside JOE GOLEM.
What sets this book apart from other Golden-Mignola collaborations?
CG: To me the most interesting thing about FATHER GAETANO'S PUPPET CATECHISM is that most people who are familiar with our work, together and individually, are likely to assume that this is something that started in Mike's brain. It has all of the elements. But we share a lot of similar fascinations and things happen when we're talking. The plot might have a lot of elements of things Mike loves, but it came from me. After BALTIMORE and JOE GOLEM, it was time to collaborate with Mike on an idea that had its earliest gestation in my brain.
Do you find puppets frightening? Why or why not?
CG: Not intrinsically, no, but I think they CAN be very scary. The clown puppet in POLTERGEIST scared the crap out of me. The ventriloquist dummies in the "Talking Tina" episode of TWILIGHT ZONE and in the movie MAGIC...they're puppets of a sort, I think...are pretty scary. Neil Gaiman's MISTER PUNCH is unsettling. If it's done well, a puppet horror story can be creepy as hell. Hopefully FATHER GAETANO'S PUPPET CATECHISM will unsettle some folks. That would be nice.
Though it is categorized as a horror novel, FGPC (it's fun to say - try it!) has definite crossover potential. The illustrations will grab comic book fans and graphic novel enthusiasts, don't you think?
CG: For the books we've done together, Mike has done mostly spot illustrations. The illos in FATHER GAETANO'S PUPPET CATECHISM are almost all spots, drawings of various puppets related to the story. While I do think comics fans - especially Mignola fans - will love this story, it's not a graphic novel. I'm always correcting people when they refer to these things as graphic novels. They're illustrated novels. The difference is significant. For comics fans who don't usually read novels, though, they might like to know that this is a novella, so it's a very quick read. And the book itself is gorgeous, from the Mignola cover to the deckled edges of the paper.
The storyline will also pull in those who like fantasy stories. Without giving too much away, can you tell us something otherworldly about one of your characters?
CG: The most otherworldly of the non-puppet characters is one who never appears on the page - the former caretaker of this WWII Sicilian orphanage. He built a beautiful puppet theatre, carved the wood and painted it and did the same for the puppets, creating their costumes, all so he could entertain these kids who have been orphaned in the Battle of Sicily. The thing is, this caretaker had a little magic in him...and so do the puppets. The trouble with magic is that it's all about intent, and sometimes intent can be misinterpreted. And that's all I'll say about that.
This book will categorized as adult fiction and will be shelved in the Fantasy/Horror/SF section of bookstores. Can teens read it as well?
CG: My daughter, Lily, just turned ten and I'd be comfortable with her reading it. I don't think there's anything in the novella that would be inappropriate for her. That said, it's not written for children, so the target audience is adults, but I'd encourage all readers, 14 and up, to pick it up. It'll make a beautiful little gift for Halloween or Christmas.
Set in the aftermath of World War II, Father Gaetano's Puppet Catechism discusses faith, war, fear, and responsibility. How did you handle the balance of themes and interweaving of history?
CG: The story takes place during WWII, though we never see any part of the war, only its effects. The orphans have been raised to believe in God and they are deeply troubled and questioning their faith after losing their parents in the battle between American and German forces on the island of Sicily. It's also very much - and in some ways like other works of mine - about self-determination. We're supposed to have Free Will. We weren't made with a single purpose in mind, but these puppets were. What does that mean? What happens if their purpose is altered? Who is responsible for these orphaned children, for these orphaned creations, for repairing the land and the faith of people in themselves? There's more, but I don't want to give anything away.
What is it that you hope readers will take away from the book?
CG: First and foremost, a few chills. I loved writing this. Mike's fascinations were some of my inspirations, so he was my first audience. I wanted him to get into it, to enjoy it and to have fun drawing the puppets and other illustrations that go with it. I think he did and that he's proud of it, as I am.
What's new on the JOE GOLEM front?
CG: After long...loooooong...negotiations, the ink is finally dry on all of the paperwork. Constantin Films has optioned the rights to JOE GOLEM AND THE DROWNING CITY and the great Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City, I Robot) has signed on to write, direct, and produce. As far as I know, Alex is furiously writing away and we're hoping to see a script sometime soon. Keep your fingers crossed. The most wonderful thing about this is that when we had our conference call with Alex to discuss what a film version would look like, he was much more focused on being faithful to the original material than we were. Mike and I know the realities of filmmaking and that a direct adaptation is not always possible or desirable, but Alex seems very determined to bring the book to life, which is very exciting. He's a truly visionary filmmaker - that phrase gets thrown around too much, but it applies to him - and if the studio backs up his vision, we'll get a superb film.
In addition to the novel Joe Golem and the Drowning City, you've also written the short story Joe Golem and the Copper Girl. Any other Joe Golem stories on the horizon?
CG: Nothing immediate. It's my hope that in time there will be at least one more full-length novel, and I'm sure we'll have other short stories, but those are down the line a ways.
Another Mignola-Golden collaboration, Baltimore, has had much success. What began as an illustrated novel evolved into a series of comic books and graphic novels, with additional volumes to come in 2012, 2013, and beyond. When first approaching your retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story The Steadfast Tin Soldier, did you foresee it expanding into such a litany of stories and series?
CG: We never intended for the novel to be the only appearance of the character, but it's been interesting how it has ebbed and flowed creatively. Even at the beginning, while plotting the novel - before I even started writing - Mike and I talked about this gap of time that exists in the plot when it's clear that Baltimore is out hunting Haigus (the vampire who killed his family) around Europe. It's literally years, and we knew we had this gap as an ace in the hole, a place where would could tell all kinds of stories full of European folklore and monsters and the weird, plague-stricken, post-war, semi-steampunky universe we'd created. We have grand plans for Baltimore's future, so stay tuned.
What are you currently working on?
CG: I'm writing an original solo supernatural thriller for St. Martin's called SNOWBLIND, collaborating with Charlaine Harris and artist Don Kramer on a trilogy of graphic novels called CEMETERY GIRL, and editing a new anthology.
What's been the coolest thing you've done this year so far?
CG: My eldest son, Nicholas, started college last month. He's attending my alma mater. The day of his matriculation was very emotional, but without a doubt the coolest thing I've experienced this year.
CG: Read FATHER GAETANO'S PUPPET CATECHISM...or listen to the audio book! Even better, buy copies for all of your favorite people for Halloween. It's a creepy little tale, perfect for the holiday!
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"A fun, scary little story about possibly evil puppets in a orphanage after World War II. All right in the author's wheelhouses, and even though it's short on pages, isn't short on ideas. [It will] be out in October, and would make a great gift for Neil Gaiman's All Hallow's Read holiday." - Comic Book Resources