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Interview: ‘Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime’

The newest Batman graphic novel is a collection of whimsical Gotham-esque takes on some favorite children’s stories, including Pinocchio, The Princess and the Pea, and The Snow Queen. We just posted a preview of “Alfred in Wonderland,” and now here is an interview with writer Derek Fridolfs and artist Dustin Nguyen, who previously collaborated on Batman: Li’l Gotham.

How were you introduced to Batman? Did you read the comics or watch the TV shows/cartoons as a kid?

Derek Fridolfs: Aside from some Batman comics I read growing up and watching the old Super Friends cartoons, it wasn’t until the one-two combo of the first Tim Burton film and Batman: The Animated Series in the ’90s that I really got hooked on Batman in a big way! By that time, I was in high school and about to enter college. Much of how I write Batman: Li’l Gotham, and by extension Batman Tales: Once Upon A Crime, is inspired by those cartoons and films.

Dustin Nguyen: Batman was the first pop culture character I was introduced to when I first arrived in America. I was introduced to him with the toys that came from the 60’s TV show and that led to watching the show and the love for the Batmobile at a young age. It was an amazing time and I really felt like Batman helped make me comfortable in a new country where I didn’t speak the language, but still had something in common with the other kids around me.

Q: How did you choose the stories for this anthology?

Derek Fridolfs: Since our first go around with Batman: Li’l Gotham was about holidays, I figured if we got to do more, that we’d try another theme. Fairy tales and fantasy are really popular for young readers (and readers of all ages), so it seemed like a great way to adapt some classic stories with these Gotham characters. As far as picking the right stories for the graphic novel, I sat down and just made a list off the top of my head of some of my favorite fairy tales along with popular ones that readers have liked. And it seemed to really narrow itself down on its own.

Dustin Nguyen: This time around it was completely Derek’s choice. We talked about a few stories that would be fun to adapt into our Gotham world and it went from there!

Q: Once you came up with each story, how did you go about turning it into a Batman story?

Derek Fridolfs: I actually found it quite easy. Many of the stories seemed ready to adapt with all the various Gotham characters. All it took was finding out who each story would center around, and how to fit in the vast supporting cast of characters from Batman. Some of our tales were more easily adaptable, while others were given a looser interpretation.

Damian Wayne (Robin) looks up to his partner and father, and hopes to eventually become Batman. So it seemed fitting that he’d play Pinocchio (in the short story “Waynocchio”), who also had dreams of his own. “The Princess & The Pea” story was originally just going to be a Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story. But it really lent itself to using all the villains in a fun way, along with the Gotham City law enforcement to tell an expanded tall tale. The Mad Hatter already is one of the recurring villains in the Batman comics, so retelling the fairy tale from Alfred’s point of view seemed like a natural extension of that. The story title “Alfred in Wonderland” is a fun play on words, by replacing Alice with Alfred. And “The Snow Queen” story was a way to make a very personal story, not just for Batman, but also for the person he’s trying to rescue. And the snow and cold were already specific to two of the characters I wanted to use in that story.

Q: There are a lot of references to the actual Batman comics and characters in these stories. Why did you choose to do that? Are you hoping these stories will be read by adult Batman fans as well as kids?

Derek Fridolfs: I think the best stories have something for every reader of any age. These stories might be the first time our younger readers are introduced to Batman or have these fairy tales read to them by their parents. For others, they might already be familiar with the Batman characters and the fairy tales, and part of the fun will be comparing how these characters fit into the fairy tales. And sometimes there are things that go over kids’ heads that the adults might enjoy themselves. Some of my favorite responses happen at conventions or store signings, when we meet parents that share their love of comics with their children. Also, I like hearing from librarians and teachers that help get these stories into the hands of children. And of course, it’s great to hear from the kids themselves, who share their enthusiasm.

Dustin Nguyen: As with our entire Batman: Li’l Gotham series, we’ve always wanted it to be truly for all ages, so that everyone can enjoy it. And if a parent happens to be reading with their kid, they can catch references back to stories they are familiar with, and expand on that with their child. That way, the stories can continue outside of just our pages. Batman has such an expansive history and catalog of stories that should be shared.

Q: Were there any stories you thought about but were too crazy or difficult to adapt as Batman stories?

Derek Fridolfs: “The Snow Queen” story was the one I was most worried about adapting. While there’s been a few different popularized versions of it told in books and film, I was concerned about how loosely I could adapt it, while still retaining the feel of the original tale. There are a lot of scary and dark elements in the original story that just didn’t work for our presentation, like the part where broken glass fragments get into the hearts and eyes of characters. But, we were able to keep much of it on track, and it became this quiet and solemn tale to end our book with. “The Snow Queen” was the first story I thought of when deciding which fairy tales to adapt. It’s the adaptation I’m most proud of.

Dustin Nguyen: From an art perspective, I tend to believe there are no difficult stories to illustrate, just boring ones. But in the case of Derek’s scripts, everything was just insanely exciting and fun. It made my work very easy.

Q: Which story did you have the most fun with?

Derek Fridolfs: Visually, I was really looking forward to how Dustin would draw “The Snow Queen.” We decided early on to tell it more like an illustrated children’s story, with one beautiful image per page along with it being narrated, instead of using standard comic book word balloons. That would help set it apart from the other stories, and it was the one I was most excited to see come together.

I also found “The Princess & The Pea” story to be a lot of fun as well. The original tale is a very short story, so it gave us more room to use our imagination and really expand upon it with all of Batman’s villains getting a spotlight. And we even managed to sneak a few other fairy tales into that one as well. Really, all the stories were enjoyable to work on. And I often found myself sitting back and allowing the characters to tell their version of it to me, while I enjoyed the silliness of it all.

Dustin Nguyen: They were all equally fun! But as far as the one that I hold closest to me, it’s definitely “The Snow Queen” story. Those are four of my favorite characters in the Gotham universe and they’re in my favorite setting.

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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