Some 25 years ago, David Bowie famously turned to a group of goblins and quizzically stated, “You remind me of the babe … The babe with the power!” If comic publisher Archaia has anything to say about it, we may finally learn what on earth he was talking about.
Over the course of the next 12 months, Archaia editor-in-chief Stephen Christy will have his hands full overseeing a long-rumored graphic novel based on Jim Henson’s classic fantasy film Labyrinth. “We can say it’s a prequel,” he says with understandable excitement. “It’s the story of how Jareth is brought into the Labyrinth for the first time. So, it doesn’t deal with Sarah, it doesn’t deal with Toby or anything like that.”
Fans of the 1986 film will recall that Labyrinth centered around the imaginative and introverted Sarah Williams, as portrayed by Jennifer Connelly in one of her earliest roles. Harboring animosity towards her young half-brother, Toby, Sarah called on Jareth the Goblin King to take her crying sibling far away. He obliged, forcing Sarah to navigate a fantastical maze to retrieve the child, all the while tempting her with his charming personality and revealing pants. Bowie’s portrayal of the ’80s-haired, Spock-eyebrowed Jareth, while laughable to critics at the time, earned him a place in the hearts of fantasy fans everywhere. The film revealed nothing about the King’s origins, however, leaving the door wide open for Archaia to explore the character further.
“It’s a very tragic story that is the opposite of Sarah’s, which has triumph at the end,” Christy explains. “It’s a prequel, so we know what happens in the movie. We know how it’s going to end: Jareth is going to be the Goblin King … so we’re showing how he’s pulled into the Labyrinth for the first time. It’s going to be cool. We’re switching up the dynamic of it, but what we’re doing is completely true to the spirit of the original.”
Since signing a deal in 2009 with The Jim Henson Company, Archaia has adapted several of their properties for comics, including Fraggle Rock, a lost Henson script entitled Tale of Sand, and The Dark Crystal, which got a prequel of its own in last month’s Creation Myths: Volume 1, overseen by illustrator Brian Froud. Having worked alongside Jim Henson to design and realize the unique creatures and environments seen in both Crystal and Labyrinth, Froud is a key ingredient in the mix, and will be “doing all the character designs and all the covers and conceptualizing and everything. It’s going to be spectacular.”
Of course, since music also a played such a large role in the movie, Christy is hoping to see songs integrated into the graphic novel as well. “I don’t know if this will work out,” he cautions, “but I want to do songs where they’re songs being sung (by characters) and we show the notes on the page, so you can actually play along.” Which only begs the question: will these be David Bowie songs? “We’re talking,” he says with a smile. “The budget to get Bowie to do one song would be the budget of all the books, but we’re talking to him to at least get his blessing or maybe an introduction or something.“
“He also has likeness approval,” Christy clarifies, an important fact given that the (as-of-yet-unannounced) artist on the book will be “drawing Jareth like a young David Bowie.” The character would be Sarah’s age or a little older during the course of the story. “He’s kind of a punk in his own way. We’re huge fans so we know that if we’re getting excited, other fans will.”
This isn’t the first time an attempt has been made to expand on the world of the Henson film. Tokyopop published a sequel series of Manga comics between 2006 and 2010 entitled Return to Labyrinth, written by Jake T. Forbes. Return saw a teenaged Toby drawn back into the Labyrinth by Jareth and groomed to become his successor. The books also introduced a host of new characters, prompting criticism from some readers that the story was straying too far away from source material. Fans also questioned Tokyopop’s decision to expand the series of books from three volumes to four, resulting in a four-year gap between the first and final chapters of the sequel. When asked if Archaia would also tell their story over the course of several volumes, Christy felt plans could go either way. “The story is kind-of contained like a movie. If we divided it, (the question is) where do we divide it at? We might do it as a two-volume thing,” he says, “to give people something to wait for a little bit. To give people something to be excited about and have a chance to make it little more epic.”
At the end of the day, his main concern is honoring the integrity of the original property. “We’re really taking our time with stuff. At Archaia we never want to do things the way other people do it – unless they’re doing it better than we’re doing it. We are such fans of the material that we couldn’t in good conscience just sh– something out.
“I hope that Jim would be happy to see how a whole generation grew up with this movie,” he says, reflecting on the film’s cult following. “Labyrinth was a big deal to a lot of people. It was one of those movies that stays with you from your childhood. We can probably count on two hands the movies that really affected us when we were kids, and I think for a lot of people Labyrinth was one of them.”
Look for Archaia’s Labyrinth prequel graphic novel to be released sometime in late 2012.