Through a glass lightly: An interview with Frank Beddor

Like the titular character of his graphic novel series Hatter M, Frank Beddor is as difficult to pin down as a March Hare, elusive as a spinning Top Hat, and clever as any trained Milliner this side of Wonderland. Splicing reality and fantasy, concrete fact with creative speculation, and seedy despair with a seed of hope, Beddor is the ingenious auteur behind the break-out books that follow Hatter Madigan’s cross-continental, cross-temporal journey through our world.

C&G Monthly contacted Beddor for an interview in December and found him eager to share his creative speculations and wonderfully full of mischievous wisdom. It was as delightfully fun to read his interview transcripts as any page of The Looking Glass Wars.  We think you’ll agree.

Comics & Gaming Monthly:

The Hatter M Institute for Paranormal Travel and Research is presented as a legitimate organization in the books with convincing “evidence” profiled in pages preceding or following the story.  How much of the “evidence” is real, and how much is made up?

Frank Beddor:

Let's start by replacing the words 'made up' with more thrilling vocabulary like 'speculation', 'conjecture', and of course,  'Imagination'. What my colleagues and I do at the Institute is far beyond a retentive gathering of  historically sanctified evidence.  Our research is not measuring and recording but discovering the hidden paradigms and poetry which tilt reality in our reader's favor. Instead of verifying 'what'…we enable our readers to speculate upon 'what if'… most facts are suspect and recorded by someone somewhere with an agenda. Our facts and evidence stem from repeated travel through an imaginary Pool of Tears to continually re-affirm the presence of wonder.

Although Hatter M runs parallel to Looking Glass Wars and follows the same set of fantastical rules (ie. Events natural to his world), but it must also obey the laws and events of our own world.  What were some of the challenges for you in transplanting Hatter M and his reality in our own?

Our primary challenge is mapping and connecting the overlapping timelines (ours and Wonderland's) accurately but with enough elevation and enhancement to thrill beyond the mere quotidian level. There are a lot of i's to dot and t's to cross when overseeing dual overlapping realms.  We always strive for veracity with our dual timelines as they serve as a way to ground the fantastical sagas in an agreed upon temporal arena and further suspend disbelief.

Between you and Liz Cavalier, how much research is done on places/people/events/etc. in order to present the stories of Hatter M?  How do you divide the workload?

In addition to both Cavalier and my own exhaustive round-the-clock mindscaping (though I probably do work harder…sigh) we are very ably assisted by our colleagues at the Hatter M Institute.

Going back to our initial radical cartographer Sir Greg Cook (who mysteriously fell off the 'map' several years ago), we have had several erudite sleuths handling much of the research workload:  Colonel Nate Barlow - a transpersonal field operator expert in the recovery of hidden meaning – and Miss Emily McGuinness –  a renowned raconteur on virtually any topic of speculative worth – are both at this very moment up to their cerebellums in fact-checking our latest Hatter M adventure which is set primarily in Japan and titled The Zen of Wonder.  Miss Emily is a stickler for obscure Victorian Orientalia and has spent months deep within the labyrinthine mindset of 'nothingness'.  Meanwhile, Colonel Barlow is at this moment meditating at the Happy Cat Monastery where Hatter Madigan may or may not have found enlightenment.

Do you recall what first inspired you to re-imagine the story of Wonderland?

The inspiration came like a bolt of lightening when I came upon an exhibition of illuminated playing cards at the British Museum.  It was a rainy afternoon in the previous century and I was virtually the only visitor. Perhaps someone in the restroom…I don't know.  But I saw a display of ancient playing cards.  Among these cards there were several that reminded me of the art of Alice in Wonderland

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This moment of inspiration led me on a journey to find ALL OF THE CARDS which in turn uncovered the true story of Alyss of Wonderland and the saga of the Looking Glass Wars.

Hatter M: Book 3: “The Nature of Wonder” incorporates Native American spirituality as an element of the venerated “White Imagination” or Luminescence.  Please comment on your appropriate pairing of “positive visualization” and reverence for the natural world.

In the course of our investigations into 'wonder' we have encountered metaphysical truths that we feel would serve our readers in the years to come.  Reverence for nature and the power of the mind's eye to enhance and uplift any context is something we want to share because we wholeheartedly believe in it.  Native cultures around the world (and other worlds!) have kept this knowledge alive for others to someday discover.  We believe the time is always right to explore the potential of the mind and the Imagination.

Although there is much humour and “youthful” subject matter (ie. power of imagination, etc.), the artwork of Hatter M is generally dark and claustrophobic.  What were your reasons for creating that dichotomy, and how did you go about designing the visual aspects (either with the artists[s] or solo)?

We guide but do not dictate the aesthetic choices of our artists.  So I can only try to interpret from my vantage point what you are seeing. To me the darkness of the art represents the reality of this world.  While we try to lighten it with humor, the world we inhabit is not a whimsical, fantastical place.  But the mind and imagination can [also] light up this darkness with the power of humor, positivity and courage.

On a purely graphic/visual note, the dark imagery is often broken by exceptionally bright pieces of art filled with brilliant light and saturated colors.  The  thematic tension between Light and Dark (the forces of White and Black Imagination) is played on the page like a musical piece.  Think of the 'Light' as the silence between the notes (ie. Darkness). Or vice-a-versa.  Both are necessary for the piece to be understood.

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Besides real-life personalities (eg. Bram Stoker), Hatter M encounters mythological personalities (eg. Spring-Heeled Jack) on his journey.  Site an example of a real-life or classic fictional person you chose to include and explain why you felt them a good fit for the series.

The first 'real-life person' that Hatter encountered [was] Jules Verne.  This meeting between Hatter and Verne introduces the mythos and rules of Hatter's search. But while Verne's companionship and conversation assisted Hatter in finding a method to the madness of his search, we also want to emphasize the 'two-way' nature of this and subsequent encounters with 'real-life' people

Both participants are affected [as] each influence[s] the thoughts, aspirations of the other.  When Hatter meets these historical people, dual timelines merge and we can trace the effects of this meeting in our history.  When Hatter met Jules Verne in Paris, France in 1859, Verne was still a young writer in search of his life's work. His encounter with this intra-realm traveler may have inspired him to begin to write about fantastical travel leading to Around the World in 80 Days among other classics.

What new landscape or historical events would you be excited for Hatter M to visit next if linear time was not an object?

If linear time were to be sidelined (which is very possible) we would love to have Hatter visit PRESENT TIMES.  It is our opinion we need emissaries of White Imagination now more than ever.  Can you Imagine Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan and Queen Alyss taking on the powerful entities that choose to cast so much Darkness across our world?  Well if you can Imagine vividly enough, it might just happen!