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The story, originally published as a short story in Gaiman’s 1998 collection Smoke and Mirrors, is set on the streets of Los Angeles, where a lost angel tells a stranded traveler about being sent by God to solve the mystery of another angel’s murder — and to exact vengeance for the crime.
The graphic novel version, initially published in 2002, was described by Publishers Weekly this way: “Using sharp, crystalline drawings of the eternal city and ribbons of color that suggest creation’s simultaneous plasticity and solidity, Russell conveys a bright, illuminated world of purity and divine experimentation. His crisp and vividly rendered drawings capture the haunting sense of loss and isolation Gaiman expresses in this mythic tale of love and jealousy.”
Russell and Gaiman famously collaborated on The Sandman #50, “Ramadan,” and on The Sandman: Endless Nights story “Death and Venice”; the artist also adapted Gaiman’s prose works The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, One Life Furnished in Early Moorcock, Coraline and The Graveyard Book for comics. Russell’s adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales are currently being published by NBM.
Brigid Alverson: Given that the book was first published over a decade ago, a lot of people are probably unfamiliar with it. Can you explain briefly what the story is about?
P. Craig Russell: The story tells of the first murder, a murder in Heaven at the dawn of creation. Lucifer has not yet fallen. The story is told in the present day by an older man to a younger man, somewhat in the style of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Why this younger man is the focus of the older man’s story and who the older man really is is what gives Murder Mysteries its edge.
How do you feel about this work, when you look back at the distance of year? Does it reflect a particular preoccupation or direction you were going in at the time? Do you feel the art has held up well over the years? Were you tempted to redraw any of the images, and if so, did you?
As well as any artist can judge their own work, and you have to if you’re going to progress in any way, I put Murder Mysteries on my short list of works I’d show non-comics readers as an example of what the form can do. An adaptation should always add a layer of meaning to the story or include images that comment on the script in a way not spelled out in the original story. It should never be just a visual illustration of the dialogue and events of the story.
I’ve re-worked stories and illustrations over the years but didn’t feel the need to go for any in-depth changes on this one.
You have done a lot of adaptations of classic works such as the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde and the opera adaptations, and you have collaborated with writers, including Gaiman, on comics like Sandman. For this project, you were adapting an already completed story by a living writer — was the dynamic different in this case? How closely did you and Gaiman work together?
The different dynamic is stark and simple. One author is dead and the other is alive. Though I’ve never had a living author complain about my adaptations of their work I do, nevertheless, feel them peering over my shoulder, especially when I am carving out and disposing of great bloody chunks of prose. I do try to do it in such a way that the stitches don’t show when I sew it back together.
On the projects I’ve done with Neil two were original scripts, written for pictures. These have been fairly straightforward in that there was nothing I had to do as far as scripting goes. I merely had to find the visual structure for his script. The others, Coraline, One Life Furnished in Early Moorcock, The Graveyard Book, The Dream Hunters, Murder Mysteries, Neil provided me with a few pointers or notes to be mindful of at the beginning and then set me loose. If in the course of doing script and layouts I have questions, and I usually have a few, I simply drop him a line and he gives me what I need to proceed.
Why does this particular moment seem like the best time to revive this book?
I’m not sure why this particular moment is a good one to do a new edition of Murder Mysteries other than it’s been 10 years since its first printing, and Neil’s growing and enormous popularity means there are a lot of people who never saw the graphic adaptation of 10 years ago and will be glad to see it now.
How will the new edition differ from the old?
The new edition features a new cover and new and heretofore unseen visual extras. The new cover couldn’t be more different from the old. The first edition had an extremely simple cover, a couple of feathers and a title. For contrast we’ve made this one a full out ‘situational’ illustration and included material inside that shows its work-in-progress evolution.