With the release of the Kickstarter for Carmen: The Graphic Novel, we are delighted to be joined today; by opera singer, writer and director Alek Shrader.
Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi! Thanks for reading this. I’m Alek Shrader, opera singer and director, and now a first-time comic creator. I’m a lifelong comics fan and collector, and I still have my childhood collection, worn out and a few covers missing. It’s very fulfilling to be a part of the collision of these two worlds of opera and comics. As my legendary collaborator P. CRAIG freaking RUSSELL would attest, opera has excellent stories worth telling in this format. And just wait til you see what ANEKE has done with CARMEN… she knocked my socks all the way off. ARIZONA OPERA has produced this project, and I think it’s just swell for an opera company to publish a comic book. Much love to you all!
What can you tell us about Arizona Opera?
Arizona Opera has been presenting opera since 1971 to the Phoenix and Tucson regions of Arizona, and after over 200 concerts and opera productions, they continue to seek innovative ways to expand the reach of opera as an art form. They are dedicated to their local communities, including educational outreach and Spanish-language groups, which highlights their strong value of service, in combination with musical artistry and stewardship. I like them so very much. They’re led by Joseph Specter, President and General Director. Cassie Robel took the lead on our CARMEN project and was later joined by Courtney Clark. Their enthusiasm and support of this graphic novel has been unfailing.
Can you tell us about the origins of Carmen: The Graphic Novel?
This project was created for the Arizona Opera OnPitch Challenge, which was essentially Shark Tank for opera. AZO was searching for an innovative means of potential revenue which was anything but donations from wealthy patrons (which is how most American opera is funded). My sister sent me the link and we brainstormed a few ideas (of which we have many). We agreed a comic book would be great for school and new audiences while also being financially and logistically achievable for an opera company. So, I did a ton of Googling and put together a business plan. Then I submitted my pitch with a now-infamous video featuring my extensive comic collection, and I was chosen as a winner. We had a short list of potential operas to adapt, all of which were coming up in AZO’s season. CARMEN was the obvious choice, as it is among the most famous operas ever created and lacked a recent graphic adaptation. Then it was up to me to find artists… which was daunting, as I had zero contacts in the comics industry. But gratefully, nearly everyone I reached out to on socials or via websites responded! The comics industry is good and generous! I mean, I asked P. Craig Russell for advice and he offered to do the layouts! Amazing!
For anyone unfamiliar with Carmen, how would you describe it?
CARMEN is a story about a young woman who faces challenges to her autonomy from society, misogyny, and men who won’t take “no” for an answer. All she wants is freedom, and yet outside forces seek to control her. She is objectified and vilified. She has strong emotions and sometimes gets into trouble. She wants to live her life her way, and so she’ll let Fate decide. It’s very timely, to say the least. Bizet’s music is gorgeous (and you have heard it before, even if you don’t know it’s from this opera). The art of P. Craig Russell and Aneke is equally ravishing. CARMEN is an icon.
How did P. Craig Russell, Aneke and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou join the team?
Honestly, I just reached out on social media! When Craig wrote back, I couldn’t believe it. I thought of a ton of questions so I could pick his brain until he decided to hang up on me… but what actually happened was we talked about OPERA and then he offered to do the layouts himself! I did not expect that to happen, and I was absolutely ecstatic. With Aneke (as with our guest artists providing art prints for the Kickstarter), I simply sent a polite DM, and promised to pay her full rate! As a performer with a rate, I know that one must not muck with rates. You can either afford to work with an artist or you can’t– don’t lowball, it’s insulting. Aneke is the *perfect* artist for this book– her art, her colors, and her VOICE are vital to how CARMEN’S story is told. And I got lucky with Hass! I am a longtime subscriber to his industry mag PanelxPanel, and I follow him on twitter. One day, he put out an open call for projects, and I responded immediately! The dream team had been assembled!
What it is about Carmen; that made you want to adapt it into a graphic novel?
Among the opera crowd, CARMEN is a household name. And yet, there are some people out there who would love this opera– they just haven’t been invited in the right way. Graphic adaptations now exist for anything in prose, and that already huge readership is continually growing. I have Slaughterhouse Five, the graphic novel. Romeo and Juliet, the graphic novel. Annie, a Marvel Movie Special. Etc etc. Why not opera? If opera doesn’t want to continue to be thought of as exclusive or old and dusty, we have to reach out in *other ways* to communicate our stories. Nothing will ever replace a live opera performance, but comics can serve as a gateway– give these readers the story in the way they prefer to consume it, and maybe they’ll be curious enough to come to the opera house to see the show. CARMEN has remained a favorite and most popular opera for over 150 years for good reasons. The music is gorgeous, the story is dramatic and engaging, and I think the character of Carmen still speaks directly to modern audiences. We are all enriched by this story, this OPERA.
Was it a challenge to write Carmen: The Graphic Novel?
It was! I consider myself a writer, but this was a totally new thing. I bought *literally* every how-to book I could find, which was great for technical education. But I learned the most by working with P. Craig Russell. His notes on my scripts were blunt and direct, and very actionable to make adjustments! (I actually threw out the first draft and started over from scratch!) Initially, I thought there might be a connection between the duration of a musical moment in the opera and space on the page. That formula might exist, but I never really cracked it… Next time, baby! Eventually, we had to dedicate our limited page space to the dramatic story beats and pacing, and Craig is a master there. I would have loved more pages to expand, but working in somewhat restrictive parameters can cause brilliant solutions!
We understand that there are several Kickstarter-exclusive prints available. What can you tell us about these prints?
We have SIX exclusive OPERA art prints from seven phenomenal artists, and each one is STUNNING. ERICA HENDERSON, COLLEEN DORAN, and MARGUERITE SAUVAGE have created images of CARMEN. NATACHA BUSTOS has created an image of ARIADNE (from ARIADNE AUF NAXOS). ERICA D’URSO & MARISSA LOUISE have created an image of TOSCA (from TOSCA). ANA MIRALLES has created an image of THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT (from THE MAGIC FLUTE). Absolutely incredible!
Do you have a favourite Kickstarter reward?
How can I choose amongst my children? I will PROUDLY add to my collection a signed copy of CARMEN, and EACH of the art prints. And then I’ll look at that wall every single day and marvel that such art exists. And I’ll be happier for it.
Any message for the ComicBuzz readers?
Thank you for reading and letting me explore outside my comfort zone! This is a dream-come-true. It’s wish fulfillment. I hope that you’ll check out our book, and I hope you’ll check out the opera, too!
We would like to say thank you to Alek for talking to us about his new graphic novel. We would like to wish the whole team of Carmen: The Graphic Novel the best of luck.
Feel free to check out the Kickstarter: Carmen on Kickstarter.