The Evil Thing graphic novel is not another typical Cruella De Vil origin story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I got the chance to interview the Evil Thing author, Ms. Serena Valentino about how Evil Thing came to be and the art that the book features!
TBL: Thanks for taking the time today Ms. Valentino! I’ve read a few different Cruella origin stories this year and this one is my favorite. Can you tell me how Evil Thing came to be?
SV: Thank you so much! There are a lot of really fantastic Cruella stories out there right now, and I know Cruella is thrilled by them all, she has been basking in the glory of all this attention, but I know she will be so pleased to learn this one is your favorite. I wanted to tell Cruella’s story for quite some time, and it was always my plan to tell it as an autobiography. Cruella has such a large personality, and I felt the story would be best told from her strong iconic voice, but since the book is a series and largely based in the magical realms there never seemed to be a place for her, until my editor and I decided to take a slight detour from the current timeline and world and spend some time with villains with origins outside of the magical realms. So I had spent a lot of time thinking about Cruella, what makes her tick, and how I wanted to tell her story. I was thrilled once I finally wrote her novel, and so excited to adapt it into a graphic novel with Arielle Jovellanos, she is such a talented artist and brought so much to this story.
TBL: What was your experience writing a graphic novel and was it vastly different from writing a full on villain origin novel?
SV: I started my writing career writing comic books and graphic novels, so it was a pleasure to return to a medium I love so well. It was a bit different adapting a novel to a graphic novel format, something I hadn’t done previously, but it was a fun experience seeing the characters and their world come to life in a visual way, and Arielle did such a lovely job. Writing for graphic novels and prose novels are completely different experiences. I’d say writing prose novels is quite a bit easier, because you have unlimited space in which to tell your story. But there is nothing quite like the collaborative process of creating a graphic novel, especially with a talented artist like Arielle. It’s a magical experience.
TBL: Cruella suffers from loss and parental manipulation in this novel and honestly, I was so sad for her despite her being an attempted dog napper. Did you know right away that she had to have a backstory that readers could empathize with?
SV: I told the story that made sense to me psychologically. When I write my Villains books, I think about who the characters are on the screen, and attribute their behaviors, personalities, and deeds to possible past events that may have caused that behavior. It’s up to the readers if they choose to empathize with the character. With Cruella, it felt natural and organic to me that she had suffered great loss, been neglected by her mother, and saw material gifts and possessions as a substitute for love. I think Cruella’s story was probably one of the most heartbreaking of the series because she suffered so much loss, and we see her struggling for the love and attention from someone who will never give it to her, while she rejects the love and attention from almost everyone else around her who sees now neglectful and manipulative her mother truly was. The most heartbreaking is when we see those moments where Cruella realizes this, and strives for happiness, but is somehow always overtaken by her desire to please her mother.
TBL: The art in this book is so interesting! I noticed that as Cruella suffers more and more loss, her physical look changes. It’s so subtle at first, a line or two on her face and her hair becomes more unkept. How closely did you work with Arielle Jovellanos to get the look of the novel and Cruella herself just right?
SV: When I write a graphic novel script I include visual descriptions, such as Cruella’s physical appearance slowly shifting throughout the story to reflect her mental state, and it was beautifully realized by Arielle’s artwork. I feel she did an incredible job of capturing Cruella’s emotions.
Can you share with us what you are working on next?
I am currently working on Book 9 of the Villains series, (villain to be announced), as well as a couple of other secret projects. I wish I could share the details because I know readers are going to be over the moon with excitement, I know I am!