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Exclusive: Writer Si Spurrier on Boom!'s new Labyrinth: Coronation #1

Contributed by
Feb 26, 2018

Jim Henson's Labyrinth holds a special place in most geeks' hearts, and David Bowie's riveting portrayal of Jareth, the Goblin King is a performance bristling with energy, mystery, and menace.

Boom! Studios' outstanding new imprint, Archaia, heads back into the magical realm of Jim Henson after last year's impressive Dark Crystal series, Power of the Dark Crystal, with a fresh period-set series exploring the illuminating backstory of the infamous Goblin King.

Written by Simon Spurrier (Godshaper, The Power of the Dark Crystal) and matched with evocative art by Daniel Bayliss (Jim Henson’s Storyteller: Dragons, Kennel Block Blues), Labyrinth: Coronation is a 12-issue miniseries offering a penetrating peek into the intricate world presented by the Muppet Master.

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Here's the official synopsis:

Before Sarah braved the Labyrinth to save her brother, another young woman sought to save a young boy named Jareth from the clutches of the Goblins. Set in 18th-century Venice, Italy, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth is a striking look into the history of the Labyrinth itself, and what happens to the little boys who don’t get rescued.

This is the untold history of the Goblin King.

SYFY WIRE spoke with Spurrier about how this dark fantasy project came about, how Bowie's standout performance in the 1986 feature film inspired their story, and what secrets will unfold as this series scampers into 2018.

Enter into the discussion below, then check out our exclusive 5-page preview plus variant covers in the gallery below, then tell us if you'll embark on this revealing odyssey when Jim Henson's Labyrinth: Coronation #1 lands on Feb. 28.

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How did this origin story project of Jareth the Goblin King arise at Boom!?

Si Spurrier: Simply, I’d worked with the whole team -- the guys at Henson and our intermediaries at Archaia/BOOM! Studios -- for The Power of the Dark Crystal book, which launched last year. That’s a project I couldn’t be prouder of. They’re an amazing bunch from top to bottom, and I think we all got quite a kick out of how effectively the machine ran. With licensed properties -- especially where family legacies, cult status, and deliberate genre ambiguity are part of the package -- it can turn into a developmental nightmare all too easily. We seemed to find our happy place pretty quickly, and made a truly cracking comic (though I say so myself). I think it speaks to the ageless legacy of Jim Henson that these properties are still oozing potential for stories of value and relevance today.

Anyway, being the opportunistic little fanboy I am, during the Dark Crystal project I made sure to broadcast out loud at every opportunity just how much of a big deal Labyrinth was to me too, just in case a project like this ever arose. Sure enough, when the stars aligned they twinkled at me first. I literally bit off my generous and forgiving editors’ hands in my haste to say “yes.”

The Labyrinth feature film is a real touchstone for the '80s generation. What did the film means to you and what were your associations with it?

Both The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth were a huge influence on me as a kid. I still see their traces in everything I write today -- from a frankly bloodyminded refusal to follow genre conventions to an unhelpful fixation on gross stuff as comic relief. Above all, both movies are very good at hiding their true selves. Under all those layers of inventive monsterology, creative grotesquerie, and hairspray pop are a pair of sophisticated parables: one about the wonder of youth, the other about the transition into adulthood.

When it comes to working within these worlds, the trick is to tread the tightrope between adoring fanfic and bolshy iconoclasm. Not too similar, not too different. That’s especially true of Labyrinth, where part of the movie’s DNA -- part of what makes it unique and so fondly remembered -- is that it’s ambiguous as to whether any of it is really happening. It will come as no surprise to those who’ve read my work before that I have a huge soft spot for stories that care more about meaning than measurable truth.

In other words, it would’ve been very easy to tell a story which settles the Big Question once and for all: Is the Labyrinth a real place, or does it only exist in the imagination? Instead we’ve found a rather lovely way -- well, I think so anyway -- to preserve the elegant ambiguity while leaning hard into the wonders that arise when Reality Doesn’t Matter.

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What can readers anticipate as this period story unfolds?

For starters -- to navigate some of the foggy waters I was just mentioning -- we’re using a framing narrative which takes place in and around the action of the movie. The conceit is that whenever he’s off-camera, the Goblin King Jareth is telling a story to his captive, the baby Toby. It seems to be the story of how he came to be the Goblin King… but of course he’s characteristically slippery about whether he’s really the baby featured, and whether it’s actually a true story at all.

So immediately we have an unreliable narrator, layers of ambiguity, and some delightfully dubious motives. A little later in our series the same story is picked-up by an eye witness who claims to have been present in both time periods -- but he’s arguably even less reliable than Jareth. It’s a fun bit of smoke and mirrors, basically, which lets us frequently check-in with Bowie-era Jareth in between his bouts of tormenting poor Sarah.

But the MAIN tale -- irrespective of its truth -- takes us back far into the past, exploring a very different version of the Labyrinth. Here the tale begins not in 1980s America, but in 1790s Venice. And this time the stolen child isn’t the victim of a young girl’s thoughtless caprice, but of his own father’s shame. And it’s not a spoiled teenage sister who delves into the madness of the maze to retrieve him, but a working class mother desperate to find her abducted son.

What’s emerged from all these wonderful ingredients is a dynastic melodrama revolving around the previous ruler of the Labyrinth: a terrifying entity known only as The Owl King. It’s all redolent with the same joyful fantasy and adventure as the movie -- with the same knowing sense of humor -- but it consciously leans in different thematic directions and posits a version of the Labyrinth shaped by a very different mind from that of the movie’s young Sarah.

...and of course, this being the Labyrinth, there’s always a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Being set in 18th century Venice, what was the research process in depicting this age and its details?

I have a few little reference books clogging up my shelf, and of course a lot of googling, but frankly part of the joy of a world like the Labyrinth is that it presents a cracked mirror fantasy version of its inhabitants’ hopes, dreams, and fears. So whereas our story features a maze of canals and gargoyles, renaissance palaces and art, masked balls and lavish aristocratic excess, one doesn’t exactly need to know much about 1798 Venice to enjoy it all. It’s far more of a problem for poor Daniel, I suspect, who has to have a pretty good idea about styles, architectures, and costumes before he can go ahead and twist them in an appropriately gobliny manner.

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How did Daniel's art enhance and embrace your framing device and advancing story?

He’s nailed it. From the look of the characters to the creative treatment of all the new goblins, monsters, and mad stuff we’ll meet along the way -- he’s risen to the challenge every time. There a load of stuff I’m dying for you all to see, and it’s all because of Daniel’s visuals. The hag in #2, the Burning Bridges in #3, the first time we meet the night troll Septimus, and the awe-inspiring sequence in #1 where the goblins come scurrying out of the gutters between the comicbook panels for the first time. It’s great stuff.

What elements of Bowie's iconic performance as Jareth guided your depiction of him in his younger incarnations?

As I mentioned above, one tries to walk the tightrope between terrified deference to the character and pugnacious irreverence. Bowie’s tragic death makes the Jareth role even more drenched in complicated extremes of mystique, sexuality, and ridiculousness than before. Luckily the framing narrative means that although we spend quite a bit of time with him -- and although the whole story is abstractly about him -- he’s not the protagonist per se. As Jareth himself puts it: "Sometimes a baby is a just a thing." The story belongs to those who love it.

What were some of the challenges or rewards of this collaboration and can we look forward to exploring other stories from the Labyrinth?

This series will be a longform beast, packed full of delicious stuff, so it’s way too early to be thinking about what comes next. As for challenges and rewards: this is the Labyrinth. It exists solely to turn your fantasies into obstacles -- which in turn exist only to be overcome.

...which is the pretentious way of saying sometimes, as a creator, the challenges are the rewards.