Pre-Christmas, I had the great pleasure of reading the collection of Anthony Del Col and Werther Dell’ Edera’s noir-infused reimagining of those classic tales of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys from Dynamite Entertainment. The Big Lie takes the characters well out of their comfort zones and delivers something rather wonderful. As I said in the review:
Taking the same dark Americana twist on this trio of classic characters as Riverdale and Afterlife with Archie, this ends up as a classic noir tale that wouldn’t feel out of place next to the brilliant darkness of Brubaker and Phillips’ recent noir tales.
It’s an excellent reinvention, perfect for those with fond memories of the original and those loving something with a darker, pulp twist. So, as a bonus, I fired off some questions for the writer Anthony Del Col, whose previous credits include his co-creation Kill Shakespeare, Dynamite’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini, and Assassin’s Creed: Trial by Fire. We talk all things Nancy and the boys, including the challenges of reimagining something so well remembered, the artistic collaboration across continents, and the themes of the tale, brought to life by everyone involved.
(Picture from Anthony Del’ Col’s Twitter)
Richard Bruton: How did the series come about? Was it a case of having to negotiate the two properties with copyright owners, or did you have a relatively free hand?
Anthony Del Col: After reading the amazing Afterlife with Archie (by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla) a couple years ago, I started to think about what literary characters I loved reading as a child, and how their stories could be re-told in different genres. It didn’t take too long to imagine a modern-day noir retelling of a Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys adventure.
But before I dove down the rabbit hole, I reached out to the licensing agent that oversees the properties, Laura Becker of Moxie Co., and pitched her my idea. She loved it and also noted that the comic rights were coming available–and so I worked with her to get the rights holders (Simon & Schuster) on board, and then we pitched it to publishers, with Dynamite being the most excited about this reboot.
RB: When you were beginning The Big Lie, there must have been a fine line between staying somewhat true to the originals and delivering something different. Was there any temptation to go darker than you actually did?
The thought of doing something really dark here – for example, turning Nancy, Frank, and Joe into killers – didn’t really enter my mind. To me that wasn’t just crossing the line; that was taking a bomb and destroying the line completely. It was too much. These characters are thought of as quite wholesome and I wanted to honor that.
To me, it became MUCH more interesting to play in some different grey areas. I wanted to create a scenario in which the three leads would have to create the perception that they had turned bad in order to solve the murder of a loved one. How would they react to this new world they found themselves in?
RB: One theme that does occur repeatedly through the book is the breakdown of relationships between the children and their parents. I’m assuming it’s a perfect way to force all three of the kids to grow up on the page, and drives the story simply and effectively. Is that what you were intending?
ADC: You’re absolutely right. I wanted to put all three titular teens in a space where they felt they had nowhere to turn to for help. They can’t turn to their parents, they can’t turn to the police, they’re completely alone, stranded in this new world of theirs. I always like to say that I enjoy taking my characters and throwing them into the deep end of the swimming pool immediately to see how they react. Will they swim? Will they start to drown? And in this case, will they help each other throughout, or just focus on saving themselves?
RB: Obviously, your writing is only one part of the book. The work by all concerned really makes this a great comic, with the art by Werther Dell’Edera worthy of special mention. How did Werther come to the book?
ADC: Myself and Dynamite editors Matt Idelson and Matt Humphreys spent a great deal of time looking for the right artist for this book. We looked at dozens – if not hundreds – of possible artists. And then Matt H recalled Werther, whom he had worked with on a one-off at DC Comics a couple years ago. We immediately realized that he was the right one for this project. He has such a unique style, and to me, that alone is really important. I wanted the look to stand out and feel like it’s not just another superhero or action series.
RB: How did you work together? There’s a particular noir cinema style in certain panels and pages that really adds so much to the feel of the tale. Did that come from you or Werther, or was it more collaborative?
ADC: First off, Werther is a GREAT storyteller. He understands angles and how to get across story or character moments through each panel on a page. I’m so lucky to be collaborating with him on this.
Since Werther and I live on different continents, we haven’t actually met in person, but we exchanged a LOT of emails to discuss the looks of characters, the tone, vibe, etc. And then when we all realized we were on the right page, I gave him as much freedom as possible. My scripts would point the way, but Werther would often enhance and improve the story and character moments. It’s been a great collaboration.
RB: Similarly, the coloring from Stefano Simeone adds a cinematographer’s eye to things, the color palettes massively altering the look of the page. How important do you feel this was?
ADC: I’m SO glad you’re focusing on Stefano here. He’s a HUGE part of the team and I’d say that without him this book wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is.
Stefano actually works in the same studio as Werther so they’re really a tag-team on this project (and others). I (along with editors Matt and Matt) gave Stefano instructions that this book should look very unique – and that’s what he’s done.
As the series goes on, and the characters get deeper and deeper into their worlds of crime the color palette changes. At the beginning (and in flashbacks) it’s brighter with lots of yellow and blues. But as we dive further it becomes darker with more purples (echoing the bruises the characters are receiving?), blues and greens.
(Two very different color palettes from the beginning and end of The Big Lie, perfectly illustrating Del Col’s praise for colorist Stefano Simeone and the way coloring conveys a darkening tone.)
RB: Perhaps the character that’s changed the most is Nancy. When she enters the story at the end of chapter one, she’s introduced as something of the femme fatale. But very quickly she turns that idea around, becoming the driving force behind the entire scheme. Gone is the femme fatale and instead we have a strong, independent woman about to be challenged by the secrets she’s uncovering. In many ways, Nancy seems the star and the Hardy Boys the sidekicks. Is this something you’d agree with at all?
ADC: There are a couple interesting points you’ve brought up here. First of all, I’ve always seen femme fatales as very strong characters in noir stories. They’re the ones that often are driving not only the plot, but dictating the direction of where their “prey” is going. They drive the bus. So I’ve always been interested in them and their stories.
So, yes, one could say that Nancy is a femme fatale in this tale. Especially with her introduction, which is very noir-ish and strong. I wanted that, and I wanted it so that as the story progresses she loses control of the story – and her life in general.
Is Nancy the hero of this story? I tried very much to keep it balanced (each character is the narrator of parts of the tale) but at the end, yes, this is Nancy’s story. Frank and Joe must deal with the death of their father and the strains of their brotherhood but Nancy has the most interesting character arc from start to finish.
RB: With the end of The Big Lie and the publication of the collection, is this the end of your Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys tale? Or are there plans to bring them back?
ADC: My original vision was for two story arcs, The Big Lie being the first half of the complete story. So I would definitely love to do more. The first collection ends on a cliffhanger with an even bigger “bad guy” at play, and it’s something that will challenge our three leads even further. I hope to get the green light on that sometime soon and dive into the writing of it – I’m really excited about it all!
Thanks to Anthony Del’ Col for taking the time to talk to us at Comicon. His great take on the Hardy Boys and Nacy Drew; The Big Lie is out now from Dynamite Comics. And you can read my review of it here.