Attending The Goblin King’s Coronation: Simon Spurrier On Labyrinth

by Hannah Means Shannon

Boom! Studios’ imprint Archaia will be publishing a 12 issue series delving into the origins, life, and times of Jareth, the Goblin King himself in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. This story, titled “Coronation“, is written by the prolific and genre-spanning Simon Spurrier (Godshaper, The Spire, Suicide Squad, Angelic, and many more), and illustrated by Daniel Bayliss, both of whom are no strangers to the world of Jim Henson comics, having crafted Dark Crystal tales previously.

What makes “Coronation” particularly exciting, beyond exploring the world of Labyrinth in bold new ways, is the fact that so little has been previously known about Jareth and how he came to be the Goblin King, and now Spurrier and Bayliss are set to take us on a strange tour of that rise and reign. At the center of the story is a very different woman in search of a very different child than we see in the Labyrinth film, but they are the key to the world later characters will explore.

Perhaps just as importantly, but less obviously, by exploring Jareth’s life and motivations, “Coronation” is also going to be instructive in getting to know the Labyrinth itself, its whys and hows, that is, if Spurrier and Bayliss are prepared to reveal those truths.

The first issue of Labyrinth: Coronation arrives on February 28th, 2018, and ahead of that release, we have Simon Spurrier on the site today to talk in his always eloquent manner about what makes this book tick.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Though you’ve been working in the field of Jim Henson comics for a while now, I’m still coming off of Godshaper as a reader, so I’m wondering: did creating that comic bring you to any new thoughts on how to handle mythology and the driving force of hope in stories?

Simon Spurrier: Ha! Jesus, Hannah, couldn’t you at least ease me in with a “Where do you get your ideas?”

Okay, well, I guess the simplest answer is that I’ve been pretty lucky lately. It sometimes feels like all my my recent projects have been expressly made to each scratch a different itch in my brain. Whether it’s the raw stuff of faith and story at the heart of something like Godshaper, or the snarly politics of The Shadow, or the childlike wonder of a sci-fi parable like Angelic, or the sheer fannish delight of laser beams and queer kissing in a cherished shared universe (Doctor Aphra)–I’m pretty well covered.

The beauty of Labyrinth is that it combines several of those preoccupations in one handy and beautifully dressed package. And yeah, inevitably some of the narrative ghosts and thematic echoes from one project will influence the next. So to me, Godshaper is a meditation on how the stuff which seems important–truth, faith, justice, respect, ambition, wealth–is worthless when set against the more fundamental needs of the human spirit: namely art, wonder, and access to other humans. All of which has played quite heavily into my approach to the new Labyrinth book, in which truth plays a distant second fiddle to the pursuit of a worthwhile story.

Does a fantasy cease to have any value just because you know it’s not real? Of course not. That notion crops up in a lot of my work, it turns out, and Labyrinth‘s a pretty perfect vehicle for it.

HMS: In your previous Dark Crystal work, you’ve helped expand upon the universe of the original story, taking us into the “future” outcomes for characters and races. Did working within that story world influence you in any way when taking up the world of Labyrinth?

SS: A little, but mostly just because the various moving parts are well oiled and mesh together efficiently–the folks at Henson at one end, me and the artist at the other, with the uber-humans at Archaia/BOOM in the middle. That said, the two projects are quite different in their creative parameters. The Dark Crystal sequel was based on existing material–so the collaboration with Henson tended towards conversations about alteration, evolution, and adjusted perspectives. Whereas the Labyrinth book features entirely new narratives and scenarios, so it’s been more a case of blasting out a joyous monsoon of ideas and seeing what the rest of the team wants to keep.

[Variant cover art for Labyrinth: Coronation #1 by Jill Thompson]

HMS: The Goblin King has got to be the most interesting character in this world of interesting characters and ideas. But something so canonical to a key figure as telling their origin no doubt has to be handled carefully.

To start with, how did you work on creating his “voice” to use in this new comic? I can imagine it has to have traces of a voice readers will recognize, but we’re also dealing with a significantly different version of him, so that difference must be important.

SS: The first part’s not too tricky. You start from the position of knowing your audience thinks it’s ahead of you–“duh Si, we know how the story of the Goblin King ends! It ends with him being, y’know, the Goblin King“–and then you very patiently tell them they’re wrong. To this end I’ve created a cute little contrivance: a member of the King’s gobliny staff who can’t keep his big mouth shut and keeps basically blurting out loud whatever the readers are thinking. At which dear old Jareth can arch an elegant brow and correct him. As he puts it: sometimes a child is just a thing. The real story belongs to those who love it.

In fact the whole comic operates with a clever little framing narrative. The conceit is that in between all his scenes in the movie, Jareth is lounging around the castle telling his captive Toby a separate–but parallel–tale. So every now and then in OUR main story we’ll see him pause in his narration to go do the stuff we see in the movie: terrorize Sarah in the Cleaner tunnel, strike a deal with Hoggle, etc. etc., all while reminiscing about about a very different time (and form) of the Labyrinth. It’s a completely new and completely self-contained saga, but it’s intertwined with the action of the movie in a rather pleasing way.

The tale he’s telling is ostensibly his own, but–as we quickly discover–it’s really the story of a young mother desperate to retrieve her child.

As for the voice: lots and lots and lots of listening to Bowie interviews.

[Cover art for Labyrinth: Coronation #2 by Fiona Staples]

HMS: What questions did you, personally, most want answered about the Goblin King, and did you feel you got to answer them on this project?

SS: To be blunt: who he truly is. What he wants. Why he is the way he is. Why’s he so hot on barn owls?

It’s early days yet, and there’s a hell of an adventure to get through on the way, but the intention is absolutely to answer those questions, yes.

HMS: What do you think the new series “Coronation” adds to the mythology and scope of the world of Henson’s Labyrinth, and what new avenues might it open for future storytelling?

SS: I obviously have to be a little circumspect about getting into details–we have a LOT of awesome surprises which I don’t want to spoil. But I think it’s safe to say that at the heart of the exercise is a determination to preserve the ambiguity of what the Labyrinth actually is. The temptation with any fantasy is to gravitate towards endless detail–Maps! Encyclopediae! Histories!–which doesn’t suit the vibe of the Labyrinth AT ALL.

On the other hand, if you take the less romantic view that the entirety of the movie takes place in the over-active imagination of a pubescent kid, it naturally restricts access to new tales.

The trick is to preserve both of those extremes while finding wriggle room to do something new.

For me the solution is twofold. On the one hand we gently imply that the Labyrinth is this utterly plastic, reflexive world which has no set form, but reacts organically (and crazily) to those within it. Be they rulers or visitors. A subconscious realm which exists solely to confound its occupants–or to be overcome. And then on the other hand, we make it very clear from the get go that Jareth is an inveterate trickster and liar, and you can’t necessarily believe a bloody word he says.

Between those two logic-flags–which collectively reassure the reader “don’t worry about the what, only the why and the how”–we discover a wealth of opportunities. In this case we’re delving backwards in time–all the way back to the end of the 18th Century, to the Republic of Venice on the eve of Napoleon’s conquest. You don’t have to know anything about history to recognize the lavishness and romance of the period (and, sshh, to know that there were more than a few flickers of it within Sarah’s version of the Labyrinth. Ever wondered why? Read on!).

So we know what the Labyrinth looks like when it’s trying to confound (and/or corrupt) a girl on the cusp of womanhood in the 1980s. Now we’re going to find out what it’s like when the traveller is a very different person: a hotheaded working class woman from a very different age, whose fantasies are of a very different breed.

As I say: I’m not giving much away here. But you can expect some batshit crazy new characters, monsters, challenges, allies and twists. For instance–by way of tease–did you ever wonder who was the Goblin King before Jareth?

[Variant cover of Labyrinth: Coronation #2 by Rebekah Isaacs]

HMS: [Stunned pause] Now I do! Can you talk about working with Daniel Bayliss on “Coronation”? Though he is no stranger to the world of Henson stories, do you think there were any new needs that came up in the storytelling that allowed him to take fresh directions?

SS: I think you’d have to ask Daniel about the approaches he’s taken to the material, but it’s clear from my perspective that he’s as much a fan of the source material–and as determined to treat it with respect–as I am. His art’s been a revelation to watch come in every week: effortlessly oscillating between the sort of frothing, grimy, mischievous filth we’d expect of the goblin kingdom, and the refined aristocratic extremes of Venetian Renaissance society.

Apropos all my above waffling about preserving ambiguities–walking the tightrope between “the Labyrinth is real” and “the Labyrinth is imagined”–there are several moments in issue #1 where the line between those extremes blurs beautifully. Daniel’s perfectly captured the essence of paranoia and creativity which best allows our cackling goblin pals into the real world, and to do so he’s used the comic book medium in a truly unique way.

Like, if the real world were a standard comic book page, then the Labyrinth would exist in the gutters around and behind the panels.

So THAT’s where the goblins wake up, and whisper…

Huge thanks to Simon Spurrier for humoring our questions and answering at such length, not to mention giving us so many glimpses of the story yet to come in Labyrinth: Coronation.

Labyrinth: Coronation #1 will arrive in comic shops from Boom! Studios’ imprint Archaia on February 28th, 2018. It reaches Final Order Cut-Off (FOC) today, February 5th, 2018, so get your orders in with your local comic shop!