Greenberg blends historical fiction and fantasy in Glass Town (Abrams ComicArts, Mar.), a graphic novel inspired by the imaginary worlds the Brontë siblings created as children.
What attracted you to the Brontës and their childhood?
I’ve always loved their novels. Then I discovered that they had written all this amazing juvenilia. It resonated for me because my first two books are set in an imaginary world, so to a certain extent I knew how it felt to invent a world and populate it with characters, to be a creator-god of your own small universe. What blew my mind was how incredibly detailed and epic their world was; considering how young they were, it’s a feat.
Is your Glass Town based closely on the Brontës’ version?
Oh, I made up a lot. When I was researching, I initially got very attached to the source material, but there was no way I could use it all. In the end, I picked five characters that were most intriguing to me and loosely kept their plot arcs.
Also, my book isn’t just about that imaginary world; it’s about creating an imaginary world, and the way that Charlotte Brontë’s reality and fiction began to blend. She would see her characters looking at her through classroom windows, and there are descriptions of her and Emily playacting their own characters to each other well into their teens.
Anything notable you kept out?
A lot of colonialism. They were children of their time. I didn’t want to leave it out entirely, because it was true, but I wanted to tread a fine line for modern readers. That was one of the hardest things.
In the graphic novel, how did you find a way to differentiate between what was real and what was fantasy?
I created three separate color palettes. The present day is in blues and grays because it’s meant to be quite sad—Charlotte’s looking back; she’s the only one left alive, the other siblings have died, and she’s conversing with an imaginary character. The childhood flashbacks are in sepia, and the imaginary world is in full color. I want it to feel like you’re in this amazing Technicolor world after the muted color palettes of reality.
Much of your work deals with the nature of storytelling; what got you interested in metanarratives?
I was a big reader as a kid, worldbuilding stuff like Philip Pullman, Ursula Le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, Joan Aiken—and I still reread them. When you read and reread, it gets into your brain. I love folktales and fairy tales because they’re like the bones with nothing on them.