Aline Brosh McKenna may be best known as the writer of the movies The Devil Wears Prada and 27 Dresses, and the writer and executive producer of the CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Now she’s added comics to her resume after turning Charlotte Brontë's classic novel Jane Eyre into a graphic novel.
Jane, an updated version of the story written by McKenna and illustrated by Ramon Perez (A Tale of Sand), will be published by Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios, on September 19. In this version, Jane is a small town girl who moves to New York to go art school. She lives in Brooklyn—her roommate is a fashion designer and drag queen—and she works as a nanny for the mysterious and powerful Mr. Rochester.
PW talked with McKenna about what a 170-year-old novel has to offer modern readers and how she brought the story into the 21st century.
What drew you to Jane Eyre?
I have always loved that book. I remember reading it when I was about 11 or 12 and walking through my house with my nose in the book and not wanting to go downstairs for dinner and holding the book in my hand and weeping [because I had to stop reading].
The thing that spoke to me more and more as I matured was the romance with Rochester. I realized, as someone who had written a lot about male-female relationships, how much that relationship had imprinted itself on me: The remote and damaged man who looks past the superficial charms but is hampered by another woman. It's a very strong love template.
What did you want to keep from the original?
To me, the essence of it is Jane's goodness and her loving-ness and her longing for family and longing to belong somewhere and her steadfast honesty and purity that pierces the heart of this lonely man.
How did you create the supporting characters, such as Jane's roommate?
I was trying to find companions for her story that I thought would suit her and teach her and interest her. There's a gravity and sadness to the Jane Eyre character, which is why I always loved her. She was a little brown wren, so the beginning is a little brown wren in a big colorful city with a colorful roommate, and the first thing he does is show her around this place that has a little tiny hole for her, almost like he found a tiny bird in a box. A lot of it was contrasting the tiny little sparrow of Jane with the bigger world.
How is your Rochester different from Charlotte Brontë's?
The thing about the Brontë sisters, and the Austen novels and Edith Wharton, is that the financial concerns are paramount. Everyone is scrambling to hold on to their fortunes. [My] Rochester is very wealthy in a self-made way, and his predicament with respect to his wife does not have to do with his financial circumstances. He has a different kind of trauma in his past, but there's still that idea of being haunted—in this case he is haunted by someone he truly loved, so that was slightly different. It was sort of about trying to change some of the external things but be true to his soul.
What I always loved about him is that he's serious, almost mean, but he gives Jane compliments and the compliments are very profound. He sees her depths, and that makes her fall in love with him. It's a bit like Shakespeare: You can take it and transpose it and embellish it, but it retains its soul, and that's what we were always conscious of—to have it maintain its Brontë-ness.
How was making Jane different from your usual creative process?
We got to do whatever we wanted. Hollywood is compromises, you're always compromising, there's always a committee—not to say that's a bad thing, but that's what it is. This was in some sense the most pure artistic enterprise that I've done as a professional writer, because we could just dream it and make it so, and that was a wonderful feeling.
Did you have younger readers in mind?
Yes. It's not very racy—a little bit of raciness, but less than you would see on TV. We didn’t put anything in there that would put off young readers.
I want to tap the shoulder of the 11-year-old girl I was and show her this book, and for me that's very much who it's for, for young people who love romance and fish-out-of-water books, but really romantic things that have a bit of a moral conversation in them about how to be a good person and how to live your life. I'm just so tickled that after five years I have something to imagine my 12-year-old self to buy at the bookstore.