* Thanks to Supriya Kelkar for conducting this interview
Hi Jim and Garrett! Welcome to MG Book Village. I’m so excited to chat with you about your middle-grade debut, HAM-LET: A SHAKESPEAREAN MASH-UP, illustrated by Elisa Ferrari, set for release March 29th from Dark Horse. With this retelling, you’ve made Hamlet accessible and fun for so many younger readers. What inspired you to tell this version of the story?
Ever since college we have loved all things Shakespeare. So, when Dark Horse Comics came to us with the idea of writing a graphic novel about Hamlet as a pig, we jumped at the chance and decided to write a Shakespearean Mash-Up that would introduce readers to all of Shakespeare’s most famous tragic characters in a fun way. In our version, they are now part of a fledgling theater company led by Horatio the Rabbit where every one of them wants to be the star of the show. In order to win his kingdom back, our Pig Prince Ham-let must teach this troupe the valuable life lesson that the play of life is bigger than just your part. If there’s a method to our mash-up madness, it is simply this: to transform tragedy into comedy and to show the very thin line that separates the two. But this too, of course, is one of Shakespeare’s greatest lessons. That’s why we wanted to include Nick the Donkey from A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a member of our band of animal players.
Can you tell us a bit about your work in Hollywood and what it was like writing a middle-grade graphic novel? Did you approach it the same way you write a screenplay?
We have written and sold well over twenty screenplays to virtually every studio in Hollywood, including Shakespeare-inspired screenplays like Renaissance Man, which was based on Jim’s personal experience teaching Shakespeare to soldiers. Like Shakespeare, we have written comedies, tragedies, and dramadies or what Shakespeare would call tragicomedies. We approached Ham-let very much the way we would a screenplay. What does the protagonist want? What obstacles does he have to overcome? How does his emotional journey evolve over the three acts? Shakespeare himself provided us with the blueprint. Still, writing a graphic middle-grade novel is one of the greatest challenges we have ever faced. It is like writing and directing a movie at the same time. Every panel functions as a single shot in a film. And that’s before the illustrations are done! We loved working with our graphic artist, Elisa Ferrari, and were excited to see her sketches, pencil drawings, color pages and finally the lettered drafts. The editing process at times felt like a new mountain we had to climb. But thanks to our editor Megan Walker, we hope to climb that mountain again soon. As readers will note at the end of Ham-let, the sequel is hopefully set…
A sequel? How exciting! I can’t wait. What do you hope your readers take away from HAM-LET: A SHAKESPEAREAN MASH-UP?
We hope our readers develop a lifelong interest in Shakespeare and that by the time they get to college they will have a real desire to study Shakespeare. That being said, we believe that parents and educators alike who are familiar with Shakespeare will appreciate the humor and the many Shakespeare references and jokes throughout. Sort of like a Shakespearean scavenger hunt.
And now…for the big reveal!
What did you think when you first saw the cover art?
What did you think when you first saw the cover art? Our first reaction to the cover art created by Elisa Ferrari was one of pure delight. The superhero font of the title was the perfect way to attract readers to this classic tale. We absolutely loved Valerio Alloro’s vibrant colors, the lettering by Frank Cvetkovic and the design by Diego Morales-Portillo. All of this made our vision come to life and the book feel very real!
Thanks so much for introducing us to Ham-let and his world. Where can educators learn more about you and your work?
Garrett is on Instagram @garrettschiff and on Twitter @yumpaschiff
Jim is on Twitter @jimburnstein
Jim Burnstein, Professor and Director of the University of Michigan’s nationally acclaimed Screenwriting Program since 1995, managed to beat the odds and make it as a successful Hollywood screenwriter without moving from his home in Plymouth, Michigan. Burnstein’s screen credits include Renaissance Man, the 1994 comedy directed by Penny Marshall and starring Danny DeVito; D3: The Mighty Ducks; and Love and Honor, starring Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer, co-written with Garrett K. Schiff of Los Angeles. Other Burnstein and Schiff credits include Ruffian starring Sam Shepard (ABC/ESPN) and Naughty or Nice starring George Lopez (ABC). Currently in the works is The School of Jeff, a television series with Big Bang Theory exclusive director Mark Cendrowski atttached to direct and produce. Burnstein and Schiff are delighted to see their first middle grade graphic book, Ham-let: A Shakespearean Mash-Up written for Dark Horse and published by Penguin now availabe to students and educators everywhere! It is the first of what they hope will be many such comedic Shakespearean mash-ups!
Garrett Schiff is a writer/producer of narrative films, television, documentaries and now graphic novels. After selling a TV show to Viacom while still college, Garrett sold his first screenplay to Universal, wrote animated projects for Disney Animation and Dreamworks, then partnered with Jim Burnstein to write and produce Love and Honor starring Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer, Ruffian and the George Lopez movie Naughty or Nice for ABC and ESPN, as well as selling screenplays to nearly every studio in town. Currently in the works is The School of Jeff, a television series with The Big Bang Theory exclusive director Mark Cendrowski atttached to direct and produce. In 2018, Garrett produced the Academy Award winning short documentary “Period. End of Sentence.” This year he produced “Long Line of Ladies” which premiered at The Sundance Film Festival. Garrett and Jim are thrilled to see their first middle grade graphic book, Ham-let: A Shakespearean Mash-Up written for Dark Horse and published by Penguin now availabe to students and educators everywhere! It is the first of what they hope will be many such comedic Shakespearean mash-ups!