Aline Brosh McKenna, co-creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and screenwriter of The Devil Wears Prada, will publish a graphic novel, Jane, that reimagines Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre, EW can announce exclusively. Jane will be published by Boom! Studios.
Illustrated by Eisner Award winner Ramón K. Pérez, Jane transposes our heroine to the modern era, where she’s an art student who has finally left her small fishing town for the bright lights of New York City. Soon, she realizes that the city and her talented peers are more intimidating than she expected, so Jane gets a nannying job to earn extra money. But the comfort that job provided grows thin when she starts falling for her young charge’s father, Rochester — a wealthy man with a dark secret.
Below, McKenna speaks to EW about the project’s origins, and we reveal a sneak peek at Jane’s stunning cover art:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this project come about?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: I got very interested in graphic novels after I adapted one called Rust, and I met Ramón at Comic Con when I was working on Rust. Ramón was there with Tale of Sand — it’s the book he wrote that won the Eisner, and it’s the most remarkable, gorgeous book. So I had this idea to do sort of an updated Jane Eyre story, and I was going to do it as a movie, and then when I saw Ramón’s work I became obsessed with doing it with Ramón.
I’ve seen every movie based on Jane Eyre, and I’ve read the book many times. It’s one of those that I just have gone back to a lot in my life, and I wanted to do sort of a contemporary version of that.
But I love the idea that Rochester’s mysterious circumstances kind of take place in a bigger, grander world — almost in a different genre from Jane’s world — because a lot of the obstacles in Jane Eyre, the marriage and romantic obstacles, are specific to that era. They have to do with marrying well, and those sorts of concerns. So the obstacles and barriers in a contemporary setting needed to be a little bit different. When we started talking about Rochester, I started seeing him almost in a Bruce Wayne type of way.
Like strong, dark…
Yeah. It’s very much like, Jane Eyre comes to New York, and that’s what intimidates her. She has a sad backstory, as Jane Eyre does in the book. [Brontë’s] book is several sections, of which the Rochester [stuff] is just the middle section, because there’s a whole section about her childhood and then there’s a whole section afterwards when she goes and lives with the family with the priest.
I always forget about that!
I know! People think of it as just being the Jane-Rochester love story, and the movies usually concentrate on that. So in this case, he’s not just a tortured, wealthy man. He’s somebody with an actual dangerous history, who is in peril. So it’s added this air of genre and mystery to it that I loved, and graphic novel is a great way to render the story, because it’s a very cinematic form. It lives in the visuals and the emotion, and the spaces.
I had to wait a little bit for Ramón because he’s so incredibly in demand. He’s like a rock star among the comic book illustrator guys. If you ever go to a Comic Con with Ramon, it’s like walking around with the Beatles. Then he was available and he got to work on it, and he started sending me pages and I just… I swoon every time I get them.
Is the book already finished then?
No, he’s still working on some of it. I’ve seen the whole book in rough, and he and I did some revisions. There’s an additional bad guy in the story now, which is very cool. There’s some new relationships, definitely new settings. Jane is an art student in this version — she comes to the city to be an art student. He’s finishing it up and it’ll be out in the fall.
Was the art student aspect inspired by her drawings in the book?
Yes. I tried to draw things from the book and kind of transpose them a bit. It’s also inspired by my love of Hitchcock movies like Rebecca and Suspicion. That sort of high-Goth tone. That was another reason that I think it works — gothic, high-end, spooky love stories were very much what inspired transposing it in this way.
That’s one of the things I think is so great about Jane Eyre, and really about all the Brontë sisters’ work. They capture this isolation and sadness and romantic yearning. There’s always something that comes with the romantic yearning that is this kind of sad, dramatic undercurrent to the love affair. It’s never a skipping-through-the-daisies love affair. The Brontës had a pretty sad life, and their sisters died [in childhood]. So I think that’s why they had this great melancholy. So this book preserves all that but transposes it into a modern setting.
I love that. I’m really interested to see how you’re going to take on the woman in the attic. Is that part of it?
That’s an interesting thing — we did something different with that, and it also speaks to the sort of genre, comic book aspects of it. That was really what was cool about the genre comic book stuff: it allowed us to turbo-charge the story in a way. It adds this other element of drive and intrigue and mystery, which is incipient in the [original] book, but in Jane Eyre, it’s really just focused around who’s in the attic.
How do you figure out how much to leave in to keep it as Jane Eyre?
I think it was stuff that had spoken to me since I was a kid. I tried to analyze what had appealed to me. So in the graphic novel, instead of being a big scary castle, in the beginning it’s this very, very intimidating three-story apartment in New York. She’s from a small town, so New York is overwhelming to her to begin with, and then the space that Rochester lives in is something she’s really unfamiliar with.
What was the biggest challenge?
I would say that the challenge was really just balancing those genre elements so you had the core of what makes Jane so lovable and attractive. I think the other thing that has always made Jane Eyre attractive to women is that it’s not about being pretty. [Rochester] doesn’t love her because she’s pretty; he loves her because she’s such a moral example for him. That story makes you think that any man, no matter how rich or handsome or high above you in society, if he could see your inner goodness, that would inspire him to love you.
I think that is a very core fantasy of the book. It’s also a bit retro, and I wanted to find a way to say, “What is it in their relationship that inspires him to make changes in his life based on her innate goodness?” But also for her to challenge herself to uncover aspects of herself she would never have if she had not taken this job.