The early 1900s, just outside London. Oliver Diplexito, the meek son of a British industrialist, has discovered the identity of a notorious thief, a man who has evaded Scotland Yard and seized priceless artifacts. The culprit? Mr. Scant, his family butler. Oliver expects to be Scant’s next target, but the truth is far more frightening. Mr. Scant wants Oliver to be his partner in crime.
The Thief’s Apprentice (Carolrhoda Books) marks the debut of novelist Bryan Methods and the first installment of the Master Diplexito and Mr. Scant books. This middle-grade series, beginning in October, combines wickedly funny prose and timeless, high-stakes adventure.
A story as unusual as The Thief’s Apprentice demands a cover that’s equally distinctive. Enter Richard Sala. For more than three decades, Sala has blended monster movies, fairy tales, and crime capers in his acclaimed graphic novels.
Sala’s striking sequential works—The Chuckling Whatsit, The Hidden, and Delphine, to name a few—are equal parts The Maltese Falconand The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but his line-work and watercolors are unmistakably his own. In celebration of the Thief’s Apprentice cover reveal, Bryan spoke to Richard about inspirations and adaptations.
Bryan Methods
Bryan Methods: First of all, thank you so much for your wonderful cover. Your work often draws on the iconography of genre fiction, especially horror movies and pulp detective stories. What draws you to these worlds?
Richard Sala: I was kind of a weird kid. My family had moved us from the “big city” (Chicago) to a town in Arizona, and it took some time before I felt like I fit in there. I loved reading and started making up my own stories and characters. I used to take walks at night on our street, and I’d try to imagine what might be going on behind the lighted windowsmaybe a mad scientist working late or the meeting of a secret society. Or I’d picture some super criminal dashing across the roof of our neighbor’s house. The houses on the street looked so boring in the day time, but at night they seemed full of mysterious possibilities. I felt really alive during those walks, connecting with my imaginationand I’ve tried to recapture that in my drawings and comics ever since. And I look for that same sensibility in books and in old horror movies or pulp stories. I just feel at home there.
Methods: Would you enjoy seeing your work adapted into another medium, be it animation, a novelization, or a live-action movie? Which works do you think would suit adaptation best, and how involved would you like to be?
Richard Sala (by Richard Sala)
Sala: I was asked to adapt one of my very first stories, “Invisible Hands,” for animation on MTV, and it ran as a serial on the show Liquid Television a million years ago (in the 1990s). I liked the way it turned out, but I haven’t done any more animation since. I’ve had some talks with Hollywood people, but nothing has ever come of it. It would be a dream to see a live-action movie of any of my stories. I wouldn’t have to be involved at allI’m such a fan of moviesbut I’d hope they’d at least listen to my suggestions! Meanwhile, I like being a cartoonist, since I get to do everything myself, exactly how I want to.
Methods: This is something I’ve always wondered, and I hope you don’t mind me asking—when working as a cover artist, how closely do you need to read the text of the book?
Sala: Very, very closely. I remember being a kid and feeling a bit disappointed when the cool scene on the cover didn’t happen in the book! I read The Thief’s Apprenticeseveral timeswhich was easy, because I loved it. I wanted to not only depict a moment in a certain scene that occurred, but also try to capture the spirit of the book, which is fun and mysterious and exciting all at the same time.
Methods: I currently live and write in Japan, where there is no stigma attached to adults reading weekly comic anthologies explicitly meant for children on their daily commutes. Comic books and graphic novels are increasingly popular in the West, but often when they are made dark and gritty for adult consumption. Do you think there needs to be a time to put away childish things?
Sala: Adults like mystery and thrillers and excitement and fun as much as kids do, so in theory there should be comics created for everyone, no matter who you are. When I started out making comics, I had no idea who might like my work. I was really just making them for myselfand because I wanted to be a part of the world of mystery and thrills that I loved. But since then, I’ve heard from every kind of person you can imagine telling me they like my work. I never set out to make comics that would appeal to everyone, so I’ve never expected that. I just wanted to connect to the kind of people who liked taking walks at night and using their imagination like me!
The Thief’s Apprentice – cover sketch
Methods: Do you like the idea of collaborating on a major project, and who would be your ideal collaborative partner, whether as a writer or an artist?
Sala: I admire the writer Steven Moffat, who revitalized and reinvented classic mysterious characters like Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who for TV but still kept their original spirit intact. It would be cool to do adaptations of classic horror stories in that way. I did a version of Dracula adapted for kids and that was fun. I’ve been very lucky so far with the handful of collaborations I’ve done. My favorite was definitely the comic strip I drew for Lemony Snicket. It appeared in the book It Was a Dark and Silly Night. I loved that experience, so I think he would be at the top of my list of people to work witheven though I’ve already done it! And of course I also hope I can one day work with Bryan Methods again!