If I were to tell you a prestige book-making publisher and the creator of Hellboy joined forces for a retelling of Pinocchio, how fast would you leap from your chair? What if I also told you said project involved Lemony Snicket supplying annotations, and he grows increasingly mad due to reading this utterly bizarre and hilarious tale? Well, this is no longer some bizarre fever dream as the project is now a brand-new Kickstarter from Beehive Books.
Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, award-winning colorist Dave Stewart, and celebrated novelist Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) are teaming up with Beehive Books for an illustrated and annotated edition of Carlo Collodi’s classic novel Pinocchio. The new deluxe hardcover edition includes over more than 60 original illustrations from Mignola, which breathe new life into the deep charm, gloom, and chaos of that most seminal novel. That, and over 100 full-text annotations presented as slipped-in, typewritten sheets produced by an increasingly bonkers Snicket. It’s as much a book as a proper multimedia experience.
So, how did such a profound comic experience come to be, you might ask? We crack that mystery in an all-new interview with Beehive Books publisher Josh O’Neil, who discusses the timelessness of Pinocchio, the book’s development process, and even a possible, potentially more insane follow-up (?), among other topics.
And stay tuned this Sunday (March 19), as a lengthier, unedited version of the interview features on the AIPT comics podcast.
AIPT: What makes Pinocchio so timeless?
Josh O’Neil: That’s a great question. It’s funny. Pinocchio is, I think, one of the most adapted works of all time. It’s staggering how many movies and books and comics, and just different versions of this story, have filtered out into the world over the years. But what’s fascinating to me is how rarely they actually harken back to Carlo Collodi’s original story. But it’s sort of because it’s been adapted so much, it’s kind of taken on a life of its own where Pinocchio is now everything that has ever been published under the banner of Pinocchio, including the Disney movie, including a million other versions.
AIPT: Multiple Disney movies. <laugh>.
JO: Yes. True. True. It feels like right now, we’re in some kind of Pinocchio revival. It feels like there’s more Pinocchio stuff than ever. What’s most interesting to me, specifically about the novel itself, about Collodi’s Pinocchio, is just like the absolute anarchic madness and darkness of it. It is like an unremittingly bizarre story. Considering it was written for an audience of children, it is shockingly dark and frightening and also hilarious. It’s very rare that you see a re-imagining of it that truly captures this almost kind of Kafkaesque Bugs Bunny thing happening in Pinocchio. What’s exciting to me about this edition that we’re working on with Lemony Snicket is the chance to sort of recapture that energy, which feels like it sometimes gets lost in some of the Pinocchio adaptations.
AIPT: When you use the word madness, bizarre, and hilarious. I immediately think of Hellboy and Mike Mignola. Why was he the perfect fit outside of what I just said?
JO: Yeah. Well, I mean, you pretty much said it. His aesthetic is so utterly perfect for this world, and he has a sort of fixation on puppets and puppetry, which you see a lot of in Hellboy. He also has just a profound obsession with Pinocchio. We didn’t come to him with this project. He came to us with it. We had been talking to him potentially about doing a book for us for a long time, and he had always said Pinocchio is his dream project to get a chance to illustrate it, maybe going back to the nineties. His brother did like a novel that’s kind of a sequel to Pinocchio, and Mike did the cover for it.
So this, I think, was like a fully developed project in his imagination before it ever wound up with us. He wanted to do this for a long time. Then we had talked to him about doing it for quite a while, and it was really when the pandemic hit that everything shut down, and suddenly everybody was sort of trapped in their house. He had time for a heavy-lifting kind of project.
We really leave it up to the artist exactly how much art there is in our Illuminated Editions. We sort of expect X amount, but then whatever you wanna do, you have a lot of flexibility in how much you wanna deliver. And Mike did like 60 illustrations. It’s just a privilege to be a part of the creation of this whole thing.
AIPT: What goes into crafting the cover art, but also like the cover materials and getting that so that it’s under budget, but also on time too?
JO: It’s my business partner Maëlle Doliveux, who’s the creative director of Beehive, is like a genius-level designer. She thinks in a way I’ve never seen before. We like to engineer the hell out of these things. In each book, there are slip case editions, and the slipcase has a little die-cut circle that’s kind of a standard across the series. The slipcases are both embossed and debossed. So they have this kind of three-layer-like sculptural quality to them, and they’re foil blocked, and they’re not just beautiful. They’re unlike any other books that I’ve seen before. That is really what I think Maëlle does best, is growing and coming up with something that’s really truly original.
AIPT: Lemony Snicket is supplying annotations for the Pinocchio book. Can you walk me through how Lemony got involved with the project to start?
JO: We have our sort of usual process for how we do these books. First, we usually find the artist, and then we figure out what book they’re gonna work on. We always commission some kind of original essay or introduction afterward or something. Either an author or sometimes a filmmaker or an academic. We reached out, our number one person was Lemony Snicket. I’m such a huge fan of his work, and I feel like there’s a spiritual kinship between… I mean, Pinocchio is basically a series of unfortunate events. Like I think that the best way to describe that book that is just horrible things happening to Pinocchio in a series. It really feels like the Baudelaire twins have a spiritual connection with Pinocchio.
AIPT: Maybe they’re in an adventure in the background we don’t know about.
JO: Yes, exactly. So we reached out, and we aim high with usually who we ask oftentimes, we have to ask dozens and dozens of people. We have dream people, and they’re all very busy. I thought he probably’ll say no. But it couldn’t, couldn’t hurt to ask. He answered very quickly and said, “You know, I don’t wanna write an introduction for this, but I have something I want to pitch you. I would love to annotate the text of Pinocchio as Lemony Snicket.”
The premise, it’s like this weird metafictional conceit where Lemony Snicket is reading Pinocchio for the first time and being slowly driven mad by it. So over the course of the story, his like the mental state is slowly deteriorating. So there’s like this second story layer on top of Pinocchio. Then like, as we realized that there’s this whole, like, narrative sensibility to the storytelling, we’re like, wouldn’t it be cool if we did these as actually inserted typewritten sheets to bring like the author presence even deeper into the project.
So Maëlle is, as we speak, literally on a Smith Corona typewriter typing out all of Lemony Snicket’s notes. So there’s a sheet for each chapter, and these are his notes on that chapter. And then there are little handwritten annotations in the book. So you take out the sheet, and you go like, okay, this is number one. It’s just a total, totally unique one-off strange approach to publishing something like this. It was all Lemony’s genius.
AIPT: What are some of the Kickstarter rewards you’re most excited about?
JO: So we have several editions of the book of increasing rarity. The standard edition is the same version that we always do for all of our illuminated Editions, except this one, has the inserted type sheets, which is something we’ve never done before. We have a numbered edition that’s limited to 250 copies that come in a cloth slipcase. And it comes with like a foil-blocked Pinocchio print and an enamel pin of Pinocchio as a donkey.
The craziest edition we have is the lettered edition, which I expect may sell out very quickly cause it’s limited to 26 copies, and it comes with an original drawing by Mike. They come housed in this giant clamshell slipcase that has these metal enamel plates bolted to the front of it, and they kind of open like French doors. It’s these super elaborate die-cut plates that mimic the artwork. They’re really crazy looking. They’re extremely cool. It’s a new thing we’re trying, it’s like hyper-limited editions.
AIPT: Have you seen the new Knives Out movie?
AIPT: Do you remember the gift everyone gets that’s like a puzzle? Is it like that?
JO: That felt very Beehive to me, honestly. <laugh> that was my first thought when I was watching that movie. I was like, we could publish this puzzle.
AIPT: So you’ve worked with some amazing artists. Paul Pope, Dave McKean, Mignola, of course. I’m curious, with some experience working with these artists over these years, what is something unexpected you learned about working with artists after working with all of these people on these projects?
JO: I think one thing was unexpected to me, and I hope I’m not talking out of school here. Basically, all the artists we work with are like icons to me. I am very surprised to learn how much like artistic insecurity runs across every level of artistic achievements. And it’s not really like, aligned with how accomplished you are or how brilliant you are. I’ve heard a lot of people that I consider like transcendent geniuses really matter-of-factly just kind of imply that their own work is terrible. I guess that’s part of why you are so good because you’re never satisfied. You have this restless desire for everything to be better.
AIPT: <laugh>. That’s interesting. Watch next year the next icon you’ll work with is some like egomaniac who’s like, “I’m better than you and all of this!”
JO: That brand exists too. There’s definitely, definitely people like that. And I respect that also, honestly. I respect breathtaking artistic confidence.
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