Comics: Kristin Alexandre on Building a Better Gilded Age

Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl in the Gilded Age is a lament for a lost American landscape.

By , Columnist

Detail from the back cover of Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl in the Gilded Age, book one.

In this conclusion to my interview with Kristin Alexandre, the author of Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl in the Gilded Age, our conversation moves on to the topic of her collaboration with illustrator Thomas Loepp, why he’s the perfect artist for the series, and what makes their creative partnership work so well, as well as how her longing for an American age long past helped inform the entire project.

What can you tell us about your co-conspirator in this project, Tom Loepp, and what about his work makes him the perfect artist for Nuncio?

I ran into Tom when I first decided to tell this story in the graphic novel format. I realized I needed an illustrator who could bring my story to life, and who also wouldn’t take a month for each illustration. I needed someone who could really get the job done.

And Tom had never done a graphic novel before. He’s a famous portrait painter and landscape artist. He’s in Wyoming, and he’s a baby boomer, like me, and he also was looking to do a graphic novel. The stars were just aligned and we came together.

Gypsy pilgrimage page.jpg

So, how did you two meet?

Someone mentioned his name, and I called him up. He sent me some illustrations. I said, “Do an illustration of a gypsy girl talking to a man in 1917,” and I gave him some lines, and he quickly sent me back this just extraordinary drawing. And I realized he was just ideal.

Tom works very, very fast. His drawings are just magnificent. Each one is a landscape painting in and of itself. And he’s just perfect. He’s perfect for me to work with.

The first time we met was at this year’s New York Comic-Con—and we’ve been working together for two years! [Laughter] And it was just great.

watching the flood pg one of three.jpg

Tom has done amazing portraits of [people like Supreme Court] Judge Rehnquist. In fact, when Judge Rehnquist was laid to rest, Tom’s painting of Rehnquist was put near the coffin when he was lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Anyway, he’s an amazing artist, which the book is a testament to. He’s got work in the collections of the city of New York, Stanford Law, the University of Chicago, and there’s the Brooklyn Museum. He studied with the Student Arts League. He’s an amazing artist, and he’s perfect for me, because he’s also interested in the period.

So, we work very well together. And I think he’s as involved in the story as I am. And the story, of course, has two more books to go.

Has Tom contributed to the story outside of providing those beautiful pages, perhaps by suggesting a plot twist or something similar, or do you tend to keep those things separate?

I’ll say that’s more my kind of job, really. What he does do—which is why it’s so hard to write a prose novel, a thick novel, a historical novel—when I tell him how I envision a picture, like when I envision the gypsies traveling from Dayton to Tennessee, he brings that to life so amazingly, colorfully. You can tell him your vision, and he can just bring it to life. It’s like a movie, you know what I mean?

Nuncio riding horse head in flood -- pg two of three page sequence.jpg

Yes.

And that’s what he’s able to do that I couldn’t do in words. It would be so hard to do it in words, and he does it visually.

Yeah, and it’s not just a painterly approach, it’s almost cinematic.

It’s very cinematic. And [as a writer] you look and you think, “That’s exactly what I meant!”

I mentioned to Tom something about the Dayton flood, how painful it was for these people in Dayton to see their horses, who they … you know, in those days, your horses were everything to you, because you were with them all day long. And these people’s horses were just swimming in the river, fighting for their survival. And Tom just got that, his drawings of these horses swimming and fighting to get to shore are magnificent. And they couldn’t do it. And then there’s one image of Nuncio, the African Grey parrot, leading a group of horses to the bank, rescuing them. It’s really wonderful. It would be a great scene in a movie.

Nuncio flying over flood, guiding horses to dry land -- pg three of three page sequence.jpg

You mentioned earlier that there are two more books to come. When can we look for the next one?

The next one’s in the works, and we hope to have it completed by March.

We’re working at triple the speed now, because we now know how to work together, and I think the next one will be finished in March and, as quickly as we get it out—get it published and get it out there to the public—I think the trio of books will be complete, I hope, in a year from now.

Which is incredibly fast, given that right now you’re doing it all by yourselves.

It is. But it’s fun, because we’re working fast.

Nuncio and Gypsy Girl eye to eye page -- number one of three.jpg

What do you get from doing all of this?

It’s just really, really satisfying. I walk around, day by day, thinking of these characters and what their lives might have been like, and pretending I’m them, bringing them more to life. It’s just like living in another era.

And don’t forget, in Europe at this time in history, war was just raging. And America was trying to pretend like it doesn’t know what’s going on. Like, “Oh, well, there’s this big war in Europe. I don’t want to be involved, because we’re trying to build our country up here, and we don’t want anything to do with that!”

But we couldn’t stay out of it. We just couldn’t stay out of that war, no matter how hard we tried. That was the conversation at parties, and dinner parties, and even in the drugstore.

“Well, what do you think we should do? Should we help England?”

“What’s going on over there? What are they doing? Why are they doing this?”

weeping eye page -- page two of three page sequence.jpg

It’s an interesting time. Well, as soon as we entered World War I, which was 1917, the world changed forever. I mean, everything changed.

The automobile came into play, and Ford began to pump out hundreds and thousands of automobiles. And the airplane was needed in the war effort, and roads began to be a problem because they were all dirt roads.

So, the whole terrain of the United States is about to change forever. You can never go back to that glorious time of dirt roads, and no big cities, just little towns. Even major cities like Dayton were really very small towns [by today’s standards]. Everything is about to change, and you can never go back to that period. It was a very enchanting period of time.

Dayton town square courthouse clock -- number three of three page sequence.jpg

Is that something you want the readers to take away from this series?

It is. I want people to appreciate what we were, and I guess I want them to know what we lost in the great push forward. And I want them to know sort of how it all happened, and why, because I don’t think most people ever think about this. It’s something that I think about a lot.

I mean, what was it like? Why did communities change so?

And right now we’re going through another change with economic turmoil in our country, and towns like Dayton are in so much pain.

Back then, there were a few big cities, but there were no malls or shopping centers. Everything began to evolve around the car, later. I want people to know that, and appreciate that, and know what we lost, you know? It interests me.

And how can people get copies of Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl for themselves, or for the impending holidays?

The book is for sale on Barnes and Noble, and it’s going to be for sale on Amazon soon, as well. And it’s also for sale on my website.

Nuncio and Gypsy girl bk cvr cropped.jpg

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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