Comics: Kristin Alexandre on Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl in the Gilded Age

The lush, romantic song of a free bird in a gilded age.

By , Columnist

Thomas Loepp's seductive cover for his and Kristin Kuhns Alexandre's Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl in the Gilded Age captures the lush romanticism of this, the pair's first original graphic novel.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of most comic conventions for me, both personally and professionally, is the fairly high probability I’ll casually stumble across a brilliant new book or totally unknown, incredibly talented artist or author. Happily, my expectations are fulfilled time and again while walking the convention floor, and particularly while happily traversing the wilds of the ubiquitous Artists’ Alley.

This year’s edition of the New York Comic-Con was no exception. During the course of that long weekend, I met any number of highly talented creators who, individually or collectively, are creating comics and art that deserves a wider audience. Beginning with today’s column, occasionally I’ll introduce you to a wide assortment of creators and projects that captured my attention during my travels to that and other places.

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I was moving through the aisles around lunchtime of the con’s first day when I caught a glimpse of the evocative art and elegant design for Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl in the Gilded Age and came to a screeching halt. Intrigued by the cover and displayed art for this inaugural graphic novel from writer Kristin Kuhn Alexandre and artist Thomas Loepp, I talked briefly with both before leaving with a review copy and a promise to try to stop back later in the con.

Later, over dinner, I casually opened the book I’d grabbed from the small pile that always magically accumulates around me during these events, and began reading. About an hour later I finished the final pages of that book, which turned out to be Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl in the Gilded Age. As I chewed the final, chilly bites of my dinner, I decided then and there that I had to introduce this richly imagined story—which mixes a socially conscious romance with liberal amounts of magical realism and historical figures and events—to TMR’s readers.

This first half of my conversation with author Kristin Alexandre addresses a surprising number of subjects. In this wide-ranging interview she reveals the secret origin of the Nuncio project, how the history of her hometown influenced the work from the very beginning, and contemplates the forgotten importance of the horse in the days before the automobile forever changed the very shape of the American landscape, among other topics.

So who is Nuncio, and what’s his connection to this gypsy girl?

Nuncio is an African Grey parrot who is the narrator of this story. And Nuncio basically speaks to you, the reader, and shares his rather lofty opinions of the story itself.

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And what was the inspiration for the story?

The story itself is a love story between the gypsy girl, Neci, and Ezra, the object of her affections.

The story basically evolved in my imagination a few years back when I was burying my parents in Dayton, Ohio, and I noticed, as we were erecting their gravestones, very close by was a giant monument to the gypsies. And I wasn’t familiar with it. I didn’t know what this was all about, or why gypsies got to Dayton, Ohio, in the Midwest. Obviously, they were prominent in Dayton, and they were prominent not that long ago.

It turns out the family, the Stanley family, they actually came to the United States in the 1700s, and they considered themselves royalty. Or they called themselves royalty. And they were different than other gypsies throughout the world, because they were landholders—they sold horses, they were horse breeders and trainers.

And in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio, the monument there is a testimony to who they were and what they were about. When Queen Matilda Stanley died, there were some 30,000 people from all over the world, literally, who came to her funeral. People stood in the rain, and Dayton was taken over by this interment of Matilda Stanley.

The story just fascinated me, and that’s sort of how it all began. [Laughter]

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But, it’s not just about gypsy girl and her affair, is it? You introduce some rather famous American inventors and their peers into the proceedings, as well, don’t you?

The period that really captured my imagination was prior to World War I, and it was also the time that the gypsies were very respected in Dayton. And the reason they were respected was everything revolved around the horse, obviously, because there were no cars. At that time, Dayton became the Silicon Valley of its time. It was the time when the inventors sort of gravitated to Dayton, and they all got together, and they shared their ideas.

Charles Kettering, who invented the self-starter for the automobile, he and the Wright Brothers and another man, Edward Deed, they got together and they shared their ideas and worked all night long, night after night, inventing all these different things. And what came out of it was the self-starter, Charles Kettering invented that. Because before the self-starter for the automobile, you had to hand crank the car to start it.

So all these people were there, working night after night, and they invented the self-starter, an air conditioning system, the incubator, and of course, the airplane. The Wright brothers, who were part of this group, came up with the first economically feasible airplane. And this was all going on at the turn of the century, right before World War I—which is when my story opens up.

Well, it really opens up in 1912. That’s when my gypsy girl emerges in the story, and she is trying to escape her gypsy background, and rise somehow out of it and break away. And you’ll find out why she wants to break away gradually, as the story moves on.

And Ezra, the man she loves, he’s also trying to move up and away—although he doesn’t know to where—and all the inventors are trying to get rich, and move up, as well. So, everyone in the story is trying to graduate to another, higher level, which is sort of the American way, and the American story.

And the narrator, Nuncio, is sort of finding the whole thing humorous and funny, and he sees it from a higher perspective—the same perspective that I think the reader will see, as well.

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One of the interesting twists to that is the fact that, while Nuncio won’t speak to his fellow characters in the story he’s part of, he will talk directly to the reader.

Right. Right, well, there’s another magical character here, too, and that’s Coil, the snake, who really is kind of a supportive ego for Neci, the gypsy girl. And he tries to comfort Neci as she does all of this by herself, wending her way independently.

Nobody really wants Neci to hook up with Ezra, the composer/pilot. Her gypsy family wants her to stay with them, obviously. And Ezra’s family wants him to marry another woman, Edith, because everybody in Dayton at this time in history is really trying to move up. And marrying a gypsy girl would not be a move up; it would be a move down. Even though she was from a royal gypsy background, it was still not considered…on the chain of command, here, that would not be a move up.

So, things come to a head, really, when the other woman in the triangle, Edith, makes her move for Ezra—and she succeeds. And she will do anything, even the ultimate thing, to rid herself of the competition.

And, of course, World War I is looming on the horizon, as well. And when the ship the Lusitania is about to set sail, Edith makes sure that her rival is on that ship. Now, Edith’s connected to the President of United States, because he is the fiancé of a girlfriend of hers, and there’s a scene where she has lunch… this is a true person who existed in history, who actually ended up marrying the president. And I have a meeting between these two Ediths—Edith Galt was her name, and our Edith, Neci’s rival for Ezra. And when they meet, and our Edith from Dayton finds out that the Lusitania might be threatened by German subs, she then makes sure that our gypsy girl is on that ship! [Laughter]

So, that’s sort of what happens here, although there’s a lot that happens in between, too, because there’s the build-up of the romance and the story. The man’s torn between this gorgeous and incredibly intriguing gypsy girl, who has all these spiritual and other shared interests of his, and then this pianist, who’s beautiful also, and who’s in love with Ezra.

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Right. And even if people think you’ve given away the whole story, you haven’t. I mean, you haven’t even mentioned the flood, yet, among other things.

Yeah, I haven’t even touched on the Dayton flood (of 1913) ... You can’t be from Dayton and not talk about the Dayton flood! [Laughter]

The flood would be sort of like our experience with New Orleans [being hit by Hurricane Katrina]. I mean, the Dayton flood was famous, and it really had an impact upon the whole Midwest. It was a flood that almost destroyed the town, and horses died. It was a huge catastrophe.

The gypsy girl, in the story, actually comes to help the man she loves. She comes to help him, and when next we see her, she’s stranded on a rooftop of a house floating down the river. And there we see Ezra—he’s helping in the rescue effort—and he ends up finding her on that rooftop, and he ends up rescuing her.

And then we have a confrontation on the riverbank between the two women who are in love with him, and it’s pretty out there. It’s a pretty wild confrontation between the two girls. [Laughter]

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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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