An interview with Pandora Author/Artist/Filmmaker, Pamela Theodotou on the Cinemagraphic Novel inspired by Mary Shelley and Frankenstein
On October 31st, 2019, a new visual novel appeared in the market for a limited initial print release; Pandora is a “Cinemagraphic Novel” — a term artist/author Pamela Theodotou coined to describe the new art form challenging the vanguard among traditional comics and graphic novels, utilizing cinematography and culminating in this first publishing project by Theodotou’s film and television company, NYXFilm Ltd..
Tirelessly researched in the National Archives, with certain plot points based on real documents and events, Pandora is a tale that provocatively challenges readers to question what they know of history. The novel itself mimics a tattered journal of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, revealing her masterpiece Frankenstein is not a work of fiction, but rather an autobiography of poets and pawns manipulated in a chess game of immortal figures and secret societies such as The Masonic Brotherhood and the Illuminati.
What initially interested you in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley?
I’ve always been a fan. Of course, it began with the early Frankenstein films, but when I read the novel, I then had a deeper appreciation for the narrative and the relationship between Victor and his creation. I think when modern critics finally officially gave her credit for writing the first horror novel, it was then that I connected the dots on my own admiration for her. I was about her age, a teenager, when much of that converged. I identified with her on some level, her fascination with science and medicine, poetry, openly asking all the difficult questions.
How did your interest in Shelley and her history — including the writing of Frankenstein — eventually inspire you to create Pandora? What aspects in researching the story most surprised you?
For years I was fixated on the idea that I wanted to at some point develop a unique monster, in the classic sense. I think the Frankenstein monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Mummy and Dracula are all so seminal, that to develop a monster on that level would be an ultimate achievement. In modern narratives we concentrate on the balance of two characters, hero vs. villain, and there are a lot of good villains out there, but these early literary monsters have a lushness to their being, they have history and deep roots in myth and storytelling that gave rise to their modern expression and identifiability.
Mary’s monster, however, took it to a whole new level. We harken back to the Prometheus story which she fully realized since the original title was The Modern Prometheus. The title Pandora is actually the mirror to her own novel, with her being the Pandora, a woman from Greek myth who was constructed much like the Frankenstein monster, of pieces and parts. Science and medicine were at the brink of a revolution in thought and she managed to harness those empirical questions about science and God and put it all into action with one man creating the impossible and begging all the philosophical questions of the day. She made us question everything, and we continue to do so, making the story itself immortal. It touches the most primordial essence of who we are. Perhaps at the time she was considered a fictional writer, but look at the ethical questions we are wrestling with today, and you see the genius of her realizations. She may not have known the answers to her questions she posed through her characters, but she sure knew they represented the nexus of knowledge and the gateway to modernism and its ethical hurdles.
My own quest to create a unique monster begged that ethical questioning of everything. But my own obsession is with the idea of immortality — the converse of death and resurrection. It wasn’t until I read a biography of the other historical character in Pandora, which shall remain unnamed because it can be a spoiler, that the idea of Pandora finally came to me. At that point, I decided to try and tie as much of the fictional story to real events and real people in history as I could.
From that point on it had a life of its own, as though I created my own monster. I ended up with a story you have a hard time separating from reality because it is just a little too weird that many plot points are backed by historical documentation.
Digital has revolutionized filmmaking in so many ways; what was your experience in first creating your thesis project, and then translating it into this current (print) form?
My initial goal, and it is still a goal, is to truly develop a digital book that is part film and part illustration. The creation of the short film of PANDORA as my thesis was the first part of that process. The next step was to create a graphic novel from the stills of the film and ultimately my next step will be to bring those two creations together. The big question is what technology to use. I’ve tried various forms, but it still takes quite a bit of expertise to bring it together effectively. That’s the next stage of the technically labeled cinemagraphic novel, in its purest sense.
Comic books and graphic novels have their hardcore followers — what do you hope for the reception of this as a new form, incorporating digital film as a medium eventually for print?
I do hope it will hold equal esteem from fans of all printed narrative graphic forms. I’ve for the most part received positive reaction to the work, especially since the style of this book hails back to early photography and daguerreotypes, always a popular aesthetic.
What have been your favorite comic books and graphic novels, and why?
Watchmen, 300, Torso. Sandman series. Preacher. Walking Dead. All of these books have a boldness to their art and well-wrought characters and story lines. They all feel very noir also, a favorite genre of mine. They were also all unique in their time, and quickly became classics. You can see where I’m going with that… it is always the quest for the perfectly crafted story.
What elements were important to carry through to this reimagined form from those comic books and graphic novels?
I really think the comic industry has tried to do motion comics, but they ended up just being a form of animation. This is why I think you have to start from a different locus. The original work has to be from film and cross over into illustration. Oddly, I’m not really even sure you can say comics are in the conversation. The aesthetic has to start from a different place. Not that we don’t all love comics, it’s just at the other end of the spectrum.
You’re now teaching art students; what advice are you offering them when it comes to challenging themselves and their beliefs about accepted (or traditional) forms, given you have challenged tradition yourself with this project?
I’m a huge proponent of embracing who you really are. I try to encourage my students to embrace their uniqueness and magnify it. Kids are all about fitting in which, I think, is problematic to their creativity. It’s through traditional structure, peer pressure, and stress that we deny ourselves our own voices. For the most part, I think all artists are actually outliers and they are doing their best to fit in, which is exactly what you should NOT be doing.
What further projects are currently in the pipeline or are of interest to you both artistically and professionally?
I’m currently adapting Pandora for film and television. It also has a sequal and several spin-off stories of some characters. There is also a WWII anti-hero story called “Stark Justice” that is in development.
Pandora’s first, limited printing is available to individual buyers, bookstores, libraries, and comic book and graphic novel vendors via http://www.marywollstonecraftshelley.com.
K.J. Wetherholt is the Publisher/Executive Editor of MIPJ, Humanitas Media Publishing, and Humanitas. She currently also writes about war and humanity, a book about war correspondents on the Western Front during WWI, The Illumination: A Novel of the Great War. An upcoming monograph on the ELN in the Colombian civil war will be published on November 22, 2019.