Reimagining Hamlet was a decades-long dream for author Dana Mele. In her debut comic Tragic with artist Valentina Pinti, colorist Chiara Di Francia, and letterer Comiccraft’s Jimmy Betancourt, she gets to do just that. Retelling the story through a queer lens, Tragic introduces readers to Harper Hayes. After the shocking death of her father, Harper is drawn into a sprawling mystery to find his killer.
To celebrate the release of Tragic Vol. 1 we chatted to Mele about the origins of the tale and what she’s most excited for readers to discover. We’re also excited to exclusively reveal the cover to Tragic Vol. 2 which you can find in the piece below!
Nerdist: What was the origin of Tragic?
Dana Mele: I was trying to write a story for a really, really, really long time in college. I actually played Hamlet. I was in a theater through their society at Wellesley College and we did a different Shakespeare play every semester. I played Hamlet and just really fell in love with the role and became engrossed in it. So I always wanted to do some kind of interpretation of Hamlet. But there’s so many awesome adaptations of Hamlet in every medium!
I started out writing a play, then I moved onto a screenplay (this was throughout my entire 20s), and then I tried to write a young adult novel and it just wasn’t working. I got approached by Legendary eventually, and they asked if I had any cool ideas and I thought this might be my last chance to do a Hamlet! Then I realized it actually would be really cool because it’s such a visual story. There’s so many cool visual things you can do with it that wouldn’t really come across in a novel. So it felt like that was like a cool opportunity to bring some of my staging ideas to life. Then I just thought what’s the wildest idea I can come up with!
What makes Hamlet ripe for a queer retelling?
Mele: There’s a bunch of scholarship over the years about Hamlet being a queer character, so I didn’t come up with that myself. But I think it is very organic and there’s a lot of truth in it. For me also, I was very much inspired by the production that I was in way back in the day, decades ago, and that was a queer production. So that was the inspiration. I also was very inspired by a queer female Shakespeare troupe way back in the day. I hope it still exists. I didn’t see them perform Hamlet, but all of their productions were very queer. So I’ve always been inspired by those interpretations of Shakespeare whenever I create any content.
What is it about stories with deeply buried secrets like Tragic and Summer’s Edge that speak to you so much?
Mele: I’m not sure [laughs]! I definitely like reading and consuming that kind of media. Those are the kinds of stories that I gravitate towards as a reader and an audience member. So those are the kinds of stories that I like telling. Also, I think the inner life of characters really appeals to me, and Hamlet is a story that’s very much about inner life. And then the secrets and mysteries, that can grow out of the sort of the inner life of characters to make a really interesting story.
Is there a moment you’re most excited for readers to discover when they pick up the book?
Mele: I do have a favorite character, which is the ghost! So all of the scenes between Harper and the ghost are my favorite to watch unfold. It’s hard because I actually did not write it in two separate volumes. I wrote it as one piece. And then it was separated in two! So it evolved more organically in my head. But I would say there is a cliffhanger at the end that I like a lot.
We’re debuting the first look at the Vol. 2 cover. Can you tease what Vol. 2 has in store for readers?
Mele: It picks up the morning after the end of Vol. 1 and continues the mystery with the characters right there. There’s no time jump or loss of momentum. I actually like Vol. 2 more because Vol. 1 is a lot of introduction to characters, a lot of setup. And it sets the stage—no pun intended—for the various murder mysteries. Then Vol. 2 really delves deeper not only into the resolution of the murders and what’s really going on with Harper, but also what’s going on with Harper and her family. Both Tragic and Hamlet are all about the family drama. That was really important to me, so I am really happy with how that played out in Vol. 2!
Tragic Vol. 1 is out now!
Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.