Who Run The Magical World? Chatting With Lilah Sturges About The Magicians: Alice’s Story

A nude young woman surrounded by dark, scary trees and cogs that cover her nipples, shapes a ball of magic in her hands

Forget Hogwarts. Brakebils College is where the magic is at. Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy explores the school’s magical curriculum with danger, famous alumni, and only a few deaths per academic year. The series spun off into a hit TV show on SyFy, concluding its fourth season in April. Now, a new graphic novel from Lumberjanes writer Lilah Sturges  explores the first novel in the trilogy from the perspective of Alice, a woman from a magical family who seeks out Brakebils and magical education on her own.

Earlier this year at the American Library Association’s January conference in Seattle, Washington, I chatted with Sturges about what fans can expect from The Magicians: Alice’s Story, available on July 10th from BOOM! Studios.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Tell us about the premise of your graphic novel, The Magicians: Alice’s Story.

Sturges: Okay, so, The Magicians: Alice’s Story is a retelling of Lev Grossman’s novel, The Magicians. And the way it came about was, I got a call from BOOM! Studios asking if I would be interested in writing an adaptation of the novel. And I thought about it, I went back and re-read the book, and I thought, well, I don’t know if the world needs one more story about straight cis white boys.

We’ve heard enough of Quentin.

Sturges: We’ve heard enough from Quentin, right? I actually like Quentin. Some people don’t care for him. I like Quentin, but the character of Alice to me was really, really attractive, and I thought, I’d love to see this story told from her point of view. In the same way that Quentin is coming from this place of dissatisfaction and looking for something to fulfill him, what is it that Alice is looking for that is supposed to fulfill her? And that was kind of a take that I took and ran with that. And I think it came out really wonderfully.

Now you mentioned you re-read the first Magicians book. Did you watch any of the Syfy TV show?

Sturges: I have avoided watching the TV show, because I didn’t want it to be artistically contaminated, so I’m going to go back and watch the whole show at some point once all this is done.

I have not watched the TV show yet myself, but the pictures I’ve seen of Alice in the TV show looks very different than the Alice we’re going to see on the artwork in the book. Let’s talk a little bit about your collaboration with the artist on this and where that person came from with their depiction of Alice.

Sturges: Yes. So Pius Bak is the artist. The really nice thing about working with Lev Grossman is that he really wants to see your interpretation of the work. He wasn’t really pushy about the specifics of things. So he just went in and that was his read on Alice and that’s what he drew, and we all really liked it. We just let him go for it.

A nude young woman surrounded by dark, scary trees and cogs that cover her nipples, shapes a ball of magic in her hands

Personally from seeing the two, I like his depiction better. It’s more how I envisioned Alice after reading the book, and I look at, see Alice on the TV show, it’s pretty hipster. I’m like, “That is not my Alice.” Now, Alice is not the first woman of magic that you’ve written, because I know you wrote an issue of Zatanna. And you dabble heavily in folklore with your Jack of Fables series.

Sturges: That’s right.

But you also don’t shy away from deeply personal works. And the one that comes to mind is when you contributed to the anthology Mine! last year with “I Am Home.” What was easiest for you to write? These fantasy worlds or the more deeply personal stories?

Sturges: Well, there’s a big split in my career that happens in late December, 2016, which is when I came out as trans. And so prior to that, I had been feeling a certain amount of constraint in what I felt, the kinds of stories that I felt like I could tell and the kind of things that I felt like I could say, because I had this huge secret in my life and a lot of things that I was trying to hide about myself. So I wrote one kind of story then. Since coming out, I don’t want to write stories where those things are hidden anymore. I want to write stories where those things are front and center. So I think that, that story on the Mine! Anthology, may be the first thing that I wrote for publication after coming out, and it’s very much a little trans fairy tale, but it’s also very, very personal and very deeply meaningful to me. So I feel like that story has a lot of power for me, and going forward, these are the kinds of things that I want to do.

Something that has power and something that can impact the world. But you have fun on the side as well. In a way, it’s self care for you because we are in very dark times, let’s be honest.

Sturges: We are.

What inspires you to keep writing every day?

Sturges: I was talking about this in another interview recently that I feel like the art, ideally is an expression of your values, and what you say in your art is what you value in your life and what you prioritize in your life. For me that means showing people that they are seen, that they are lovable and that they are worthy of inclusion. And that’s something that I try to do in my life, and it’s something that I try to do in my writing as well. One of my favorite things about working on Lumberjanes is that, that is the focus of what Lumberjanes is. It’s about people working together, loving each other, and it’s very open. It’s very girl friendly, it’s very queer friendly. So that’s exactly the kind of thing that I want to be doing.

Now that you mentioned Lumberjanes, you wrote one of the first original graphic novels based on the series. Were you a fan of that series before you were approached to write the graphic novel?

Sturges: I was. It was one of those things where I had been reading Lumberjanes for two years. I discovered it, yeah, a couple of years ago, right around the time I came out as trans, I think. And someone told me that there was a trans character in it, and that was exciting to me. So I started reading the books and just loved them. And so when I got an opportunity to write it, it was just like, “Oh heck yeah. Absolutely. More than be happy to write Lumberjanes for you.”

Tell us a little bit more about this, because this book just came out in October.

Sturges: The book is called Lumberjanes: The Infernal CompassThe girls are out orienteering one day and there is a compass that they are trying to use that turns out to be cursed. Instead of leading people where they want to go, it leads them astray. Our poor, dear Molly has been having some anxiety about her new romantic relationship with Nell, and how that might affect their friend group. And so this compass kind of through its actions, it starts to make her think that she’s not going to have any friends anymore and she’s going to be all alone. And so she gets very sad and then she has to overcome that. Meanwhile, there is a very fun lady explorer who has a cadre of automated butlers at her service, who are also trying to get the compass. So it’s sweet and it’s touching and it’s a little romantic and it’s also very funny. It is an all ages book. And it’s a gentle story, teaches wonderful life lessons, and it shows how representation matters.

Now, who’s your favorite Lumberjane?

Sturges: Oh, I don’t want to have to pick favorites, but, I will say that my favorite character to write is Ripley, because she just springs out of you. She just is so ebullient and so much fun, and it’s so easy to … You just wind her up and let her go, and she’s hilarious and funny. That’s the sign of a incredibly well created character is that you just, you know who she is, you just put her in a situation and she’s going to do something right.

In addition to the extensive body of comics work that you’ve done, you’ve written two novels. Which came first? The novels or the comics?

Sturges: The first longform thing that I wrote was my novel, which is ironically entitled Midwinter. It was a fantasy novel that I wrote in 2003. And then the reason that I got my first job at DC writing Jack of Fables was that my editor Shelly Bond, read a copy of Midwinter and liked it and decided to give me the opportunity to pitch for Vertigo.

Outside of Lumberjanes, because we know you’re a fan, what other comics are you reading right now to recommend to our readers?

Sturges: I think that the comic that I really have been pushing on people a lot is The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, because it’s just this beautiful marriage of story and just gorgeous, gorgeous art. The way that emotion is rendered as fashion is to me just absolutely fascinating. And it’s a really beautiful story. I cried like three times reading it, I loved it so much.

Is there anything else that you want to share with us that’s coming in 2019 that you can talk about?

Sturges: There is a second Lumberjanes original graphic novel, called Lumberjanes: The Shape of Friendship, and in this story, the Lumberjanes meet a group of Pookas, who are shapeshifting mystical creatures. And the Pookas take on the Lumberjanes identities and try to take over their lives.

Is there a release date yet?

Sturges: I think it’s fall of 2019.

Anything else that’s coming besides Lumberjanes and The Magicians?

Sturges: Nothing has been announced. I’m working on a graphic novel right now that’s being drawn by Meaghan Carter, but I can’t talk too much about it except that it’s a fantasy transgender, coming of age story, and it’s something I’m really, really excited about and proud of. But that’s all I can say about it for you now.

Kate Kosturski

Kate Kosturski

Librarian by day, comics nerd by day and by night. Also published at Geeks OUT and Multiversity Comics (where she is also the social media manager for the site). Originally from New Jersey, now of Connecticut and New York City. Raging feminist your mother probably warned you about. Body positivity and LGBTQ+ advocate. Lover of good whiskey, Jensen Ackles, Doctor Who, Funko Pops, knitting, Hamilton, and the New York Mets. Will defend the Oxford Comma to her deathbed. Find her on twitter at @librarian_kate