Hunger Mountain - Vermont College Journal of the arts

Going Graphic

by Cynthia Leitich Smith

“Get out of the way of the illustrator.”

That was my mantra in recasting my first Gothic fantasy as a graphic novel.

Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (2011) is a graphic format adaptation of Tantalize (2007), both originally published by Candlewick Press.

The prose novel is told from the first-person point of view of a character named Quincie P. Morris. She’s the many times great niece of Bram Stoker’s character of the same name (Quincey) from his classic, Dracula (1897).

In Tantalize, Quincie is trying to save her family’s struggling Italian restaurant by reinventing it with a vampire theme. It’s a great idea until the chef is murdered, and it’s unclear whether the murderer was a real vampire or Quincie’s werewolf best pal.

The story is set in a multi-creature-verse, populated by vampires, angels, a myriad of shape-shifters (including the under-appreciated werearmadillo), ghosts and more, which seemed to lend themselves to terrific visual opportunities.

My first decision was to retell the story from a different character’s first-person point of view, that of Kieren Morales, Quincie’s dearest friend. The earliest drafts of the prose novel had been told from his perspective, and this approach provided me with a chance to offer both new scenes and a new interpretation of the story in the whole.

Then it came time to re-imagine the story and translate it into a script for illustrator Ming Doyle. Here’s a look at the same scene in prose, script, and graphic format. Even allowing for the point of view shift, the difference in text length is apparent.

Prose novel: 381 words

Script: 203 words

Dialogue: 132

Edited dialogue: 120

The setting, character actions, and much of the emotion was translated from text to art. The dialogue largely remains, but is also condensed for space and impact.

With the point of view shift, we also get Kieren’s reaction to his growling. He’s as taken aback by it as Quincie is.

Other scenes—especially in moments of high action—are shown almost purely through the illustrations. What drew me first to Ming’s art was her ability to show emotion through facial expression, and though I love both prose and graphic format novels, I must say it’s pleasantly odd to be happy that you don’t miss your own writing.


From Tantalize (Candlewick 2007, 2008)

“Now.” In the shadows, Kieren’s eyes reflected like mirrors. “Listen, I think it’s Ruby. I think she’s the vampire. I think she killed Vaggio, or at least, she was in on it. Quince, I think she’s using the restaurant as a beacon to her kind, a hunting ground. I’m… I’m not quite sure what. Maybe Vaggio saw something. Maybe…”

Giddy mood fading, I couldn’t believe he’d used the phrase “beacon to her kind.”

Kieren, not being a mind reader, kept talking. “She’s been seeing your uncle since about the time the whole vampire remodel came up. She’s never at your house. She’s hardly ever let me within a hundred feet of her, up or downwind. Coincidence?”

I thought back to what Uncle D had said about Ruby wanting to turn vampire for real but then remembered. The night of Vaggio’s murder, she’d been swimming au naturel with Uncle D at Hippie Hollow. “Ruby has an alibi. She—”

Kieren growled at me, and I shrank back. He’d never growled at me before.

One moment he was haunting the shadows, I realized, the next he was in my face.

Detective Sanchez had said the killer had been someone, a shifter that Vaggio had probably known. Kieren had known Vaggio. Kieren was half Wolf. Kieren had discovered Vaggio’s body. Kieren had been covered in blood. Kieren also had been acting weird, really weird, and I wasn’t an idiot. I knew the wereworld wasn’t all puppy-dog eyes and man’s best friend.  I couldn’t stay in denial forever. Even the police suspected him.

I inched backward till my hand hit the brass doorknob.

“Maybe I was wrong about Ruby,” he admitted, “but my instincts are screaming. Something about you seems wrong, smells wrong.”

And now I was insulted, too.

“Quince, you’re… When’s the last time you showed at school? Did you know that five students are missing? Eight or nine people in the neighborhood?”

I’d heard the wait staff talking, but they’d always hushed when I walked into a room. I hadn’t realized how high the number had climbed. “The cops—”

“Don’t understand what they’re up against.”

“They know Vaggio’s murderer is out there.”

“Out there,” he repeated. “Do you realize he could be in here, in this very building at this very moment.”


From the Tantalize: Kieren’s Story manuscript

Kieren comes closer to Quincie—not touching but within arm’s reach. Kieren is intent, focused. Quincie isn’t taking him that seriously.



Now. Listen, I think Ruby may be the vampire. I think she killed Vaggio, or at least she was in on it. She’s been seeing your uncle since the vampire remodel came up.


 Ruby has an alibi. She was skinny dipping with Uncle D at Hippie Hollow.

Kieren is frustrated. He growls at Quincie.



Quincie is scared, horrified, disbelieving.

Kieren is surprised at himself, uneasy about the Wolf rising within.


 I’ve never growled at her before. I’ve never growled at anyone.

 Kieren continues approach, trying to appear calmer, trying to soothe.

KIEREN (first two lines edited out)

Maybe I was wrong about Ruby. But something seems wrong. Smells wrong. Quince, you’re… When’s the last time you showed up a school? Did you know that five students are missing? Eight or nine people in the neighborhood?

Quincie is uncomfortable around his intensity. She backs toward the door.


The cops—


Don’t understand what they’re up against.


They know Vaggio’s murderer is out there.


Out there. Do you realize he could be here, in this very building at this very moment?


A full-page spread from Tantalize: Kieren’s Story

Click on the thumbnail to view this full-page spread from the graphic novel. When you’re finished viewing, click on the image to return to this page.

Leave a Comment

All comments are moderated.
Yours will show up soon, we promise.