Reframing Sleeping Beauty: An Interview With ‘Briar’ Writer, Christopher Cantwell
by Rachel Bellwoar
“Someday My Prince Will Come,” is a song from Disney’s Snow White, not Sleeping Beauty, but man, if those lyrics don’t sting while reading the first issue of writer, Christopher Cantwell, and artist, Germán García‘s, new series, Briar. A reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty (with colors by Matheus Lopes and letters by AndWorld Design), Briar imagines what life would’ve been like for Briar if, instead of joining her in sleep, the kingdom had gone on living without her, leaving Briar to wake-up to a world very different from her own. While there’s still a prince, his arrival isn’t cause for celebration, as Cantwell explains more below in a new, email interview.
Rachel Bellwoar: As we learn from the first page of Briar #1, Briar Rose wasn’t originally meant to narrate her own story (RIP narrator). How would you differentiate Briar Rose’s speaking voice from her voice as narrator?
Christopher Cantwell: In terms of Briar’s “narrator” dying, that’s more a metaphor to say that Briar must now tell her OWN story for the first time in her life. She can’t rest on any “fairy tale” laurels or comforts, to just have her life be determined by destiny. Briar is totally on her own now. The pages have fallen out of the storybook and the ink has run dry. I wanted to explode the idea of the Chosen One, and the Special Individual. Briar is now just some scared teenager with nothing to her name in a very dangerous world. She has to forge her own path. No one is going to save her or give her anything except herself. I think in terms of her voice differentiating, early on, she still talks to characters as this guarded royal princess… which sounds absurd when the reader is looking at the reality she’s now in. Her internal voice over is much more vulnerable. You see a real cynicism and fear and self-judgment in her V.O. Those voices will begin to unify as the story progresses. What’s important about the voice-over is that it’s looking back from a later point in the story. That is revealed later in the issues.
Bellwoar: It’s not Briar Rose’s fault that she can’t wake herself up, but it does make her more dependent on the kindness of strangers than other princesses. In what ways (if any) did that play into how you decided to portray the prince in Briar?
Cantwell: The biggest and most brilliant story move comes in the form of the “prince charming” character arriving and marrying Briar, but choosing not to wake her up, because “it’s easier that way.” That is an idea German and I very much came to together in talking about the story at the beginning. The prince USES Briar. She’s a pawn with no agency in her original fairy tale, which is the way I wanted to reframe the Sleeping Beauty story we’re all familiar with. Then she’s just forgotten about. And she’s not really reliant on the kindness of strangers… the reason she’s woken up is much more complex and much of that plays out later in the story. And besides, a hundred years has passed, so at a certain point, what good does the kindness do her? And is it so kind to be woken up in such a nightmare world with nothing left? She definitely is angry at times about having to live in this awful existence when everything she knew is long gone. The prince who chose NOT to wake her up is named Rodion, and is a champion from the West. He’s in the book but only in flashback. His luck ran out decades before the story starts and some of that is explored. But his smug self-important and selfish legacy lives on in ways Briar will encounter in the present.
Bellwoar: In the first issue we don’t actually see who kisses Briar Rose and ends the curse. Can you tease anything about who Briar Rose’s rescuer might be or their motives for waking her up now?
Cantwell: It’s important who wakes Briar up. It might be obvious to some and totally elusive to others. But the reasons are more complex as I said. That will get dug into in time, especially if we get to keep telling the story after Issue 4.
Bellwoar: It’s a lot easier to accept having been asleep for a hundred years if the whole kingdom has been frozen in time with you (as is the case in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty). What made you want to pick up where Sleeping Beauty ends and show the repercussions of being asleep for that long?
Cantwell: I don’t want to stray too far outside the literal story, but it’s become harder and harder for me to deny that in a way, we as a civilization—in this country at least—have been “asleep” for quite a while and are just starting to wake up to some harsh realities that threaten our existence. Whether it’s climate change or the pandemic or other things that are ripping these supposed bedrock foundations of our society apart, I think many of us are being forced to reckon with sleepy, dreamy lives we thought we would just inherit and the rocky unknowns of what lies ahead. And we HAVE to reckon with it, or we’re not going to make it. That’s certainly true in Briar’s case. What kind of life, however hard, can she build for herself now, and cherish, even if it’s a far cry from the lush wonders of her youthful innocence?
Bellwoar: Physically, time hasn’t been kind to Briar Rose either. This isn’t Snow White, preserved in a glass case. Briar Rose looks desiccated. How much did you and Germán García discuss that reveal?
Cantwell: I wanted Briar to look hellish, yeah. The redheaded princess image has to have completely died away. She’s almost like a mummy when she wakes up, and even as she revitalizes, she’s got shock white hair now and her skin looks corpse-like. I mean, that probably goes hand in hand with what it feels like to age. Where one day you look in the mirror and go “holy cow, I look terrible now.” But Briar’s look is also supposed to cut against the Sleeping Beauty of it all. You sleep long enough, you’re not gonna look too beautiful when you wake up. Especially if people just forgot about you. You’re gonna be coughing up bugs that have been living in your throat for years. That’s the tone of this book, this kind of absurd horror quality to the story and character. Everything feels deranged now. Nothing is stable, down to her very appearance.
Bellwoar: My favorite scene in the first issue is when we see how Briar Rose got the pelt she’s wearing on García’s cover. Which came first: the cover or the idea for that scene?
Cantwell: I think the cover was hand in hand with that scene. I will credit German with this. I had her killing a wolf-like creature. German changed it to a giant rat, which is brilliant, because of course rats have become giant in this new world. This world is overrun and verminous. Rats rule now. Wolves are old hat. Plus it makes Briar’s kill even more pathetic. She wears the pelt of a rat she killed. She’s down with the lowest of the low. Her royalty is totally history. She has to get down and roll around in it with the rest of ‘em from here forward. That’s this book to a T. Nothing is special or sacred.
Bellwoar: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Christopher!
Briar #1 goes on sale Wednesday September 28th from BOOM! Studios.