pandora emma kubert
Pandora color art by Emma Kubert

Frank Miller is back and he’s presenting things….and making comics again. His recently announced independent imprint Frank Miller Presents plans to roll out four series over the the next 12 months. Some will return to Miller’s most famous creations – a sequel to Ronin with art by Philip Tan and Daniel Henriques, a Sin City one shot with art by Milo Manara, and 1858, a Sin City Western written and drawn by Miller himself.

But there will be new stories as well, including Pandora, a dark take on fairy tales conceived by Miller and written by Anthony Maranville and Chris Silvestri with art by Emma Kubert. The series will debut in December with the first of three 48 page prestige format issues – a format that Miller himself pioneered back in 1982 with the first Ronin.

It’s all part of the new publishing initiative with Miller as president and editor-in-chief, former DC co-publisher Dan DiDio as publisher, and Silenn Thomas, the CEO of Frank Miller Ink, as COO of FMP.  The trio are bringing in a variety of talents,  including Kubert, and Danilo Beyruth, who will draw Ancient Enemies, a series written by DiDio.

Miller, DiDio, Kubert, Thomas and more of the FMP line-up will be appearing this weekend at MegaCon to talk more about their upcoming plans, but spoke exclusively to The Beat about Pandora ahead of their panel.

Reached by phone, Miller and Kubert are both coy about the storyline of Pandora, other than to say that it’s a YA fantasy about a young girl named Annabeth.

Both Miller and Kubert were influenced by childhood readings of illustrated fairy tales – Miller inherited a collection of books from his mother, and “I just cherished those things.” Kubert comes from an artistic family – her father is famed Marvel artist Andy Kubert, and her grandfather is comics legend Joe Kubert –  and growing up surrounded by illustrated books she would spend hours poring over them.

All of this has come together for a dark, modern fairy tale. According to Kubert, Pandora is about Annabeth, “a young girl who is unfulfilled in her life, and she’s searching for more. She’s searching for a perfect world for her to live and thrive in. But as she’s searching for that world, everything around her starts falling down the rabbit hole of not being what it seems. It’s something that I think a lot of people find themselves getting into, constantly searching for perfection, and it causes chaos.”

Miller says Kubert’s description of the lead character is spot on. “She is filled with curiosity. I think the other component I want to stress is mischief. She’s also precocious.”

Given the title and Annabeth’s precociousness, is it fair to assume there is a box involved somehow? Miller and Kubert both laugh when asked, but reveal no more information.

Pandora Emma Kubert
Pandora color art by Emma Kubert

Of course, this is Frank Miller we’re talking about, so he’s inspired by the darker version of fairy tales, the older originals birthed in the plague years, full of gruesome death and dismemberment.  “Disney made the fairy tales a very friendly, happy place to visit,” says Miller. “But before that they were grim fairy tales, by the Brother Grimm. Let’s not forget that Hansel and Gretel shoved the witch into an oven. All of these fairy tales were filled with stories of quests and horrors. The one that Disney absolutely got right though, was Pinocchio. Because that really is a horror movie.” While he doesn’t want to make Pandora as didactic as some of the old tales, “I would like to bring back some of that horror.”

Despite this, Pandora is a YA title, and making stories for younger audiences has been an interest of Miller’s for a while – starting with Cursed, a gender-swapped Arthurian tale that was first an illustrated book and then a Netflix series, both co-created by Tom Wheeler. Miller is also working on a Dark Knight sequel starring Carrie Kelly, who was the young Robin in the original series.

Pandora is an idea that Miller had in his mind for a while. “If I was going to nail down the two [fairy tales] that I always had my back of my mind, they’re Pinocchio and Pandora. Because those two, to me, seemed to be the most open to different interpretations. And they both appealed to a kid with an overactive imagination.”

To flesh out Miller’s concept, DiDio hired the writing team of Anthony Maranville and Chris Silvestri to write the script for Kubert. The duo are known for writing several episodes of Star Trek: Discovery and have worked with DiDio on several projects….and may show up again as Frank Miller Presents rolls out.

Kubert has been making comics for a while –  including penciling DC Superhero Girls and Teen Titans Go!. Her own projects include Inkblot for Image, an ongoing fantasy about a black cat; and more recently Brush Stroke, a semi-autobiographical webcomic about an art school student that appear on Tapas. Her inspirations for Pandora’s art style include John Tenniel (Alice in Wonderland) and Brian Froud, the concept designer on Dark Crystal, among other unsettling classics.

It’s a look that immediately struck Miller as having the right tone. “Her drawings brought such a buoyancy, and such a fresh perspective. She clearly had a handle on the illustrative beyond just comic books, going back to sources like Arthur Rackham.”

Kubert also feels a kinship with the character. “One of the things about my art is that I’m always putting myself into it. When we were talking about the main character, and Frank said she’s precocious, she’s a little mischievous and curious, I thought, wow, that that sounds like Emma.”

Growing up in an artistic family, Kubert says she always loved to draw, attracted to animation and fine art and anything creative. She eventually studied animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) but later returned to study comics at the Kubert School which was founded by Joe Kubert and is run by her family to this day. (Father Andy is an instructor there.) “I was encouraged to basically try everything and see what I liked. And I just always stuck with art. Being surrounded by my family, people who aren’t just great artists, but also absolutely amazing people in general, made me want to do it too.”

“Emma has absolute creative joy and the freedom that comes with it,” says Miller. “That’s something I think artists have to discover and rediscover a number of times. Because you can get established and then get set in your world, and your work starts to age and it has to be reformed. Emma and her family are examples of a healthy, restless spirit that is passed along from generation to generation.”

It’s this kind of creative freedom that Miller sees as the heart of Pandora – and perhaps Frank Miller Presents in general. “I remember when I sat down with Dan, I said, look, if we’re gonna try to do this thing, let’s really do stuff that jumps around genres, and have fun with all of them. But for God’s sake, let’s not have a universe or a central mythology. [The idea] is to have it be a vehicle for individual voices, and to explore the astonishing amount of talent that’s out there.”

The first issue of Pandora lands this December. Some more of Kubert’s concept art below.

pandora emma kubert
Pandora concept art by Emma Kubert
pandora emma kubert
Concept art by Emma Kubert